by Ian Mann
August 10, 2020
Ian Mann enjoys the hugely successful first day of this lovingly coordinated online international jazz festival.
Photograph of Bryan Corbett sourced from the Brecon Jazz website http://www.breconjazz.org
FRIDAY AT ‘VIRTUAL’ BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL, 07/08/2020
Due to the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic the 2020 edition of the Brecon Jazz Festival, the 37th, was obliged to become an on-line, or ‘virtual’ event.
Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon, organisers of both Brecon Jazz Club and Brecon Jazz Festival, were understandably reluctant to break with tradition and have a ‘gap year’ and approached the artists who had been scheduled to appear to provide content from the safety of their own homes.
The musicians were only too happy to oblige and Brecon Jazz Festival 2020 was first transmitted over the weekend of 7th,8th,9th August, the traditional Festival weekend. The programme featured a fascinating mix of exciting musical performances together with informative interviews from jazz artists from around the globe.
In the great Brecon tradition 2020 was a truly international Festival featuring musicians from the USA, France, Iran, Poland, Italy, Argentina, Spain and Uruguay alongside home-grown British jazz talent, including many musicians from Wales. Brecon’s distinctive ‘Welshness’ has always been part of its appeal, and even in this ‘virtual’ format this year was to be no different.
The programme featured many musicians who had already proved to be popular visitors to Brecon Jazz Club’s monthly club nights, held at The Muse Arts Centre in the centre of Brecon. The most recent of these took place on March 10th 2020 and featured Bristol based vocalist Victoria Klewin, who was also to appear on the Festival programme.
To present such a diverse and extensive programme Lynne and Roger teamed up with Vialma, a French hosting and streaming company with a specialist interest in jazz. Streaming began daily at noon with up to twelve separate events being featured per day, a staggering thirty five in all.
Another key partner in the success of the Festival was Ratio Studios, a recording studio based in nearby Merthyr Tydfil who welcomed a number of local bands through their doors to perform their music collectively, as a group, albeit with no audience. The audio and visual quality of these sessions was uniformly excellent and was as close as these ‘virtual performances’ could get to the real thing.
Ratio, who describe themselves as “Wales’ first dedicated livestreaming studio”, were also involved with the recording and editing of the numerous ‘remote sessions’ and like Vialma deserve great credit for the overall success of the Festival.
Although nothing can replace the ‘Brecon Buzz’ and the experience of actually being in the town on the Festival weekend the on-line format does at least save the concert goer the difficulty of having to choose between two equally appealing gigs taking place at different venues simultaneously. For one year, at least, there was the opportunity of seeing everything you wanted and not having to miss out on anything – and with Vialma generously ensuring that content would continue to be available until August 30th there was also the chance to watch favourite shows again and to catch up on anything you might have missed during meal breaks etc.
Things got under way with a video introduction by Sharon, one of Brecon Jazz Club’s loyal band of volunteers, followed by a more formal welcome from Councillor Chris Walsh, the Mayor of Brecon. Musical accompaniment was provided by drummer Ian Poole, recorded at his home in Cardiff.
Once the formalities were completed the musical performances began. Given the unique circumstances these were not full length concert sets but instead were shorter performances, typically of between twenty to thirty minutes duration, an ideal time period for musicians to introduce themselves and to perform four or five numbers.
BRYAN CORBETT QUARTET
Setting the ball rolling was the Birmingham based trumpeter Bryan Corbett, who appeared with his regular quartet featuring pianist Al Gurr, bassist Ben Markland and drummer Neil Bullock.
Originally from Herefordshire Corbett used to appear regularly as a youngster on the old Brecon Fringe programme, typically playing at the back of the George Hotel, long before it got taken over by Wetherspoons. This was also before Corbett made the move to Birmingham and his band of the time featured Leominster based guitarist Trevor Davies, who subsequently appeared on Corbett’s début album “Funk in the Deep Freeze”, released in 1999.
I saw Corbett perform on many occasions in the early years of the 21st century at the intimate Blue Note Café Bar in my home town of Leominster often playing as a duo with keyboard player Levi French. My most recent live sighting of him was in February 2019 at The Hive in Shrewsbury when a quartet co-led by Corbett and bassist Tom Hill paid tribute to trumpeter Freddie Hubbard with their show “Ready for Freddie”. Review here;
Corbett has played with his current quartet for a number of years, releasing the live double album “Message of Iridescence” in 2015. Despite the fact that the members recorded their parts for this session in isolation the quartet were still admirably tight and cohesive, the result of many nights together on the bandstand in less unusual times.
Introducing today’s performances Corbett explained that two pieces had been specifically recorded for Brecon Jazz Festival, while a third had previously been featured in an earlier series of “Lockdown Sessions”.
First up was a trio performance recorded for Brecon of Donald Byrd’s “Here I Am”, with Corbett featuring alongside Gurr on piano and Markland on double bass. Played as a ballad this featured the mellow, but effortlessly fluent sound of Corbett on flugel, his solo followed by that of Gurr, deploying an acoustic piano setting on his electric keyboard.
Corbett switched over to trumpet and drummer Neil Bullock was added to the group for a dynamic performance of alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s composition “A Wheel Within A Wheel”, a piece that Watson wrote during his tenure with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and which formed part of the repertoire of that band. Corbett explained that he had seen the tune performed by Watson’s own group at a jazz club in Kansas City, where Corbett’s brother lives. I suspect that I may have seen it performed by Watson in Brecon, the great man having visited the Festival twice in the 1990s, once on the Stroller programme and the following year as a concert artist at Theatr Brycheiniog. I recall both being highly exciting performances, with Watson backed by a high class British trio led by pianist Robin Aspland.
And today’s performance was pretty terrific too with Corbett delivering a dazzlingly fluent trumpet solo that soared into the upper registers while also embracing earthier vocalised sounds, with the spirit of his trumpet hero, the late great Freddie Hubbard, never too far away. Gurr was equally convincing with his piano solo and there was also a feature for the powerful Bullock at the drums. With its many twists and turns this was essentially a two part composition, two tunes for the price of one! “A Wheel Within A Wheel”, indeed.
To close Corbett reverted to flugel for a version of the Bill Evans / Miles Davis tune “Flamenco Sketches”, sourced from Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue” album. This had previously been recorded for the earlier “Lockdown Sessions” and featured Corbett alongside Bullock at the drums and Gurr, who was doubling on keyboard and electric bass. Corbett’s languid, velvety tone on flugel was complemented by the sounds of Bullock’s brushed drums, Gurr’s liquid electric bass and an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound from the keyboard. Solos were shared by Corbett on flugel and Gurr on keys.
It’s always a pleasure to watch Corbett play and this all too short set helped to get Brecon Jazz Festival 2020 off to a great start with the Bobby Watson tune my personal highlight, as it also brought back happy memories of the saxophonist’s own visits to Brecon.
VICTORIA KLEWIN TRIO
The second musical performance of the day featured Bristol based vocalist Victoria Klewin, who, as previously mentioned, was the last artist to play at Brecon Jazz Club before lockdown. Klewin had performed an enjoyable standards set in the company of a trio led by Cardiff based pianist Jim Barber. Review here;
In the Autumn of 2019 Klewin had also appeared at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny with her regular band, presenting a themed show based around the music of the late American vocalist, pianist and songwriter Blossom Dearie. Review here;
Today’s trio performance, recorded and filmed at Ratio Studios was based around Klewin’s Blossom Dearie Project and found her in the company of guitarist Denny Ilett and bassist Chris Jones.
Klewin’s previous shows at Abergavenny and Brecon have served notice that the singer is a class act, and today’s specially recorded show offered further confirmation of this assessment.
The trio commenced with a lively version of “You For Me”, sourced from the 1957 album simply titled “Blossom Dearie”. Klewin’s fluent vocals were complemented by instrumental solos from Ilett, adapting a clean, ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound, and Jones at the bass.
“Some Other Time”, from Dearie’s “Sings Comden and Green” album featured a suitably wistful vocal from Klewin, the line “we’ll catch up some other time” seeming to take on a whole new meaning in the light of the current Corona virus crisis.
Klewin lightened the mood with her version of “Let Me Love You”, a song from Dearie’s “Give Me The Oo La La” album and written by Bart Howard, also the composer of “Fly Me To the Moon”.
Klewin’s vivacious vocals were augmented by articulate instrumental solos from Jones at the bass and Ilett on guitar.
The Harold Arlen song “’Deed I Do” was given a similarly breezy treatment, With Klewin’s sassy vocals again complemented by solos from Ilett and Jones.
These four songs represented an enjoyable snippet from Klewin’s Blossom Dearie inspired show and included some excellent singing and playing from a well balanced trio. Klewin is a highly accomplished vocalist, but having a musician of Ilett’s calibre on board is also a huge plus.
Ultimately this was just a taster for the wider Blossom Dearie show, as well as acting as a welcome reminder of the enormity of the often overlooked Dearie’s talent. The whole package is well worth seeing, and the band at Abergavenny also included Dan Moore on keyboards and Matt Brown at the drums. Let’s hope Klewin will be able to take it out on the road again if some kind of normality is ever restored.
HOT CLUB GALLOIS
Also filmed at Ratio was this good natured set featuring the South Wales based gypsy jazz quartet Hot Club Gallois.
A popular attraction on the South Wales jazz circuit the group consists of Richard Jones (guitar, vocals), Luke Archard (guitar), Xenia Porteous (violin) and Mike Morgan (double bass, vocals).
They had previously appeared at the 2018 Festival, on that occasion with Hywel Maggs replacing Archard on guitar. That same year Porteous also made a big impression as she also featured in an impromptu session with guitarists Trefor Owen and Andy Hulme and in a more formal context as part of two separate ensembles ensembles led by the Czech saxophonist Pawel Zlamal and by locally based jazz french horn virtuoso Rod Paton.
Gathered together in Ratio Studios for today’s performance the members of Hot Club Gallois were able to bounce musical ideas off each other and enjoy the luxury of an on stage joke. The result was an enjoyable performance, presented with good humour by Jones and Morgan and with the rest of the group chipping in with verbal witticisms. This was their first performance together since the start of lockdown, and they were determined to enjoy it.
Things kicked off with Jones singing a Django Reinhardt inspired version of “After You’ve Gone” and sharing the instrumental solos with the fleet fingered Archard and the always impressive Porteous.
After celebrating the founder of the gypsy jazz genre the quartet now chose to celebrate a musician that Jones described as “a modern day master” of the style, the Belgian born guitarist, composer and bandleader Stochelo Rosenberg.
Rosenberg had brought his own Quintette, including British born rhythm guitarist Chris Quinn, to the Festival in 2019, appearing at Theatr Brycheiniog. This ensemble delivered perhaps the best gypsy jazz performance that I have ever seen, taking the genre to a whole other level.
Today Hot Club Gallois delivered their own excellent tribute with their assured version of Stochelo’s gypsy jazz ballad “For Sephora”, with solos from Jones, Porteous and Archard.
Mike Morgan enjoyed his turn in the spotlight, singing and playing bass on the quartet’s highly effective interpretation of Eden Abez’s song “Nature Boy”, famously covered by Nat King Cole. Jones and Morgan introduced the piece as a guitar / bass duo, with Porteous subsequently adding violin counter melodies. Both Morgan and Jones are more than adequate vocalists and Morgan’s warm vocal tones proved to be particularly appropriate to this song. Meanwhile the instrumental honours went to soloists Porteous and Archard.
The title of Jones’ own “Belle Vue Waltz” is a nod both to the Django Reinhardt composition “Belle Vue” and the fact that Jones once lived in a street named Belle Vue Terrace. The quartet’s repertoire includes a number of Jones originals in the gypsy jazz style, another title being “Café ‘39”. “Belle Vue Waltz” has become something of a set staple and here featured impressive solos from Porteous and Archard.
The group ended their breezy and enjoyable performance with the unlikely segue of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the gypsy jazz favourite “Sweet Georgia Brown”. The twin guitars teamed up for a brief rendition of the famous Metallica riff before Porteous swept in on the violin playing the familiar melody of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and subsequently delivering a suitably sassy and vivacious solo, bookended by virtuoso fretboard excursions from both guitarists. Finally it was left to Porteous to “take it home” and conclude a highly invigorating set.
BARB JUNGR, CHARITY PERFORMANCE for SIDE BY SIDE WITH REFUGEES and ONE BRECON
For the past two years Brecon Jazz Festival has hosted a fund raising concert in aid of the charity Side By Side With Refugees, the events being held in St. Mary’s Church.
In 2018 the performance was a solo show by the vocalist, pianist and raconteur Ian Shaw, a trustee of the charity and one of its leading ambassadors.
This hugely successful show set the template for similar events and in 2019 the audience at St. Mary’s was entertained by another pianist / vocalist, the great Liane Carroll.
One of the key figures in the organisation of these events has been John Anderson, resident in Essex but a volunteer steward at Brecon Jazz festival for many, many years. Anderson is also a supporter of the charity and a personal friend of Ian Shaw’s and was instrumental in the setting up of the 2018 and 2019 events.
With a tradition already established Covid-19 wasn’t going to stop this year’s Side by Side fundraiser and for 2020 the leading jazz cabaret singer and songwriter Barb Jungr performed a short set from her home in Stockport, accompanied remotely by pianists Simon Wallace and Jamie Safir.
Viewers were invited to make on-line donations, with this year’s proceeds being divided between Side by Side and the local charity One Brecon, established to help the disadvantaged in the area in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Jungr is well known for her jazz styled interpretations of the songs of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone and Jacques Brel, but she is also a talented songwriter in her own right and has written material in conjunction with both Wallace and Safir.
The performance was introduced by Ian Shaw who emphasised the importance of today’s event in the current circumstances. The cancellation of all music festivals, including Glastonbury, has left Side by Side with no tents to salvage and re-use, making their work even more challenging, but even more but vital, at this present time.
Jungr began with the Bob Dylan song “Buckets of Rain”, which appears on her album “Bob, Brel and Me” and she was accompanied by Safir, who also arranged the song for the album. Jungr gave a playfully sensuous interpretation of one of Dylan’s tenderest and most direct love songs.
The first original was “Secret Spaces”, a collaboration between Jungr and Safir, a song whose evocative lyrical imagery drew inspiration from the works of the songwriters Jungr admirers. Seemingly to emphasise the importance of the words the camera stayed on Jungr throughout the performance, notwithstanding the scat vocal episode towards the close.
Simon Wallace then took over at the piano as he and Jungr performed their original song “Last Orders, Mersey Square”. Jungr recently moved back to her home town of Stockport to look after her elderly mother after leaving home at eighteen and spending many years living and working in London. “Last Orders” proved to be a delightfully nostalgic song remembering the Stockport of her youth, its lyrical imagery taking in the memories of local pubs, local characters and the smell of Robinson’s brewery. I’ve been drinking in Stockport myself, so I very much enjoyed this.
Jungr and Wallace closed with their arrangement of David Byrne’s “Once In A Lifetime”. The duo had played the Talking Heads classic at an engagement at the Carlisle Club in New York City, and found that it went down a storm. Here Wallace’s rippling cadences augmented Jungr’s semi spoken vocals to good effect and it was easier to pick out lyrical details than it was on the original. I’m a big Talking Heads / David Byrne fan so this new arrangement took a bit of getting used to. Highly enjoyable though nevertheless, one senses that Byrne himself would have approved of hearing the song in a new light.
It was then back to Ian Shaw to round things off, thanking John Anderson and Brecon Jazz Festival and repeating the appeal for generous donations.
SIGLO SECTION BIG BAND
In recent years Friday nights at Brecon Jazz Festival have featured a jazz dinner/dance featuring the music of a big band at the Castle Hotel. Trombonist Gareth Roberts and trumpeter Steve Waterman have both led bands there and the ranks have habitually contained students or graduates from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff.
This year was to be no exception, albeit with a ‘virtual’ performance by the Siglo Section Band, comprised of a mix of professional musicians based in Cardiff and students from the RWCMD.
The idea for Siglo was hatched in the Cardiff jazz venue The Flute and Tankard by multi-instrumentalist and arranger Matt Lush and trumpeter Laurence Collier, the band name being sourced from the Welsh word for ‘swing’.
Today’s performances were recorded in lockdown on-line, with tracks being built from the drums upwards, with the rhythm tracks featuring drums, bass, piano and guitar being laid down first before parts were emailed to the leaders of the trumpet, trombone and woodwind sections, who in turn forwarded them on to their colleagues. Collier then edited and mixed the musical performances while Lush masterminded the accompanying videos. It’s not the first time that this kind of thing has been done in lockdown, the London based Patchwork Jazz Orchestra recently released a five track EP recorded in lockdown, but this doesn’t make Siglo’s achievement any less impressive.
Things kicked off with a Sinatra inspired arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” with Siobhan Waters featuring as guest vocalist.
The instrumentalists then took over on a stunning New Orleans style arrangement by the Australian trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist James Morrison of the jazz standard “All of Me”. At this late date it might seem almost impossible to do something fresh with this old chestnut, but Morrison has managed it and his arrangement was well served by the highly competent members of this young band with trumpeter Joe Bentley the featured soloist, at one point accompanied by electric bass only. There was also a section feature for the five reeds, plus something of a drum feature for the multi-talented Lush, who in this ‘virtual’ setting was also doubling on piano.
Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” followed, in an arrangement by the great Nelson Riddle, and including a confident vocal from guest singer Elijah Woods.
Introduced by presenter Lush as a kind of encore the set finished with an arrangement of saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis’ “The Chicken”, propelled by a funky electric bass groove from Will Davies allied to some crisp drumming. Alongside the highly impressive unison sections there were also fluent instrumental solos from Russell Evans on trombone and Joe Northwood, one of the senior players, on alto sax. Northwood was to return later on in the Festival weekend, playing tenor sax with his organ trio, Nurdle.
I was very impressed with Siglo, both in terms of the musical quality of the performances and the hard work that had obviously gone in to create such a successful event. Well done to Matt Lush, Laurence Collier and everybody involved.
THE SIGLO SECTION Personnel
Siobhan Waters, Elijah Jeffries
Alto 1 - Joe Northwood
Alto 2 - Vicky Perrio
Tenor 1 - Josh Heaton
Tenor 2 - Sam Robertson
Bari - Jessica Ruth Morris
Trumpet 1 - Laurence Collier
Trumpet 2 - Joe Bentley
Trumpet 3 - George Martin
Trumpet 4 Ted Smith
Trombone 1 - Peter Johnson
Trombone 2 - Russell Evans
Trombone 3 -Ben Thorpe
Trombone 4 -Peter Richards
Keys -Matt Lush
Guitar - John Close
Bass - Will Davies
Drums -Alex Burch / Matt Lush
LENORE RAPHAEL TRIO
The American pianist Lenore Raphael has been a popular visitor to Brecon Jazz Club and visited the town in November 2017 to perform in the comfortable surroundings of the Neuadd Theatr at Christ College. Billed as ‘Lenore Raphael & Friends’ that concert teamed her with the American guitarist Wayne Wilkinson and the British musicians Chris Hodgkins (trumpet) and Alison Rayner (double bass). Review here;
Today’s performance was also an international affair with Raphael joined by the American double bassist Hilliard Greene and the Cardiff based alto saxophonist Glen Manby. The programme was recorded remotely at locations in New York, Carolina and South Wales with the video edited by Emily Darlington at Ratio Studios.
The trio opened with a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind”, inspired by the recording by Ray Charles. This was introduced by Raphael solo at the piano, later joined by Greene in an extended piano / bass dialogue before Manby’s dry, slightly acerbic alto joined the proceedings, his tone reminding me of the late, great Jackie McLean.
Raphael is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading mainstream jazz pianists and her original composition “Blues For O.P.” was written in memory of the great Oscar Peterson and was played at his memorial service. The tune is an authentic blues, written in a call and response style reminiscent of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”. Today’s version featured Manby’s alto answering Raphael’s piano phrases, with each subsequently embarking on individual solos. The performance was also notable for the exchanges between Raphael and Greene, one of the States’ leading bass players and a musician capable of playing across a variety of jazz styles from the mainstream to the avant garde.
The event concluded with a spirited duo performance by Raphael and Greene of the jazz standard “There Is No Greater Love”. It was a particularly rhythmic performance featuring a dazzling series of piano and bass exchanges and with Raphael’s strong left hand rhythms complementing Greene’s fluent but powerful bass work.
The opening speech came from Raphael, while Greene signed things off, but surely everybody shared Raphael’s sentiments as she remarked “I hope we can all be at Brecon next year for real”.
MACIEK PYSZ - TALK: “MUSIC, TRAVEL & IMPROVISATION”
The Lenore Raphael set was the final purely musical performance of the day but the programme also included a number of informative jazz related talks and discussions.
The Polish guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz visited the Festival in 2019 and gave a short talk under this heading to a small audience in the intimate surroundings of the lounge at the Ty Helig guest house. The following day he played a concert at the Wellington Hotel in the company of fellow guitarist Gerard Cousins and double bassist Paula Gardiner.
Last year’s talk encouraged questions from the floor, many of them guitar related thanks to the number of musicians in the audience. This year’s version was straight to camera and had been updated in the wake of Covid-19.
Today we learnt something of Pysz’s personal history, how he had moved to London, in 2003, initially to study law, but eventually quit his course to concentrate on music, becoming a professional musician in 2007.
Initially a student of classical guitar he has retained a love of the acoustic guitar sound and cites fellow players of the instrument such as John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Paco de Lucia and Bireli Lagrene as primary influences, with Ralph Towner and Julian Lage becoming highly inspirational in more recent years.
We heard something about Pysz’s recorded output alongside UK based musicians such as bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Asaf Sirkis. He has also recorded with the Italian musicians Daniele di Bonaventura and fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona and with the Australian guitarist Alex Stewart.
Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include saxophonists Julian Costello and Tim Garland, pianist Ivo Neame and a trio with vocalist Ola Onabule and drummer Eric Ford.
He was also keen to reference an earlier visit to Brecon Jazz Club playing alongside French gypsy jazz guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h and Brazilian born bassist Matheus Prado.
Pysz is a big fan of the ‘ECM sound’ and several of his albums have been recorded at Artesuono Studios near Udine in Italy, run by engineer Stefano Armerio. Armerio has now become a first call engineer for ECM and several of the label’s albums have now been recorded at Artesuono.
Although primarily an acoustic player he has recently been found playing electric guitar with the French band Inwardness, an improvising group from Nice who have encouraged him to experiment with a wide array of effects. Pysz and Inwardness made their UK début with an improvised set at the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival.
Pysz then demonstrated a number of his guitars, the majority of them made by the Swiss company Godin, also the favoured make of Swiss born, London based guitarist Nicolas Meier. These included his favourite Godin Grand Concert Semi-Acoustic, the Godin Fifth Avenue Archtop that he plays with Julian Costello’s groups, the Godin La Patrie acoustic and a second acoustic made by the English company Tanglewood.
Finally there was a solid bodied Godin electric, based on the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster models. This is the guitar that Pysz uses with Inwardness, so this also gave him the opportunity to demonstrate a range of pedals and effects, including reverb, Polytunes, Flashback delay, octave pedal, volume pedal, the freeze pedal favoured by Bill Frisell, the Screamer and the Looper.
With regard to the ‘travel’ aspect of the talk Pysz currently divides his time between London and Krakow but has also lived in Paris and Nice, and also in Italy.
As he mentioned during his 2019 talk he prefers to get around Europe by train, travelling to gigs by rail rather than facing the stress of flying and the threat of possible damage to his guitars. There is also the advantage of being to carry out the administrative duties that now form an important part of the musicians’ life on the train, while the passing landscape has also provided compositional inspiration, particularly on the aptly named album “A Journey”. Of course, there is also an environmental consideration in Pysz’s adoption of “slow travel”, and his love of nature and landscape also finds expression in his music.
And of course we got to hear a little music too, with the talk bookended by two solo acoustic guitar performances on Pysz’s favourite Godin semi-acoustic of the tunes “Qui Reste T’il De Nos Amours” and “Fresh Look”
TONY KOFI & ALAN BARNES IN CONVERSATION
The second ‘talking’ event of the day was a good humoured chat between two old friends, saxophonists Tony Kofi and Alan Barnes.
Recorded remotely the tenor of this was generally less serious than the Maciek Pysz talk. Basically this was two old mates catching up and talking about music, although it did touch on some pretty weighty concerns, notably the social and economic impact upon musicians of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the positive side Kofi revealed how it had spurred him on to get to grips with modern musical technology such as Logic Pro and he told of how he had collaborated in an online duet with guitarist Martin Taylor.
He also described participating in a recent livestream gig at Ronnie Scott’s with trumpeter Byron Wallen’s band Indigo and wrestling with the physical challenges of playing a baritone sax for the first time since January!
Kofi also noted that some of the biggest names in the business have been livestreaming to help ends meet. He expressed his amazement that the famous US trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had recently played a livestream set at Small’s jazz club in New York City, after years away from the jazz club circuit.
Both Kofi and Barnes have been involved in on line teaching and spoke of the practical difficulties of doing this remotely.
They also recalled their first visits to Brecon Jazz Festival, Kofi with bassist Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop group in 1998 and Barnes back in 1984 with the Tommy Chase Quartet, when they played on the back of a coal truck and the ferocity of Chase’s playing released clouds of coal dust into the air!
1984 was, of course, the first ever Brecon Jazz Festival and Barnes paid tribute to its former artistic director and driving force, the late Jed Williams.
Both musicians have been working on extended compositions, Kofi on an African Suite and Barnes on a suite inspired by the Charles Dickens novel “David Copperfield”. Barnes, a self confessed Dickens fanatic has already recorded and toured a jazz suite based on “A Christmas Carol”.
Kofi admitted to suffering from insomnia during the crisis but Barnes countered with “It’s the first time in thirty years I haven’t felt tired”, his words referencing the usually frenetic lifestyle of the itinerant jazz musician. “I’ve been eating three square meals a day, I’ve cut down on the booze and I’ve found time to listen to other musicians”.
Kofi played his last live gig on March 8th and has seen all his gigs disappear one by one, “but my computer’s never been so busy”, he joked.
Finally the two old friends talked about their twin alto ‘Aggregation’ band, which released an album of this name on Barnes’ own Woodville label in 2014, with the pair accompanied by pianist John Turville, bassist Adam King and drummer Rod Youngs.
Apparently there was much more reminiscing as the two old pals chatted for an hour, but in the end things were edited down to a mere twenty minutes.
Lockdown has brought both hardships and benefits, but Barnes was probably speaking for the jazz community as a whole when he commented “I can’t wait to get back to the real thing!”.
JANET McCUNN & TERENCE COLLIE, MOOD INDIGO EVENTS
Vocalist Janet McCunn and pianist Terence Collie organise regular jazz events in the London area, mainly in the TW12 postcode area covering Twickenham, Teddington, Richmond, Kew and Sunbury on Thames.
McCunn has family in Brecon and has been a regular visitor to the Festival and some club events. As a performer, she, like Bryan Corbett, has performed as part of the Fringe at the George Hotel.
McCunn and Collie first met at the regular jazz sessions at the Swan in Hampton Wick and subsequently teamed up to produce regular monthly jazz events at a bistro in Teddington.
The success of this venture quickly led to the establishment of the now defunct TW12 Festival at Hampton Hill Playhouse, an event that featured some pretty prestigious headliners, among them pianists Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock plus guitarist Femi Tomowo and the Engines Orchestra. There were also big American names such as pianist Geoffrey Keezer and bassist Kyle Eastwood.
Under the name Mood Indigo Events the pair have continued to promote jazz at a variety of locations, including the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury, the ‘Jazz on the Plaza series at Café Yukari in Richmond and the 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo. They also co-ordinate the regular ‘Janet’s Jazz Night’ events at Polish Jazz Café POSK in Hammersmith.
Something that unites these venues is the presence of a good quality grand piano, a subject particularly close to Collie’s heart as the pianist performs regularly, either as a headliner or as a member of the house band, at all these venues.
During lockdown Collie has continued to work hard, promoting Mood Indigo’s Patreon account and Youtube channel and co-ordinating and appearing in numerous livestream concerts.
Their efforts to keep the jazz flag flying in this corner of London are to be greatly applauded and their conversation was interspersed with snippets of live performances from Mood Indigo’s various venues, beginning with a version of Bernie Miller’s “Bernie’s Tune”, recorded at Jazz Café Posk and featuring Lester Brown on trumpet and Collie on piano. These glimpses also served to prove Collie’s considerable ability as a jazz piano soloist, plus the quality of the pianos in the individual venues.
Collie was also featured playing solo grand piano on a version of Johnny Mandel’s “There Is No Greater Love”, recorded at the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury. From the same venue we also enjoyed a performance of “The Shadow of your Smile”, performed by a trio of Collie, flautist Gareth Lockrane and bassist Richard Sadler. Mood Indigo have been promoting events at Sunbury for five years, these including both workshops and concert performances, the latter often based around a specific theme.
Mood Indigo began promoting events at the 1901 Arts Club, a stylish late Victorian venue in Waterloo, as recently as October 2019. From that series came footage of an intimate duo performance featuring Collie on piano and Alan Barnes on clarinet.
Jazz at the Plaza takes place on Sunday evenings at Café Yukari, near Kew Gardens station, another intimate venue, but one that possesses a magnificent Fazioli grand piano. The Café’s Japanese owners originally purchased the instrument with the intention of using it for classical performances but after being approached by McCunn, who had spotted the instrument in the window on her way to the station, the venue instead became better known as a jazz venue. A particularly memorable London Jazz Festival event at the venue featured the saxophones of Peter King (alto) and Mornington Lockett (tenor). The musical snippet from Café Yukari featured a group led by the young alto saxophonist Tom Smith playing “Triste”, by Antonio Carlos Jobim.
To date the musical extracts had all featured Collie’s playing but to conclude this item we were to enjoy the duo’s performance of “Get Out Of Town”, recorded at home with McCunn singing and Collie playing upright piano.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this feature. The Jazzmann has been publicising Mood Indigo events for a number of years, with the majority of the information coming to me via the medium of Facebook. I have met with Janet at Brecon in the past but it was good to put a face to the name in Collie’s case, and also to discover just how good a pianist he is. I was hugely impressed by his playing in these various musical excerpts.
The duo continue to work hard during Lockdown and hopefully this Festival feature will bring their efforts to the attention of a whole new audience. I hope that they can weather the present storm and I wish them every success in the future. More power to their collective elbow.
INTERVIEW WITH JAZZ HERITAGE WALES
The other ‘speech’ event of the first day was a virtual tour of the Jazz Heritage Wales exhibition at Swansea Museum.
Subtitled “How Jazz Came To Wales” the exhibition was set up in September 2019 and remains in situ.
The tour was conducted by pianist Jen Wilson and traced the story of Jazz in Wales from the time of runaway slaves escaping from the ships in the harbour in the early 19th century. Travelling the other way Welsh abolitionists travelled to America, among them Jessie Donaldson who emigrated to Cincinnati and helped on the famous “Underground Railway” that provided a root for fleeing slaves from the Southern states to escape to the relative freedom of the North.
In the twentieth century the invention of of the phonograph by Thomas Edison encouraged the spread of ragtime and other afro-American music to Wales, with one such machine featuring in the exhibition. Later examples of radios, record players and radiograms are also displayed.
In 1905 the musical “In Dahomey” appeared at the Swansea Playhouse but it was not until 1919 that the word ‘jazz’ was first used in the city.
During the ‘Jazz Age’ of the 1920s black performers attracted huge crowds to Swansea’s cafés, the capacities of these venues ranging from 400 to 1200.
The exhibition has a strong feminist theme, emphasising the role of women in jazz with corners of the exhibition honouring figures such as Ivy Benson and her all female orchestra, which produced so many accomplished musicians, British blues legend Beryl Bryden, and the patron of the exhibition, Dame Cleo Laine.
The close links between Wales and the entertainer and political activist Paul Robeson are also featured in one corner of the exhibition.
Wilson presented a real ‘whistle stop’ tour of the exhibition and to be honest there was too much to take in during the course of a single ‘virtual visit’, especially when one was also taking notes. I’ve outlined a few salient points above but remain conscious that there will be even more that I’ve omitted during the course of this account. With the Festival content available until the 30th August 2020 why not join Jen Wilson on line and take a tour of the exhibition for yourself.
The musical performances and conversations reviewed above can still be accessed until 30th August 2020 directly from the Vialma website. Link here;
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