by Ian Mann
August 21, 2022
Ian Mann enjoys the last day of the main Festival weekend and performances from Bella Collins / Gareth Griffiths, Charlotte Glasson Band, Bryan Corbett , Joan Chamorro Sextet and Dionne Bennett,
Photograph of Bryan Corbett sourced from http://www.breconjazz.org
BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2022, MAIN WEEKEND
SUNDAY 14th AUGUST 2022
BELLA COLLINS & GARETH EVANS, THE MUSE
In my summing up of Saturday’s events at the main weekend of the 2022 BJF I commented that the diversity of the Festival’s programming was one of its major strengths.
This was encapsulated by Sunday’s opening performance at The Muse by the Cardiff based duo of Bella Collins and Gareth Griffiths. The pair are no strangers to Brecon Jazz having played a Club night at the old Brecon Jazz Club Bar at Theatr Brycheiniog in 2015.
Collins is best known as a blues artist and performs in formats ranging from solo to full band. She has played at many of the country’s leading blues festivals including Upton and Tenby and maintains a busy gigging schedule, primarily in South Wales. Collins writes her own material as well as performing an interesting selection of cover material sourced from a variety of musical genres, among them blues, soul, rock and jazz.
She describes her partnership with Evans as an ‘acoustic duo’ and both members play guitar and sing. Collins handles the majority of the lead vocals and has a powerful voice that is well suited to blues, soul and roots material. Meanwhile Evans is an ace guitar picker who is well known for his series of online guitar tutorials. He was to deliver the majority of the instrumental solos and impressed with his skill and virtuosity.
The duo opened with a segue of blues songs, one slow, the other more up-tempo but these went unannounced. Nevertheless they set the mood for the set with Collins’ confident vocals complemented by Evans’ dazzling soloing.
Acknowledging that this was a jazz festival the duo then put their own stamp on the jazz standard “All Of Me” with Evans adding harmony vocals to his impressive fretboard skills.
Evans then took over the lead vocal for “Every Day I Have The Blues” with Collins now providing the harmonies. Evans’ singing expressed an appealing vulnerability and his guitar solo saw him doubling up with a wordless vocal.
Collins returned to lead vocal duties on “Golden Days”, an original co-written by the duo. This proved to be sad song reminiscing about lost love that had something of a jazz flavour with regard to the singing and playing. At the 2015 performance I seem to recall Collins acknowledging the influence of Billie Holiday on this particular song.
A cover of the Ruth Brown song “Ten, Fifteen Hours” marked an emphatic return to blues territory with a powerful Collins vocal and an authentically bluesy Evans guitar solo.
The duo even managed to bring something new to the Doors song “Light My Fire”, combining jazz and blues elements with a sultry Collins vocal and Evans’ harmonies and incisive guitar soloing.
From Collins’ album “Love and Blues” came her original song “Who Are You Loving?”, a slow blues featuring her emotive vocals and Evans’ virtuoso guitar soloing.
“Talking About Moving On” introduced a funk element to the proceedings with Collins’ lead vocals underpinned by Evans’ harmonies. The piece also featured the duo trading guitar phrases and cheekily squeezing in a quote from Chic’s “Le Freak”.
The duo closed with the Collins original “Part Time Lover”, a song that featured in that 2015 show. This combined blues vocals with gypsy jazz style guitar and one suspects that Evans would easily fit into a ‘Hot Club’ style band. His virtuosity as a guitar soloist is seriously impressive.
Collins’ role is primarily that of lead vocalist but she is also a highly competent guitarist and she represents a good instrumental foil for Evans. Their combined strengths make for an excellent blend as a duo and their singing and playing was very well received by a listening audience at The Muse.
This is a duo that is well worth seeing. Catch them if you can.
BEN CREIGHTON-GRIFFITHS & ASHLEY JOHN LONG, FOUND GALLERY
Before the next ticketed event there was time to catch the closing stages of this free Fringe event at Found Gallery.
The line up featured another duo, this time all instrumental with Ben Creighton-Griffiths on harp and Ashley John Long on double bass. As regular readers will know both musicians are long time Jazzmann favourites and each has featured many times on these web pages.
As ever the pair impressed with their instrumental virtuosity, even if it was a little understated in this intimate duo format.
Among the material that I managed to hear were Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” and the Miles Davis’ classic “So What”. It’s always a pleasure to see these two play and I was pleased that I could drop in and hear something of this.
CHARLOTTE GLASSON BAND, THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
Charlotte Glasson – tenor & soprano saxes, flute, whistles, melodica, violin, saw, voice, Chris Spedding – guitar, Sam Dorrell – trombone, Lloyd Coote – electric bass, sousaphone, Sam Glasson – drums
It’s good to see Theatr Brycheiniog being used as a Festival venue again and today it played host to a quintet led by the remarkable multi-instrumentalist and composer Charlotte Glasson.
Primarily a saxophonist Glasson leads her own band and has released a total of eleven albums as a leader or co-leader with a new one, “Bonito” in the offing. As a session musician she has appeared with a veritable who’s who of artists across an extraordinarily wide range of music. I’m not even going to try to list them all here but I do remember that the first time I ever saw Glasson play was at Cheltenham Jazz Festival when she was a member of a band led by the award winning jazz vocalist Claire Martin.
The addition of Glasson and her band to the bill represented a considerable coup for the BJF organisers and this was one of the most keenly anticipated gigs of the Festival.
The show began with Glasson solo playing the tune “Sparky” and deploying a loop station (“as used by Ed Sheeran”, she informed us) to loop and layer the sounds she generated via the use vocal percussion (or beat-boxing if you will), hand claps and more conventional musical instruments such as flute and tenor sax. The latter was looped and layered several times over as Glasson came across like a one woman sax section.
She introduced her band for the next number, a quintet featuring the venerable guitarist Chris Spedding, an ace session veteran and a musician of near legendary status. Glasson’s younger brother Sam was at the drum kit, Sam Dorrell replaced the advertised Mark Bassey on trombone and Lloyd Coote doubled on electric bass and sousaphone.
Coote was featured on the latter on the New Orleans inspired “Gumbo Blues Walk” which saw solos from Spedding on guitar, Charlotte Glasson on tenor sax and Dorrell on trombone. It almost seems as if being a multi-instrumentalist is a qualification for being in this band, Dorrell plays sousaphone on the new “Bonito” album while Coote focusses on double bass.
“Robots”, the title track of Glasson’s 2018 album, is named for the South African word for traffic lights. This saw Coote moving to electric bass and combining with Sam Glasson’s mallets to create a rolling groove that provided the vehicle for solos from Charlotte on soprano sax, Dorrell on trombone and Spedding on guitar.
The Glasson band has toured extensively in South Africa and “Sunbird”, which also appears on the “Robots” album, was inspired by the kwela music of that country. This featured Charlotte on penny whistles, sometimes two and once, and was powered by Coote’s electric bass groove. Dorrell’s trombone solo helped to give the piece something of a ‘Township jazz’ atmosphere while Coote’s electric bass solo recalled Bakithi Kumalo’s virtuoso playing on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album.
As if all that wasn’t enough we also enjoyed a guitar solo from Spedding and a drum feature from Sam Glasson.
“Early Bird Tango” widened the musical net still further with Glasson drawing upon the influence of yet another continent. This saw Coote reverting to sousaphone and Charlotte to tenor sax and later to melodica, with Dorrell and Spedding the featured soloists.
An arrangement of Jimmy Guiffre’s “The Train and The River” saw the band temporarily slimmed down to a trio with Charlotte on tenor alongside Dorrell and Spedding. The counterpoint between tenor and trombone was particularly arresting as was the distinctive twang of Spedding’s guitar sound, always present in his playing but particularly noticeable here.
Spedding’s own tune “Gunfight” placed an even greater emphasis on his playing on a composition that was sometimes reminiscent of a movie theme. Spedding’s own jazz flavoured soloing was augmented by Sam Glasson’s martial style rhythms, Coote’s electric bass grooves and Charlotte’s tenor sax.
Next came a selection of tunes from the new “Bonito” album, beginning with “Babou”, named for Salvador Dali’s pet ocelot. This was appropriately upbeat and whimsical with Charlotte Glasson featuring on vocalised flute, much in the style of Roland Kirk or Ian Anderson, a kind of blend of prog rock and Ennio Morricone. Further solos were to come from Spedding on guitar and Dorrell on muted trombone.
Title track “Bonito” is named for Frida Kahlo’s parrot with her soprano sax designed to sound like the said parrot “swooping everywhere”. At the other end of the sonic scale was Coote on underpinning sousaphone and Dorrell on trombone, who shared further solos with Spedding’s guitar and Sam Glasson’s drums.
“Stellata” is named for a type of Magnolia tree and was dedicated to the memory of the Glassons’ late aunt. This piece saw Coote switching back to electric bass and featured more of a song like construction with solos coming from Glasson on tenor, Dorrell on trombone and Spedding on guitar.
Older readers will remember that Chris Spedding had a one off hit single in 1975 with “Motorbikin’”. Some may also recall that Spedding has serious jazz credentials having worked with vibraphonist Frank Ricotti’s quartet and with Ian Carr’s Nucleus. When Charlotte announced that Chris would be singing a song some hoped for “Motorbikin’”, but let’s face it that was never going to happen. Instead we heard “Louisiana” with Spedding on guitar and vocals sharing the solos with Charlotte’s earthy tenor sax before handing over to “Trombone Sam” to take it away.
A hugely entertaining set concluded with “Belly Up” which emerged from a jungle of drum and sousaphone rhythms and tricky unison soprano sax and trombone melody lines. This was music that seemed to have something of an Arabic influence, particularly with regard to Charlotte’s soprano sax soloing. Further solos came from Dorrell and Spedding, but wait we still hadn’t heard all of Charlotte’s instruments yet, so next was a solo from her that featured the eerie sounds of the musical saw. Sam Glasson then rounded things off with a closing drum feature.
With their eclectic but essentially joyous music the Glasson band were very warmly received by the Theatr Brycheiniog audience. The inevitable encore was “The Fun Starts Here” which allowed Charlotte to demonstrate her skills on violin, beginning with an opening dialogue with Spedding’s guitar. The rest of the piece was a klezmer style romp featuring sousaphone, violin, trombone, guitar and drums. Further solos came from Charlotte on violin, Dorrell on trombone and Spedding on guitar.
Charlotte Glasson is something of a polymath and her music doesn’t fit neatly into any recognisable jazz category. Nevertheless she’s clearly a huge talent and the range of her abilities suggests that she’s never likely to be short of work as she juggles the demands of the music industry with those of family life. I suspect that a few jazz purists may be a bit sniffy about Glasson’s work but I thoroughly enjoyed today’s show and afterwards treated myself to a copy of the new “Bonito” album, which stands up very well in the home listening environment.
BRYAN CORBETT QUARTET, THE MUSE
Bryan Corbett – trumpet, flugelhorn, Dave Jones – piano, Paula Gardiner – double bass, Liz Exell – drums
If Charlotte Glasson represented something of a new discovery for me I was already well familiar with the talents of Birmingham based trumpeter and composer Bryan Corbett.
Corbett was born in Bromyard in my native county of Herefordshire and in his early days as a musician used to play regularly at the tiny Blue Note Café Bar in my home town of Leominster.
After moving to Birmingham he quickly established himself on the wider Midlands jazz scene and has also released several albums under his own name. In addition he has also found work as a respected session and touring musician.
The young Corbett used to come to Brecon Jazz Festival to busk and later became a popular figure on the Fringe programme, frequently playing in the courtyard at The George Hotel, now a Wetherspoons.
Corbett was one of the hits of the 2020 online Brecon Jazz Festival and it was almost inevitable that he would be invited back to play live on the official concert programme. Recalling his days busking on the streets and at The George he jested “I’ve been waiting twenty six years for this!”.
For this special Festival performance organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon had teamed Corbett with a quartet of South Wales’ finest, including pianist Dave Jones, bassist Paula Gardiner and drummer Liz Exell. The trumpeter had never met his colleagues before today’s gig but the grouping proved to be yet another inspired choice from Lynne & Roger and thanks to the shared language of jazz the quartet quickly established an impressive rapport.
A solo trumpet introduction ushered in the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” which was treated to a modal style arrangement and incorporated solos from Corbett, Jones and Gardiner plus a series of drum breaks from the impressive Exell.
Next up was “Wheel Within A Wheel”, a composition by the American alto saxophonist Bobby Watson and a tune that Corbett had performed at the 2020 ‘Virtual Festival’. The piece was written by Watson during his tenure with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Today the tune began in piano trio format with Corbett later stating the theme on trumpet and embarking on the first solo. He was followed by Jones at the piano prior to a passage featuring trumpet, piano and bass only as Exell temporarily set out. This passage included some dramatic high register trumpeting from the leader but Exell was not to be outdone and returned with a closing drum feature. The Watson piece is also a personal favourite of mine and this was a reminder of Watson’s own visits to BJF in the 1990s.
The title track of Corbett’s début album “Funk In The Deep Freeze” represented a real stroll down memory lane for me and it was good to hear it again with inventive and melodic solos coming from Corbett, Jones and Gardiner, followed by a series of drum breaks from Exell. Interestingly Ludlow based saxophonist Jim Hunt who had played on the album was present in today’s audience. He and Corbett obviously remain good friends.
The Corbett original “Crystal Waters” was sourced from the album “Green”, his 2013 collaboration with bassist Chris Dodd. The composer mentioned that it was based on “some Chick Corea chords”, presumably those of Chick’s famous composition “Crystal Silence”. Corbett’s tune saw the composer switching to flugel and was a ballad featuring his velvety playing alongside Jones’ lyrical piano solo.
As a player Corbett is capable of a Chet Baker like fragility on ballads while on more up-tempo material he models himself on his trumpet hero Freddie Hubbard. It was almost inevitable that a Hubbard tune would be played this evening and this proved to be “Little Sunflower”, a tune that has been in Corbett’s repertoire for a long time and which was even recorded on “Funk In The Deep Freeze”, an album that Corbett now seems to think of as a mere “demo”. I still like it though.
“Sunflower” is one of Hubbard’s most melodic and memorable themes and today’s version saw Corbett continuing on flugel and sharing the solos with Jones at the piano and Gardiner on double bass. Exell’s subtly Latin inflected rhythms were at the heart of a performance that incorporated a carefully constructed and inherently musical drum feature. Corbett then returned to restate the theme and perform a series of further variations. The rapport between Corbett and Exell was essential to the success of today’s performance and several observers commented on the quality of the drummer’s contribution.
The quartet concluded their set with a version of Clark Terry’s “Snatch It Back”, described by Corbett as “a blast of a tune”. This featured the leader’s astonishingly agile flugel playing, at one point accompanied by Gardiner’s bass only, with Jones also featuring as a soloist. At the end of the tune Corbett entered into a series of effervescent exchanges with Gardiner and Exell as the performance ended on an energetic note, exciting the crowd at a sweltering Muse.
The quartet then cooled things down again with a deserved encore, an arrangement of the Miles Davis classic “Flamenco Sketches” with Corbett back on trumpet and sharing solos with Jones and Gardiner as Exell played with brushes throughout. Again this was a tune that Corbett had performed online in 2020 and its appearance here brought a pleasing symmetry to today’s set.
This had been an excellent performance from this ‘one off’ quartet and marked a triumphant return to Brecon for Corbett. One suspects that he will now begin to be seen more often at Brecon Jazz performing with other line ups.
It was my first genuinely live sighting of him for over three years and it was good to renew our acquaintance.
JOAN CHAMORRO’S SANT ANDREU SEXTET
Joan Chamorro (double bass), Èlia Bastida (violin, tenor sax, vocals), Alba Esteban, (baritone & soprano sax, vocals), Koldo Munné, (alto sax, vocals), Josep Traver (guitar), Arnau Julià, (drums).
Barcelona based bassist Joan Chamorro has performed with some of the biggest names in jazz and appeared on more than 100 recordings. He is also an acclaimed jazz educator who has hosted master-classes all over the world.
In 2006 he founded the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, a creative outlet for young jazz musicians from the age of eight to twenty one. Former members include trumpeter Andrea Motis and trombonist / vocalist Rita Payes.
For this visit to Brecon Chamorro brought along a front line featuring three of SAJB’s current crop of rising stars Elia Bastida, Alba Esteban and Koldo Munne, all of whom sang in addition to playing various types of saxophone and in Bastida’s case doubling on violin.
Chamorro himself was part of a more experienced rhythm section that also included drummer Arnau Julia and guitarist Josep Traver, the latter also to feature as a soloist.
With Chamorro himself maintaining a low profile at the back of the stage the focus was very much on the multi-talented youngsters. Today’s performance kicked off with an instrumental version of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” which featured the alto saxophone of Munne, who functioned as the main soloist and also combined effectively with Bastida on tenor and Esteban on baritone.
Munne was again featured on the next song, the title of which was unannounced. This found him singing in English as well as soloing on alto sax. Traver was also featured with a blues tinged guitar solo.
“Corazon” featured the vocals and tenor saxophone of Bastida, this time singing in Spanish, plus Traver’s guitar once more.
In a neatly structured show Esteban’s singing was to feature next on another unannounced song with an English lyric, but again one I didn’t recognise. The main instrumental solo featured Munne’s alto.
Esteban’s baritone sax was to feature more prominently on an unidentified Duke Ellington tune as she shared the soloing with Traver’s guitar.
The group was reduced to a trio as Bastida demonstrated her talents on violin, accompanied by Chamorro on double bass and Traver on guitar. This combined classical and Hot Club influences with Chamorro anchoring the solos of Bastida and Traver.
The next edition of the group was a quartet as Bastida sat out and Chamorro and Julia accompanied the alto sax of Munne and the baritone of Esteban. The two youngsters were also to share a vocal duet.
The full sextet were re-united for a first foray into the world of Brazilian music with Munne handling the vocals and sharing the instrumental solos with Bastida on tenor and Traver on guitar.
Sidney Bechet’s “September Song” was a feature for Esteban on curved soprano with guitarist Traver proving to be a skilled foil.
A second Brazilian excursion featured Bastida as the lead singer with Esteban and Munne adding vocal harmonies. This piece saw Esteban continuing on soprano and blending effectively with Bastida’s tenor and Munne’s alto. The performance also included a solo from guitarist Traver.
For me the quartet performance of an Argentinian tango featuring Bastida on violin alongside guitar, bass and drums was a real highlight. The interplay between violin, guitar and bass was exquisite with Julia sitting out for a long time, his drums only entering towards the close as the piece ended with a bout of surprisingly powerful riffing. Perhaps the darkest item of the set this piece benefited enormously from its balance of light and shade and effective use of dynamic contrasts.
“For Sentimental Reasons” featured a quintet of guitar, bass and drums plus tenor and baritone sax as Bastida and Esteban exchanged solos. This piece was also notable for Chamorro’s only solo of the night, but his huge tone was always at the heart of the music throughout.
With the group back at full strength Munne handled the lead vocal on a joyous rendition of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and also shared the instrumental soloing with Traver.
Esteban’s curved soprano was to feature again on a second Sidney Bechet tune Petite Fleur”, performed by a quartet also featuring guitar, bass and drums.
“Ain’t She Sweet” featured the full sextet with an instrumental front line comprised on violin, soprano and alto and with three singers doing a syncopated vocal routine reminiscent of acts like the Andrews Sisters. Guitar and violin were also to feature in a Hot Club style instrumental section. In a performance that included features for all members of the band we also enjoyed an alto solo from Munne and a closing bass and drum dialogue.
This drew a highly enthusiastic reaction from the Brecon crowd and the sextet returned for a deserved encore, introduced by Julia at the drums and featuring the unison singing of the three vocalists, this time I think in Portuguese, for this was another Brazilian style number. Bastida was featured on violin and Traver on guitar and there was also a three-way scat vocal episode.
The Sant Andreu Sextet proved to be hugely popular with the Brecon audience, many of whom gave them a standing ovation. There was no doubt that the young front liners were all hugely talented and I was also highly impressed with the contribution of the understated but versatile Traver. However there were too many vocal items for my personal tastes and some of the performances veered a bit too close to ‘showbiz’ for my liking. I suspect that I was probably in a minority in this regard.
I have to confess that I found it difficult to decode Chamorro’s announcements, which were delivered in heavily accented English, so apologies for the missing tune titles.
DIONNE BENNETT QUINTET, THE MUSE
Dionne Bennett – vocals, Mark Sambel – keyboards, Simon Kingman – guitar, Jon Goode – electric bass, Elliot Bennett – drums with guest Paula Gardiner – double bass
Dionne Bennett first came to my attention as the vocalist and lyricist of Slowly Rolling Camera, pianist Dave Stapleton’s highly successful jazz / soul / trip hop outfit. She appeared on the band’s first two albums “Slowly Rolling Camera” (2014) and “All Things” (2016) before leaving the group, at which point SRC became an all instrumental outfit once more.
I had the pleasure of seeing Bennett perform twice with SRC at Wolverhampton in 2014 and at London Jazz Festival in 2016. The latter, at the Rich Mix venue, was a particularly exciting performance, the club like atmosphere at a standing venue a perfect setting for the band’s mix of jazz, soul and trip hop. There was a real ‘rock gig’ atmosphere about it with the tall, charismatic Bennett proving to be an excellent focal point.
Based in Cardiff Bennett appeared at the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival as part of 6.0, an all female sextet led by bassist / guitarist Paul Gardiner.
Tonight Bennett returned the compliment, inviting Gardiner to play double bass on the first three numbers as part of a quartet that also featured keyboard player Mark Sambel and drummer Elliott Bennett. The choice of material also acknowledged that fact that this was a jazz festival and included Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”, inspired by recordings by Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin respectively.
These performances helped to establish Bennett’s credentials as a jazz singer but also suggested wider influences, particularly the Porter tune which packed a real soul power. Sambel impressed at the keyboard, here favouring an acoustic piano sound, and “Mood Indigo” also included a feature for Gardiner on double bass.
When Gardiner left the stand she was replaced by Jon Goode on electric bass with Simon Kingman also joining the group on guitar and backing vocals.
Since leaving SRC Bennett has released her début solo album “Sugar Hip Ya Ya” and I assume that some of tonight’s material was sourced from that – unfortunately it wasn’t available for purchase after the show.
With Goode and Kingman now in the band and with Sambel now adopting an electric keyboard sound the style of the music became very different, closer to soul and modern r’n’b but with a strong Latin element flavouring some of the numbers. Very few song titles were announced so this review will give an overall impression rather than a blow by blow account.
What I can tell you is that this was a highly energetic performance and that the statuesque Bennett, resplendent in a long blue dress and similarly coloured hair was a striking stage presence. Her vocals were passionate and soulful and she was well supported by a well drilled and experienced band of instrumentalists, all of whom impressed with their individual solos.
Of course some songs were familiar, such as the joyous take on Milton Nascimento’s Latin classic “Cravo e Canela” and a sultry, laid back, subtly funky take on Gershwin’s “Summertime”. The fact that Bennett didn’t know the Portuguese lyrics to “Cravo” didn’t matter, her wordless delivery of the familiar melody was still splendidly exuberant and uplifting. An aside – I first remember hearing “Cravo” some time back in the early 1980s in a version by the British latin band Paz, led by vibraphonist Dick Crouch.
The ballad “Where Were You When I Needed You Last Winter” offered a good representation of the depth and soulfulness of Bennett’s vocals.
Funk was also an important component of the quintet’s music as epitomised by the electric bass led arrangement of “Sunny” and the ‘does what it says on the tin’ encore “Make It Funky”.
This exciting, high energy performance from Bennett and her excellent band was the perfect way to round off another day of excellent music. Even on the most sweltering of nights a number of dancers were tempted onto the floor at The Muse, including one intrepid individual who was on her feet for the whole set, a fact acknowledged by Bennett from the stage.
The charismatic Bennett has the ability to appeal to listeners across a wide range of musical genres and possesses genuine star potential. We were very lucky to see her leading her own band at Brecon and it will be interesting to see how her career progresses. Those present tonight will be able to say “we saw her first!”.
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