by Ian Mann
August 28, 2022
Ian Mann on the final day of the 2022 Festival and a live performance by J4 followed by streams of two live events from London by the Atsuko Shimada / Alan Barnes Quartet and the Juan Galiardo Trio.
Photograph of J4 sourced from http://www.breconjazz.org
BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2022, FINAL WEEKEND
SUNDAY 21st AUGUST 2022
The final day of the final weekend saw a return to the ‘hybrid’ format that had distinguished the 2021 “Wherever You Are” Festival.
Located entirely at The Muse the evening began with an in person performance by the Cardiff based quartet J4, co-led by guitarist James Chadwick and pianist Julian Martin.
This was followed by two live performances in front of a paying audience at the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury-on-Thames which were streamed directly to Brecon. These shows were a collaboration between Brecon Jazz and Janet McCunn and Terence Collie of West London based promoters Mood Indigo Events.
BJF and MIE have regularly worked together and similar collaborations took place in 2020 and 2021 to create the ‘Brecon Jazz London Weekend’. The 2022 Festival had also seen pianist Collie and vocalist McCunn visiting Brecon to perform live at the Castle Hotel on the Main Weekend of the Festival. Collie was leading the one off Panoply Trio featuring bassist Marianne Windham and drummer Caroline Boaden, with McCunn guesting on one number. A full review of the Panoply Trio’s performance can be found as part of the appropriate day’s Festival coverage (Friday August 12th).
The Sunbury shows featured a quartet co-led by the Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada and the British reeds player Alan Barnes, followed by a trio led by the Spanish pianist Juan Galiardo, but more on that later.
James Chadwick – guitar, Julian Martin – piano, Don Sweeney – double bass, Ian Williams – drums
Cardiff based James Chadwick had also appeared at the 2022 BJF leading a trio featuring bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Mark Whitlam, augmented on some numbers by guest saxophonist Deborah Glenister.
This group appeared at the Northhouse on 12th August playing an intriguing set of Chadwick arrangements, these including jazz and bebop standards, a Welsh hymn and a remarkable version of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Again a full account of this performance can be found as part of the relevant day’s coverage.
“Strawberry Fields” forms a neat link into today’s performance. J4 specialises exclusively in the music of The Beatles and performs a series of jazz arrangements of Beatles songs, the majority of them by either Chadwick or Martin but with “Here There and Everywhere” arranged by the whole group. I assume that the band name is a reference to the forenames of the co-leaders, the size of the line up and is also a subtle homage to “The Fab Four”.
In May 2022 J4 recorded an eponymous album featuring their Beatle interpretations and this is currently available at gigs. It doesn’t include “Strawberry Fields” but it does feature ten other imaginative and intelligent examinations of Beatles material and we were to hear all of them performed tonight at this concert supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Nos Allan (or ‘Night Out’) Scheme.
Like Huw Warren the previous evening Martin was able to make use of Kawai upright acoustic piano that was in temporary residence at The Muse. I had seen J4 give a highly enjoyable performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth earlier in the year, which had found Martin deploying an electric keyboard. Once again the presence of a ‘proper’ piano moved the music up a notch and today’s performance also benefited from the more formal ‘concert’ setting.
J4 set the ball rolling with Martin’s piano led arrangement of “A Hard Days Night”, which brought elements of jazz swing and even funk to the familiar song. Solos came from Martin on piano, Chadwick on guitar and Sweeney on melodic double bass.
Also arranged by Martin “Eleanor Rigby” featured Chadwick’s elegant rendition of the melody and was also notable for the playing of drummer Ian Williams who excelled in his role of colourist with a nuanced drumming performance that made use of brushes, sticks, mallets and even his bare hands.
Williams is often an exuberant figure behind the kit but he is also capable of great sensitivity. The featured soloists were Martin and Chadwick, stretching out within the framework of a graceful arrangement that remained true to the melancholic spirit of the original.
“Here, There and Everywhere” was arranged collaboratively by the whole group and was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Chadwick. In essence the piece was performed in the style of a jazz ballad with Williams deploying brushes throughout. Solos came from Chadwick on guitar and Martin on piano, with Chadwick returning as the song began to gently accelerate towards the close.
Martin’s arrangement of “In My Life” brought a subtle Latin tinge to the piece and featured Williams’ hand drumming, alongside more conventional brush and stick work. Chadwick’s inventive guitar chording was also prominent in the arrangement and he and Martin were again featured as soloists. It should however be noted that these arrangements are in no way set in stone, today’s performance incorporated features for both Sweeney and Williams that are not present on the recording. J4 is very much an improvising jazz quartet, despite their choice of material.
A song praised by Frank Sinatra, no less, the inclusion of George Harrison’s “Something” ensured that J4’s remit included more than just Lennon and McCartney. This was the first piece to feature a Chadwick arrangement, and rightly so given Harrison’s role in The Beatles. Chadwick’s thoughtful playing was prominent at the start, but today’s performance also included a passage featuring just piano and double bass, again a variation on the album version.
Chadwick commented that many of The Beatles’ songs were “weirdly constructed”, their irregular chord progressions and sudden twists and turns making them more interesting to arrange and play than regular jazz and bebop standards. “We make them even weirder” added Martin. The Beatles lack of formal music training is probably a factor here, particularly in the case of Lennon, but this does nothing to detract from their genius as songwriters.
Chadwick’s remarks related to “A Day In The Life”, arranged for J4 by Martin. This was introduced by a passage featuring guitar and piano only, subtly embellishing the familiar opening melody. With the addition of bass and drums the quartet then launched into a passage of ‘free jazz’, roughly corresponding to the “woke up, fell out of bed”, section of The Beatles song, the theme of which did eventually emerge. Sweeney’s bass solo represented a diversion from the recording and presaged a reprise of the “I read the news today, oh boy” melody. The group resisted the temptation to try to emulate the famous final chord.
The introduction to “Nowhere Man”, arranged by Chadwick, also included free jazz elements, before Chadwick picked the melody out on guitar. This song about “a man who’s a bit discombobulated” incorporated solos for guitar, piano and bass plus a feature for drummer Williams.
“Norwegian Wood” has long been a favourite song for jazz artists but Martin managed to bring something new to it in a slowed down arrangement that approached the piece at a more leisurely pace than most jazz interpretations. Introduced by a passage of solo piano the piece also featured Williams’ ‘vocal percussion’.
By way of contrast Martin’s arrangement of “Let It Be” speeded the song up, approaching it in the style of one of Keith Jarrett’s ‘country blues’ style tunes such as “The Windup” or “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours”. An appropriate gospel tinge flavoured this ‘secular hymn’ and the performance included solos from Martin, Chadwick and Sweeney.
The deserved encore was Martin’s sympathetic arrangement of “For No One”, ushered in by a passage of solo piano and with Chadwick eventually joining his co-leader in duet. Bass and brushed drums were introduced towards the close as J4 closed their set on a pleasingly reflective note.
At this stage of musical history it’s not easy to find something new to say within the framework of The Beatles catalogue but J4 have managed it. Their arrangements are faithful to the spirit of the original songs but allow plenty of room for variation, improvisation and self expression. Both in person and on disc these are jazz performances, without a doubt. As arrangers Martin and Chadwick are thoughtful, imaginative and sophisticated, skilfully adapting the songs to a jazz aesthetic without sacrificing anything in terms of melody and beauty.
The familiarity of the source material allied to the quality of the playing ensured that this was a set that was very well received by the audience at The Muse.
ATSUKO SHIMADA / ALAN BARNES QUARTET
Atsuko Shimada – piano, Alan Barnes – alto sax, clarinet, Matyas Hofecker – double bass, Alfonso Vitale – drums
The majority of the Muse audience departed after the J4 performance but a few intrepid souls stayed on to watch the two livestreams from Sunbury. These were introduced by Janet McCunn with Terence Collie dealing with the audio and visuals.
Atsuko Shimada and Juan Galiardo are a married couple now based in Southern Spain. Both pianists the Japanese Shimada and the Spanish Galiardo met when they were both were studying at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.
Now based in Galiardo’s homeland the couple have had a long standing relationship with Brecon Jazz Club and Festival and Shimada first visited the town in 2015 for a Club performance, this followed by a Festival appearance in 2017 and a further Club date in 2019. These performances featured a variety of different line-ups and all are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.
The 2020 ‘Virtual Brecon Jazz Festival’ saw Shimada and her trio featuring Rafa Sibajas on bass and Jose Luis Gomez on drums performing at a studio in Granada, Spain and linking up remotely with their guest Alan Barnes from his home in England.
Like all the ‘Virtual’ shows that year this was a short set but it was well received by the viewing public and it was always likely that a genuine live meeting between Shimada and Barnes would eventually happen.
Post Brexit the logistical issues associated with bringing a whole band over from Spain meant that only Shimada and Galiardo made the trip and both were teamed with a London based rhythm section featuring Hungarian born bassist Matyas Hofecker and Italian drummer Alfonso Vitale, both hugely accomplished exponents of their respective instruments. Thus the Shimada / Barnes Quartet was a truly international line up, linked as ever by the shared language of jazz, a connection that even Brexit cannot sever.
Technical glitches affected the stream in its early stages, which was somewhat irritating, but eventually these were sorted and I was able to immerse myself more fully in the music. One big plus was the fact that the Riverside possesses a beautiful acoustic grand piano, which ensured that both Shimada and later Galiardo could be heard at their best, and both proved to be highly impressive.
Shimada’s performance began in trio format with “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”, which featured solos from Shimada on piano and Hofecker on double bass, with Vitale adding a series of brushed drum breaks. The stream featured split screen coverage, thereby allowing the viewer to concentrate on a musician of their choice, much as at a live gig. And of course this WAS a live gig and one could hear the applause of the audience in Sunbury. And of course we clapped too, even though the musicians couldn’t hear us.
Barnes then joined the group on alto, sharing the solos with Shimada on the pianist’s arrangement of the jazz standard “All The Things You Are”.
Shimada then introduced an original composition about a tiger that “scratches and bites, I hope you can hear that in the music”. This found expression in Vitale’s drum introduction, accompanied by Barnes’ alto sax squiggles. A boppish theme eventually emerged, fuelling more orthodox jazz soloing from Barnes on alto and Shimada on piano, with Vitale weighing in once more with a series of drum breaks.
Barnes switched to clarinet for a ballad performance that featured a lyrical piano solo from Shimada and a melodic bass feature from the excellent Hofecker, a solid time keeper and a highly articulate soloist. A solo piano cadenza at the close featured Shimada quoting Rachmaninov.
I believe the next piece was the Dexter Gordon tune “Cheese Cake”, which saw Barnes back on alto and soloing alongside Shimada and Hofecker, with Vitale again contributing a series of drum breaks.
The final tune of the first set in this double bill at The Riverside was the Shimada original “Third Impression”, a piece based on John Coltrane’s composition “Impressions” and Eric Alexander’s homage, the “second impression”, if you will. Shimada’s own tune was suitably ‘Trane-esque’ and featured solos from Shimada on piano, Barnes on alto and Vitale at the drums.
Once the technical issues had been sorted this was a very enjoyable set and it was good to see Shimada and Barnes finally linking up in person. The rhythm team of Hofecker and Vitale also did a terrific job and with Shimada handling the announcements we were spared Barnes’ litany of now over familiar jokes. That said I do appreciate that he can be very funny first time around and that in general audiences love him. I’ve probably seen him a bit too often, but fortunately his playing doesn’t pall in the same manner. Barnes’ mastery of a variety of reeds (we didn’t get to hear him on baritone tonight) is seriously impressive.
JUAN GALIARDO TRIO
Juan Galiardo – piano, Matyas Hofecker – double bass, Alfonso Vitale – drums
During the changeover at The Riverside those of us in Brecon enjoyed a delicious vegetarian buffet provided by Ruth Gibbs at The Muse. Thank you Ruth.
Suitably fortified and with the technical gremlins banished we then sat back to enjoy the second performance from Sunbury by the Juan Galiardo Trio.
I first witnessed Galiardo perform back in 2014 when he undertook a short tour of Wales co-leading a quartet with his fellow Spaniard Arturo Serra (vibraphone). I reviewed the ‘Espana Cymru’ shows in Abergavenny and Brecon, which featured different all Welsh rhythm sections, the latter date being a double bill with the Cardiff University Big Band.
Galiardo returned to Brecon in 2018 for a Club date and in 2020 was part of the ‘Virtual Brecon Jazz Festival’ appearing in a livestream from Granada with the Sibajas / Gomez rhythm section.
Tonight he was to link up with Hofecker and Vitale to perform a set that mixed jazz standards and his original compositions in pretty much equal measure.
The trio commenced with the standard “If I Should Lose You” which included solos from Galirdo and Hofecker plus a series of brushed drum breaks from Vitale.
Next up was the Galiardo original “Brecon Beacons”, a most appropriate choice and a beautifully lyrical tune that featured the melodic soloing of Galiardo and Hofecker and the exquisite cymbal work of Vitale. There could be no doubting that tonight’s gigs were a joint venture with the logos of both Mood Indigo Events and Brecon Jazz adorning the Riverside stage.
A second Galiardo original, dedicated to the uncles who first introduced him to jazz, increased the tempo and saw features for all three musicians. The sight of Hofecker’s double bass reflected in the body of the piano also made for a striking visual image.
The third and final Galiardo original was a ballad dedicated to one of his musical heroes, the American pianist and composer Kenny Barron. This was another piece that demonstrated Galiardo’s gift for melody and included lyrical solos from Hofecker and the composer, with Vitale largely deploying brushes. I’d guess that this was the tune “Kenny’s Mood”, a track from Galiardo’s self titled album from 2014. Review here;
It was the first time that Galiardo had played with this rhythm team so the decision to include so much original material was both courageous and commendable. Of course musicians of the calibre of Hofecker and Vitale rose to the occasion magnificently and more than did justice to Galiardo’s compositions.
The trio now returned to the standards repertoire with a version of “If I Were A Bell” which featured solos from Galiardo and Hofecker plus some brisk brush work from Vitale.
Galiardo has a knack of taking extremely familiar themes and doing something fresh and interesting with them – a nice link here with J4. His album saw him transforming “The Girl From Ipanema” with an innovative slowed down arrangement. Tonight we enjoyed a ballad reading of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee”, a tune frequently tackled by jazzers at a furious pace. Galiardo’s graceful, slowed down arrangement featured his own piano lyricism, the melodic bass playing of Hofecker and the delicate brush work of Vitale. Besides highlighting the skills of Galirdo as an arranger it also demonstrated the sheer versatility and adaptability of Noble’s composition.
A deserved encore increased the pace once more with features for all three musicians. From the style Galiardo’s playing I deduced that this may have been a Thelonious Monk piece but I couldn’t hang a title on it. It was highly enjoyable nevertheless.
As we’ve all now learnt again watching on screen isn’t the same as being there but tonight’s ‘hybrid’ event came close as I watched with other people around and with a pint by my side, physically applauding musicians who were more than a hundred miles away.
Once the gremlins had been despatched the sound quality was good, helped enormously by the presence of that piano, and the visuals also. However I would have appreciated a few audience shots from the Riverside and to have got more of a feel for a venue whose events have been advertised many times on The Jazzmann. Instead the cameras were focussed entirely on the stage, but I appreciate that technical limitations may have prevented the opportunity to present anything more expansive.
Maybe I will one day get the opportunity to visit the Riverside or one of MIE’s other venues myself, but for now the link up with Brecon Jazz is something to be cherished and nurtured.
Another excellent Festival from Lynne and Roger at Brecon Jazz with a series of excellent and varied performances spread over three weekends and covering an impressively wide array of jazz styles. Variety has always been one of Brecon’s strengths and continues to be so and its willingness to present one off collaborations, many of them international affairs, is also to be applauded. So too is the support and opportunity given to young up and coming musicians from all over the country and to the Welsh jazz scene as a whole.
With healthy attendances at nearly all events there was a real sense of celebration and the feeling that things were finally getting back to normal, particularly with the Fringe also in full swing around the town. The boost to the local economy must have been most welcome and it’s the Jazz Festival that is at the forefront of it all.
The amount of work undertaken by Lynne & Roger and their team is almost unimaginable. Thank you and very well done to them all.
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