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Saturday at Brecon Jazz Festival, 13/08/2011.

by Ian Mann

August 18, 2011

Saturday at Brecon provided an interesting cross section of music from a selection of very different artists.


Saturday at Brecon brought improved weather (Friday had been drizzly and unseasonably chilly) and another raft of difficult choices about who and what to see.


I began with Partikel, a young London based saxophone trio who had impressed me with their eponymous 2010 d?but album (see review elsewhere on this site). This followed on nicely from my final show on Friday, a trio led by the French bassist Stephane Kerecki and also featuring saxophone and drums. The Kerecki group had been quiet and considered but Partikel, led by saxophonist Duncan Eagles, offered a wholly different take on the saxophone trio with their free-wheeling but highly melodic improvisations.

Initially I was surprised by just how youthful the trio are. Eagles belies his boyish, bespectacled appearance with a huge tenor sax tone that is given suitable propulsion by the muscular bass lines of the equally youthful Max Luthert and the powerful, highly colourful drumming of the slightly older Eric Ford. The trio update the tradition of Sonny Rollins with an almost rock sensibility and they consistently strike just the right balance between structure and freedom. The opener “Follow Diversion”  is scheduled to appear on the trio’s second album “Cohesion” which will be released on bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind record label later in the year. Partikel will be touring in the autumn to release the new album and we’ll let you have the dates as soon as we have them. The new record will again feature the distinctive artwork of Alban Lowe.

All of the material on the trio’s first album came from the pen of Eagles but “Cohesion” will also feature the writing of Max Luthert. The bassist’s attractive composition “Assam”, the title a comment on his compulsive tea drinking habit, featured Eagles on soprano, his playing ranging from the airy to the acerbic. The tune was also something of a showcase for Ford who introduced the piece at the drum kit and later enjoyed a series of extended breaks. He supplements the range of the conventional kit with an array of small percussive devices (cowbell, woodblocks etc.) which help to give him a highly individual sound.

“Oojimaflip” from the first album, with Eagles back on tenor, was a good representation of the trio’s virtues with some powerful but always melodic playing and a high degree of interaction between the members of the group.

Drummer Pharaoh Russell’s distinctive name makes him a frequent dedicatee of other people’s tunes (Polar bear’s “Drunken Pharaoh for instance). I’m pretty sure that Partikel’s “The Blood Of The Pharaoh” is another with Ford introducing the piece at the drums and with Eagles’ tenor beavering away with a series of nagging phrases. A solo bass interlude by Luthert provided the bridge into “Market Place” with Eagles switching to soprano. The sound of his soprano dancing above Luthert’s bass rumble and Ford’s polyrhythmic drumming sometimes reminded me of the great Dave Liebman, not a bad role model.

Luthert’s resonant solo bass introduced the ballad “Conquistador” from the trio’s d?but album with Eagles’ tenor tender and breathy. However the tune took off part way through with turbo charged tenor erupting over a backdrop of polyrhythmic, mallet driven drumming.

The next tune was unannounced but boasted a song like structure as did “Cryptography” from the trio’s d?but. Eagles suggested to me that the more soulful, song like elements of his playing were in part informed by the music of the great alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, currently something of an Eagles favourite.

Another new tune, “Optimist” ended the trio’s set on an appropriately high note. Partikel had seized the moment and come up with an exciting, brilliantly played set that helped get my Saturday off to something of a flyer. The quality of the new tunes suggest that the band’s second album is going to be well worth waiting for and I shall endeavour to catch them again on their Autumn tour. If they keep producing live performances of this quality the buzz surrounding Partikel should continue to grow.

Immediately after this Eagles had to rush off to the Market Hall to appear with Derek Nash’s jazz cum funk outfit Sax Appeal. He later told me that if anything this was the more difficult gig as it entailed having to sight read some pretty tricky Nash charts. All part of the learning curve though, and if somebody of Nash’s calibre rates Eagles’ playing it’s pretty certain that he’s destined to be a significant figure on the UK jazz scene.


I knew rather less about the French quintet Rocking Chair who followed Partikel onto the Christ College stage. The blurb in the festival brochure referencing Jim Black’s Alas No Axis was enough to convince me to give them a go.

Rocking Chair proved to be wildly eccentric in the French tradition of Gong, Didier Malherbe etc. As the blurb mentioned they borrowed extensively from both jazz and rock with guitarist Julien Ome their most compelling instrumentalist. Bassist Guido Zorn and drummer Guillaume Domartin proved to be a solid and powerful rhythm team but I found co-leaders trumpeter Airelle Besson and saxophonist/clarinettist Sylvain Rifflet less convincing despite the wilful eccentricity of the latter. The two horn players and bassist Zorn (presumably no relation) both mutated their sounds by the use of a lap top and live samplers and Ome also deployed a full range of guitar effects. There were times when I felt the group were trying a bit too hard and that their avant garde pretensions were rather grafted on but on the whole this was an entertaining if occasionally perplexing set.

It was somehow appropriate that the group began with a piece entitled “Coda”, this in turn seguing into another tune, “Boo Boo”. However in general tune titles were either unannounced or in French but with Rocking Chair the overall concept seemed rather more important. The group’s avant garde leanings expressed themselves in the second piece with Zorn striking his bass strings with a drum stick as Ome slammed out rock guitar chords and Rifflet fluttered the keys and pads of his tenor to the accompaniment of Lavergne’s cymbal scrapings.

Elsewhere Ome’s and Besson’s guitar/trumpet dialogue was embellished by Rifflet’s lap top doodles before Ome and the rhythm section switched into power trio mode before the piece ended with a gentler guitar/clarinet duet.

Electric era Miles Davis seemed to be another touchstone as Besson’s muted trumpet floated above a backdrop of impressionistic guitar and electronic effects, eventually coalescing with Rifflet’s reeds on the tune “Blanche En Blanc”.

The group’s penchant for live sampling reached it’s apotheosis when they all departed the stage at the end of their set leaving the machines playing themselves. This went down so well with the Brecon crowd that they were called back for a brief encore and repeated the trick again.

I wasn’t totally convinced, there are better exponents of electro jazz around than Rocking Chair, but this was still an absorbing, energetic and entertaining set. There’s nothing remotely cosy about Rocking Chair.


Singer and songwriter Sara Mitra’s d?but album “April Song” attracted a compelling degree of critical acclaim not just on this site but also from more influential commentators such as Jamie Cullum and Gilles Peterson. I caught part of Mitra’s set at the Market Hall which found her in the company of most of the members of the very classy band that graces her album. James Allsopp (reeds), Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Ross Stanley (piano, organ ), Riaan Vosloo (double bass) and Mitra’s husband Tim Giles (drums) are among the UK’s foremost jazz musicians and all contributed substantially to a well programmed and highly convincing performance by the singer.

Mitra proved to be a surprisingly compelling and confident performer with a wide vocal and emotional range. I arrived just in time to catch a Sigurta trumpet solo but the first song I heard in its entirety was “Understand”, scheduled to appear on Mitra’s second album, with its sly lyrical allusions to the jazz standard “All Of Me”.

The Rogers and Hart tune “To Keep My Love Alive” was a blackly humorous tale about a female serial killer, a kind of “black widow” character and was delivered with obvious relish by Mitra with Ross Stanley taking the instrumental honours at the piano.

At this point the band left the stage leaving Mitra alone with her RC20XL live looper for a delicately layered solo vocal rendition of the traditional Irish folk song “Black Is The Colour”, a tune which appears on “April Song” and represents Mitra’s acknowledgement of her part Irish heritage.

The band rejoined her for the jazz standard “Who Can I Turn To” with Allsopp on tenor and Stanley on piano impressing as instrumental soloists. Pared down to a quartet with Stanley on organ and with Vosloo as featured soloist Mitra and the group then delivered a beautiful version of Nat Adderley’s “The Old Country”, another tune sourced from the “April Song” album.

Next came the playful, Latin tinged “Going Home Alone” from the yet to be released second album played by the quartet with Stanley excelling at the piano. The horns then returned for “Let Me Love You” with Allsopp on bass clarinet and Stanley soloing at the organ.

An excellent set concluded with the song “Love Affair” with Stanley still on organ and with Allsopp delivering a superb solo on the tenor.

I’m not always a big fan of singers but I was highly impressed by Mitra. If “April Song” hints at a certain fragility her live performances are anything but. Mitra’s sassiness and excellent technical skills suggest that a degree of mainstream success awaits if she wants it. Many of her band members are into more experimental projects but their versatility suggests that they enjoy playing in this context too- and of course the standard of musicianship is superb. The chances are we’ll be hearing a lot more of Sara Mitra.


I first encountered Irish drummer Kevin Brady’s playing back in 2006 when he was part of the Dublin based organ trio Organics alongside Hammond player Justin Carroll and guitarist John Moriarty. Their enjoyable “First Light” album is reviewed elsewhere on this site.

I was therefore keen to see Brady in the flesh especially as this trio gig paired him with a new name to me, the American pianist Bill Carrothers. Logistical problems meant that the performance started late, Brady and bassist Dave Redmond’s flight from Dublin was delayed and unfortunately the set had to be truncated.

Nevertheless there was still much to enjoy. Although this was nominally Brady’s gig it soon became clear that the performance was all about Carrothers. The American is a gifted and highly fluent improviser with a highly developed harmonic sense rooted in the bebop tradition. There were a number of helter skelter bop tunes peppering the set with dazzling solos from Carrothers plus the obligatory bass cameos and drum breaks/solos, perhaps the best of these being Carrothers’ “Discombobulated” and a storming “George’s Dilemma” with its quotes from Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia”. 

Enjoyable as all this was it did become a little routine after a while and the trio’s best moments came when they slowed down for a number of exquisite ballad performances. Carrothers has worked with Lee Konitz and impressive as his chops were on the faster pieces it was his thoughtful and lyrical ballad playing that really spoke to the audience. Victor Young’s “Delilah” also brought out the best in Redmond with a measured bass solo and Brady with some delicate brushwork.

Even better was Carrothers’ own “Peg”, a tune written for his wife when the pianist was on tour in Sligo. The beautiful original melody was combined with that of “Scarborough Fair” (perhaps a reference to the famous Sligo Fair). The trio have been playing together off and on for about five years and their close rapport was particularly apparent here.

The closing item “News From Home”, another Carrothers original with a simple yet charming melody, represented the trio at their most lyrical and was another performance highlight.

It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to hear more of this trio. Despite the brevity of the performance I was impressed overall, with the slower numbers undoubtedly bringing out the real character of the trio.


Another new name to me German percussionist Christian Prommer’s set promised a further blend of jazz and electronics. As with the Pascal Schumacher Quartet the previous evening the emphasis was very much on rhythm with Prommer being joined by kit drummer Christoph Holzhauser, second percussionist Ernst Stroer, electric bassist Christian Diener and keyboard player Kelvin Sholar.

If Schumacher’s group presented rhythm as an intellectual exercise then Prommer’s approach took it back to the dance-floor with a number of audience members at a pleasingly well attended Roland stage getting to their feet and dancing in the aisles.

Prommer’s group combined funk and Latin rhythms with the electronic beats of the club scene in a highly rhythmic and visually entertaining performance. Positioned front of stage Prommer’s set up included timbales and cymbals alongside electronic sequencers and other gadgets. Stroer’s percussive equipment included congas and bongos but the real musical backbone of the group was keyboard player Kelvin Sholar who contributed a number of brilliant solos on piano and Rhodes as well as holding the whole group together. Diener and Holzhauser were commendably tight allowing the twin percussionists to extemporise around them.

Prommer made extensive use of electronics early on, at one point generating a kind of midi vibes sound but gradually his regular percussion set up began to dominate as he engaged in thrilling dialogues with Stroer and Holzhauser. At one point Stroer came to the front of the stage as the two percussionists traded good natured blows on Prommer’s timbales. Sholar’s snatches of keyboard melody ensured that the set didn?t degenerate into one extended drum solo and his playing was deft and imaginative throughout.

Drumlesson’s repertoire included versions of Derrick May’s “Strings Of Life” and Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” and they were one of the few acts to be granted an encore, a joyous slice of salsa that sent the dancers home happy.

Prommer’s group weren’t quite what I was expecting, I had anticipated something darker, edgier and more obviously Teutonic but I thoroughly enjoyed this exuberant set. I’m not sure whether I’d necessarily want to listen to Drumlesson’s music at home but their vivacity and the visual impact of their playing makes them a great live band. In some ways scheduling them as early as 7.00 pm in the evening was a bit of wasted opportunity. They’d have been just great a little later on in one of the “party slots”.


One of the toughest decisions of the festival was deciding whether to go for Phronesis’ ground breaking and much talked about “Pitch Black”  project or to take the opportunity of a second glimpse at pianist Yaron Herman’s excellent trio. It was unfortunate that two of Europe’s leading piano trios were scheduled opposite one another and the nature of the Phronesis performance meant that taking in a bit of each was out of the question.

Born in Israel and now based in France Herman is hardly a regular visitor to the UK so he just about got the nod. I saw him play a storming set in the Purcell Room at the 2010 London Jazz Festival with his regular trio of bassist Chris Tordini and the brilliant Canadian drummer Tommy Crane. These two appear on Herman’s most recent album “Follow The White Rabbit” released in 2010 on ACT Records. Unfortunately they were not available for Brecon and Herman played with a rhythm section consisting of bassist Stephane Kerecki, who had appeared with his own trio at Brecon Cathedral the night before, and drummer Jeff Boudreaux, a new name to me.

As competent as Kerecki and Boudreaux were this gig was never going to reach quite the same levels as the Purcell room where the sparks were flying and the interaction between the three musicians was almost telepathic. Having said that Herman is too much of a professional to turn in a poor performance and there was much to enjoy here with both Kerecki and Boudreaux acquitting themselves well. 

Herman is an exuberant stage performer, he frequently stands up to play and exhibits the same kind of restless energy as Keith Jarrett or our own Neil Cowley. Indeed he shares something of Cowley’s penchant for showmanship and a refreshingly down to earth announcing style.

“Follow The White Rabbit” largely consists of a collection of taut Herman originals but he has also attracted considerable acclaim for his adventurous covers of pop and rock material, a tendency that has evoked comparisons with The Bad Plus. The trio’s version of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” was despatched fairly early on in the set with Herman radically altering the mood and tempo of Cobain’s angst ridden song with his Jarrett like chording whilst bringing out the full beauty of the melody.

Herman’s own densely written “Trylon” saw him in dialogue with the ever watchful Boudreaux and also featured a bass solo from the resourceful Kerecki, a musician who has worked with Herman previously.

A delicately lyrical version of Faure’s “Apres Au Reves” suffered from sound leaching in from Allen Toussaint’s performance in the Big Tent, or maybe it was from the rock band playing at The Boar’s Head across the river, the latter admittedly beyond the organisers’ control. Whatever the source Herman was moved to voice his displeasure albeit in humorous fashion.

After this the trio upped their own volume with the next number mixing a low level funkiness with freer episodes featuring thunderous Cowley like block chords from Herman. The next piece featured extended techniques with Herman using the body of his instrument as a percussion device as Kerecki struck the strings of his bass with a drum mallet.

The attendance at this event, as at several others over the course of the weekend, was disappointingly small, but there was a significant presence of very vocal hard core Herman fans whose ecstatic reaction tempted the trio back for an encore. This marked a return to the more lyrical side of the trio’s repertoire with Kerecki turning in some divine arco bass.

In retrospect I wish I’d gone for the Phronesis event. All the feedback I’ve received about this was overwhelmingly positive and it sounds as if I missed out on something very special. However I may still get the chance to experience the “Pitch Black” project when the trio perform again in this format at the London Jazz Festival in November. 

Nonetheless Saturday at Brecon provided an interesting cross section of music from a selection of very different artists. I think I’d have to single out Partikel as the highlight, there was the sense that this was a really big gig for them and they emphatically “went for it”. Sara Mitra and Drumlesson were unexpectedly good and Rocking Chair never less than interesting. The Kevin Brady Trio with Bill Carrothers produced some sublime moments and Yaron Herman was good too but suffered in comparison to his earlier London appearance.

And then there was all the stuff I didn’t see- Norma Winstone, Allen Toussaint and many more. It’s a tough old life sometimes. 

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