Friday at Titley Jazz, 20/07/2012.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Ian Mann sees Titley Jazz 2012 get off to a great start with a string of fine performances from a mixture old favourites and new faces.
Friday at Titley Jazz
The Rodd Farm Estate, Titley, Herefordshire, 20/07/2012.
In 2010 David Masters undertook a huge leap of faith by resurrecting the defunct but much missed Appleby Jazz Festival in rural Herefordshire under the new name of Titley Jazz. The inaugural festival held at Titley Junction Station was a huge success and in 2011 this jazz jamboree moved to a greenfield location at the nearby Rodd Farm Estate, home to the Sidney Nolan Trust. The larger, more open location proved to be more user friendly in terms of accessibility and health and safety and following a bigger, even more successful festival in 2011 David was hoping for third time lucky in 2012. He was certainly fortunate with the weather, the torrential rain of the last few weeks must have put the festival in doubt but as it happened David was rewarded with the driest weekend in months with the festival Sunday particularly glorious. The site had drained very well and there were no logistical problems over the weekend and with the jazz faithful out in force there was a real party atmosphere about the festival, the audience members collectively relaxing and heaving a sigh of relief after nearly two months of terrible weather.
Musically many of the old Appleby/Titley favourites were back among them Alan Barnes, Stan Tracey, Peter King, Art Themen and other members of the Titley “jazz family”. Many of the musicians stay for the whole festival and perform in a variety of different line-ups, one gets the impression that these old London based pros enjoy their annual visit to the bucolic surroundings of Titley with its rolling green hills and real ale in the beer tent. As well as the regulars there were a few new faces among them guitarist Jim Mullen, saxophonists Tony Kofi and Mornington Lockett and singer Anita Wardell as David Masters continues to inject some much needed variety into the line up but without unnecessarily “frightening the horses”.
TITLEY JAZZ SEXTET
Already it’s become a Titley tradition to open the festival with a group led by multi reeds player and raconteur Alan Barnes. The first half of this set actually featured a quintet as tenor man Dave O’ Higgins, travelling by train, missed his connection and didn’t appear until the second set. Such is the good humoured nature of Titley that nobody seemed to mind too much, especially Barnes who took the opportunity to have some fun at O’Higgins’ expense when he finally did appear.
In the great jazz tradition the quintet just “got on with it” beginning with an easily swinging version of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” which featured solos from each of the musicians in turn, Barnes on baritone sax, Steve Waterman on trumpet, Dave Newton on piano and Andy Cleyndert on bass with each of these also trading fours with Steve Brown at the drums.
“I’ll Close My Eyes” by the English composer Billy Reed saw Barnes switching to alto and soloing in a boppish manner followed by Waterman on trumpet, Newton on piano and Cleyndert at the bass. A particular highlight was the spirited interchange of phrases between Barnes and Waterman above the powerfully swinging rhythms generated by their colleagues.
The writing of Golson featured again on a lovely reading of the ballad “ I Remember Clifford”, Golson’s heartfelt tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown (1930-56) who was tragically killed in an automobile accident aged only twenty six. Brown is still revered by jazz musicians and fans all these years later and it’s interesting to speculate about what he may have gone on to achieve. Movingly played by the quintet this version featured Barnes on alto, Waterman on velvety flugelhorn and best of all Newton whose solo combined lyricism with a subtle bluesiness.
Waterman took over the announcing duties from Barnes to introduce Gerry Mulligan’s “Westward Walk”. Kick started by Brown’s drums this was a piece distinguished by its rapid bop phrases, these giving rise to a string of bravura solos from Barnes on alto, Waterman back on trumpet and Newton on the piano. A sense of humour pervaded the music with both Waterman and Newton liberally peppering their solos with quotes , something of which Newton is particularly fond. A rollicking passage of solo piano mid tune had the audience laughing and whooping with delight at the pianist’s wit and audacity. This added to a Steve Brown drum feature and further fiery dialogue between Barnes and Waterman brought the first set to a rousing close. As if in acknowledgement the sun peeped out from behind a cloud, it felt like the first sighting of that once familiar yellow thing for several weeks.
By the time of the second set Dave O’Higgins had finally arrived to a barrage of ironic cheers from the Titley faithful. “It’s very English to applaud somebody for being an hour and a half late” Barnes observed drily before leading the now complete sextet into a version of Steve Grossman’s “Take The D Train” with punchy solos from O’Higgins on muscular tenor, Waterman on high register trumpet and Barnes on whinnying alto. Newton weighed in with his usual succinct contribution and the whole thing was fuelled by Brown’s crisp and powerful drumming.
Barnes and O’Higgins used to have a regular gig at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London where they worked with the late drummer and composer Allan Ganley. They chose to honour their old friend with Ganley’s composition “Victor” , itself a tribute to that great British musical export Victor Feldman. The teaming of the three horns offered a rich variety of textures with each player’s solo underscored by his colleagues.
O’Higgins still appeared to be somewhat flustered following his travails on the railways. Barnes and Waterman left the stage to afford him the luxury of a tenor sax ballad feature but this proved to be a bit of a disaster as he asked his rhythm colleagues to play “Easy Living” in one key but then adopted a totally different key himself! The tune ground to an embarrassing halt in a series of fluffs but the Titley audience merely smiled indulgently and waited for the quartet to get themselves back on track- which they duly did with O’Higgins at last finding his voice and Newton sliding a quote from “Singing In The Rain” into his solo, a comment perhaps on the earlier débâcle or maybe just on the recent weather. O’Higgins laughed it off easily in a “that’s jazz” kind of way and more than made amends with some excellent playing throughout the weekend in a variety of different contexts. The returning Barnes couldn’t resist a quip however “Are you going to get anything right today?” he enquired of the hapless tenorist.
A Barnes arrangement of the infectious Horace Silver tune “Ecaroh” featured solos from Barnes on alto, Waterman on trumpet and a more assured O’Higgins on tenor plus outings for Newton at the piano and Cleyndert at the bass.
Waterman took over the arranging duties for Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blues After Dark”, a quirky blues with a strong New Orleans flavour with excellent solos from Waterman on trumpet, O’Higgins on tenor and Barnes on baritone, his slap tonguing introducing a humour that was more than matched by Newton’s pianistic witticism. Finally we heard from bassist Andy Cleyndert, one of the cornerstones of Titley Jazz. When not playing bass in a variety of different groups Cleyndert can be found helping out on the mixing desk or recording the event for posterity with his camera. Like the indefatigable festival organiser David Masters he never seems to stand still.
The Titley Jazz Quintet/Sextet had got the festival off to a rousing start with any errors quickly forgiven. With the weather improving by the minute it was obvious that the faithful were going to have a very enjoyable musical weekend.
ART THEMEN / JOHN ETHERIDGE QUARTET
Guitarist John Etheridge was a first time visitor to Titley in 2011 playing a hugely popular and successful set with his “gypsy jazz with a twist” group Sweet Chorus. It was therefore no surprise that Etheridge had been invited back and given his versatility (it’s well documented that he’s played with everybody from Stephane Grappelli to Soft Machine) also no surprise that he appeared in a totally different context. Today’s quartet teamed him with a Titley stalwart, saxophonist Art Themen , and a new rhythm section of bassist Arnie Somogyi and drummer Dave Barry.
With Etheridge sticking exclusively to electric guitar the repertoire was mainly made up of jazz and bebop standards, many of them with a strong blues influence. The music was more freely structured than that of the Titley Jazz sextet and the two principle soloists were given plenty of room to stretch out above a flexible and intelligent rhythm section.
The first set kicked off with Clifford Brown’s “Sandu” (see what I mean about Brown still being relevant more than fifty years after his death) with Etheridge taking the first solo , a mix of choppy chording and fluent single note runs supported by Barry’s economical drums. Next came Themen who has a pleasingly robust tone on tenor and is a fluent and inventive soloist. He was followed by the obligatory bass solo and series of drum breaks as Somogyi and Barry also introduced themselves to the audience.
“You Stepped Out Of A Dream” was given a subtle Latin treatment with Barry’s colourful drumming framing solos from Themen on idiosyncratic tenor, Etheridge on guitar and the supple, dexterous Somogyi at the bass. A Titley débutant, Barry also enjoyed an extended drum feature on this interesting arrangement of a much loved standard.
“Wee”, by drummer Denzil Best marked a return to bebop virtues with Etheridge’s fleet fingering augmented by the subtle use of FX. Themen’s tenor feature saw him in dialogue with Somogyi as Barry temporarily dropped out. In a bebop staple there were also features for bass and drums with Barry trading phrases with both Themen and Etheridge. Exhilarating stuff.
Themen left the stage to Etheridge for a trio version of the ballad “You’ve Changed” which opened with a passage of solo guitar prior to a further statement from Etheridge, his elegant phrasing enhanced by Somogyi’s rich bass purr and Barry’s delicately brushed drums. Somogyi’s own warm toned bass solo was also worthy of note.
The quartet completed an excellent first set with “First Moves”, a typically swaggering Sonny Rollins theme that included powerful solos from Themen on tenor and Etheridge on rock influenced, FX enhanced guitar. Themen raised his sax aloft, Rollins style, as Barry attacked his drums for the concluding solo. Despite a rather abrupt ending this had been an absorbing and often energetic set with some great playing all round.
The second set began with Etheridge solo and a rendition of Abdullah Ibrahim’s township jazz classic “M’Sanduza”, a staple of Etheridge’s highly entertaining and technically dazzling solo shows.
It had been intended that the next item would be a duet with Themen but unfortunately time constraints meant that this had to be shelved and the whole band returned to the stage for Dexter Gordon’s “Apple Jump”. Here the solo order was notably different with Somogyi’s vigorous but dexterously plucked double bass being heard first followed by Themen’s powerful, soulful tenor , a fitting tribute to one of his saxophone heroes. Finally we heard from Barry with a series of colourful drum breaks.
Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower” was a surprise, but for me very welcome, choice. “He’s not one of my favourite players but I just love this tune” explained Themen before going on to mention the musicians who had benefited from a tenure in the Lloyd group, among them Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. The tune itself is highly melodic, something that made it popular with late sixties rock audiences, the “flower power” generation. The quartet’s version saw Etheridge’s solo bookended by two statements from Themen with Somogyi rounding off the process.
“Angel Eyes” was this set’s ballad feature with a solo tenor introduction from Themen plus a prolonged saxophone solo followed by statements from Etheridge on lightly sustained guitar and Somogyi on double bass accompanied by the patter of Barry’s brushes.
After this pause for breath the quartet sounded off with a funk/fusion treatment of Mel Torme’s old R & B hit “Comin’ Home Baby” with solos from Themen on rasping r’n'b tenor, Etheridge on rock infused guitar and Barry relishing a final flourish at the drums. This was good unpretentious stuff embellished with some excellent musicianship. The crowd loved it and gave the quartet a great reception.
TONY KOFI “MONK”
To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) David Masters invited saxophonist Tony Kofi to perform music from his critically acclaimed “Plays Monk” project at the festival. The following day we were also to hear more Monk material from a quartet co-led by pianist Stan Tracey and saxophonist Bobby Wellins.
Rather than bringing the quartet that appears on his 2004 “Plays Monk” album Kofi appeared with a group of musicians from the Titley “family”, players who were resident for the whole weekend, in the shape of pianist John Donaldson, bassist Arnie Somogyi and drummer Clark Tracey. All these musicians are thoroughly grounded in Monk’s music and added their talents to a series of sparkling interpretations beginning with “Bemsha Swing” which included solos from all four musicians. This was followed by “Light Blue”, a Monk tune often associated with the saxophonist Johnny Griffin and here a feature for the excellent Arnie Somogyi on double bass.
“Trinkle Tinkle” began with a solo piano introduction from Donaldson, a musician who was to appear in several other line ups and who impressed all through the weekend with his imagination and inventiveness. A salvo of bass and drums then led into a hard hitting interpretation of Monk’s theme with solos coming from Kofi, fluent and incisive on alto, the expansive Donaldson and the dynamic Tracey at the drums.
“Ask Me Now” was the set’s ballad feature with a solo alto introduction and cadenza bookending further statements from Kofi and Donaldson. For all his eccentricities Monk’s ballads exhibit a touchingly vulnerable tenderness.
“Boo Boo’s Birthday”, Monk’s dedication to his then young daughter was a celebration with a marathon alto solo from Kofi, a British player with an international reputation, plus another sparkling contribution from Donaldson.
The first set ended with the quartet’s version of “Epistrophy”, perhaps Monk’s most famous theme and once more a showcase for the entire band with Donaldson soloing first followed by Kofi and Somogyi and finally a thrilling exchange of ideas between bass and drums.
Set two began with a squall of belligerent alto at the beginning of “Off Minor”, a piece that also gave scope to the talents of the excellent Donaldson.
Kofi described “Crepescule With Nellie” as a “tone poem” and played the piece as a duet with pianist Donaldson, the focus very much on the beauty of the melody. The audience listened with rapt attention and Tracey, still seated at his drum kit, was seen to give a nod of approval.
Kofi informed us that the notoriously difficult “Brilliant Corners” took twenty seven takes to record and nearly caused a punch up between Monk and bassist Oscar Pettiford. Kofi’s quartet negotiated its tricky contours with ease with the leader’s solo a torrential, incessant outpouring of ideas with Donaldson matching him for intensity.
A lovely version of the ballad “Ruby My Dear” saw Kofi adopting a warmer tone before the quartet moved on to a more overtly bluesy but unannounced item which I couldn’t place. Perhaps somebody reading this might be able to enlighten me.
Kofi finished his set with a segue of the tunes “Played Twice” and “Four In One” opening with a feature for Tracey and later incorporating a blistering alto solo, probably Kofi’s best of the set, plus another telling contribution from the resourceful Donaldson.
I thoroughly enjoyed this performance which served not only to be a reminder of Monk’s ingenious compositional skills but also to be a wake up call with regard to the skills of Kofi and Donaldson, both players I hadn’t seen perform in a long time. Let’s hope Kofi gets invited back with one of his other projects.
THE ETERNAL TRIANGLE
This all star sextet took its name from the 1957 recording featuring the stellar front line of Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax) and Sonny Stitt (alto sax). Their modern British equivalents were Bruce Adams (trumpet), Art Themen (tenor) and Peter King (alto) with a rhythm section comprising of Dave Newton (piano), Mick Hutton (bass) and Dave Barry (drums).
The tune “Eternal Triangle” an epic battle between the three horn men, originally appeared on the album “Sonny Side Up” but rather than merely reproduce that record in its entirety today’s sextet added other material played in the same spirit. They kicked off with one of the “Sonny Side Up” pieces, the smouldering blues “After Hours” written by Avery Parrish. The piece started in trio mode with a brilliant solo from Dave Newton that paved the way for fiery solos from King on alto, watched from the side by an admiring Tony Kofi, Adams on tightly muted trumpet and Themen on smoky, bluesy tenor sax with bassist Mick Hutton, a welcome return visitor to Titley wrapping things up.
King led off Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” followed by Adams on the open horn and Themen on the tenor. King then took up the reins again with an incisive solo driven by Barry’s fizzing ride cymbal. Next up was Newton followed by a lively exchange between drummer Barry and the different horns with Adams producing some of his trademark high register screaming trumpet.
The ballad “ I Can’t Get Started”, a feature for altoist King represented a welcome change of pace. Solos came from King and Newton plus Mick Hutton, surely one of the most innately musical bassists around, before a final solo alto cadenza.
“The Eternal Triangle”, based like so many jazz compositions on the chords of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”, took the first set storming out, a high energy bop workout featuring solos from Themen, Adams, King and Newton. These displays of individual virtuosity elicited a predictably warm reaction from a by now rather chilly Titley audience.
The sextet ploughed straight into the music at the start of the second set and I missed the title of the first tune, another extended blowing vehicle featuring solos from King, Adams, Themen and Newton but with the most distinctive contribution coming from Hutton, a bassist who likes to concentrate much of his solo activity up around the bridge in a highly personalised style, perhaps the result of a hand ligament injury which prevented him from playing the instrument for several years.
Jimmy McHugh’s song “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” is another tune that appears on the original album, transformed here into a kind of quirky blues with clipped rhythms and featuring solos from Adams, King, Themen, Newton and Hutton.
The familiar sounds of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” ended a somewhat truncated second set as the curfew approached. Nevertheless there was still time for an extended jam introduced by the pounding of Barry’s drums and featuring final fiery solos from King and Adams, sparky duo dialogue between Newton and Hutton, a timely reminder of their inspired duo set last year. Themen then blazed into life and Barry produced a final volcanic salvo from the drums.
Titley Jazz 2012 had got off to a great start with the faithful well satisfied with what they’d seen. Yes, my perpetual criticism remained, too much material in the head/solos/head format but nobody could deny the excellence of the playing, and the general air of bonhomie that pervades the festival is nigh on irresistible. In any case the next couple of days were to offer a little more in the way of variety and with the weather playing it’s part and justifying David Masters’ decision to move the festival forward a week to avoid clashing with the Olympics there were few grounds for real complaint. The beer from a bar staffed by members of the Herefordshire branch of CAMRA was exceptional, it was just a shame that I was driving! However Saturday and Sunday were to be different, watch this space…
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.