by Ian Mann
August 22, 2023
Ian Mann enjoys the four musical performances of Brecon Jazz Festival's 'Jazz & Film Weekend' by Hot Club Gallois, Baires Connection Tango Trio, Zoe Rahman Octet and Zoe Gilby w. Terence Collie Trio
Photograph of Zoe Rahman from http://www.breconjazz.org
BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2023
Jazz & Film Weekend, Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th August 2023
The final weekend of the 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival was billed as a ‘Jazz & Film’ event and featured a mix of film screenings at the town’s Coliseum Cinema and live music events staged at other venues around Brecon.
For reasons that should subsequently become apparent I have decided to review the film and live music events as separate entities rather than covering each day chronologically, as has previously been customary on The Jazzmann.
The following musical performances took place on different days and we begin with;
HOT CLUB GALLOIS, ST. MARY’S CHURCH, 19/08/2023
Richard Jones – guitar, vocals, Luke Archard – guitar, Xenia Porteous – violin, Mike Morgan – basses, vocals
Hot Club Gallois is a popular gypsy jazz ensemble comprised of musicians based in South Wales. The group has accrued a considerable following for its entertaining live performances and appeared at the 2018 BJF as well as performing a livestream set for the 2020 ‘Virtual’ BJF. Earlier in 2023 Hot Club Gallois played an excellent set to a packed house at a regular club night at Black Mountain Jazz in nearby Abergavenny.
The group deploy the classic ‘Hot Club’ line up of two guitars, violin and double bass that was made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Their repertoire incorporates several Reinhardt compositions, including some lesser known ones, but also embraces standards from the wider jazz canon. Jones has also written some original tunes in a broadly ‘Hot Club’ style, although none of those were to feature tonight.
The band’s popularity with South Wales audiences has been enhanced by the fact that Jones and Morgan both sing, which adds both accessibility and variety to their sets, although the main focus of attention is still their individual and collective instrumental virtuosity
The Hot Club Gallois repertoire embraces a wide range of tunes and this evening’s set list was very different to the Abergavenny show in May. The twin guitars of Jones and Archard ushered in the lively opener “Django’s Tiger”, with Archard taking the lead. Both guitarists took agile Reinhardt style solos while violinist Xenia Porteous occupied the Stephane Grappelli, role, soloing fluently and entering into a dazzling set of exchanges with the two guitarists.
Jones sang the first vocal item of the evening, an arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” that also included instrumental solos from both guitars plus violin.
One tune that had been played at Abergavenny was the Reinhardt composition “Fleche d’Or”, named after a very fast train. I believe that the title translates as ‘Golden Arrow’ and refers to the ‘boat train’ that ran between London and Paris, known in the UK as the Golden Arrow and in France as the “Fleche d’Or”. The quartet delivered it at a lightning pace with frantic, staccato rhythms approximating those of the wheels of the train. These underpinned dazzling, technically challenging solos from Archard, Jones and Porteous.
Bassist Mike Morgan took over the vocals for “There Will Never Be Another You”, with Porteous and the two guitars again delivering instrumental solos.
The instrumental “Twmbay” was notable for the interchanges between Archard and Porteous, and also for their individual solos.
This was a well paced show that skilfully juxtaposed vocal and instrumental numbers and Jones resumed the vocal duties for “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, while sharing the instrumental solos with Archard and Porteous.
The Reinhardt composed ballad “Anouman” featured the haunting violin playing of Xenia Porteous, a hugely accomplished and highly versatile musician who has appeared regularly at BJF as a guest with other musicians. The previous Sunday she had made a substantial contribution to the BJF performance by Faith i Branko at Theatr Brycheiniog, a show reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Jointly composed by Reinhardt and Grappelli “Djangology” raised the pace again with rapid, chugging rhythms and breakneck solos from Porteous, Jones and Archard.
Morgan returned to vocal duty for the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” as Jones and Porteous provided the instrumental solos.
Porteous’ percussive bowing introduced a frenetic “Limehouse Blues” and she later shared solos with the two guitarists.
Morgan moved to bass guitar for the quartet’s interpretation of the Chick Corea composition “Spain”, which was presaged by a passage from Rodrigo’s “Concerto d’Aranjuez”. As Jones had informed us at Abergavenny this is one of the most technically challenging items in the group’s repertoire, but once again they rose to the challenge magnificently.
More singing from Morgan on “Lady Be Good”, this followed by the instrumentals “Anniversary Song” and “Lacho Drom”, the latter a new addition to the quartet’s repertoire. All three tunes featured further accomplished soloing from Jones, Porteous and Archard.
The last vocal item of the set featured Jones singing “After You’ve Gone”, with Morgan adding harmony vocals. Jones, Porteous and Archard also added instrumental solos.
The performance concluded with an arrangement of that supremely adaptable Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol composition “Caravan”, the perfect vehicle for exciting solos from Archard, Porteous and Jones.
A very creditable audience of around eighty in the Nave at St. Mary’s gave Hot Club Gallois an excellent reception, even though the applause for individual solos had been sporadic. The band remained onstage to encore with an increasingly frantic version of “Dark Eyes” with virtuoso solos from Porteous, Archard and Jones.
A Hot Club Gallois show is always an enjoyable and good humoured event and the band sent their appreciative audience home feeling very happy. My thanks to Xenia and Luke for speaking with me afterwards and for filling in a few blanks on the set list to allow me to complete this review.
JULIA IGLESIAS ‘BAIRES CONNECTION’ TANGO TRIO, STUDIO THEATR, THEATR BRYCHEINIOG, 20/08/2023
Julia Iglesisas – piano, Ianina Pietrntonio – flute, Camila de la Vega – percussion
The first concert on the Sunday programme attracted another audience of around eighty to the Studio space at Theatr Brycheiniog to listen to a trio of Argentinean musicians who are currently based in London.
Leader Julia Iglesias is a classically trained pianist who specialises in the music of the great Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 92) and today’s programme featured Iglesias’ arrangements of Piazzolla’s music performed by the unusual instrumental configuration of piano, flute and percussion. Iglesias has released two albums ‘Londres suena a Serú’ and ‘Astor’ and in 2022 her Baires Connection trio completed a successful tour of the USA.
Today’s seventy five minute set featured a total of sixteen Piazzolla compositions and as my Spanish is virtually non-existent I didn’t get the titles of many of them, so this review will be more an overall impression of the performance rather than a tune by tune account.
The opening “Milonga” established the trio’s sound with Pietrantonio’s airy flute often functioning as the main melody instrument as the leader’s piano frequently combined with de la Vega’s percussion to create a fascinating rhythmic backdrop. Iglesias performed on an electric keyboard on an acoustic piano setting while de la Vega played a minimal percussion set up featuring cajon and one ride cymbal, both played with a variety of brushes. It may have been sparse but it was very effective.
Following the upbeat beginning “Oblivion”, a tale of two lovers forced to part, darkened the mood. A versatile and perennially inquisitive composer Piazzolla explored many avenues in his work as a composer, including tango, jazz and contemporary classical music, fusing these elements to create something uniquely personal. He also wrote for film soundtracks, with “Oblivion” representing an example of this, a very apposite choice on this weekend of jazz and film.
Piazzolla’s music explored a wide variety of moods, emotions and dynamics, as exemplified by the spiky contours of the edgy “Psychosis”.
Another unannounced piece featured Iglesias’ percussive pianism as de la Vega laid down a martial rhythm with her most aggressive playing of the set thus far.
With Iglesias and Pietrantonio sharing the announcements it was difficult not to think of them as co-leaders, especially with the latter’s flute playing such a prominent role in the music. However it should be remembered that the trio were playing the pianist’s arrangements.
Between them Iglesias and Pietrantonio told us something about Piazzolla’s life and music during the course of a performance that sought to educate as well as entertain, and which succeeded in doing both.
We learned that Piazzolla was born of Italian heritage in Argentina but as a child moved with his parents to New York City. It was here that his father bought him a bandoneon from a pawn shop and when the family moved back to Argentina in 1936 Piazzolla immersed himself in the world of tango, playing in local tango orchestras while continuing to study European classical music. In the 1950s he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger who encouraged him to continue his tango career. It was around this time that Piazzolla saw the American baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan perform, which increased his interest in jazz. Piazzolla and Mulligan were to work together in the 1970s.
We also learned that when Piazzolla first introduced the concept of “nuevo tango”, his fusion of tango, classical and jazz it provoked the same kind of musical controversies in Argentina as the trad v bebop wars had done in the UK.
Other pieces to be performed by the Baires trio included “Milonga Del Angel”, one movement from Piazzolla’s four part “Angel Suite”. Different to, and slower than, most milongas this was a piece with a nostalgic, almost melancholic feel.
“Chiquilin de Bachin” was played in an arrangement reminiscent of a jazz waltz, an acknowledgement of the fact that the trio were playing at a jazz festival. With its gentle melodies this was another piece with a wistful, nostalgic feel and was sometimes evocative of the music of jazz pianist Bill Evans.
One unannounced piece embraced changing moods and dynamics, starting quickly before slowing down and then building in intensity once more, culminating in a startling cymbal crash from de la Vega prior to a gentle piano and flute coda.
The set closed with the highly rhythmic “Violentango”, which also embraced an element of wilful dissonance, as perhaps suggested by its title.
It was telling that Iglesias referred to today’s performance as a “recital”, which I took to be a reflection of just how seriously and reverently she treats this music. It’s also indicative of how highly Piazzolla and his music are regarded in both the tango and classical communities.
I’m not sure if the audience was full of tango aficionados but the crowd at the Studio gave the trio an excellent reception and they encored with a version of “Libertango”, perhaps Piazzolla’s most famous composition and one that has been recorded many times by a wide variety of jazz artists.
The Baires Connection Tango Trio will also appear at the Aberjazz Jazz ‘n’ Blues Festival in Fishguard on Thursday 24th August 2023.
The trio’s ‘chamber’ approach to tango worked very well and clearly delighted the BJF audience.
I very much enjoyed this concert, despite not quite knowing what to expect beforehand.
My thanks to Camila de la Vega for speaking with me afterwards and informing me that she’s also a kit drummer who plays in London with a variety of jazz and Latin bands. She has a particular fondness for Salsa music, something encouraged by her spending some time living and studying in Cuba.
ZOE RAHMAN OCTET, THEATR BRYCHEINIOG, 20/08/2023
Zoe Rahman – piano, Rowland Sutherland – flute, alto flute, Helena Kay – alto sax, clarinet, Tori Freestone – tenor sax, Alex Ridout – trumpet, Rosie Turton – trombone, Alec Dankworth – double bass, Gene Calderazzo – drums
When the 2023 BJF programme was announced this gig by pianist and composer Zoe Rahman leading an all star octet immediately stood out as a potential Festival highlight, and so it proved to be.
Rahman has featured regularly on the Jazzmann web pages, both on disc and in the live arena. I’ve seen her in concert many times, usually leading her fiercely interactive trio featuring bassist Oli Hayhurst (later Alec Dankworth) and drummer Gene Calderazzo. Sometimes the band has been expanded to a quartet with the addition of Zoe’s brother Idris on saxophones and clarinets. In 2017 I saw her give a spellbinding solo piano performance at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.
I’ve also witnessed her playing in a duo with multi reed player Courtney Pine, which featured rather too much Courtney and not enough Zoe for my liking.
Today’s event saw her performing music from “Colour of Sound”, her latest album release which was issued in July 2023 on her own Manushi record label. The recording features several of the musicians included in today’s octet, namely flautist Rowland Sutherland, trumpeter Alex Ridout, trombonist Rosie Turton, bassist Alec Dankworth and long serving drummer Gene Calderazzo.
The sax and clarinet parts on the album are all played by Idris Rahman, who overdubs himself. For the album launch tour he’s been replaced by Tori Freestone on tenor and Helena Kay on alto, the latter also doubling on clarinet.
By anybody’s standards today’s line up was a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary British jazz with Rahman choosing some superb musicians, many of them bandleaders in their own right, to interpret her compositions.
The album notes, by Rahman’s fellow pianist Julian Joseph, cite the inspiration of McCoy Tyner, the South African Bheki Mseleku and Rahman’s friend and mentor Joanne Brackeen. Be that as it may she transcends the sum of these influences to create something much more personal and unique.
Rahman has said of the personnel on the album;
“I’ve chosen all the players for the strong connection I have with them. My music isn’t straightforward and needs people with depth to their playing, who can understand the complexities, but who can also express the emotional side of the music to really connect with the audience”.
Tonight’s performance commenced with album opener “Dance of Time”, introduced by Rahman at the venue’s magnificent grand piano. From the outset the depth and quality of Rahman’s writing was apparent with the unusual five horn front line capable of producing a wide array of colours and textures, something encouraged by the widely different timbres covered from flute to trombone. Sutherland was to shine on this first piece as he shared the solos with the composer. A word too for the rhythm team of Dankworth and Calderazzo who drove this intensely rhythmic music along with an astute blend of subtlety and power, with the drummer enjoying a brief feature towards the close of this tune.
Also from the new album “For Love” featured the rich horn voicings characteristic of this ensemble and incorporated a haunting tenor sax solo from Freestone, this followed by further features from the leader at the piano and the impressive Kay on alto.
The ballad “Little Ones”, also from the new album and a composition written for Rahman’s two young children, saw Sutherland moving to alto flute and Kay to clarinet, crucial elements in a warmer, more gentle group sound. This piece also featured the melodic double bass soloing of Alec Dankworth alongside the leader’s lyrical piano. A word too for Calderazzo’s sympathetic contribution at the kit, deploying brushes throughout.
Continuing with the album material the joyous “Sweet Jasmine” celebrated Rahman’s daughter. The music exhibited something of that South African influence, this finding expression through the vibrant, colourful soloing of Ridout on trumpet, Rahman on piano and Turton on trombone, with Calderazzo cutting loose on the kit at the close.
Rahman explained that the album track “Go With The Flow” had originally been written as an examination piece for Grade 8 piano students and was initially commissioned by pianist and educator Nikki Iles. Introduced by a passage of solo piano this was a complex, but still inherently accessible, piece that tonight included solos from Rahman, Dankworth and Ridout, the latter playing trumpet rather than the flugelhorn that she deploys on the album track.
Rahman has performed many times at Brecon and between tunes she shared some memories with the audience, including recalling the times that she had checked out performances by other pianists, among them Monty Alexander, Hiromi and the late, great Mulgrew Miller. Tonight the shoe was on the other foot, with rising piano star Rachel Starritt listening in the audience before being introduced to Zoe after the gig.
Rahman went back to an earlier album, 2012’s “Kindred Spirits”, for “Maya”, another ballad and a dedication to her then young niece. It remains a beautiful tune and tonight featured a delightful blend of flute, clarinet and trumpet, with Calderazzo deploying brushes and with Sutherland the featured soloist.
A return to the new album for “Unity”, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano featuring a number of flourishes that served as a reminder of Rahman’s classical background. This evolved into a dialogue with Sutherland’s alto flute, before the addition of drums, bass and the other horns. Solos came from Rahman on piano and Kay on alto sax. This was a complex piece, episodic in construction and rich in terms of colour and texture. As so often this evening the full ensemble passages suggested the playing of an even larger unit with the octet coming across as a “little big band”.
A return to the “Kindred Spirits” repertoire for “Conversations With Nellie”, a dedication to Rahman’s Irish grandmother and another joyous celebration of family that drew on elements of Irish traditional music. Alto flute and clarinet were included in the front line with rousing solos coming from Freestone on tenor and Turton on trombone.
This was scheduled to be the last number but a delighted and enraptured audience weren’t going to let Rahman go that easily. As it was a jazz festival the leader thought that perhaps the group should perform a jazz standard, maybe an Ellington tune, but after putting it to the vote the crowd demanded another original, which was very refreshing.
This proved to be “Red Squirrel”, which was given a rumbustious performance by this brilliant band with solos from Kay on alto and Rahman on piano, plus a freely structured trio episode featuring Rahman, Dankworth and Calderazzo, then a flute and piano dialogue towards the close.
This gig was arguably the highlight of the entire Festival. The writing was intelligent and imaginative and the playing superb, with Sutherland’s flutes a particularly distinctive component in the overall group sound. The musicians were well served by an excellent sound mix, with Rahman giving the engineers due credit. The show was presented with Rahman’s characteristic warmth and charm and there was literally nothing to quibble about.
The brilliance of the performance was reflected in the massive line to buy CDs in the foyer after the event. I haven’t seen such a long queue for the merch desk at a jazz gig for a very long time. Says it all I think. Very well done to everybody concerned.
ZOE GILBY with the TERENCE COLLIE TRIO, LIVESTREAM FROM RIVERSIDE ARTS CENTRE, SUNBURY ON THAMES, 20/08/2023
Zoe Gilby – vocals, Terence Collie – piano, Richard Sadler – double bass, Gaetano Di Giacomo – drums
The link forged during lockdown between Brecon Jazz and Mood Indigo Events continues. MIE is run by pianist Terence Collie and vocalist Janet McCunn and presents jazz events in South West London and beyond, with the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury representing one of its main concert venues.
MIE provided a film feature for the 2020 Virtual BJF while the ‘hybrid’ Festivals of 2021 and 2022 saw live events performed in front of a live audience in Sunbury streamed to another live audience watching on screen in Brecon.
This year’s Brecon Jazz London Day featured two great friends of Brecon Jazz, vocalist Zoe Gilby and pianist Terence Collie, the latter leading his regular ‘MIE house trio’ featuring bassist Richard Sadler and drummer Gaetano Di Giacomo. The performance took place at Riverside Arts and was streamed to the bar area at Theatr Brycheiniog.
Gilby had visited Brecon Jazz Club earlier in the year to perform with Cardiff based pianist Jim Barber and his trio. Collie had been in Brecon just a week or so before to perform with guitarist Edison Herbert as part of the main Festival weekend.
Tyneside based vocalist Gilby was presenting her as yet unrecorded ‘Pannonica’ project aka ‘ The Baroness and Monk’, a celebration of the ‘Jazz Baroness’ Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter (nee Rothschild), the friend and patron of Thelonious Monk and his fellow bebop pioneers.
The project was inspired by the 1988 Carmen McRae album “Carmen Sings Monk”, which saw the vocalist putting her own spin on a set of Thelonious Monk tunes with ‘vocalese’ lyrics largely written by Jon Hendricks. It’s a highly influential album for jazz vocalists and has also inspired vocalist / violinist Claire Victoria Roberts, another former visitor to Brecon Jazz.
Any subsequent recording of the Pannonica project by Gilby is likely to feature her bassist husband Andy Champion, plus pianist Paul Edis and drummer Richard Brown. Tonight Collie and his colleagues did a fine job interpreting this often complex material in a performance that was musically superb but was marred for the Brecon audience by ‘latency issues’ (remember those) with the on screen pictures sometimes freezing and falling out of sync with the music. It was a problem that was never satisfactorily resolved and proved, as we knew all along, that as far as live music is concerned there really is no substitute for actually ‘being there’.
That said there was still much to enjoy from a musical point of view as Gilby and the trio commenced with a celebratory “In Walked Bud” with Hendricks’ lyrics homaging a whole pantheon of jazz greats, his eulogies punctuated some virtuoso scat vocalising from Gilby and a solo from Collie at the Riverside’s splendid grand piano. Finally Di Giacomo enjoyed a series of scintillating drum breaks.
“Pannonica” itself, a beautiful love song to the ‘Jazz Baroness’ with lyrics comparing her to a butterfly, slowed things down with Di Giacomo deploying brushes throughout as Collie provided a delightfully lyrical piano solo.
Copyright issues dictate that vocalese versions of existing instrumental tunes must be published under another title. Thus “Monk’s Dream” became “A Man Has A Dream” with Gilby’s singing complemented by excellent instrumental solos from Collie and Sadler.
“Reflections”, described by Gilby as one of Monk’s most melodic pieces, again featured Collie at his most lyrical.
In addition to her acclaim for the Baroness and Monk Gilby was also fulsome in her praise for Carmen McRae (1920-94), a famously feisty character who invested in property and acted as landlady to a number of her fellow jazz musicians. Gilby recounted the tale of how Monk’s neighbours complained to McRae about the famously eccentric Monk playing his piano into the small hours. “You’re living next door to a genius” countered McRae, “and if you don’t like it you can get out”. Or words to that effect.
This was the cue for a playful “Rhythm-a-Ning”, which commenced with voice, bass and drums only and included a prolonged scat vocal episode in addition to features for all three instrumentalists.
The group was pared down to a duo of Gilby and Collie for back to back readings of two versions of “Round Midnight”, each featuring a different set of lyrics. I think I’m correct in believing that Gilby and Collie had never worked together before but these two fine musicians quickly established an excellent rapport that did ample justice to Gilby’s chosen material.
Monk’s “Think Of One” became “When I Think Of One”, with the words of Dutch lyricist Bernie Hannighen telling a tale of unrequited love and sexual frustration with Gilby’s vocals complemented by fluent solos from Collie and Sadler.
Finally we heard a version of “Blue Monk”, one of Thelonious’ most popular compositions, sung to a lyric written by Abbey Lincoln, like McRae an inspirational vocalist. Collie and Sadler were also to feature here.
This performance was well received in both Sunbury and Brecon, despite those ‘latency issues’ experienced at the latter. The music itself was excellent with Gilby yet again proving herself to be a an intelligent, adventurous and flexible vocalist with a superb technique. Collie and the trio responded well to her singing and the instrumental soloing was also first rate, with Sadler really coming into his own during the later stages of the set.
The four musical performances of this final weekend had all been very different but all were highly enjoyable. The absolute highlight had to be the Zoe Rahman Octet who delivered a performance that couldn’t be bettered and which held the audience in the main house at Theatr Brycheiniog totally spellbound.
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