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Slice Of Jazz Big Band - Slice Of Jazz Big Band, Brecon Jazz Festival, Castle Hotel Ballroom, Brecon, 11/08/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the first night of the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival. Photograph by Bob Meyrick.

BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL, 2017.

SLICE OF JAZZ BIG BAND, CASTLE HOTEL BALLROOM, BRECON, 11/08/2017.

In December 2015 the decision of franchise operators Orchard Media to withdraw their support from Brecon Jazz Festival appeared to signal the end of a great musical institution that hosted some of the biggest names in jazz, drew visitors from all over the world and provided an incalculable boost to the local economy.

Understandably the town of Brecon was reluctant to see the Festival die after more than thirty years as one of the biggest and most important jazz gatherings in Britain, a much loved annual event that had helped to put Brecon on the global musical map.

In 2016 the “Brecon Jazz Weekend” arose out of the ashes of the festival, put together at short notice by Brecon Jazz Club, Theatr Brycheniog and Brecon Cathedral. These bodies presented three different strands of music at various venues around the town on the traditional Festival weekend in mid August.

The Theatr’s programme presented a series of excellent performances by young musicians from the jazz courses at various educational establishments around the UK with several performers coming from Manchester’s Royal College of Music. Curated and co-ordinated by the acclaimed musical educator Marc Edwards under the “Jazz Futures” banner it is hoped that this strand will return again in 2018 by means of a collaboration between Edwards and Brecon Jazz Club.

This year the total withdrawal of funding by the Arts Council of Wales for Brecon’s big annual jazz event precipitated the abandonment of the Jazz Futures programme for 2017 and the withdrawal of the Cathedral, who had received Arts Council backing for their two flagship events in 2016.

Consequently the 2017 Festival saw Brecon Jazz Club going it alone, reviving the Brecon Jazz Festival name and presenting nine ticketed concerts plus a series of free street music events and workshops.  Much of the programme featured talented musicians from the South Wales jazz scene but this was still a truly international jazz festival with the promoters staging a notable coup by securing the services of the American born pianist Darius Brubeck’s quartet for their Saturday night headline event. 

Congratulations are due to Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club, plus their dedicated team of volunteers for putting together such a successful Festival in 2017 with all the events playing to full houses. It’s also a tribute to the dedication of the jazz public who have stayed loyal to the much loved institution that is Brecon Jazz Festival despite the upheavals of the last few years. Also the role of the long running organisation Friends of Brecon Jazz should not be underestimated. 

Friday at Brecon Jazz Festival 2017 commenced at The Muse with the “Instant Jazz” workshop for aspiring instrumental and vocal improvisers presented by jazz educator Rod Paton, one of the few french horn jazz players in jazz, who was to make a number of guest appearances with other artists during the festival.

This was followed by “Strings Go Swing”, an afternoon performance in the intimate surroundings of the Ty Helig Guest House given by jazz harpist Ben Creighton-Griifiths and festival stalwart Heulwen Thomas on violin.

I was unable to travel to Brecon until the evening so my Festival began with the performance by the Slice Of Jazz Big Band in the elegant surroundings of the recently re-furbished Castle Hotel. The Castle has always been a popular Festival venue and I recall seeing many memorable performances there including appearances from leading American musicians such as guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Jim Black.

In effect tonight’s event was the Festival curtain raiser and the evening followed the same format as 2016 with the Festival Big Band performing with guest vocalist Elaina Hoss and with the award winning dance group Hoppin’ Mad also brightening up the proceedings.

Before the music started concert goers enjoyed a good quality ‘buffet meal’ with menu choices of chicken curry, beef bourgignon or vegetable moussaka accompanied by rice, jacket potato, garlic bread and salad. With so many mouths to feed at a sold out event the staff at the Castle Hotel are to be congratulated on their organisation and efficiency, plus the tastiness of the food!

2016’s big band event featured the Teddy Smith Big Band, essentially the Royal Welsh College of Music Big Band led by trumpeter Rob ‘Teddy’ Smith. The success of that evening led to Brecon Jazz Club repeating the process, this time with a hand picked ensemble curated by festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon and featuring some of South Wales’ leading instrumentalists under the leadership of trumpeter and broadcaster Rhys Phillips.

There were many familiar faces up on the bandstand with many of the musicians having featured on the Jazzmann web pages through their small group work. For the record the line up was;

Rhys Phillips, Jonathan Crespo, Gethin Liddington – trumpets

Phil Jarvis – trombone

Martha Skilton – tenor sax

Tamasin Reardon – alto sax

Dominic Norcross – tenor sax, baritone sax

Atsuko Shimada – keyboard (first set)

Andy Nowak – keyboard (second set)

Ian Cooper – guitar

Erika Lyons – double bass

Phill Redfox O’Sullivan – drums

Elaina Hoss - vocals

This was the first time that this all star aggregation had actually played together and although this sometimes showed a good natured audience was prepared to forgive any mistakes on an evening that had a real ‘feel good’ atmosphere about it. And with some top quality soloists in the band there was plenty of excellent music to enjoy, not just for the people present in the room but for an audience worldwide. Tonight’s event, like all the festival concerts, was being transmitted to a global audience via Phillips’ “A Slice Of Jazz” programme for the community station Radio Cardiff. The programme normally airs between 8.00 and 10.00 am on a Saturday morning and is repeated between 1.00 am and 3.00 am the following Tuesday with Phillips and Crespo among the presenters.  Tonight’s concert therefore doubled as a radio broadcast with Phillips’ co-presenter Anna Corbett also contributing to the success of the evening.

Musically the band kicked off in rousing fashion with the unannounced opening number introducing some of the band’s principal soloists including Liddington on trumpet, Reardon on alto, Skilton on tenor and Shimada on piano. Phillips, who hitherto I’d only known as a broadcaster, also featured with his only solo of the evening. If the ensemble playing was sometimes a little ragged the quality of the solos more than made up for it.

Meanwhile the Hoppin’ Mad dancers were out on the dance floor, colourfully clad in period costume and were nimbly demonstrating their moves. I suspect that for some attendees they provided almost as much entertainment as the musicians.

Back on the bandstand the standard “All Of Me” featured Reardon’s alto plus some dramatic high register trumpeting from Crespo. Duke Ellington’s enduring “Caravan” then saw Norcross demonstrating his abilities on baritone sax.

Vocalist Elaina Hoss then joined the band for “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine”. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not always a big fan of vocal jazz but I was impressed with the delivery of Hoss, a young but accomplished big band singer.

“The Chicken”, written by the great Pee Wee Ellis marked a return to the all instrumental format and following the opening fanfare by the horns Lyons’ propulsive bass grooves allied to some punchy unison horn riffing helped to fuel solos from Skilton on tenor and Shimada on piano.

Norcross then featured on tenor during a performance of the only original tune of the night, “Eighty One” written by Jonathan Crespo.

A reminder that we were actually part of a radio programme came when Phillips invited his co-presenter Anna Corbett to the stage to talk briefly about the life of Ella Fitzgerald, who was born in 1917. Corbett, described by Phillips, as “the Moira Stewart of jazz” spoke of Fitzgerald’s turbulent early life, her move to New York City as a child, her famous victory at a talent competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and her first hit “A Tisket, A Tasket”. Corbett also talked about Fitzgerald’s huge commercial success, her marriage to bassist Ray Brown and her tireless charity work, still carried on by the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation following the death of the singer in 1996.

Musical illustrations came from the band with Hoss first delivering a vivacious version of “Makin’ Whooppee” which saw the members of Hoppin’ Mad taking to the floor once more. This was followed by the vocalist delivering a version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Crespo weighing in with a trumpet solo featuring some dynamic work in the instrument’s upper registers.

A high energy rendition of a Sammy Nestico tune with Liddington, Skilton and Shimada prominent in the arrangement closed a highly enjoyable first set. It was a good way to end a first half that had been very well received by the audience at the Castle Hotel.

During the interval the members of the Bristol based Hoppin’ Mad dance company gave instructions and demonstrations on various elements of jazz dance, including the Lindy Hop. Mercifully there wasn’t enough space to include everyone so I had no difficulty in declining, as did the majority of the audience. Nevertheless there were still plenty of enthusiasts, many of them young, willing to give it a go. Witnessing it was something of an entertainment in itself.

Set two saw a change at the piano with Bristol based pianist Andy Nowak replacing Shimada as the Slice Of Jazz Big Band kicked off with a swinging version of “Killer Joe” featuring Crespo on trumpet.

The next piece was unannounced but included features from Skilton on tenor and Jarvis on trombone. Meanwhile “On A Clear Day” featured Norcross once more, this time on tenor.

A swinging “Fly Me To The Moon” then featured a vivacious vocal from Hoss.

Corbett returned to the stage to celebrate the life of another jazz great born in 1917, trumpeter, composer and band leader Dizzy Gillespie, talking of Gillespie’s early life in South Carolina and then his move to Philadelphia and later New York where he helped to pioneer both bebop and the fusion of jazz with Latin and Afro-Cuban music.

By way of illustration the band played two Gillespie classics beginning with the bop of “Flying High” which featured Skilton on tenor sax playing what was arguably the best of several excellent solos from her during the course of the evening.
“A Night In Tunisia” then featured Reardon on alto plus Liddington on trumpet, the latter clearly relishing the Dizzy Gillespie role.

Hoss returned to sing a playful version of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” followed by an arrangement of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” that included the verses in full.

A big band arrangement of the Weather Report classic “Birdland”, composed by Joe Zawinul, ended the evening on a high note. The inevitable encore was the Count Basie tune “Flight Of The Foo Birds” from the 1958 album “The Atomic Mr. Basie”, a record generally regarded as being among the Count’s best. This included final solos from Reardon on alto and Liddington on trumpet.

Despite the occasional rough edges this had been a hugely enjoyable start to the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival, a hugely successful event that saw everybody going home happy, not least Lynne and Roger, the festival organisers.

 

Slice Of Jazz Big Band, Brecon Jazz Festival, Castle Hotel Ballroom, Brecon, 11/08/2017.

Slice Of Jazz Big Band

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Slice Of Jazz Big Band, Brecon Jazz Festival, Castle Hotel Ballroom, Brecon, 11/08/2017.
Photography: Photograph by Bob Meyrick

Ian Mann enjoys the first night of the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival. Photograph by Bob Meyrick.

BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL, 2017.

SLICE OF JAZZ BIG BAND, CASTLE HOTEL BALLROOM, BRECON, 11/08/2017.

In December 2015 the decision of franchise operators Orchard Media to withdraw their support from Brecon Jazz Festival appeared to signal the end of a great musical institution that hosted some of the biggest names in jazz, drew visitors from all over the world and provided an incalculable boost to the local economy.

Understandably the town of Brecon was reluctant to see the Festival die after more than thirty years as one of the biggest and most important jazz gatherings in Britain, a much loved annual event that had helped to put Brecon on the global musical map.

In 2016 the “Brecon Jazz Weekend” arose out of the ashes of the festival, put together at short notice by Brecon Jazz Club, Theatr Brycheniog and Brecon Cathedral. These bodies presented three different strands of music at various venues around the town on the traditional Festival weekend in mid August.

The Theatr’s programme presented a series of excellent performances by young musicians from the jazz courses at various educational establishments around the UK with several performers coming from Manchester’s Royal College of Music. Curated and co-ordinated by the acclaimed musical educator Marc Edwards under the “Jazz Futures” banner it is hoped that this strand will return again in 2018 by means of a collaboration between Edwards and Brecon Jazz Club.

This year the total withdrawal of funding by the Arts Council of Wales for Brecon’s big annual jazz event precipitated the abandonment of the Jazz Futures programme for 2017 and the withdrawal of the Cathedral, who had received Arts Council backing for their two flagship events in 2016.

Consequently the 2017 Festival saw Brecon Jazz Club going it alone, reviving the Brecon Jazz Festival name and presenting nine ticketed concerts plus a series of free street music events and workshops.  Much of the programme featured talented musicians from the South Wales jazz scene but this was still a truly international jazz festival with the promoters staging a notable coup by securing the services of the American born pianist Darius Brubeck’s quartet for their Saturday night headline event. 

Congratulations are due to Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club, plus their dedicated team of volunteers for putting together such a successful Festival in 2017 with all the events playing to full houses. It’s also a tribute to the dedication of the jazz public who have stayed loyal to the much loved institution that is Brecon Jazz Festival despite the upheavals of the last few years. Also the role of the long running organisation Friends of Brecon Jazz should not be underestimated. 

Friday at Brecon Jazz Festival 2017 commenced at The Muse with the “Instant Jazz” workshop for aspiring instrumental and vocal improvisers presented by jazz educator Rod Paton, one of the few french horn jazz players in jazz, who was to make a number of guest appearances with other artists during the festival.

This was followed by “Strings Go Swing”, an afternoon performance in the intimate surroundings of the Ty Helig Guest House given by jazz harpist Ben Creighton-Griifiths and festival stalwart Heulwen Thomas on violin.

I was unable to travel to Brecon until the evening so my Festival began with the performance by the Slice Of Jazz Big Band in the elegant surroundings of the recently re-furbished Castle Hotel. The Castle has always been a popular Festival venue and I recall seeing many memorable performances there including appearances from leading American musicians such as guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Jim Black.

In effect tonight’s event was the Festival curtain raiser and the evening followed the same format as 2016 with the Festival Big Band performing with guest vocalist Elaina Hoss and with the award winning dance group Hoppin’ Mad also brightening up the proceedings.

Before the music started concert goers enjoyed a good quality ‘buffet meal’ with menu choices of chicken curry, beef bourgignon or vegetable moussaka accompanied by rice, jacket potato, garlic bread and salad. With so many mouths to feed at a sold out event the staff at the Castle Hotel are to be congratulated on their organisation and efficiency, plus the tastiness of the food!

2016’s big band event featured the Teddy Smith Big Band, essentially the Royal Welsh College of Music Big Band led by trumpeter Rob ‘Teddy’ Smith. The success of that evening led to Brecon Jazz Club repeating the process, this time with a hand picked ensemble curated by festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon and featuring some of South Wales’ leading instrumentalists under the leadership of trumpeter and broadcaster Rhys Phillips.

There were many familiar faces up on the bandstand with many of the musicians having featured on the Jazzmann web pages through their small group work. For the record the line up was;

Rhys Phillips, Jonathan Crespo, Gethin Liddington – trumpets

Phil Jarvis – trombone

Martha Skilton – tenor sax

Tamasin Reardon – alto sax

Dominic Norcross – tenor sax, baritone sax

Atsuko Shimada – keyboard (first set)

Andy Nowak – keyboard (second set)

Ian Cooper – guitar

Erika Lyons – double bass

Phill Redfox O’Sullivan – drums

Elaina Hoss - vocals

This was the first time that this all star aggregation had actually played together and although this sometimes showed a good natured audience was prepared to forgive any mistakes on an evening that had a real ‘feel good’ atmosphere about it. And with some top quality soloists in the band there was plenty of excellent music to enjoy, not just for the people present in the room but for an audience worldwide. Tonight’s event, like all the festival concerts, was being transmitted to a global audience via Phillips’ “A Slice Of Jazz” programme for the community station Radio Cardiff. The programme normally airs between 8.00 and 10.00 am on a Saturday morning and is repeated between 1.00 am and 3.00 am the following Tuesday with Phillips and Crespo among the presenters.  Tonight’s concert therefore doubled as a radio broadcast with Phillips’ co-presenter Anna Corbett also contributing to the success of the evening.

Musically the band kicked off in rousing fashion with the unannounced opening number introducing some of the band’s principal soloists including Liddington on trumpet, Reardon on alto, Skilton on tenor and Shimada on piano. Phillips, who hitherto I’d only known as a broadcaster, also featured with his only solo of the evening. If the ensemble playing was sometimes a little ragged the quality of the solos more than made up for it.

Meanwhile the Hoppin’ Mad dancers were out on the dance floor, colourfully clad in period costume and were nimbly demonstrating their moves. I suspect that for some attendees they provided almost as much entertainment as the musicians.

Back on the bandstand the standard “All Of Me” featured Reardon’s alto plus some dramatic high register trumpeting from Crespo. Duke Ellington’s enduring “Caravan” then saw Norcross demonstrating his abilities on baritone sax.

Vocalist Elaina Hoss then joined the band for “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine”. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not always a big fan of vocal jazz but I was impressed with the delivery of Hoss, a young but accomplished big band singer.

“The Chicken”, written by the great Pee Wee Ellis marked a return to the all instrumental format and following the opening fanfare by the horns Lyons’ propulsive bass grooves allied to some punchy unison horn riffing helped to fuel solos from Skilton on tenor and Shimada on piano.

Norcross then featured on tenor during a performance of the only original tune of the night, “Eighty One” written by Jonathan Crespo.

A reminder that we were actually part of a radio programme came when Phillips invited his co-presenter Anna Corbett to the stage to talk briefly about the life of Ella Fitzgerald, who was born in 1917. Corbett, described by Phillips, as “the Moira Stewart of jazz” spoke of Fitzgerald’s turbulent early life, her move to New York City as a child, her famous victory at a talent competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and her first hit “A Tisket, A Tasket”. Corbett also talked about Fitzgerald’s huge commercial success, her marriage to bassist Ray Brown and her tireless charity work, still carried on by the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation following the death of the singer in 1996.

Musical illustrations came from the band with Hoss first delivering a vivacious version of “Makin’ Whooppee” which saw the members of Hoppin’ Mad taking to the floor once more. This was followed by the vocalist delivering a version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Crespo weighing in with a trumpet solo featuring some dynamic work in the instrument’s upper registers.

A high energy rendition of a Sammy Nestico tune with Liddington, Skilton and Shimada prominent in the arrangement closed a highly enjoyable first set. It was a good way to end a first half that had been very well received by the audience at the Castle Hotel.

During the interval the members of the Bristol based Hoppin’ Mad dance company gave instructions and demonstrations on various elements of jazz dance, including the Lindy Hop. Mercifully there wasn’t enough space to include everyone so I had no difficulty in declining, as did the majority of the audience. Nevertheless there were still plenty of enthusiasts, many of them young, willing to give it a go. Witnessing it was something of an entertainment in itself.

Set two saw a change at the piano with Bristol based pianist Andy Nowak replacing Shimada as the Slice Of Jazz Big Band kicked off with a swinging version of “Killer Joe” featuring Crespo on trumpet.

The next piece was unannounced but included features from Skilton on tenor and Jarvis on trombone. Meanwhile “On A Clear Day” featured Norcross once more, this time on tenor.

A swinging “Fly Me To The Moon” then featured a vivacious vocal from Hoss.

Corbett returned to the stage to celebrate the life of another jazz great born in 1917, trumpeter, composer and band leader Dizzy Gillespie, talking of Gillespie’s early life in South Carolina and then his move to Philadelphia and later New York where he helped to pioneer both bebop and the fusion of jazz with Latin and Afro-Cuban music.

By way of illustration the band played two Gillespie classics beginning with the bop of “Flying High” which featured Skilton on tenor sax playing what was arguably the best of several excellent solos from her during the course of the evening.
“A Night In Tunisia” then featured Reardon on alto plus Liddington on trumpet, the latter clearly relishing the Dizzy Gillespie role.

Hoss returned to sing a playful version of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” followed by an arrangement of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” that included the verses in full.

A big band arrangement of the Weather Report classic “Birdland”, composed by Joe Zawinul, ended the evening on a high note. The inevitable encore was the Count Basie tune “Flight Of The Foo Birds” from the 1958 album “The Atomic Mr. Basie”, a record generally regarded as being among the Count’s best. This included final solos from Reardon on alto and Liddington on trumpet.

Despite the occasional rough edges this had been a hugely enjoyable start to the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival, a hugely successful event that saw everybody going home happy, not least Lynne and Roger, the festival organisers.

 


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