Saturday, June 30, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A carefully crafted recording that features Jones' melodic, intelligent writing and arrangements plus some excellent playing from all the members of the ensemble.
Dave Jones Quartet
Based in Port Talbot the Welsh pianist and composer Dave Jones has received considerable praise from the London jazz press cognoscenti, notably Chris Parker, for his excellent albums “Impetus” (2009) and Journeys (2010). The first of these was an accomplished piano trio date recorded with brothers Chris O’ Connor (bass) and Mark O’ Connor (drums). The album demonstrated that Jones was not only a talented pianist but also a first rate composer capable of coming up with inventive and memorable themes.
“Journeys” was a more ambitious project that featured a core trio of bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Lloyd Haines with some tracks given extra colour by horn players Gareth Roberts (trombone), Tomos Williams (trumpet) and Lee Goodall (reeds) . The recording also included tasteful string arrangements featuring The Mavron String Quartet. Jones’ compositions were richly textured, melodic and swinging, often highly descriptive and with a great sense of place with the composer taking inspiration from his travels to the USA and elsewhere.
“Resonance” builds on the success of the acclaimed “Journeys” and features a very similar line up with Long and Haines joined full time by Goodall to form a core quartet. Roberts, Williams and the Mavrons also return and there is an additional instrumental voice in the form of trumpet/flugel player Gethin Liddington who doubles up with Williams on a couple of the selections. On three tracks Haines is replaced by Irish drummer Kevin Lawlor, these pieces being the result of a collaboration between Jones and Lawlor that toured the Arts Centre circuit in Ireland in April 2011. There were also a couple of club dates in Wales too.
Although self released Jones’ albums are recorded to a high professional standard at Goodall’s Oakfield studio near Newport with Jones and Goodall acting as co-producers. The packaging is also similarly classy .
The new album kicks off with “The Metro” in an arrangement that includes Goodall on sax and the strings of the Mavron Quartet (Christiana Mavron-violin, Katy Rowe-violin, Niamh Ferris-viola and Lucy Simmonds-cello). The piece begins with the sound of pizzicato strings subsequently joined by piano, bass and drums before Goodall picks out the appealing folk like melody on soprano saxophone as the Mavrons reach for their bows. Goodall’s later solo sees him probing further into the harmonies of the piece. Jones own solo is flowing and lyrical with Long’s resonant bass and Haines’ crisply brushed drums constituting appropriately sympathetic accompaniment. The piece ends with a restatement of the theme with Goodall and the strings again assuming prominence. It’s a beguiling start to the album and a good demonstration of Jones’ superior arranging skills. The Mavrons sound like an essential component of the music rather than just being “bolted on”, something that often occurs when jazz musicians collaborate with classical players.
“Welsh Rarebit” was composed as far back as 2004 and later appeared in trio form on the “Impetus” album. The new arrangement features the horn section of Roberts, Williams and Liddington, indeed the latter played on the tune in its earliest incarnations. The three brass players are among Wales’ leading exponents on their respective instruments and they add depth and colour to Jones’ tune with Goodall taking the first solo on tenor sax, followed by Jones, here swinging more forcefully at the piano. There’s a trumpet solo but I’m not going stick my neck out with regard to who it’s actually by! In any event the tune is a winner, bringing something of the Blue Note sound to South Wales.
“Afro Celtic” sounds nothing like Afro Celt Sound System but does team folk melodies with African style rhythms. Goodall appears on flute and the Mavrons are at their most folky. Jones takes the first solo followed by Goodall on flute. There’s a simple joyousness about this piece that instantly charms the listener. Oh yes, and Long’s opening bass riff is naggingly familiar.
“5 to 3 on Friday” was written specifically for the project with Lawlor, who takes over the drum stool here. The tune has an airy warmth expressed by Goodall’s lush,fruity tenor sax and the cushioning strings of the Mavron Quartet. Long impresses with the depth and richness of his tone on a rare bass solo and Lawlor’s subtly brushed drumming is full of delightful small details.
Lawlor remains in situ for “Wexford Time”, the second tune written for the Cymric/Irish collaboration. The arrangement brings back the horns and the folk tinged melody acts as the basis for pithy solos from Roberts on trombone, Williams on trumpet and Goodall on soprano. There’s also some accomplished ensemble playing in yet another fine example of Jones’ arranging abilities.
Jones dedicates the last two pieces on the record to “the memory of an irreplaceable old friend”, which I suspect is probably feline. The first of these, Pushkin’s Lament” is a languid ballad performance highlighting the velvet tones of Liddington on flugel horn. Roberts and Williams add an extra warmth to the ensemble sound and Haines returns to the drum stool. Solos come from Liddington, Goodall on smoky tenor and Long, dexterous and expressive on the bass.
The final item, “Ubermog”, is very different to the rest of the album, a high octane funk/rock workout which sees Jones switching to Hammond organ and multi instrumentalist Goodall to guitar as Lawlor reclaims the drum chair. It’s hugely enjoyable with Jones relishing the chance to rock out at the Hammond as Goodall produces some wonderfully dirty and fuzzed up sounds on guitar and Long wigs out on similarly weird and unhinged arco bass, the whole thing powered by Lawlor’s crisp drumming. There’s a prog rock/jam band feel to the piece that certainly appeals to me and although it’s all rather at odds to the rest of the music scheduling it last so as not to interrupt the mood and flow of the rest of the album is absolutely right. It’s actually rather splendid, maybe Jones should consider a whole album in this vein.
It had been my intention to check out Jones’s septet (the core quartet plus Roberts, Williams and cellist Lucy Simmonds) playing this music at Cardiff’s Café Jazz on 29th June 2012. However the flash flooding that hit the Midlands earlier in the day discouraged us from travelling. Having been caught up in the floods in the morning we didn’t fancy a repeat performance and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Apologies to Dave for not making it, I seem fated to miss out on ever seeing him displaying his skills on a proper grand piano.
In the meantime there’s always this album to enjoy, a carefully crafted recording that features Jones’ melodic, intelligent writing and arrangements plus some excellent playing from all the members of the ensemble. It’s a worthy addition to an increasingly impressive catalogue and, like its predecessors, deserves to be widely appreciated by the national jazz audience.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.