by Ian Mann
September 08, 2015
Ian Mann on the first two days of the best wall2wall Festival thus far. Performers include The Ben Cipolla Band, Radio Banska, Emily Saunders Band, Ben Treacher Quartet and Moscow Drug Club.
Photograph of the Emily Saunders Band by Conal Dunn
Friday and Saturday at wall2wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 4th and 5th September 2015.
The 2015 wall2wall Jazz Festival was the third such event to be organised by the local jazz society Black Mountain Jazz and to my mind was the most successful festival to date.
This year the Festival was centred at BMJ’s headquarters the Kings Arms where the regular monthly club nights are held. On the two main days of the Festival the Kings function space hosted five ticketed events each day. With only one main stage the audience was concentrated in one location and in general the performers played to reasonably sized audiences. 2014 had deployed three concert stages, two of them outdoors, and the audience was spread too thinly with some events attended by only a handful of people. On reflection the organisers had been a little too ambitious the previous year but by reining things in and using one venue as the focus of the festival they seemed to have found the perfect format for this, and hopefully future, events.
Of course given the “wall to wall” music premise of the festival other venues were still deployed. On both Saturday and Sunday this included a blues stage in the garden at the rear of Y Cantreff Inn featuring largely acoustic blues performances by local artists.
The Sunday also incorporated the “Jazz Alley”, a free stage situated in the middle of Abergavenny’s famous Market Hall with the music complemented by a number of trade stands and food outlets. On the first sunny day for what seemed like weeks this was a great success with very healthy attendances for a diverse music programme that included several genres of jazz, blues and world music. Many of the people enjoying the music in the Jazz Alley were casual visitors, perhaps exploring jazz for the first time. They seemed to like what they heard and will hopefully return to hear more in the future. There was a real festival buzz about the town on the Sunday, something also helped by a further Fringe event at the Hen & Chickens pub located en route from the Market Hall to the Kings. It was estimated that some two thousand people heard some jazz related music over the course of the weekend at the Kings, Y Cantreff, Jazz Alley or one of the Fringe events making the festival a great success in terms of outreach. Of course many of these listeners would have been hearing the music for free and it’s to be hoped that the Festival was able to break even and will return again next year, ideally in a very similar format.
MADE IN WALES, KINGS ARMS, 04/09/2015.
Wall2Wall 2015 certainly got off to a great start on Friday evening with a Festival Dinner at the Kings Arms. The event was a total sell out with Festival organiser Mike Skilton joking that this was the first time he’d been able to use the words “sold out” on the BMJ website in the society’s nine year history!
The theme of the evening was “Made In Wales” with the menu having a Welsh theme and using locally sourced ingredients. Credit is due to the kitchen staff at the Kings for an excellent two course meal which was served prior to the musical entertainment provided by a sextet fronted by Usk based vocalist Debs Hancock. Using the group name Made In Wales this band of local heroes was co-led by tenor saxophonist Andrew Fawcett and also included Ben Thomas (trumpet & flugel), Gareth Hall (electric piano) Erika Lyons (double bass) and Keith Niblett (drums). Essentially this was an extended version of Hancock’s Jazz Dragons group which played at the club in April but with Fawcett and Thomas on board the repertoire was substantially different although still standards based. I don’t intend to carry out a full review as I attended this particular event as a paying customer but can report that it was a thoroughly entertaining evening with both Hancock and her instrumentalists delivering the goods with fine singing and soloing all round. Combined with the high quality, value for money food offering this was an excellent way to kick off the festival and will almost certainly be repeated in subsequent years.
THE BEN CIPOLLA BAND, KINGS ARMS, 05/09/2015.
It has always been the policy of wall2wall to support young up and coming jazz musicians and this was exemplified on Saturday lunchtime by this performance by a young group from Swindon, the Ben Cipolla Band. Still young enough to be driven to gigs by their parents this six piece band was fronted by vocalist and songwriter Ben Cipolla and also featured Isaac Francis on acoustic guitar, Jonny Budd on electric guitar and occasional alto sax, Lawrence Cooper on trumpet, Will Downes-Hall at the drums and his younger brother Brendan Downes-Hall on electric bass. The band sometimes performs as an octet with the addition of saxophonist David Knight and guitarist Paddy Benedict.
The Cipolla Band’s repertoire includes a smattering of original tunes plus a selection of jazz and soul covers. The band won the Brewin Dolphin Award for Best Newcomers at the 2014 Marlborough Jazz Festival (where Cipolla also guested with Clare Teal) and have clearly worked hard on their stagecraft. They took to the stage individually with drummer Will pounding out a rhythm before being joined by brother Brendan on bass and subsequently Francis on acoustic guitar, Budd on alto sax, Cooper on trumpet and finally Cipolla in an eye catching bright blue suit.
The band have already recorded an EP of very good original songs and began with the title cut of this, a song entitled “Guest House”. They followed this with the more reflective “The Puppet”, a song sourced from the same record and the as yet unrecorded original “Saskia”. These last two featured Budd on electric guitar as he put down his alto sax.
A string of covers began with Gregory Porter’s “Hey Laura” and this was followed by “Georgia” which was performed as a duet by Cipolla on vocals and Budd on electric guitar. The band sound had been very full and drowned out Cipolla’s voice at times and I enjoyed the contrast offered by episodes such as this which broke the band down into smaller configurations. This showed real maturity and also brought out the best in the leader’s voice.
A segue of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Moondance” and “Summertime” inventively united three much loved songs and sweetened the audience for another clutch of original tunes including the new song “Mr. Chameleon” and “Stripped Down” from the EP, the latter featuring a scorching electric guitar solo from the talented multi-instrumentalist Jonny Budd.
Despite the group’s retro jump and jive trappings they also possess something of an indie rock sensibility, something borne out by Cipolla’s revelation that one of his primary inspirations is the Bristol based singer/songwriter Patrick Duff, one time leader of the 90s alternative rock band Strangelove. Cipolla’s song “Concorde Flight” was an evocative allegory of the trajectory of Duff’s life set in a pared down arrangement featuring acoustic and electric guitars plus muted trumpet.
Gregory Porter has been a huge influence not only on Cipolla but on the band as a whole. His “Water Under Bridges” was performed by the duo of Cipolla on vocals and Francis on acoustic guitar, the latter very much the leader’s right hand man.
The band’s Swindon roots suggest that Jamie Cullum may be yet another influence and the original song “Family Train” celebrated Cipolla’s kith and kin back home in Wiltshire. This was another song played almost acoustically with an arrangement featuring just guitars plus a smattering of trumpet.
John Mayer’s “Neon” was another duo performance by Cipolla and Francis. I’m not familiar with Mayer’s work but was impressed with the quality of his writing here and also with the interpretation of this very American song by two young guys from England’s West Country.
A further original song, “Lily White” was the last of the small group numbers featuring just Ciipolla and Budd on electric guitar. It was then time to bring back the whole band for a high energy closing sequence kick-started by the Downes-Hall brothers’ bass and drum grooves on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” with superb instrumental solos coming from Cooper on trumpet and Budd on synclavier style guitar.
The energy levels were maintained on a fast grooving version of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” with Cooper and Budd again taking the instrumental honours. The original song “Maverick Mind” from the “Guest House” EP was equally hard driving and a hugely entertaining set was completed by what Cipolla described as a “Disney classic”, the almost inevitable “King Of The Swingers”. But this was different, I particularly liked the bluesy opening section featuring just voice and acoustic guitar, a neat variation on a song that’s become a bit of a clich?. Eventually the band came roaring in with Cooper and Budd, the latter now back on alto sax forming a mini horn section.
I’ll admit that I had initial doubts as to whether or not I’d enjoy this band but they quickly won me over with their youthful enthusiasm and already very polished musicianship. They’ve clearly worked hard on their stage show and their eclectic mix of original songs and imaginative arrangements of much loved covers is an effective formula that communicated itself well to a supportive lunchtime crowd. Cipolla is a talented vocalist, songwriter and occasional guitarist and he has surrounded himself with a very talented young band. Expect to hear more of the Ben Cipolla Band, both individually and collectively.
MANSEL DAVIES, BLUES STAGE, Y CANTREFF INN, 05/09/2015
I took a walk down to the Blues Stage at Y Cantreff hoping to catch a bit of the set by Mansel Davies before returning to the Kings Arms for the next concert event. The pub proved to be a longer walk away than I’d anticipated and when I got there Davies was on his break. However on learning that there was a journalist in the house, or on the lawn, as the case may be, he agreed to go back on stage early so I could hear something of his music ? a nice touch, thanks very much Mansel.
Davies is a guitarist, bassist, vocalist and harmonica player who performs regularly in the South Wales area in line ups ranging from solo to quartet, often under the banner ‘Acoustic Sessions’. He performs covers across a variety of genres including blues, folk, rock and pop.
At Abergavenny I only had time to watch him perform a couple of songs, a cover that I couldn’t put a handle on and an effective original song called “The Edge Of The World” that featured him playing a neck brace harmonica in the style of Bob Dylan or Neil Young. He was obviously a highly competent guitarist with a forceful acoustic technique and a powerful, accomplished vocalist. Brief as it was I enjoyed what I heard and will look out for him again some time. Mansel, if you ever play any gigs in the Hereford area let me know and I’ll try to come along.
RADIO BANSKA, KINGS ARMS 05/09/2015
Some time ago I received an email from Nina Trott, violinist and co-leader of Radio Banska who was looking for help in her search for gigs. I forwarded it on to Mike Skilton and lo and behold here were the Bristol/Bath based quintet at wall2wall and what a pleasant surprise they turned out to be with their eclectic mix of “music from around the world” (their words).
More words now from the Festival brochure and the description of Radio Banska’s music as ” a jazz infused blend of Levantine mystery, Balkan passion and Latin rhythms”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Radio Banska was formed in 2009 and released the album “The Balkan Courtesan” in 2011. The current line up includes founder members Nina Trott (violin), Dave Spencer (electric guitar) and Tony Barby (acoustic guitar, charango) plus the more recently joined rhythm team of Sol Ahmed (double bass) and Justin Fellows (drums). Most of today’s set was sourced from the album and featured a mixture of original tunes by Spencer and Trott plus a number of inspired covers including tunes by composers as diverse as John Zorn and Richard Galliano.
They kicked off with Spencer’s “La Mezquita”, the opening track from the album, an excellent example of the Levantine side of their music with Trott and Spencer exchanging solos above a powerful but fluid rhythm section anchored by Barby’s rhythm guitar.
The band’s imaginative and colourful arranging skills saw them taking French accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano’s tune “Chat Pitre” and transforming it into a strange new hybrid that Spencer described as “Moroccan Reggae”. I loved this unlikely marriage of Middle Eastern melody and dub groove and the imaginative solos from Spencer’s distinctive solid bodied Ibanez guitar and Trott’s violin.
The new tune “Suleiman’s Dance” marked a return to the Levant with it’s tight knit rhythms incorporating the use of arco bass ,and the soaring solos from Trott on violin and Spencer on guitar, the latter making extensive use of his instrument’s sustain pedal. Despite the ethnic roots of much of their music Radio Banska are not afraid to harness modern musical technology, this really is a very modern brand of world jazz.
That sustain pedal use was put to good use again as the music moved to another continent for a performance of a tango by Astor Piazzolla. Another highlight here was Trott’s violin solo above the patter of brushed drums.
Spencer’s original “Hound Of The Baskervilles” then introduced something of a contemporary rock influence before an excellent first set concluded with Trott’s lively “Emo Latino”, a tune sourced from the album and featuring the joyous swoops of her violin above the loose limbed rhythms laid down by her colleagues.
Set two saw Barby taking up the eight stringed charango on an inventive arrangement of John Zorn’s “Ravayah”, a version of which also appears on the album.
Spencer’s “Hounslow East” then offered something “more obviously jazzy” before the group delivered something “more mellow” with a tune called “Countrywide” with solos for guitar and violin above Fellows’ brushed drum grooves.
The title track from “The Balkan Courtesan” saw Ahmed making effective use of the bow on the intro before the music erupted into a seething cauldron of Balkan rhythms.
The band composition “Isfahan”, not to be confused with Billy Strayhorn’s jazz standard of the same name, sounded suitably exotic with a series of high energy exchanges between Trott’s violin and Spencer’s oud like guitar.
From the album the tune “We’re Not In Kansas Now” was mentioned by Spencer as being “surreal” and represented another example of what Listomania’s Charley Dunlap memorably described as “a kind of Levantine Zeppelin”.
They rounded off two excellent sets of music with the album track “Cinnabar”, another high energy offering that even saw the band’s two sit down guitarists getting to their feet, “I never thought I’d get to the age where I get applauded just for standing up” remarked Spencer.
Joking apart I thought Radio Banska were terrific with their imaginative and exotic compositions and arrangements combining with some excellent musicianship from some very experienced players. This was consistently exciting stuff and the excellence of the live performance is also reflected by the “Balkan Courtesan” album which makes for an enjoyable, satisfying and thoroughly convincing listen.
A great gig from the surprise package of the festival.
EMILY SAUNDERS BAND (ESB), KINGS ARMS, 05/09/2015
London based vocalist Emily Saunders has won considerable critical acclaim for her albums “Cotton Skies” (2011) and “Outsiders Insiders” (2015). Saunders is inspired by the music of Brazil, particularly that of composers Airto Moreira and Hermeto Pascoal, and describes her own music as being “Brazilian inspired but with a London twist”.
“Cotton Skies” contains a mix of original songs and covers but on the more recent “Outsiders Insiders” the material is all Saunders’ own and her blending of Brazilian flavours with a contemporary London sensibility adds up to something fresh, exciting and original.
In May 2015 I saw Saunders perform a standards set at Brecon Jazz Club in the company of Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle and his trio. That gig helped to confirm Saunders as an adventurous vocalist with a high degree of technical ability and an extensive knowledge of the classic jazz repertoire. Entertaining though that was it wasn’t as exciting as today’s performance which saw Saunders bringing her London based quintet, the Emily Saunders Band (or ESB) to Wales. This all star line up featured the experienced trumpeter Byron Wallen, a contributor to both of Saunders’ albums, plus Chris Jerome on electric piano, Paul Michael on electric bass and Gary Willcox at the drums. In this company Saunders enjoyed a greater degree of freedom, frequently using her voice as an instrument and integrating thrillingly with the other members of this stellar band.
Things kicked off with a dazzling version of Airto Morira’s “Mixing”, a tune that features on Saunders’ d?but album. Here Saunders demonstrated just how skilled an improviser she is with some of the most inventive scat singing I’ve ever heard, a little bit of scat can sometimes go a very long way but Saunders turns it into an art form. With Michael’s springy electric bass groove providing the perfect launch pad the singer shared the solos with Wallen on trumpet, Jerome on electric piano and Willcox at the drums. A thoroughly exhilarating start.
Saunders is also a perceptive lyricist as she revealed on the title track from “Outsiders Insiders” with its quick fire lyrics which conjured up images of a kind of jazz/Brazilian “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The instrumental honours here went to Jerome with a feverish electric piano solo and Wallen with a vocalised trumpet feature.
Wallen sat out for “You Caught Me”, a shimmering ballad performed by the remaining quartet with solos from Jerome on piano and Michael on liquid electric bass.
The trumpeter returned for Chick Corea’s “You’re Everything”, a song initially composed for the very first edition of Return To Forever, the band that featured Airto on percussion and the vocals of Flora Purim. Like so many other Corea tunes it’s become a modern jazz classic and Saunders and her colleagues more than did it justice with Emily’s singing vying for excellence with solos from Wallen, Jerome and Michael.
The Saunders original “You’re With Me” marked a return to ballad territory and was again performed by a quartet of voice, piano, bass and (eventually) drums.
“Daze”, from “Cotton Skies” brought a sudden injection of pace with the driving rhythms of Michael and Willcox fuelling a brilliant solo from Wallen plus a series of dazzling exchanges between the trumpeter and Saunders. Following further solos by Jerome and Michael the singer returned to deliver some more astonishing scat vocalising.
From the most recent album the hypnotic and atmospheric “Descending Down” introduced a more sombre element to the proceedings but was nevertheless highly effective as Saunders’ voice combined with the burnished tones of Wallen’s trumpet.
“Summer Days” included more virtuoso scatting alongside features for trumpet and electric bass. The more vigorous “Sunshine On Cloudy Days” then featured a solo from Jerome followed by some more terrific interplay between Saunders and Wallen.
Another pause for breath with the quartet ballad “Reflections” from “Outsiders Insiders” before a grandstand finish with Airto’s “Xibaba”, this featuring some more astonishing vocalising including Saunders singing in Portugese and delivering yet more amazing scatting. With final bravura solos also coming from Wallen, Jerome, Michael and Willcox this was a scintillating end to a great gig that delighted the Abergavenny audience. There’s clearly something of a buzz about Emily Saunders and she drew the largest crowd of the day, none of whom were left disappointed.
This was probably the best gig of the day, it was certainly the most adventurous as Saunders revealed herself to be a highly original vocal talent, not only supremely technically accomplished but also prepared to take musical risks. Her original writing was also excellent and her rapport with an equally accomplished band was terrific. The presence of Wallen represented a considerable bonus and I liked the way Jerome deployed his keyboard, deliberately adopting the classic Rhodes sound rather than trying to be an acoustic piano substitute.
My thanks to Emily for speaking with me afterwards and also for the gift of a copy of the excellent “Cotton Skies”, an album I’d not previously heard. I’m also grateful to her for introducing me to Byron Wallen, a musician whose playing I have admired for many years in bands led by Courtney Pine, Denys Baptiste, Gary Crosby and others.
BEN TREACHER QUARTET, KINGS ARMS, 05/09/2015
The young alto saxophonist Ben Treacher has been a frequent visitor to BMJ. A graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music in Cardiff he first appeared in Abergavenny as a member of the RWCMD Big Band before returning to appear at both of the first two wall2wall festivals.
In 2013 he co-led a quintet with tenor saxophonist Martha Skilton (promoter Mike’s daughter) and delivered an enjoyable standards based set. In 2014 he returned leading a trio featuring bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Ollie Howell for a performance that channelled the spirit of the great Sonny Rollins with Treacher also doubling on tenor.
Treacher has now moved to London and the quartet he brought back to Wales today featured some of the capital’s young rising jazz stars in the shapes of pianist Will Barry, bassist Flo Moore and drummer Will Glaser, the latter recently heard on “Fabled”, an EP release by reeds player Sam Rapley.
The alto remains Treacher’s main horn and in the company of his talented young colleagues he delivered an enjoyable standards based set that contained just one original composition. Treacher has always been a highly competent musician but with the move to London he seems to have sharpened his technique even more, I overheard several comments about how much he had “come on” since his previous wall2wall appearances. His 2014 performance had taken place on an outside stage and had been rather poorly attended. Today Treacher was rewarded by a more substantial and very supportive audience, this was a good gig for him.
Treacher and Glaser kick started an engaging take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” with the leader taking the first solo followed by Barry and Moore plus Glaser with a series of brushed drum breaks.
A glitch with the lead to Moore’s bass amp led to a short delay while she switched to a new cable but the quartet were soon up and running again with Clifford Brown’s “Sandu” with Treacher leading off the solos with some forceful alto blowing followed by Barry at his Nord Electro 3 keyboard and former Royal Academy of Music Big Band member Moore at the bass. Moore is also making her mark on the London jazz scene with smaller units such as the Phil Meadows Group and Stoop Quintet.
The jazz standard “But Not For Me” was played hard and fast with a soloing order of Treacher, Barry, Moore and Glaser. It has to be said that despite the excellence of the playing the use of virtually the same format for every tune did get a little bit too predictable after a while.
Treacher spent some time studying in Holland, a country for which he still holds considerable affection. The sole original tune was “Spijplank”, a Dutch word meaning “chopping board”! This piece was also played by last year’s trio and was far more contemporary in feel than the items from the standards catalogue even though the solos still came in the predictable order, culminating in a drum feature for the impressive Glaser.
“On The Sunny Side Of The Street” closed the first set performed in an interesting New Orleans/parade ground style arrangement with some exciting keyboard and drum exchanges bookending solos from Treacher and Moore.
The taking of a short break was arguably ill advised with the quartet having to cut their second set short as the festival running order was slipping slightly behind schedule. A high octane “Donna Lee” kicked the second half off with the young tyros tackling the complexities of Charlie Parker’s tune with great panache. This time Barry led off the solos at the keyboard followed by Treacher on alto and Glaser at the drums. Barry’s playing had visibly and audibly grown in confidence throughout the set and he also acquitted himself well on “There Is No Greater Love”, sharing the solos with Treacher.
The quartet rounded things off by romping through Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” with Barry again leading off the solos followed by leader Treacher.
Although less adventurous and ultimately less satisfying than the set by the Emily Saunders Band there was still much to enjoy here with Treacher and his young colleagues getting a good response from a supportive Festival crowd. The comments I heard were universally positive and the quartet’s brand of well played straight ahead jazz went down very well. For me Treacher needs to start adding more of his own material to his repertoire if he wishes to move on to the next level. A good and very enjoyable gig nevertheless.
MOSCOW DRUG CLUB, KINGS ARMS, 05/09/2015.
The Bristol based band Moscow Drug Club were one of the big successes of wall2wall 2014 drawing a large crowd to the Kings Arms for their late Saturday night performance. Many of those audience members were back to see the band again in 2015, again playing at the Kings in exactly the same time slot. This really was a band that was “back by popular demand”.
Fronted by the charismatic vocalist Katya Gorrie Moscow Drug Club also includes some of the South West’s leading instrumentalists namely guitarist Denny Ilett, accordionist Mirek Salmon, bassist Andy Crowdy and trumpeter Jonny Bruce. With the exception of the last named all of them also sing and although the main focus of MDC’s music is the songs, both their own and other people’s, there are always some terrific instrumental moments during an MDC show. These gentlemen can play.
MDC’s music is a blend of gypsy jazz, cabaret, East European folk music, klezmer and tango, a heady brew that has proved extremely popular with audiences and would probably get a nod of approval from Tom Waits. The group has accrued something of a cult following for its performances which are delivered with humour and a remarkable degree of energy given the fact that apart from bassist Crowdy the performers remain seated throughout.
With Gorrie in the role of exotic chanteuse MDC artfully recreate the atmosphere of 1930s Berlin cabaret, a world that is simultaneously both glamorous and dangerous. In 2015 all that’s missing is the smoke!
Looking back on my review of last year’s show I note that although the group’s MO remains essentially the same 2015’s set list was substantially different, albeit with some old favourites, particularly the “novelty songs”, inevitably appearing.
This time round they kicked off with “Missy Lou” with Gorrie augmenting her singing with the playing of small items of hand held percussion. The instrumental solos here came from Salmon on piano accordion and Bruce on trumpet. I’ve always admired Bruce’s playing since his days with the Dave Stapleton Quintet and he brings a real jazz presence to MDC’s music.
The old swing tune “When I Get Low I Get High” combined a knowing lyric with excellent solos from Bruce, Ilett, Salmon and Crowdy.
The lesser known Peggy Lee song “The Gypsy With The Fire In His Shoes” is an MDC staple with its evocative lyrics and inventive flamenco style arrangement that makes great use of the “palmas” of Gorrie and the rest of the group.
The original tune “The Voodoo Queen Of New Orleans” evoked the spirit of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, also immortalised by the band Redbone in their 1971 hit “The Witch Queen Of New Orleans”. Laveau has also been the subject of numerous other songs by a number of other artists, among them, almost inevitably, Dr. John. The main instrumental solo was by Bruce on muted trumpet.
Salmon then took the instrumental honours on another original song, “Senorita” which also featured a number of humorous band vocal exchanges.
The old Nana Mouskouri hit “Over And Over” seemed an unlikely choice but it fitted the band perfectly with Gorrie bringing out the full pathos of the lyrics. However it was bawdy humour that was the order of the day on “The Strip Polka” with Gorrie’s risqu? lyrics complemented by the vocalised growl of Bruce’s plunger muted trumpet.
A hugely enjoyable first set ended with “It’d Better Be Tonight”, a song from the soundtrack of the Pink Panther film with Bruce again on muted trumpet and Gorrie delivering the lyrics in Italian.
Set two commenced with the tune that the band had earlier used for their sound check, the old Andrews Sisters song “Bei Mir Bist du Schon”, something of a novelty number but enlivened by excellent instrumental features from Salmon, Ilett, Crowdy and Bruce still wielding that plunger mute.
“Two Guitars”, a Russian folk tune with lyrics added by none other than Charles Aznavour featured Gorrie’s most emotive singing of the night, the singer augmenting her impassioned performance with a series of theatrical but effective hand gestures.
Jacques Brel has long been a favourite songwriter of the band and last year’s set included included his song “Funeral Tango”. This time round it was the equally literate and evocative “Jackie”, sung by Gorrie with the accompaniment of Crowdy’s bass only.
The songs of Kurt Weill and Bertoldt Brecht are obvious source material for MDC and they tackled “The Alabama Song”, a piece previously recorded by artists from Lotte Lenya to The Doors to David Bowie. With its whisky bar imagery this song was perfect for MDC with Bruce impressing on cup muted trumpet.
The original song “Nomads” introduced an element of pertinent social comment and included an excellent solo from guitarist Ilett, a frequent associate of Bristol’s best known jazz export, saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Oh yes, and it also contains that immortal line “we don’t give a shit”!
The mood now changed with the comedy song “Istanbul Not Constantinople”, another MDC staple with its theatrical trumpet and accordion exchanges and exaggerated diminuendos and climaxes ? plus an element of audience participation.
This went down a storm and the group were summoned back for a well deserved encore, their signature tune “Moscow Drug Club” with its Cold War imagery and memorable hook line of “where the reds play the blues”. Crowdy produced a great bowed bass solo and accordionist Salmon led the band in some Russian style singing. A great way to end another exciting performance from this highly talented and accomplished band.
Overall I found this second Moscow Drug Club show even more enjoyable than the first. Last time round I enjoyed their energy and technical skill but still felt that somehow it all seemed to be a bit contrived and something of a pose. This time I found it all rather more convincing, yes the novelty songs are still there and will always be an integral part of their performances - but this time I thought there was a bit more meat on the bones, particularly in the second set with the Brel and Weill.
Once again the audience loved them. I wouldn’t bet against them being back in the same room at the same hour in twelve months time.
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