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Heads South - Heads South, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 29/10/2013. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the Latin jazz of Heads South and takes a lokk at their debut album "Record Flight".

Heads South, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 29/10/2013.

Currently undertaking a national tour of Wales,  Heads South is a quintet based in the South East of England led by pianist and composer John Harriman. The group specialises in Latin jazz with a particular fondness for the music and rhythms of Cuba. Their line up is given a touch of authenticity by the inclusion of Cuban born percussionist Chino Martell Morgan and Venezuelan bass guitarist Adolfredo Pulido alongside the British contingent of Harriman, kit drummer Buster Birch and trumpeter Steve Waterman.

Much of tonight’s material was sourced from the group’s début album “Record Flight” released on the Aline Records imprint in 2010. A follow up is due to be recorded in 2014 and we also heard a number of as yet untitled Harriman originals which are scheduled for the new recording. “Record Flight” includes a clutch of credible original tunes from Harriman, one piece from Waterman and arrangements of pieces by Vincent Youmans, Kurt Weill and Astor Piazzolla.

It was unusual to be in Brecon for a jazz event that wasn’t part of the festival programme. Inevitably both the town and the theatre were strikingly quieter than at festival time with the forty or so souls scattered around the stalls of Theatr Brycheniog doing their best to get behind this very talented outfit. However in an auditorium capable of seating 477 the atmosphere was always going to be a little muted and a far cry from the sell out shows by the likes of Phronesis at the festival back in August. However I think it’s fair to say that those who were here liked what they heard and responded to the band with genuine enthusiasm and with a reasonable percentage of the crowd also buying CDs. Well done to all those who braved a chilly autumnal night and reacted so positively whilst helping to keep jazz going in Brecon during the other eleven months of the year. 

The quintet commenced with Harriman’s original “El Cardenal” sourced from the group’s first album. It was immediately apparent that this was a very classy band with Harriman displaying a thorough knowledge of Latin American, and particularly Afro-Cuban, melodies, rhythms and piano styles. Also impressive was the interplay between Birch and Morgan, the pair complementing each other superbly. I’m familiar with Birch’s playing through his work with the trio of the Yugoslav born, London based guitarist Branco Stoysin. I’ve reviewed several of Stoysin’s albums but it was good to see Birch performing live for the first time.
In many respects Waterman is the quintet’s trump card, a highly versatile trumpeter who is well known to British jazz audiences. I’ve seen him perform in contexts ranging from the “chamber jazz” of bassist Ben Crosland’s drumless trio Threeway to the various mainstream and bebop inspired combos that appear annually at the Titley Jazz Festival in my native Herefordshire. However this was the first time I’d witnessed this particular side of Waterman’s talent as he unleashed his inner Artruro Sandoval on a solo of impressive clarity and power, something he was to continue to do for the rest of the evening.
Following an impressive Afro-Cuban styled piano solo from the composer the piece concluded with a feature for the two percussionists. Morgan’s set up was primarily composed of congas and timbales with Birch also supplementing his drum kit with a variety of other percussive objects. I think it’s fair to refer to both of them as “percussionists”, such was the quality and subtlety of the rhythmic interplay between them. This was no percussion “battle”, for even here, as throughout the evening, Birch and Morgan worked in tandem, a well oiled rhythm machine that sounded like a single organism and was greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately I was not so impressed with Pulido, his electric bass developed an unpleasant “boom” which was never fully eradicated. The other instruments sounded great but his parts sounded muddy and spoilt the overall mix.

After the high energy opener the quintet kept the pot bubbling with a cha cha cha style arrangement of Horace Silver’s “The Preacher” which opened with a dialogue between Harriman and Morgan before moving on to feature typically fiery solos from Waterman and Harriman. The scholarly and well spoken Harriman proved to be an authoritative and entertaining announcer of tunes and here informed us that the great Horace Silver is still alive and well at the age of eighty five.

Also from “Record Flight” came Harriman’s “Petalos de Tierra” (translation “Earth Tears”) which combined Spanish Flamenco style melodies and instruments with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Introduced by a duet between Harriman and Waterman the tune featured Morgan on cajon and such was the rhythmic drive of the piece that two female dancers left their seats and sashayed their way down to the front of the stage. As the tune finished Harriman thanked them for their enthusiasm.

A lovely version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Milonga del Angel” varied the mood and pace and presented another aspect of the Hispanic diaspora. Solo piano introduced a sublimely lyrical version of Piazzolla’s gorgeous melody with Waterman imperious on a beautifully controlled trumpet solo. As Morgan sat this one out Harriman recounted the tale of how when Piazzolla was fourteen the precociously talented youngster was requested to play bandoneon with a touring tango band. His parents declined to give their permission, indirectly saving Piazzolla’s life as the aircraft the band subsequently travelled on suffered a fatal crash. Harriman speculated on the point that if his parents had said “si” Piazzolla might never have penned the beautiful tune that had just been played in another country all those years later.

Any lingering melancholic thoughts were quickly despatched by a lively Latinised version of Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife”, a hit for Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin etc. Played in an Afro-Cuban style the piece featured solos from Waterman and Harriman plus a percussion feature that highlighted Morgan’s virtuosity on timbales and congas.

The first half concluded with a new Harriman original that commenced with a piano/trumpet duet and saw Morgan switching to cajon. Harriman took the first solo and was followed by Pulido who demonstrated his slap bass technique as he duetted with Morgan. Harriman informed us that the Venezuelan bassist is a multi instrumentalist who studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.

Overall this had been a very enjoyable first half with the small but attentive audience responding enthusiastically. I got to speak briefly to Harriman during the interval and thanked him for putting me on the guest list. I even brought a paying customer along to help boost the meagre audience numbers!

Set two got off to a breezy start with Vincent Youman’s “Carioca”, a piece well known for its inclusion in the film “Flying Down To Rio” but here given more of an Afro-Cuban treatment with rousing solos from Waterman and Harriman and a closing percussion feature. The group’s arrangement of this famous tune is the opening track on the “Record Flight” album.

“Manana De Carnaval” saw Harriman switching to a Nord Stage 2 keyboard set to Hammond organ mode. He made good use of the instrument, soloing effectively alongside the consistently excellent Waterman.

The trumpeter took over the compositional reins on “Nowhere To Go”, a tune from the group’s first album. Written in 6/8 the piece featured the leader’s trumpet whilst giving Morgan’s congas a prominent place in the arrangement. A bass/drum/percussion interlude featuring Pulido, Birch and Morgan explored the rhythmic possibilities of the tune, the interlocking grooves a consistent source of fascination.

Solo bass introduced a radically slowed down version of the old chestnut “Besame Mucho” which also featured Waterman on a stunning solo trumpet cadenza.

The evening concluded with a final untitled Harriman original, a spirited bass and cajon driven romp featuring dazzling solos from Harriman, arguably his best of the night, and Waterman, plus a final bass/drums/percussion interface. It came as no surprise that there was no encore given the size of the audience although one or two of the more vocal elements in the crowd tried unsuccessfully to call the band back. Hopefully audience numbers will be higher at other dates on he tour, this is a band that is well worth seeing.

I can confirm that the album “Record Flight” works well at home, a good concert souvenir but also a convincing piece of work in its own right with some fine playing from a group of Harriman, Birch, Waterman and Morgan with bass duties shared between Tim Robertson on electric and Ed Harrison on stand up acoustic.

Prior to the Heads South concert we had been entertained in the Brecon Jazz Club Bar by a quartet of students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama led by saxophonist Jessica Bullen.
I had seen Bullen play previously at the 2012 Hay Festival and as part of the Lonely Hearts Rugby Club ensemble at this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival.

With Bullen on alto the quartet tackled the jazz standards “I’ll be Seeing You” and “All The Things You Are” plus Miles Davis’ “Solar”.  Bullen switched to soprano and was equally convincing on “Stella by Starlight” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”. All the pieces included adventurous solos from third year student Bullen and her three male colleagues Deej (double bass), Matt (drums) and Dmitri (guitar) with impressive interplay and exchanges between the instruments. Although this was a group that had been thrown together at short notice they impressed everyone present with their playing including John Harriman who twice thanked them publicly from the stage of the main auditorium.

All in all this was a very tasty aperitif before the main event. My only caveat would be the fact that none of the quartet really took charge of the announcements ( I got the members’ names from Bullen after the show) and that if they wish to make a career out of playing music in public they need to improve their presentation skills.  It’s a comment I’ve made about RWCMD students before but they’re young and I’m sure they’ll learn. I certainly have no reservations about the quality of the playing.

Billed as “Jazz time on the Road” the RWCMD Jazz Ensemble will open each night of the tour by playing a free of admission set in the foyer or bar area of every venue on the tour. For dates see below.


Tour dates are as follows, more booking information at http://www.headssouth.com/news.php 

Wednesday October 30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre £12/10
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 7pm Heads South Concert 8pm

Thursday October 31 Gwyn Hall, Neath £9/7/5
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 6.30pm Heads South Concert 7.30pm

Friday November 1 Dora Stoutzker Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff £12/10
Heads South Concert 7.45pm


Saturday Nov 2 Galeri Arts Centre, Caernarfon £8/7
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 6.30pm Heads South Concert 7.30pm

Sunday Nov 3 Ucheldre Arts Centre, Holyhead £8/7
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 6.30pm Heads South Concert 7.30pm

Heads South, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 29/10/2013.

Heads South

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Heads South, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 29/10/2013.

Ian Mann enjoys the Latin jazz of Heads South and takes a lokk at their debut album "Record Flight".

Heads South, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 29/10/2013.

Currently undertaking a national tour of Wales,  Heads South is a quintet based in the South East of England led by pianist and composer John Harriman. The group specialises in Latin jazz with a particular fondness for the music and rhythms of Cuba. Their line up is given a touch of authenticity by the inclusion of Cuban born percussionist Chino Martell Morgan and Venezuelan bass guitarist Adolfredo Pulido alongside the British contingent of Harriman, kit drummer Buster Birch and trumpeter Steve Waterman.

Much of tonight’s material was sourced from the group’s début album “Record Flight” released on the Aline Records imprint in 2010. A follow up is due to be recorded in 2014 and we also heard a number of as yet untitled Harriman originals which are scheduled for the new recording. “Record Flight” includes a clutch of credible original tunes from Harriman, one piece from Waterman and arrangements of pieces by Vincent Youmans, Kurt Weill and Astor Piazzolla.

It was unusual to be in Brecon for a jazz event that wasn’t part of the festival programme. Inevitably both the town and the theatre were strikingly quieter than at festival time with the forty or so souls scattered around the stalls of Theatr Brycheniog doing their best to get behind this very talented outfit. However in an auditorium capable of seating 477 the atmosphere was always going to be a little muted and a far cry from the sell out shows by the likes of Phronesis at the festival back in August. However I think it’s fair to say that those who were here liked what they heard and responded to the band with genuine enthusiasm and with a reasonable percentage of the crowd also buying CDs. Well done to all those who braved a chilly autumnal night and reacted so positively whilst helping to keep jazz going in Brecon during the other eleven months of the year. 

The quintet commenced with Harriman’s original “El Cardenal” sourced from the group’s first album. It was immediately apparent that this was a very classy band with Harriman displaying a thorough knowledge of Latin American, and particularly Afro-Cuban, melodies, rhythms and piano styles. Also impressive was the interplay between Birch and Morgan, the pair complementing each other superbly. I’m familiar with Birch’s playing through his work with the trio of the Yugoslav born, London based guitarist Branco Stoysin. I’ve reviewed several of Stoysin’s albums but it was good to see Birch performing live for the first time.
In many respects Waterman is the quintet’s trump card, a highly versatile trumpeter who is well known to British jazz audiences. I’ve seen him perform in contexts ranging from the “chamber jazz” of bassist Ben Crosland’s drumless trio Threeway to the various mainstream and bebop inspired combos that appear annually at the Titley Jazz Festival in my native Herefordshire. However this was the first time I’d witnessed this particular side of Waterman’s talent as he unleashed his inner Artruro Sandoval on a solo of impressive clarity and power, something he was to continue to do for the rest of the evening.
Following an impressive Afro-Cuban styled piano solo from the composer the piece concluded with a feature for the two percussionists. Morgan’s set up was primarily composed of congas and timbales with Birch also supplementing his drum kit with a variety of other percussive objects. I think it’s fair to refer to both of them as “percussionists”, such was the quality and subtlety of the rhythmic interplay between them. This was no percussion “battle”, for even here, as throughout the evening, Birch and Morgan worked in tandem, a well oiled rhythm machine that sounded like a single organism and was greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately I was not so impressed with Pulido, his electric bass developed an unpleasant “boom” which was never fully eradicated. The other instruments sounded great but his parts sounded muddy and spoilt the overall mix.

After the high energy opener the quintet kept the pot bubbling with a cha cha cha style arrangement of Horace Silver’s “The Preacher” which opened with a dialogue between Harriman and Morgan before moving on to feature typically fiery solos from Waterman and Harriman. The scholarly and well spoken Harriman proved to be an authoritative and entertaining announcer of tunes and here informed us that the great Horace Silver is still alive and well at the age of eighty five.

Also from “Record Flight” came Harriman’s “Petalos de Tierra” (translation “Earth Tears”) which combined Spanish Flamenco style melodies and instruments with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Introduced by a duet between Harriman and Waterman the tune featured Morgan on cajon and such was the rhythmic drive of the piece that two female dancers left their seats and sashayed their way down to the front of the stage. As the tune finished Harriman thanked them for their enthusiasm.

A lovely version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Milonga del Angel” varied the mood and pace and presented another aspect of the Hispanic diaspora. Solo piano introduced a sublimely lyrical version of Piazzolla’s gorgeous melody with Waterman imperious on a beautifully controlled trumpet solo. As Morgan sat this one out Harriman recounted the tale of how when Piazzolla was fourteen the precociously talented youngster was requested to play bandoneon with a touring tango band. His parents declined to give their permission, indirectly saving Piazzolla’s life as the aircraft the band subsequently travelled on suffered a fatal crash. Harriman speculated on the point that if his parents had said “si” Piazzolla might never have penned the beautiful tune that had just been played in another country all those years later.

Any lingering melancholic thoughts were quickly despatched by a lively Latinised version of Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife”, a hit for Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin etc. Played in an Afro-Cuban style the piece featured solos from Waterman and Harriman plus a percussion feature that highlighted Morgan’s virtuosity on timbales and congas.

The first half concluded with a new Harriman original that commenced with a piano/trumpet duet and saw Morgan switching to cajon. Harriman took the first solo and was followed by Pulido who demonstrated his slap bass technique as he duetted with Morgan. Harriman informed us that the Venezuelan bassist is a multi instrumentalist who studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.

Overall this had been a very enjoyable first half with the small but attentive audience responding enthusiastically. I got to speak briefly to Harriman during the interval and thanked him for putting me on the guest list. I even brought a paying customer along to help boost the meagre audience numbers!

Set two got off to a breezy start with Vincent Youman’s “Carioca”, a piece well known for its inclusion in the film “Flying Down To Rio” but here given more of an Afro-Cuban treatment with rousing solos from Waterman and Harriman and a closing percussion feature. The group’s arrangement of this famous tune is the opening track on the “Record Flight” album.

“Manana De Carnaval” saw Harriman switching to a Nord Stage 2 keyboard set to Hammond organ mode. He made good use of the instrument, soloing effectively alongside the consistently excellent Waterman.

The trumpeter took over the compositional reins on “Nowhere To Go”, a tune from the group’s first album. Written in 6/8 the piece featured the leader’s trumpet whilst giving Morgan’s congas a prominent place in the arrangement. A bass/drum/percussion interlude featuring Pulido, Birch and Morgan explored the rhythmic possibilities of the tune, the interlocking grooves a consistent source of fascination.

Solo bass introduced a radically slowed down version of the old chestnut “Besame Mucho” which also featured Waterman on a stunning solo trumpet cadenza.

The evening concluded with a final untitled Harriman original, a spirited bass and cajon driven romp featuring dazzling solos from Harriman, arguably his best of the night, and Waterman, plus a final bass/drums/percussion interface. It came as no surprise that there was no encore given the size of the audience although one or two of the more vocal elements in the crowd tried unsuccessfully to call the band back. Hopefully audience numbers will be higher at other dates on he tour, this is a band that is well worth seeing.

I can confirm that the album “Record Flight” works well at home, a good concert souvenir but also a convincing piece of work in its own right with some fine playing from a group of Harriman, Birch, Waterman and Morgan with bass duties shared between Tim Robertson on electric and Ed Harrison on stand up acoustic.

Prior to the Heads South concert we had been entertained in the Brecon Jazz Club Bar by a quartet of students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama led by saxophonist Jessica Bullen.
I had seen Bullen play previously at the 2012 Hay Festival and as part of the Lonely Hearts Rugby Club ensemble at this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival.

With Bullen on alto the quartet tackled the jazz standards “I’ll be Seeing You” and “All The Things You Are” plus Miles Davis’ “Solar”.  Bullen switched to soprano and was equally convincing on “Stella by Starlight” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”. All the pieces included adventurous solos from third year student Bullen and her three male colleagues Deej (double bass), Matt (drums) and Dmitri (guitar) with impressive interplay and exchanges between the instruments. Although this was a group that had been thrown together at short notice they impressed everyone present with their playing including John Harriman who twice thanked them publicly from the stage of the main auditorium.

All in all this was a very tasty aperitif before the main event. My only caveat would be the fact that none of the quartet really took charge of the announcements ( I got the members’ names from Bullen after the show) and that if they wish to make a career out of playing music in public they need to improve their presentation skills.  It’s a comment I’ve made about RWCMD students before but they’re young and I’m sure they’ll learn. I certainly have no reservations about the quality of the playing.

Billed as “Jazz time on the Road” the RWCMD Jazz Ensemble will open each night of the tour by playing a free of admission set in the foyer or bar area of every venue on the tour. For dates see below.


Tour dates are as follows, more booking information at http://www.headssouth.com/news.php 

Wednesday October 30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre £12/10
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 7pm Heads South Concert 8pm

Thursday October 31 Gwyn Hall, Neath £9/7/5
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 6.30pm Heads South Concert 7.30pm

Friday November 1 Dora Stoutzker Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff £12/10
Heads South Concert 7.45pm


Saturday Nov 2 Galeri Arts Centre, Caernarfon £8/7
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 6.30pm Heads South Concert 7.30pm

Sunday Nov 3 Ucheldre Arts Centre, Holyhead £8/7
RWCMD Ensemble in foyer 6.30pm Heads South Concert 7.30pm


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