Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Carla Bley, 1936-2023 - a statement from ECM Records.

by Ian Mann

October 19, 2023

Following the sad passing of pianist and composer Carla Bley a statement has been issued by ECM Records. Ian Mann also adds his personal reminiscences of one of the greats.

Carla Bley, 1936-2023


Our good friend Carla Bley has died, aged 87, after a long illness. One of jazz’s great composers, she was a stubborn and witty individualist who heard and wrote and played things differently. “She works in many forms,” critic Nat Hentoff noted, “and her scores for big jazz bands are matched only by those of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus for yearning lyricism, explosive exultation and other expressions of the human condition.” The large ensembles, remarkable as they were, were but part of the story.

The originality of Carla’s writing was evident already in the early 1960s as musicians including Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Art Farmer, and George Russell began to play her pieces. Many of the tunes she wrote then have acquired the status of contemporary standards, among them “Jesus Maria”, “Ictus,” “Sing Me Softly of the Blues,” “King Korn,” “Vashkar,” and more.
“There are so many of them, each as well-crafted as pieces by Satie or Mompou—or Thelonious Monk for that matter,” as Manfred Eicher has observed, “Carla belongs in that tradition of radical originality.”

The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, of which Carla was a founder member, recorded her epic “Escalator Over The Hill”, described by Downbeat as “a masterpiece…maybe the most extensive and ambitious piece ever to come out of the jazz world.”

In 1973 Carla and Michael Mantler launched the WATT label which would be the primary platform for her work in the 20th century, with formats ranging from duos with Steve Swallow to the Very Big Band and idioms including “Fancy Chamber Music”, “Christmas Music”, “Dinner Music”, and the Dada-esque “I Hate To Sing”. Her arrangements for Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra graced “The Ballad of the Fallen”, a 1982 ECM session with luminous settings of songs associated the Spanish Civil War and with revolutionary movements in El Salvador, Chile and Portugal.

Carla Bley’s last albums were the ECM recordings made at Lugano’s Auditorio RSI with the exceptional group with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow: “Trios”, “Andando el Tiempo”, and “Life Goes On”. As well as the group interaction, each of the recordings also emphasized the unique qualities of Bley’s pianism. Carla’s relationship with the instrument she had played since the age of four was sometimes troubled. “I would rather write music than perform it” she would often insist. “I’m at a disadvantage when I improvise since jazz solos are instant composition and I’m a slow and thoughtful composer. By the time I’ve thought of the next note, the chorus could easily be over.” Her admirers – count us in - waved away such protests. Any hesitations in the determined search for the good notes only added a touch of drama and Zen allure to the playing.

In later years, Carla herself seemed to be re-framing her reservations: “There’s nobody that plays like me — why would they?” she asked The New York Times. “So if I’ve had an influence, maybe it would be if they decided to play like themselves. In other words, the whole idea of not playing like anybody else is a way of playing.” She will be sorely missed. 

For more information on ECM, please visit:

IAN MANN adds;

I was very sorry to hear this sad news. I’ve been a fan of Carla Bley’s music since the late 1970s / early 1980s and have been fortunate enough to see her performing live on a number of occasions.

In the 1990s I saw the Very Big Carla Bley Band at Birmingham Town Hall as part of the Silk Cut City Jazz Series. This was a real ‘all star’ line up with Carla at the helm and a band that included star soloists Lew Soloff (trumpet), Gary Valente (trombone), Andy Sheppard (saxophones) and, of course, Steve Swallow (electric bass). Superb musicianship was augmented by Carla’s surreal humour. All in all it was quite an experience.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I saw Carla play again. This was a brilliant performance at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival featuring her Lost Chords Quartet (Bley, Swallow and Sheppard plus Billy Drummond on drums) together with the Italian musician Paolo Fresu (flugel, trumpet). Their gig at the Town Hall was a definite Festival highlight. Much of the music that was played was sourced from the album “The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu”, which was released by Watt / ECM in 2007. Cheltenham Jazz Festival gig review here;

The last time I saw Carla perform live was at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival when she directed the Liberation Music Orchestra at Cadogan Hall. This was another brilliant performance from a stellar line up, with Carla on piano one of the outstanding contributors. Review as part of my Festival coverage here.

I count myself lucky to have seen three outstanding and very different shows featuring Carla Bley and I also continue to enjoy listening to her recordings. I also enjoy hearing her compositions played by other people, most notably vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Carla Bley’s music will live on, but there’s no doubting that we’ve lost one of the greats. My condolences to Steve Swallow, Karen Mantler and to Carla’s family,  friends and associates.

In sadness.




by Trevor Bannister

October 10, 2023

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys Derek Coller's biography / discography of the Kansas City born blues / jazz vocalist and rock 'n' roll pioneer 'Big' Joe Turner.

“Feel So Fine: Big Joe Turner – The Boss of the Blues”

Derek Coller

For those who enjoy the challenges of Victoria Coren Mitchell’s highly popular BBC 2 quiz show ‘Only Connect’ here’s a conundrum that you may like to solve: What connects the leafy Berkshire town of Wokingham to Kansas City, USA in its wide-open days of Prohibition, when the lawless streets were filled with the rocking rhythms of jazz and blues?

Worlds apart in time and place they may be, but firmly connected in the person of Derek Coller, who lives quietly near the centre of Wokingham. His exhaustive bio/discography of ‘Big’ Joe Turner, the legendary alumni of KC’s colourful past has been recently published to critical acclaim on both side of the Atlantic.

“Feel So Fine: Big Joe Turner – The Boss of the Blues”, is a massive study of the ‘original blues brother’, a true legend and the man who first recorded “Shake, Rattle and Roll”’. A man of huge physical stature with a voice that “rolled like thunder”, ‘Big Joe’ was born in the African American quarter of Kansas City on 18th May 1911. He cut his musical teeth in the city before stepping onto the national scene in the late 1930s, followed in post-war years by travels to Europe, Australia and Mexico.

“Joe Turner was like a force of nature,” writes Derek Coller. “Small bands, big bands, trios, pianists, rock groups, choirs, all styles of accompaniment rocked to his rhythm, making everyone feel fine.”

Big Joe kept up this irrepressible lifestyle over five decades, from KC saloons to New York’s Carnegie Hall until his death at the age of 74 on 24th November 1985. Sadly, like so many other great figures of the music business, Big Joe died in poverty. Thankfully his legacy lives on through a wealth of recordings and now in the pages of “Feel So Fine”.

But what was the fascination for Joe Turner that prompted Derek to seek out every scrap of evidence he could find about Turner’s life and times and to listen to every recording he ever made?

“Big Joe’s recordings with pianist Pete Johnson caught my schoolboy imagination way back in the 1940s, along with Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Bessie Smith. They were the treasures of my early record collecting days,” Derek told Jeff Harris in a recent interview for the New York based radio show ‘Big Road Blues’.

“Those were the day of hefty 10” 78rpm records,” Derek continued. “Unlike today when you can download music in an instant, I had to save up my pennies to buy a record. They were in short supply, especially jazz records.” Finding information about who was playing on the treasured discs and where they had recorded was even more difficult. Undaunted, Derek began to compile notes and press cuttings about his favourite musicians, correspond with other enthusiasts around the world and sometimes with the musicians themselves. “I made two trips to America to search for material at first hand,” Derek recalls.

“My notes gradually accumulated over the years,” Derek declared, “and provided the source material for books on pianists Dick Cary, Johnny Guarnieri and Jess Stacy, clarinettist Tony Parenti and jazz in Chicago as well as many articles and contributions to reference works such as ‘The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz’. ‘Feel So Fine: Big Joe Turner – The Boss of the Blues’, is my latest offering.” Adding proudly, “What you might describe as my magnum opus.”

Derek’s writing is rich in detail, but what really stands out is his love of the music and love for his subjects. This is especially true of Big Joe Turner and ‘Feel So Fine’. Derek was fortunate enough to see Big Joe perform with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band on a UK tour in the mid-1960’s. Joe arrived at Heathrow Airport without a work permit. “You’ve got a nerve,” declared an officious immigration officer. “That’s what it takes these days,” Joe replied. He just wanted to sing and have a good time.

‘Feel So Fine’ is a handsomely bound portrait of Big Joe Turner, the greatest of the blues shouters and without doubt a founding figure of rock ‘n’ roll. In addition to the biography it includes a full discography of Turner’s recordings, a bibliography and a list of his compositions. It is lavishly illustrated in both colour and black/white with photographs, personal letters, posters, tickets and record labels et al. It will appeal to lovers of jazz and blues and anyone with an interest in the roots of popular music. As you turn the pages you will be irresistibly drawn to listen to the music.

“Feel So Fine: Big Joe Turner – The Boss of the Blues” is published in both hardback and paperback by Hardinge Simpole (ISBN 978-1-84352-232-5) and available to order online.

With such a monumental achievement under his belt one might expect Derek Coller to take a well- earned rest. But no, he is already hard at work to rescue more of his jazz heroes from obscurity. The full interview with Jeff Harris, host of Big Road Blues (Jazz90.1 Rochester, NY), accompanied by many of Big Joe’s classic recordings can be heard on

Derek Coller has the sharpest mind of anyone that I know and an encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz, which he loves to share. The publication of “Feel So Fine - Big Joe Turner the Boss of The Blues” is  a fantastic achievement.


by Ian Mann

October 05, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys a full day of words & music with performances by Abergavenny Sax Quartet, Loz Bridges / Glyn Lewis Duo, BMJazzKatz, Sarah Brown / Colin Good Duo & a Poetry & Jazz Improvisation event..

Photograph of Sarah Brown sourced from

Sunday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/10/2023

The final day of Black Mountain Jazz Club’s Wall2Wall Festival featured a full day of music with several different events taking place in the various performance spaces at the Melville Centre.

Presented as a “Community Afternoon” there were three free musical events in the Melville Theatre, gospel singing and tango dance workshops in the adjacent Dance Blast Studio, and videos from previous Wall2Wall Festivals streaming in the bar area.

The day also featured two ticketed events, a Poetry & Jazz Improvisation Session at the Dance Blast Studio and a performance by the acclaimed gospel singer Sarah Brown rounding things off at the Theatre.

As usual I was determined to see and hear as much music as possible, beginning with;


Rod Cunningham – baritone sax, Simon Birch – tenor sax, Penny Turnbull – alto & soprano sax, Sharon Phillips – alto sax

The first free musical performance of the day was an enjoyable set from the locally based Abergavenny Sax Quartet, led by BMJ stalwart Rod Cunningham, who also performs with the Monmouth Big Band.

Lining up as listed above the ASQ played a series of succinct arrangements of both jazz and pop tunes. Many of the latter were very well known, helping to make this a very accessible performance. Several of the arrangements were by the band’s own Simon Birch, so kudos to him for that.

The quartet kicked off with The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna”, driven by Cunningham’s baritone bass lines and featuring some interesting contrapuntal interplay between all the members of the group.

Turnbull moved from alto to soprano for Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk” and soloed on the instrument. The incisiveness of the soprano’s tone ensured that it played a prominent role in the pieces on which it was featured.

Turnbull continued on soprano for George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day In London Town”, which featured more expansive solos from herself, Philips on alto and Birch on tenor, with Cunningham weighing in on baritone, an instrument referred to by other members of the band as “the central heating”.

Twin altos were featured on Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’”.

Karen Street is a composer who writes regularly for the saxophone quartet format and her composition “Funk Dunk” included features for Cunningham o baritone and Turnbull on soprano.

An arrangement of the Queen hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” represented something of a technical challenge to the members of the quartet, but they carried it off with considerable aplomb.

The first of a number of Simon Birch arrangements featured The Specials’ “Ghost Town”, written by keyboard player Jerry Dammers. This translated well to the saxophone quartet format, with Turnbull’s soprano prominent in the arrangement.

The Madness hit “It Must Be Love”, originally written by Labi Siffre, explored similar territory and saw Turnbull reverting to alto.

Three jazz pieces followed, Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur”,  unsurprisingly a soprano sax feature, this followed by two Gershwin tunes, “I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime”, both of which also featured the soprano.

Birch returned to arranging duties for “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”, a song recorded by both Doris Day and Nat King Cole.

Juan Tizol’s “Caravan”, written for Duke Ellington, continued the string of soprano led numbers and the set ended with the “Pink Panther” theme, with Turnbull doubling on soprano sax and triangle.

This was a very enjoyable performance that featured some excellent playing from these four talented local musicians. The arrangements were crisp and pithy and the solos similarly concise, with no piece allowed to outstay its welcome.  The familiarity of much of the material helped to ensure that this never became ‘difficult’  listening. The interplay between the four reeds was intelligent and sophisticated, with Birch impressing with his arranging skills in addition to his tenor playing. Cunningham’s announcements were informative and drily witty, with other band members making occasional verbal interjections.

All in all a very enjoyable way to start the day.


Ric Hool, Lyndon Davies, Graham Hartill – Spoken Word

Martha Skilton – soprano sax, Jack Mac (Jack MacDougall) – keyboard, flute, tenor sax, Nick Kacal – double bass, Ryan Thrupp - drums

This ticketed event brought together performers from two of the regular arts events held at the Melville Centre, namely Black Mountain Jazz Club and the poetry strand Poetry Upstairs.

Three prominent Welsh poets came together to read their works with improvised musical reactions coming from the regular members of the BMJ Collective, Jack Mac, Nick Kcal and Ryan Thrupp, the core trio augmented by Martha Skilton, here specialising on soprano saxophone.

The fact that the performance by the Abergavenny Sax Quartet had lasted longer than I had expected meant that I missed the start of this performance, arriving towards the end of Lyndon Davies’ recitation of his own poem and the musical responses of the four instrumentalists.

The event was well attended and the audience were clearly enthralled by the performance with an air of hushed reverence pervading the room. It was all very atmospheric and the musicians seemed to be responding instuitively to the nuances of Davies’ words and the cadences of his speaking voice. One could sense that the musicians were listening hard, ensuring that they always made an appropriate musical response. Mac was playing a Roland RD88 keyboard rather than his usual reed instruments and proved himself to be a highly capable pianist.

Arriving towards the end of Davies’ performance I didn’t rally get a satisfactory overview of his words, but I was very impressed by the musical responses to them and the level of interaction between the poet and the musicians.

In terms of the words I was on surer ground with Hool’s “Eleven Views of a Secret”, his homage to that tragic genius of the electric bass, the late, great Jaco Pastorius. Hool’s poem made clever references to the titles of some of Pastorius’ tunes, “Portrait of Tracy” being one of them. Again the musical responses were intelligent and empathic, with room being found for an impressive soprano sax solo from Martha Skilton.

Graham Hartill’s poem seemed to address a former prisoner named Paul. Hartill has worked with prisoners so this was a subject that was close to his heart. The musical responses featured Mac variously doubling on flute, tenor sax and keyboard. The end of the poem seemed to contain a twist. As I understood it the man that Hartill was addressing wasn’t actually named Paul, his real identity having been changed for his own protection.

All three poets seemed to be very pleased with the musical responses to their work and to the positive audience reaction to the combination of words and music.

Ric Hool,  acting as MC, encouraged the band to round things off with an instrumental, a nice touch that was rewarded with an excellent quartet performance, with Mac moving between keyboard and tenor sax.

All in all this had proved to be a highly successful event and collaborations of this nature between poets and musicians looks to be something that Black Mountain Jazz will return to in the future.


Loz Bridges – piano, Glyn Lewis – tenor & soprano saxophones

Local musicians Loz Bridges and Glyn Lewis are well known to BMJ audiences, having regularly provided the interval entertainment in the bar at regular Club Nights.

Today they were afforded the luxury of playing in the Main House, with Bridges able to deploy the venue’s upright acoustic piano instead of his usual electric keyboard. Almost inevitably his playing sounded better as a result.

Normally Bridges and Lewis would only get to play for fifteen to twenty minutes but today they were able to play a full set, this featuring a well chosen selection of standards.

With pianist Bridges handling the announcements the duo began with “There Will Never Be Another You” with Lewis featuring on tenor, his cool, understated West Coast style contrasting effectively with Bridges’ more muscular approach at the piano.

Lewis remained on tenor for the Dizzy Gillespie blues “Birks’ Works” and for a subtle, Latin tinged arrangement of the standard “Autumn Leaves”.

Lewis moved to soprano for an upbeat arrangement of “What Is This Thing Called Love”, which featured a sparkling series of sax / piano exchanges.

A return to tenor for the classic Bobby Timmons composition “Moanin’”, made famous by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and distinguished here by excellent solo from both Lewis and Bridges.

A second Dizzy Gillespie composition, “A Night In Tunisia”, kept the music in roughly the same stylistic area but facilitated a move to soprano, the performance also incorporating an extended solo piano passage from Bridges.

The Errol Garner ballad “Misty” revealed the gentler side of Bridges’ playing and also featured the warm toned tenor sax of Lewis.

Bernie Miller’s self titled “Bernie’s Tune” increased the tempo once more, with Lewis remaining on tenor sax, an instrument that also featured on the duo’s interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”.

For Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean” Bridges drew on the joint inspirations of Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson, with Lewis again featuring on tenor.

The duo concluded with the Thelonious Monk blues “Blue Monk”, another piece to feature an extended passage of solo piano, in an appropriately ‘Monk-ish’ style, from Bridges.

This was a very enjoyable set with both Bridges and Lewis justifying their elevation to the ‘big stage’. It was also quite well supported in terms of audience numbers as the venue began to fill up on this ‘Community Afternoon’


There was an even bigger audience for the debut performance of the BMJazz Katz, BMJ’s recently formed youth ensemble, who were accompanied by their tutors, BMJ Collective members Jack Mac, Nick Kacal and Ryan Thrupp.

The last few months have seen regular Sunday afternoon sessions at the Melville with the three mentors tutoring the youngsters. A more recent development has seen the trio of Mac, Kacal and Thrupp then playing a gig in the evening as the BMJ Collective with an invited guest. These events have produced some excellent performances and recent BMJ Collective performances with guests Ross Hicks (piano) and Sarah Meek (vocals) are reviewed elsewhere on this site. The aim of these gigs is to recoup some of the tutoring costs and to allow the young musicians to see their teachers in an authentic live performance situation in front of a live audience.

For this first ever BMJazzKatz public performance the ensemble lined up;


Jack Mac – tenor sax, electric piano, vocals
Nick Kacal – double bass
Ryan Thrupp – drums


Rueban Carter – alto sax
Isaac Jewell – trombone
Harry Ling – French horn
Iona Wilkins – clarinet
Elsa Bennett – cornet
Daniel Keevil – acoustic piano
Paola Scarpetta – acoustic guitar, vocals
Ferdie Thewes – electric guitar
Millie Rees – drums, vocals
Ollie Lawton – drums

The core trio of Mac, Kacal and Thrupp warmed up the audience with a lively rendition of the Kenny Garrett tune “Happy People”, with solos from Mac on tenor sax and Kacal on double bass.

Some of the students were then introduced with Ollie Lawton taking over at the drum kit for “C Jam Blues”. As Mac explained to the audience most of the pieces that the BMJazzKatz had been working on were based on the blues scale, this being one such example. Introduced by Daniel Keevil at the piano the performance also included concise solos from some of the other young musicians, Isaac Jewell on trombone, Harry Ling on French horn,  Iona Wilkins on clarinet, Ferdie Thewes on electric guitar plus Keevil on piano and Lawton at the drums.

I think I’m correct in saying that Ferdie Thewes was the youngest member of the ensemble and he impressed on electric guitar as he performed a version of the John Lee Hooker song “Boom Boom” alongside his tutors, with Mac doubling on tenor sax and vocals.

Pianist Keevil, another of the younger players, also stood out as he and Kacal performed “New Kid” as a piano / double bass duet.

The youngsters were given a breather as the core trio performed Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple”, with Mac and Kacal again the featured soloists.

In addition to learning the blues scale the youngsters had also ben working on 2-5-1 chord progressions and demonstrated their newly acquired skills on a version of the Sonny Rollins blues “Sonnymoon For Two”. Several soloists were to feature here, including Rueban Carter on alto, Bennett on cornet, Keevil at the piano, Thewes on electric guitar and Millie Rees at the drums.

Acoustic guitarist and vocalist Paola Scarpetta sang a delightful acoustic version of the Laufey song “From The Start”, augmented by Rees’ vocal harmonies and Mac’s tenor sax.

“Summertime” represented a showcase for alto saxophonist Rueban Carter, who played alongside Kacal on double bass and Mac on electric piano, with drumming duties shared by Thrupp and Lawton.

The performance concluded with “If I Only Had A Brain” from the Wizard of Oz. Carter on alto and Mac on tenor doubled up on the ‘head’, with Carter also taking the first solo. This final piece also featured solos from numerous other members of the ensemble, including Jewell (trombone), Ling (French horn), Bennett (cornet), Wilkins (clarinet), Keevil (piano) Hughes (electric guitar) and Lawton (drums).

With so may friends and family in the audience the young BMJazzKatz enjoyed a terrific reception, but one didn’t need to be personally connected to appreciate the quality of the playing. Mac, Kacal and Thrupp did a great job of guiding them along and generally encouraging them, and the efforts of the tutors were also warmly applauded. This gig was a big event for these young musicians and they rose to the occasion magnificently. Let’s hope that the BMJazzKatz project is here to stay.


An excellent day of words and music was crowned by a sold out performance from the acclaimed gospel singer Sarah Brown and her pianist Colin Good.

Before embarking on a solo career Brown had acquired a considerable reputation as an in demand backing vocalist working with some of the biggest names in rock and pop. She has recorded with Pink Floyd, George Michael, Stevie Wonder, Incognito and Simply Red and toured with Roxy Music, Simple Minds, Annie Lennox and Duran Duran.

Brown’s solo debut, “Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson” was released in May 2022 and pays homage to Mahalia Jackson (1911-72), arguably the world’s greatest ever gospel singer and a seminal source of inspiration for Brown.

In between her commitments as a backing vocalist Brown has also been touring her own album and I had received very favourable reports about her appearance at the 2023 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Therefore I was very much looking forward to tonight’s show.

Brown sometimes performs the Jackson material in the company of a full band featuring Good on piano, Luke Smith on Hammond organ, Tom Wheatley on double bass and Jerome Brown at the drums. This line up is scheduled to play at Union Chapel, Islington, London on November 6th 2023.

Tonight’s show was a much more intimate affair, performed as a single set by the duo of Brown and Good, a musician that Brown first met when both were touring with Roxy Music. Good is a hugely versatile pianist with a thorough knowledge of jazz, blues and gospel styles. He had previously visited Wall2Wall in 2018 as a member of trumpeter Enrico Tomasso’s Quartet.

Before the music began Brown was interviewed by BMJ’s own Debs Hancock, which helped to set the scene for the musical performance to follow. We learned that Brown was born in the Buckinghamshire town of Aylesbury of Jamaican heritage to parents who had come to the UK on the Windrush. One of seven siblings she grew up in a family that listened to all styles of music, ranging from Jim Reeves through Mahalia Jackson to Bob Marley.

Brown’s father was something of a ‘loveable rogue’ and she clearly still harbours a degree of affection for him. However she endured a difficult childhood and her parents split up when Brown was fourteen. She sought solace by singing in her local Pentecostal church, where she also began to absorb the musical influence of Sister Rosetta Tharp.

Brown’s talent as a singer was soon noticed and she became one of the lead vocalists in the Inspirational Choir, the first gospel choir to be signed to a major record label as they linked up with CBS.

It was during her ten year tenure with the Inspirational Choir that Brown was spotted by Stevie Wonder, who signed her as a backing vocalist and became the first of several high profile employers, many of whom are listed above.

Brown also spoke of the huge influence that Mahalia Jackson has had on her and of how she first started singing Jackson’s songs as a means of escape from her difficult childhood. She also stressed the importance of Jackson’s influence on all styles of popular music, and particularly on Elvis Presley.

The duo began with the opening track from the “Sings Mahalia Jackson” album, the spiritual “Nobody Knows”. This introduced Brown’ s extraordinary voice, rich, powerful, emotive and compassionate. It’s a formidable instrument and it was immediately easy to see why her singing has been in such great demand from so many big name acts. Meanwhile Good represented the perfect foil, his playing understated but technically flawless.

The enormity of Jackson’s influence is reflected in the fact that all of tonight’s songs were familiar to me, as they probably were for the majority of the audience. “Just A Closer Walk” was one of Brown’s father’s favourite songs and benefited here from Brown’s soulful vocal performance and Good’s jazz tinged pianism.

“Take My Hand, Precious Lord” was a favourite of Martin Luther King and was played at his funeral. Brown and Good approached the song with an appropriate sense of reverence.

In addition to being a phenomenal vocalist Brown is also an engaging personality and encouraged the audience to sing along with “Joshua”, something that they did readily and joyously. Elsewhere Brown charmed the audience with her dancing as Good delivered a series of superb instrumental solos.

“I’m On My Way” featured a highly rhythmic, rhumba style arrangement, with Brown praising the percussive nature of Good’s playing. “Colin doesn’t need a drum”, she exclaimed.

Introduced by a passage of solo piano from Good the Gershwin song “Summertime” was merged with the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. Jackson recorded a similar segue during her own tenure with CBS.

Brown first recorded the hymn “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” in 2006 but lacked the confidence to release it at the time. She has since restored the piece to her repertoire in an arrangement that presents the song in both slow and fast tempos.

This was a superb performance from both Brown and Good and the reaction of the audience was ecstatic, the duo remaining on stage to encore with “Amazing Grace”, famously performed by Jackson at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. They could hardly have chosen anything else.

CD and vinyl sales were brisk after the show with Brown and Good happy to sign autographs and chat to fans. Thanks to both of them for speaking with me.

This was a show that may have been short in terms of length but which was high with regard to quality. A brilliant way to sign off Wall2Wall 2023.



by Ian Mann

October 03, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys a "Jazz Chat" with broadcaster John Hellings and an exceptional musical performance from trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd and her Sextet.

Photograph of Laura Jurd sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2023.

The second day of Black Mountain Jazz Club’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival featured two contrasting events with a ‘Jazz Chat’ with the celebrated jazz broadcaster John Hellings followed by a musical performance by trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd and her Sextet.


John Hellings has enjoyed many years of activity as a jazz broadcaster, both on commercial radio and for the BBC. His Sunday night jazz show for BBC Hereford & Worcester was also syndicated to other BBC local radio stations, including Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire.

Hellings has also been a great friend of Black Mountain Jazz and played a key role on the 2020 Virtual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, filmed behind closed doors at the Melville Centre. Numerous musical performances were filmed for future streaming, with some of the the live footage augmented by interviews with the performers conducted by Hellings. The interviewees included vocalist Zoe Gilby, and the husband and wife team of drummer Mike Cypher and saxophonist / vocalist Kim Cypher.

Together with fellow jazz journalist Nigel Jarrett and vocalist and BMJ stalwart Debs Hancock Hellings was also part of “Jass to Jazz”, a three part video discussion on the history of jazz that was transmitted as part of the Virtual Wall2Wall Festival over the course of three separate evenings in October 2020.

Today’s event saw Hellings in the unfamiliar role of interviewee as he talked about his love of jazz and his broadcasting career to Debs Hancock. With Hancock in the ‘Lauren Laverne’ role the interview resembled a jazz themed episode of Desert Island Discs with Hellings augmenting his anecdotes with a series of well chosen musical illustrations.

The interview was held in the comfortable surroundings of the Melville Centre bar and began with Hancock asking Hellings how he first got into jazz. It turned out that in the late 1950s the teenage Hellings was something of a ‘rebel’, unwilling to listen to the same music as his parents but also reluctant to engage with the then new fangled rock’n’roll (Elvis Presley etc.) that his contemporaries were getting into.

Instead the young Hellings found jazz, initially in a ‘watered down British version’ that was illustrated by the Ted Heath Band’s version of “Skin Deep”, a tune by the Duke Ellington Orchestra that had been written by the band’s drummer Louie Bellson.  This represented the first record that Hellings ever bought. The ‘B side’ was a version of the Gerry Mulligan composition “Walking Shoes”, something of a classic and a tune still played by jazz ensembles to this day.

Gradually Hellings came to acquire some records by real American musicians, all 78 rpm discs that were played on the family radiogram. The Heath version of “Walking Shoes” led to fascination with the music of Mulligan and his famous ‘piano-less’ quartet and we were also to hear Mulligan himself playing “Blues Going Up”, a live recording documented at a high school in Stockton, California in 1954. Hellings rued the fact that jazz musicians were never welcomed into English schools in the same way.

Hellings also broadened his jazz knowledge by listening to American Forces Radio and continued buying records from a music shop in Cardiff, the kind of old fashioned record store where friendly and knowledgeable assistants would say “have you heard this?”. It was an invaluable learning resource for a young jazz enthusiast.

More music followed, a version of “All The Things You Are”, featuring the twin saxophones of Mulligan (baritone) and Paul Desmond (alto).

On leaving school Hellings found work as a printer, while also continuing to nurture his passion for jazz. The opportunity for him to share his love for the music with a listening audience came with the advent of BBC local radio and the simultaneous development of commercial radio. Under the terms of an IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) agreement stations were obliged to broadcast specialist music programmes and turned to enthusiasts such as Hellings to present shows dedicated to jazz and folk. For a while he continued with his ‘day job’ in addition to broadcasting for a number of different radio stations, among them Radio Wyvern, Severn Sound and BBC Radio Wiltshire.

A regular slot with BBC Hereford & Worcester gave him the opportunity to become a professional broadcaster, a decision that represented something of a leap of faith at the time, but one that he has never regretted. Hellings presented jazz and big band programmes for the BBC for many years, developing a loyal following in the process. Debs Hancock commented that the warmth of his voice, allied to the breadth of his jazz knowledge, made him the perfect presenter and Hellings confirmed that in everyday social situations people frequently recognised him by his voice alone. He also revealed that his radio shows had amassed a following outside their syndicated area, most notably in South Lancashire, and Wigan in particular. Hellings was also keen to stress the importance of local radio broadcasting as a support to live music.

The conversation was interspersed with more of Hellings’ music choices. His love of West Coast jazz extended to pianist Dave Brubeck and his famous quartet, of which the aforementioned Paul Desmond was a key member. Hellings chose to ignore the obvious ‘hits’ for his Brubeck selection, choosing instead a live recording of the song “Wonderful Copenhagen”.

We also heard from the coolly elegant Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), featuring pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay, with their version of the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”.

Hellings’ work as a broadcaster also gave him the opportunity to meet and interview some of his jazz heroes. He recalled interviewing the French pianist Jacques Loussier, of ‘Play Bach’ fame, whose trio performed the music heard on the still fondly remembered Hamlet Cigars advert.

On another occasion Hellings interviewed a then very young, and clearly hungover, Jamie Cullum, during which Cullum acknowledged the influence of the American pianist / vocalist Harry Connick Jr.

A particularly favourite interview was with the American bandleader, composer and arranger Gordon Goodwin.

The changes in broadcasting methods were discussed, with most of Hellings’ shows in recent years having been recorded prior to transmission. He recalled being away on holiday and tuning in to make sure that the show was going out OK.

Hellings’ final music choice surprised me, “Art Deco” by the late, great trumpeter Don Cherry, chosen to demonstrate the fact that jazz is a constantly evolving music.

Of course there was a certain irony about today’s event. The BBC has been cutting back local radio for years and the pandemic gave them the perfect excuse to axe specialist music programmes such as John’s. As far as I can tell the last episode of “Jazz with John Hellings” was broadcast on 22nd March 2020 and the archive remains unavailable. It’s all part of an increasing drive towards homogenisation and it’s only going to get worse, with many of John’s former BBC local radio colleagues about to find themselves out of a job very soon. From the listener’s point of view it’s all very regrettable and to me it all reeks of a wider political and cultural agenda, but this isn’t the time or the place to go into all that.

Thanks to John Hellings for an interesting, informative and entertaining talk and to Debs Hancock who proved to be an empathic host and again demonstrated her impressive interviewing skills. A great curtain raiser for the musical performance from Laura Jurd that was to follow.



Laura Jurd – trumpet, piano Cameron Scott – euphonium, Hanna Mbuya- tuba, James Kitchman – guitar, Toby Yapp – electric bass, Corrie Dick – drums, percussion

It represented a considerable coup for Black Mountain Jazz to persuade the award winning trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd to come and perform at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival.

Jurd is perhaps best known for her long running quartet Dinosaur (featuring keyboard player Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick) with whom she has recorded three albums, “Together As One” (2016), “Wonder Trail” (2018) and “To The Earth” (2020). The first of these was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize.

In addition to her work with Dinosaur Jurd has issued a number of albums under her own name, these being “Landing Ground” (2012), “Human Spirit” (2015), “Stepping Back, Jumping In” (2019), the digital only “Trio EP (2019) and “The Big Friendly Album” (2022).

Today’s performance focussed on music from “The Big Friendly Album” and featured the unusually configured instrumental line up listed above. The recording features the same instrumentation with Martin Lee Thomson on euphonium, Danielle Price on tuba, Alex Haines on guitar and Ruth Goller on bass. Thus of tonight’s performers only Jurd and Dick remained from the album.

Jurd is a versatile musician and composer whose music also embraces elements of folk and classical music. The previous evening she had performed in Cardiff, playing alongside a string quartet as part of a concert paying homage to the British composer Gavin Bryars on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

It’s a tribute to Jurd’s professionalism that she was present in Abergavenny some five hours before the scheduled start of the performance. Admittedly it had been a short trip from Cardiff but the London based members of her band arrived shortly afterwards to fully rehearse the material and to liaise closely with resident sound engineer Mark Viveash. With its unusual instrumentation this was a difficult band to mix and it’s a tribute to both Viveash and the musicians that the sound at the concert was so good.

In 2022 Jurd appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival leading an extended eleven piece version of this group performing material from the “Stepping Back, Jumping In” album, a performance favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. Unlike the majority of tonight’s audience I had some idea what to expect, but with a smaller line-up and with different material tonight was obviously something else again.

Appropriately the sextet began with “Little Opener”, a tune from “The Big Friendly Album”, but not the one that actually opens the recording. The “BFA” also includes guest appearances from other musicians, with the Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli featuring on this track. Tonight the performance was notable for the unusual blend of the brass instruments, the remarkable fluency and agility of Scott’s euphonium solo and the flexibility of the rhythms generated by the combination of drums, electric bass and tuba. Other features included an agreeably quirky trumpet solo from the leader and outings for Kitchman on guitar and Yapp on electric bass.

The “BFA” was released in September 2022, so Jurd spoke of tonight’s gig being a “Birthday Celebration”. The next offering was “Sleepless”, another piece to feature Haltli on the recording. This was introduced by Kitchman on guitar and Jurd on piano. Indeed the leader moved constantly between trumpet and piano throughout the set, changing instruments several times during the course of each composition and even playing both instruments simultaneously on occasion. This was music that was densely written, with all the group members reading sheet music, but there was still room given over to individual expression. Jurd’s music is often about contrasts and I enjoyed the contrast between the traditional brass band instruments of trumpet, euphonium and tuba with the technology of Kitchman’s guitar and its range of imaginatively deployed electronic effects.

Originally written for the Dinosaur album “To The Earth” the tune “Mosking” was dedicated to the Norwegian piano trio Moskus, a group with whom Jurd and her associates have close ties. Indeed Moskus pianist Ana Lauvdal co-wrote one of the pieces on the “Stepping Back, Jumping In” recording.
Tonight’s performance was ushered in by a trumpet /drum dialogue between Jurd and Dick, these two then joined by Kitchman’s guitar atmospherics. This was a piece that placed a greater emphasis on improvisation and included expansive solos from Jurd on trumpet and Scott on euphonium. Kitchman’s solo briefly saw the group in guitar trio mode and he was followed by Dick’s drum feature, this evolving into a dialogue with Jurd at the piano, before the leader eventually took up the trumpet once more.

Kitchman’s unaccompanied guitar ushered in “Passing Clouds”, a piece that alternated between the soft and pastoral and the dark and clangorous, perhaps mirroring the moods of the clouds themselves on a typically variable British day. This was one of the few pieces to feature Jurd as a piano soloist.

The first set concluded with “On The Up”, a composition that features violinist Dylan Bates on the recorded version. This was another piece to feature the contrast between the warm harmonies of the brass instruments and the metallic sheen of Kitchman’s guitar, the latter’s solo displaying a distinct rock influence.

The first ‘outside’ item of the evening was “Skin”, a piece written by the late, great pianist and composer Geri Allen (1957-2017), which proved to be a lively introduction to the second half. Introduced by Jurd’s left hand piano vamp this featured rich the blend of the horns, now propelled by Dick’s crisp drumming.

Returning to the “BFA” repertoire “Houseplant” was written in honour of saxophonist and composer Mark Lockheart, Jurd’s one time mentor. Named after Lockheart’s celebrated band Perfect Houseplants (also featuring pianist Huw Warren, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Martin France) the recorded version features Lockheart himself on soprano sax. Introduced by a further dialogue between Jurd on piano and Dick at the drums this was a piece with a lilting folk like melody, presumably inspired by the amalgam of jazz / folk that typified the music of Perfect Houseplants. The performance was also to feature Jurd as a trumpet soloist.

Written in January 2020 “Fuzzy” was the first tune that Jurd composed for the “BFA” project.
Ushered in by Jurd and Dick this piece featured Kitchman soloing above Mbuya’s tuba bass lines and included further features for Jurd on trumpet, Yapp on electric bass and Dick at the drums. An upbeat piece centred around strong grooves and rhythms this was music that could almost be considered funky at times. The recorded version features the flute of guest Finn Peters.

Written for Jurd’s young son “Henry” featured a Keith Jarrett like piano melody and later incorporated a set of beguiling melodic exchanges between Jurd on trumpet and Scott on euphonium. The recorded version features Lockheart on soprano sax.

The second set concluded, appropriately, with the anthemic “Here The Tale Ends”, with Jurd, Kitchman and Dick featuring prominently in the arrangement. The recorded version features guest Mandhira de Saram on violin.

During the course of the concert it had been difficult to gauge the audience’s reaction to this unusual and often complex music. There had been little applause for individual solos, but with music so tightly interwoven it’s arguable that this may not have been appropriate. Any doubts I might have had about the BMJ public enjoying it were dispelled as the tension was released and the crowd gave the sextet a great reception, with many audience members getting to their feet to applaud the band.

With no encore prepared Jurd elected to perform the piece that she had played the night before in Cardiff with the string quartet, “Upstream Heavy Tune”. This was played as a trumpet / drum duet between Jurd and Dick, the latter performing with great sensitivity as he added punctuation and commentary to Jurd’s trumpet narrative. I very much appreciated the contrast between the intimacy and sparseness of this performance with the intensity and density of the sextet material. An impromptu, but highly effective, way to end an excellent evening of music making.

My thanks to Laura, Corrie and James for speaking with me during the interval and after the show. I’m now looking forward to seeing Corrie leading his own sextet and performing music from his “Sun Swells” album at the Music Spoken Here event at the Marr’s Bar in Worcester on November 2nd 2023.

James Kitchman is also a bandleader in his own right and his own excellent album “First Quartet” (2022) is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, as is “Rain Shadows” (2023), his duo recording with pianist Bruno Heinen. He has also been featured with saxophonist Jonathan Chung’s trio Glasshopper, a group that also features Corrie Dick.










by Ian Mann

September 26, 2023

Ian Mann and Trevor Bannister pay tribute to the late, great John Marshall (1941-2023), drummer with three seminal bands, Ian Carr’s Nucleus, Soft Machine and Eberhard Weber’s Colours.

R.I.P. John Marshall (1941 – 2023)

I was saddened to hear about the passing of the great John Marshall, drummer with three of the most important and influential bands at the interface of jazz and rock, Ian Carr’s Nucleus, Soft Machine and Eberhard Weber’s Colours.

He appeared on three Nucleus albums in the early 1970s “Elastic Rock” (1970),  We’ll Talk About It Later (1971)  and “Solar Plexus” (1971), all released on the Vertigo record label. “Elastic Rock”, in particular, is now regarded as a landmark release in the history of British music.

In 1972 Marshall joined Soft Machine, a group that he would continue to be associated with in its various incarnations for the rest of his life and with whom he recorded a total of a dozen studio alums, plus just as many live recordings.

Marshall also enjoyed a parallel career as a member of Colours, the quartet led by the great German bassist and composer Eberhard Weber. Marshall appeared on the ECM albums “Silent Feet” (1977) and Little Movements” (1980), the second of which is playing as I write and still sounds good today.

He also appears on the 1999 ECM album “Achirana”, which saw him teamed with the Greek pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos and the Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen.

In 1997 Marshall recorded the album “Bodywork” for 33 Jazz Records, working alongside future Soft Machine saxophonist Theo Travis and former Nucleus. guitarist Mark Wood

Other notable artists with whom Marshall worked include bassist /vocalist Jack Bruce, saxophonist John Surman, guitarists Barney Kessell, Chris Spedding and Volker Kriegel,  and composers Michael Garrick, Gil Evans, Graham Collier, Neil Ardley, Mike Westbrook and Mike Gibbs. This is, of course, just scratching the surface, the versatile and in demand Marshall featured on a total of over eighty recordings.

Marshall was also part of pianist / composer Keith Tippett’s huge Centipede ensemble on the staggering 1971 double album “Septober Energy”.

I was lucky enough to see Marshall perform live on a total of three occasions. In 1987 he returned to the Nucleus fold and I enjoyed seeing the band at the now defunct Triangle Arts Centre in Birmingham on 17th May,  the last date of a Jazz Services sponsored UK tour. Besides Marshall and Carr the group featured Mark Wood on guitar, Phil Todd on saxophones and Dill Katz on fretless electric bass. I can be sure of my facts here as I am still in possession of a ‘flyer’ from that concert.

In 2007(ish) I saw Marshall perform as part of what was then known as Soft Machine Legacy at the Robin 2 rock club in Bilston, Wolverhampton. This was around the time of the release of the “Steam” album, credited to Soft Machine Legacy and featuring Marshall alongside bassist Hugh Hopper, guitarist John Etheridge and saxophonist Theo Travis, the latter making his recorded debut with the group after replacing the late Elton Dean. I haven’t unearthed any memorabilia from the Bilston date so my memories are actually less reliable than for the Nucleus show. I seem to recall that at Bilston Hugh Hopper was replaced by Roy Babbington, but some sixteen years on I can’t be totally categorical about that.

Unfortunately I never did get to see Colours, although I was lucky enough to see Eberhard Weber play live with Jan Garbarek, and also with the United Jazz & Rock Ensemble.

My last sighting of John Marshall live was at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he appeared at the Town Hall as a member of the John Surman / John Warren Brass Project. The event took place on 4th May and my review of the performance can be found here;

It was also in 2019 that The Jazzmann published three features about John Marshall under the generic title “You Didn’t Look Like a Drummer”, the title sourced from a remark by clarinettist Acker Bilk, with whom Marshall once played. These were based around a series of interviews conducted with Marshall by regular Jazzmann contributor Trevor Bannister in 2018.

Trevor is based in Reading, the town where Marshall went to university to study for a degree in Psychology, while also becoming became involved in the local jazz scene.

The first part of Trevor’s features finds Marshall discussing various American jazz drummers as well as recalling his own school and university days. Link here;

Part Two sees Marshall establishing himself on the London jazz scene before going on to work with Mike Gibbs, Jack Bruce, Nucleus and Soft Machine. Link here;

The third and final part sees Marshall recalling more of his work with Soft Machine and also with John Surman and Eberhard Weber, among others. He also selects his ten favourite recordings from the many on which he has been featured. Link here;

Trevor’s interviews with John are very comprehensive and offer a superb overview of John Marshall’s career. There are fascinating insights and some great stories, some of them highly amusing.

I have enjoyed reading Trevor’s excellent features again and I’m sure many of John Marshall’s numerous fans will wish to do the same during this sad time.

I had hoped to meet John personally following the Brass Project show at Cheltenham. Following the publication of Trevor’s interviews he had expressed an interest in meeting me but this proved impossible due to the tight turnaround schedules for both musicians and reviewers alike. It was a privilege to witness his playing, but we never did make that meeting.

We really have lost one of the greats.

I’ll leave the last words to Trevor Bannister;

I was saddened to learn that John Marshall has died. He was a fabulous drummer and a lovely guy. He was quite frail when I interviewed him in 2018. This didn’t get in the way of his playing which was as forceful and imaginative as ever when I saw him in action with Soft Machine.
I did wonder if something was amiss when I read that Asaf Sirkis would be lining up for the coming Softs tour. The sad news followed soon after. A great loss.

R.I.P. John, and thank you for the music and the memories.




by Ian Mann

September 12, 2023

Ian Mann with a personal reflection on Ezra Collective's historic victory at the 2023 Mercury Music Prize ceremony, making them the first ever jazz act to win an award first instigated in 1992.


I was delighted to see that Ezra Collective have won the 2023 Mercury Music Prize, the first ever jazz act to win an award that has been going since 1992. They collected the Prize for their second full length album “Where I’m Meant To Be”.

The London based quintet was formed in 2012 by brothers Femi Koleoso (drums) and TJ Koleoso (electric bass), together with James Mollison (sax), Joe Armon-Jones (keyboards) and Dylan Jones (trumpet). Jones has since been replaced by Ife Ogunjobi.

Ezra Collective’s victory was particularly gratifying for The Jazzmann, who first reviewed a live performance by the group as far back as 2013 when the original line up appeared at the Ray’s Jazz Cafe performance space at Foyle’s Bookshop on Charing Cross Road. This event formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival and saw the then teenage quintet impressing with both the quality of their playing and the maturity of Femi Koleoso’s original writing.

Having come together as part of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme under the guidance of bassist Gary Crosby the Collective’s mixed race line up was already beginning to explore a wide variety of music, including jazz, funk, soul, reggae, hip- hop, grime, salsa and Afrobeat, a heady mix that continues to inform their sound to this day. 

At the time The Jazzmann wrote of;

“the spirited playing of this talented young band”


“Expect to hear a lot more from these excellent young musicians. They played with genuine youthful vitality and a good deal of skill, with Femi Koleoso’s writing also impressing with its maturity”.

The full review can be found here; 

For the 2016 EFGLJF Ezra Collective returned to Foyle’s to play in the new, larger performance space on the top floor. The original line up remained in place, and at a highly exciting sold out show it quickly became apparent that this rapidly maturing young band had really ‘kicked on’ during the interim.

Here are a couple of Jazzmann observations from Ezra Collective’s 2016 Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s EFGLJF performance;

“Ezra Collective gave notice that they’ve really come of age as they played a barnstorming set to a sell out audience. This is a band that has clearly accrued a loyal following, and on the evidence of this highly skilled and thrillingly energetic show I’m not surprised.”

“In the three years since I last saw them the members of Ezra Collective have matured both individually and collectively. They were good then but in the intervening years they’ve honed their chops and now play with an impressive confidence and swagger. This is a group that has grown up together and now have the assurance of a band that ‘know that they are good’.”

Full review here;

It was to be nearly seven years until I saw the band again when they played a sold out headline show at the Town Hall as part of the 2023 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. By this time Ife Ogunjobi had taken over from Dylan Jones in the trumpet chair and Ezra Collective were part of a wider London based jazz movement that had seen the music finding favour with young audiences and being performed in larger and larger spaces. It was a scene that the Ezras had done much to create, thanks to the quality of their exciting and inclusive live performances. They helped to pave the way for artists such as Nubya Garcia, SEED Ensemble, Kokoroko and also the Steam Down and Jazz re; freshed organisations.

This time The Jazzmann wrote;

“I thoroughly enjoyed this high energy, crowd pleasing performance by Ezra Collective, a band capable of entertaining a large crowd without overly compromising either themselves or their music. Musical intelligence and instrumental virtuosity are still at the heart of their sound and this was still unmistakably a jazz performance.  And as the crowd melted away into the night I couldn’t resist a smug smile, heartened by the band’s awesome progress and thinking to myself “you read about them here first”.”

Full review here;

The Mercury Prize has often included a jazz album among the shortlist of twelve nominations – not every year, but pretty close to it. Previous jazz nominees have included Polar Bear (twice), Kit Downes, Portico Quartet, Led Bib,  Roller Trio, GoGo Penguin, Sons of Kemet, Dinosaur, SEED Ensemble, Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia and Fergus McCreadie, but there’s usually been the feeling that these have very much been ‘token entries’. The only one of these that I seriously thought might be in with a shout was Sons of Kemet for “Your Queen is a Reptile” back in 2018.

Nevertheless merely being listed has raised the profile of all the jazz nominees and until this year merely making the shortlist has been viewed as a success for the ‘token’ jazz or folk act. Seth Lakeman was nominated in 2005, alongside Polar Bear, and subsequently became one of the biggest folk acts on the scene. He’s still seeing the benefits of that nomination to this day. I’ve no doubt that this year’s ‘token folkies’, the Irish group Lankum, will see a surge of interest in their music too.

That’s why the Ezra’s unexpected triumph is so exciting. This is a band that has earned its success the old fashioned way, earning itself a reputation through the quality of its exciting live performances and building a following by word of mouth. These are guys who have grown up together and ‘paid their dues’. They’ve worked hard for their success.

They’ve won their fair share of other awards along the way, including a number of youth jazz prizes in their early days, plus the Parliamentary Jazz Award for ‘ Best Ensemble’ in 2019, the same year that The Jazzmann collected the equivalent Award for ‘Best Media’, so in a sense we’ve grown up together.

I watched the BBC’s coverage of the Mercurys, screened from the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith (still the Hammersmith Odeon to those of us of a certain age), and enjoyed the majority of the live performances – it’s sometimes good to see and hear music that isn’t jazz.

Nevertheless the Ezras’ exuberant performance of their tune “Victory Dance” was a real highlight and had the audience on its feet clapping along joyously. The crowd seemed to be full of Ezra supporters and they really got behind their heroes. The group was the second act to perform and they proved to be a tough act to follow, this was a performance that really mattered to them.

Not every nominee turned up to perform live on the night, the Arctic Monkeys being particularly conspicuous absentees and the energy, vitality and commitment of the Ezras’ performance must surely have impressed the judges.

When Ezra Collective were announced as winners by the DJ Jamz Supernova, acting as the spokesperson for the panel of judges, the excitement and elation expressed by the band members was totally genuine. There was no forced jollity here, merely the spontaneous joyousness of people who didn’t expect to win suddenly finding themselves making history. This really meant something to the recipients, it wasn’t ‘just another award’,  as it might have been for Arctic Monkeys.

Here is the jury citation: 
“Virtuosity, community, listening to each other to work out where to go next… who knew that such seemingly old-fashioned values would come to the fore on the winning album of the 2023 Mercury Prize with FREENOW? It wasn’t easy to choose an overall winner from such an eclectic and exciting list, but ultimately the judges were unanimous: Ezra Collective, the London five-piece made up of Femi Koleoso on drums, TJ Koleoso on bass, Joe-Armon Jones on keys, James Mollison on saxophone and Ife Ogunjobi on trumpet are a living argument for putting the hours in, achieving musical brilliance, and tapping into a joyous spirit that ensures their album is as fun as it is impressive.  The British jazz renaissance of the past decade has been one of the most significant developments in modern music. Now, ‘Where I’m Meant To Be’, with its touches of reggae, soul, Latin and Afrobeats, its call and response riffs and rhythmic intensity, is a landmark not only for jazz, but for contemporary music in general.”

Even more pleasing and significant was Femi Koleoso’s victory speech. As the disbelieving quintet, still congratulating one another, joined Jamz Supernova and presenter Lauren Laverne on stage Femi pulled his thoughts together to make some very salient points.

He began by joking;
“If a jazz band winning the Mercury Prize doesn’t make you believe in God, I don’t know what will.”

After thanking the band’s manager and other members of their entourage he got on to the really serious stuff;

“This award represents something very special because we met in a youth club. This moment that we’re celebrating right here is testament to good, special people putting time and effort into young people to play music. This is not just a result for Ezra Collective, or for UK jazz, but this is a special moment for every single organisation across the country, ploughing efforts and time into young people playing music.”

Femi then bigged up the London based institutions that had supported the band, such as Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco, but his speech resonated beyond the capital. There are organisations and jazz clubs supporting youth music all over the country, two local to me being Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny with their JazzKatz youth jazz scheme, and also Brecon Jazz Club with their links to local schools and colleges.

Back to Femi Koleoso;
“Let me tell you something really serious – we’ve got something special in the UK. We’ve got something special by way of young musicians, so let’s continue to support that.”

Great credit is due to Femi for delivering an important and serious message in the midst of so much excitement. Ezra Collective is a band that has stayed true to its roots and one suspects that his words were aimed directly at Rishi Sunak, and if he wasn’t listening Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer certainly should have been.

Seriously, what a brilliant acceptance speech.

As is customary at the Mercury award ceremony Lauren Laverne asked the band if they would play again. Of course this just had to be a reprise of the now appropriately titled “Victory Dance”, with Ogunjobi and Mollison down on the floor and parading around an audience whose members were all up on their feet celebrating this unexpected and most popular of victories. Incorporating solos from Ogunjobi, Armon-Jones and Femi Koleoso this was a subtly different performance to the earlier rendition – this was still jazz after all.

Let us hope that Ezra Collective have well and truly broken the mould and that future jazz recordings can be serious contenders for the Mercury.

For the record the full list of nominations for the 2023 Mercury Music Prize were;

Arctic Monkeys - The Car

Ezra Collective - Where I’m Meant to Be

Fred Again - Actual Life 3 (January 1 - September 9 2022)
J Hus - Beautiful And Brutal Yard
Jessie Ware - That! Feels Good!
Jockstrap - I Love You Jennifer B
Lankum - False Lankum
Loyle Carner – Hugo
Olivia Dean – Messy
Raye - My 21st Century Blues
Shygirl – Nymph
Young Fathers - Heavy Heavy

To conclude, heartfelt congratulations to Ezra Collective on their prestigious award, which comes with the added bonus of £25,000 of prize money.

The Jazzmann has been a supporter of Ezra Collective almost from its inception and I’d like to think that my writing has played a small part in the band’s success, particularly in the early days. It was hard for me to keep a dry eye when I found out that they’d actually won!

At The Jazzmann we like to say “we know how to spot ‘em”, but never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen this. I never thought that I’d write about a jazz act winning the Mercury Prize. I suspect that the Ezras are probably as surprised as a I am – but in such a good way.

Very, very well done, guys.



by Ian Mann

August 29, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys "Jazz on a Summer's Day", the film about he 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and "Indigo - Revelations in Small Steps", a film about trumpeter Byron Wallen's Indigo quartet by Tom Parsons.


‘Jazz & Film Weekend’ The Films, 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.

The four musical performances that took place over the course of the weekend have already been reviewed here;
Brecon Jazz Festival 2023, ‘Jazz & Film Weekend’ - The Music - Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th August 2023. | Feature | The Jazz Mann

For reasons that should subsequently become apparent I have decided to review the film   screenings separately.

Saturday commenced with the screening of the 1959 film “Jazz on a Summer’s Day”, filmed around the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival at Newport, Rhode Island.

Sunday’s film was the premiere of the British independent production “Indigo”, film maker Tom Parsons’ appreciation of the work of the British trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Byron Wallen and his long running quartet Indigo, a band also featuring saxophonist Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Tom Skinner.

Saturday’s events also included ‘Talking About Film’, an informal discussion with Tom Parsons held at St. Mary’s Church which reflected on “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” and also addressed Parsons’ own film which was to be screened the following day.


The cinematic aspect of the final weekend of BJF 2023 commenced with the screening of “Jazz on a Summer’s Day”, a record of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In 1999 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and the film was re-mastered and re-issued in 2021.

The still ongoing Newport Jazz Festival was founded in 1954 and the film documents its fifth edition. In addition to the music the film also shows something of Newport itself, a particularly affluent area of the US populated by socialites such as Festival backer Elaine Lorillard, who appears briefly in the film.

The opening credits refer to “a film by Bert Stern”, the fashion photographer who was the film’s original director. The opening sequence, features sunlight rippling on the water of Newport Marina and the film also includes extensive coverage of yachts taking part in the trials for the America’s Cup races.

The opening sequence also features a ‘cast list’ of the musicians appearing in the film, this reading like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of jazz.

Shot entirely in colour the film has no narration or commentary, with Stern content to let the combination of his cinematography and the music itself do the talking. Festival MC Willis Connover is heard announcing the artists and the film also features snippets of overheard conversation documented in various scenarios.

“Jazz on a Summer’s Day” is a very candid portrayal of the Festival with Stern adopting a ‘fly on the wall’ approach with unedited audience shots, footage of musicians behind the scenes at soundchecks and hotel room rehearsals (the Chico Hamilton group) and scenes shot in the streets of Newport and its environs. Like Brecon Jazz Festival in its heyday the Festival appears to take over the whole town, sometimes to the annoyance of some of the locals. A band of student musicians from Yale University are shown driving around playing New Orleans style jazz from a vintage car. Apparently the group included trombonist Roswell Rudd, a musician later to find fame in rather more avant garde jazz circles.

Stewards are shown setting up the chairs in Freebody Park ready for the open air musical performances. The first concert footage we see is of a trio featuring saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and guitarist Jim Hall playing “The Train and The River” behind the opening credits.

Thelonious Monk also appears early on in the film, playing with a trio featuring Roy Haynes on drums and a startlingly youthful looking Henry Grimes on bass. Unfortunately we don’t see enough of the musicians as Stern keeps cutting away to footage of those America’s Cup yachts.

Sonny Stitt is then featured on tenor sax (he’s more commonly associated with the alto), leading a group that also features guitarist Sal Salvador.

Given his background as a fashion photographer it’s perhaps not so surprising that Stern lingers longer over a performance by the glamorously attired singer Anita O’Day, focussing on her coat and hat as much as the music. That said O’Day’s performance is terrific and includes an audacious slowed down arrangement of “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Although overshadowed by the ‘holy trinity’ of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday O’Day was an accomplished and adventurous vocalist with a superb technique and she was also a great entertainer. Here she bounces ideas off her small group in thrilling fashion and I’m sure she remains an influence for contemporary jazz vocalists such as Zoe Gilby.

The O’Day footage includes more candid footage of the Festival audience, some listening intently others eating ice creams, and we also cut away to the Yale student jazz band as they play from a child’s train ride.

The next musical performance comes from British born pianist George Shearing leading a Latin styled quintet featuring vibraphone and congas.

The vibes also feature on vocalist Dinah Washington’s soulful rendition of the jazz standard “All of Me”. The performance also includes Washington playing vibraphone alongside vibes specialist Terry Gibbs. The whole show was documented on the album “Newport ‘58”, one of many “Live at Newport” recordings to be issued by a wide variety of artists over the years.

Given that “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” was filmed sixty five years ago in the year that I was born it comes as no surprise to learn that most of its participants are no longer with us. A happy exception is Terry Gibbs, still going strong at ninety eight and who released his latest album as recently as 2017. Also still with us at ninety eight is drummer Roy Haynes, seen at Newport with Thelonious Monk.

I recall seeing the late Henry Grimes (1935-2020) at the 2009 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, more than fifty years after Newport ’58.  By now Grimes has become an elder statesman of the music, grey of hair and beard, but still a phenomenal musician.

Audience members could be seen up and dancing at that Washington gig and it was notable that audiences at Newport were racially integrated, a welcome sign of the changing times and a far cry from the American South and the repressive ‘Jim Crow’ laws, basically apartheid by another name.

This spirit of integration was also represented on the bandstand, notably in baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s ‘pianoless quartet’, with trumpeter Art Farmer also featuring in the front line. Mulligan (1927-96) later appeared on the concert programme at the 1991 Brecon Jazz Festival, playing with his quartet in the Market Hall. The 1958 Newport performance was later released as the album “News from Newport”.

Even at this early stage in the Festival’s history there were signs that Newport was already on its way to becoming what is now known as a ‘hybrid’ jazz festival, with other genres of music featuring on the bill. Blues belter Big Maybelle was featured singing ““All Night Long/I Ain’t Mad at You”, accompanied by a group of well known jazz musicians billed as the Newport Blues Band.

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry, a controversial addition to the line up, played electric guitar and sang “Sweet Little Sixteen” in the company of the same musicians that had backed Big Maybelle. Berry’s vocals and guitar were followed by a searing clarinet solo but the footage depicts Berry from the waist up, so modern day viewers wanting to see Berry’s famous ‘duck walk’ were left disappointed.

For me one of the most remarkable performances featured in the film was that of an ensemble led by drummer Chico Hamilton. An unusually configured line up featured Eric Dolphy on flute and Nate Gershman on cello and the music sounded startlingly modern, sounding as if it could have been made in 2023. I had to keep reminding myself that this was 1958! Hamilton’s own playing was effortlessly fluid and his mallet solo, featuring subtly evolving polyrhythms was utterly compelling. The cameras cut away to an audience open mouthed in astonishment and admiration. They were totally transfixed, as was I some sixty five years later. The film also includes extended footage of a shirtless Gershman playing solo cello in his hotel room.

Part way through the film the role of director transfers from Stern to Aram Avakian, with the latter placing a greater emphasis on the musical performances. There’s an extended section featuring Louis Armstrong which includes footage from an interview followed by performances of “Up The Lazy River” and “Tiger Rag”, with Armstrong’s singing and trumpet playing supported by a band featuring drummer Danny Barcelona. Trombonist and vocalist Jack Teagarden joins Armstrong for a good humoured duet on “Old Rocking Chair” and the performance concludes, almost inevitably, with “When The Saints”. The mutual respect that Armstrong and Teagarden had for each other shines through and at this early stage of its existence it must have represented quite a coup for Newport’s organisers to have had a global star like Armstrong on the bill.

I have to admit that I’ve never really ‘got’ Armstrong despite his undisputed importance in the history of jazz. His status as an ‘all round entertainer’ has never sat well with me and I’d far rather hear him playing trumpet than singing and generally hamming things up. He’s not the only hugely popular act whose appeal largely passes me by, I don’t really ‘get’ Elvis Presley or Coldplay either.

The film closes with a remarkable performance from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who sings with great power and authority, hardly needing the onstage mic. A powerful rendition of “Didn’t It Rain” sees the audience snapping their fingers in time with the beat but they fall into open mouthed silence for Jackson’s stunning singing of “The Lord’s Prayer”, a totally mesmerising performance, even to the unconverted. Jackson was last on the bill on Saturday night and her performance extended into the early hours of Sunday morning, welcoming in the Sabbath with “The Lord’s Prayer”.

The song also concludes a film that features some brilliant musical performances but which is also an encapsulation of the optimism of late 1950s America, in affluent areas such as Newport at least. In addition to the racial integration remarked upon previously it’s also notable that jazz is still a music appreciated by young people with many hip young things among the audience, digging the sounds of jazz before rock music began to dominate the music scene of the 1960s and beyond. Artists such as Shearing and Mulligan were still particularly fashionable at this time.

The varying directorial styles of Stern and Avakian result in a film that is both a concert movie and a social commentary, capturing a particular moment in American musical and cultural history. In its re-mastered form it’s still essential viewing and listening for music fans and represented a perfect choice for Brecon Jazz Festival, an event that has come to mirror Newport through its longevity and musical diversity.


Following the “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” screening audience members were invited to St. Mary’s Church to discuss what they had just seen in the company of film maker Tom Parsons, whose own film “Indigo” was to be screened at the Coliseum the following day.

This wasn’t a case of Parsons talking TO the audience but instead a fully interactive conversation featuring Parsons, Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon and the small group of audience members that had come across from the Coliseum.

The audience members expressed their delight at the musical performances with Mahalia Jackson receiving particular praise. Some were pleasantly surprised to see racially mixed audiences in 1950s America, something also epitomised by the obvious bonhomie between Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, a friendship that also flourished away from the stage.

Everybody found Stern’s cinematography to be very evocative and said that they had become absorbed by the footage and wished that they could actually have been there on that July day in 1958.

Some of my personal observations and opinions about the film, which I expressed in the discussion, are incorporated into the above review.

Parsons talked about some of the technical issues and challenges with regard to the filming and sound recording that Stern and Avakian had had to overcome in the making of the film.

The affable Parsons then told us something about his own film. He works as a dubbing mixer in the television and film industry, specialising in synchronising sound and vision.

“Indigo” is a project that has been more than a decade in the making. Parsons is a huge jazz fan and a friend of London based trumpeter Byron Wallen. In the days when Youtube was in its infancy Parsons regularly filmed Wallen’s gigs and placed the footage on Youtube.

Despite the publicity for his music that this facilitated Wallen was wary of giving his material away for nothing and the idea of a full length documentary style film was born.

Parson’s “Indigo” project began in 2009 and has thus been more than a decade in the making, the hiatus between initiation and completion having been occasioned by Parsons taking time out to concentrate on his young family, this voluntary break then followed by the pandemic.

The “Indigo” film combines live footage of the band from both 2010 and 2020 together with interview footage captured in each of these years.


Parsons’ words about his own film certainly whetted the appetite for seeing the film itself and it was with a keen sense of anticipation that I took my seat in the Coliseum Cinema with around thirty other inquisitive jazz fans.

I’ve been a long time admirer of Byron Wallen’s trumpet playing, having heard him first in bassist Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop ensemble in the 1990s. In 2020 I reviewed his album “Portrait; Reflections On Belonging”, which was released pretty much on the eve of the pandemic, this resulting in most of the accompanying tour dates being cancelled. Album review here;
Byron Wallen - Portrait: Reflections On Belonging | Review | The Jazz Mann

Brecon Jazz regulars will recall Wallen visiting the town for the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival, when he performed as part of a sextet led by jazz harmonica player and pianist Adam Glasser paying tribute to the South African trumpeter and composer Hugh Masekela.

Wallen has appeared frequently on the Jazzmann web pages as a sideman in the bands of others, but as a solo artist he’s very much been under-recorded. His previous albums include “Sound Advice” (1995), “Earth Roots” (1997) and the well received Meeting Ground” (2007).

His Indigo quartet, featuring saxophonist Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Tom Skinner has been running since 1999 and the band released its self titled album, still its only official recording, as far back as 2002.

Parsons’ film was initially intended as a celebration of the quartet’s tenth anniversary, but a whole lot more water has flowed under the bridge since then.

Today’s screening was introduced by Parsons himself, who explained that this was a world premiere of a film that sought to both educate and entertain as it explored and explained Indigo’s music, whilst also introducing the individual band members as both musicians and as people, exploring the human stories behind the music.

Subtitled “Revelations in Small Steps” the film commences with footage of the leader, who explains that as a musician he is dedicated to the principles of improvisation and spontaneity, a commitment strengthened through his involvement with the late free jazz drummer John Stevens (1940-94). Wallen appeared on Stevens’ 1992 live recording “New Cool” and credits the drummer with liberating him from the bebop tradition. Wallen regards much contemporary music as being too sterile and polished and is more concerned with creating music “on the spot”.

Wallen has travelled widely and is also an acclaimed educator. His travels have taken him to all corners of the African continent and also to Indonesia and to his parents’ homeland of Belize. The sounds of these various locations are reflected in his own music, including that of the Indigo quartet.

He recounts that he has worked with ensembles led by his sister, the acclaimed contemporary classical composer Errolyn Wallen, as well as playing on numerous rock and pop sessions. He toured globally with the bands Incognito and Us3 before forming his own group Sound Advice, an ensemble that embraced the influences of Brazilian, African and electronic music.

Wallen is something of a musical polymath and his travels have found him exploring all kinds of traditional musics, from all parts of Africa to Indonesian gamelan. Hearing the Thelonious Monk tune “Green Chimneys” played on a kalimba, or African thumb piano, in South Africa represented something of a turning point for him as he determined to incorporate traditional elements into his own jazz derived music.

Another seminal experience was seeing a performance by a band of Gnawa musicians from Morocco in West London.  Fascinated by the rhythms and instruments of this Sufi trance music Wallen visited Rabat in 1995 to work with two master Gnawan musicians, exponents of the peul flute and the guimbri, a kind of bass lute.

The film includes archive footage of Wallen’s time in Morocco and the trumpeter recall that it was difficult to integrate the trumpet into this non-Western music and also remembers that it was difficult to bridge the language barrier, both orally and musically.

He speaks with awe of the Gnawan musical tradition, something passed down through the generations with no formal ‘western style’ musical education

Wallen’s North African experiences fed into the music of his 1997 album “Automatic Original”, credited to the group Bambaraka and featuring Wallen alongside Oumarou Namazarou, Peul Flautist from Niger, and Si Mohamed Chaouqi (Tbel Drum and Guimbri)  from Morocco.

The film also includes coverage of Wallen playing the trumpet in the woods near his home, a regular practise and rehearsal space for him. He was also filmed playing a variety of ethnic flutes and percussion instruments. Indeed Wallen’s house resembles a ‘musical museum’ filled with the many and varied instruments that he has brought back from his global travels.

The Indigo band were seen assembling and sound checking at the Jazz in The Crypt venue at St. Giles Church in Camberwell, London. The rapport between the group members is apparent even before a note has been played and the quartet describe themselves as being “like family” with the same kind of gang mentality that The Beatles had in their early days. The shared love and mutual respect is obvious.

Indigo is one of those bands whose individual members are always busy with other projects and get together only rarely, making such occasions even more precious. Kofi is extremely busy as a solo artist while Skinner is currently a member of the Smile, a group featuring Radiohead members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.

During the Saturday “Talking About Film” discussion Parsons emphasised the special chemistry between the members of Indigo, explaining that when the band play with a ‘dep’, usually for Kofi and Skinner, the results are good, but never quite as magical as they are with the first choice quartet.

Indigo’s music experiments with rhythm, melody and harmony as it seeks to incorporate different time signatures and ideas sourced from different musical cultures, including Tanzanian music which makes extensive use of fives and West African music which tends to favour sixes.  It’s all part of Wallen’s fascination with numerology.  Wallen speaks of the music beginning with “simple melodies that then become very complex”, while Skinner is disparaging of the West’s obsession with 4/4 time.

Extensive footage filmed at The Crypt at St. Giles in 2010 and at a deserted Ronnie Scott’s during the 2020 lockdown offers several examples of this on tunes sourced from the “Indigo” album, such as “Dark and Beautiful” in eleven and “Harmony of The Spheres” in nine.

The nature of the band’s music has resulted in the unusual front line of trumpet and baritone sax, with Kofi occasionally doubling on soprano. Kofi plays all members of the saxophone family but considers the baritone, an instrument that he first took up in 1996, to be the most suitable vehicle for Indigo’s music. When the band first began playing together it was felt that Wallen’s trumpet and Kofi’s usual alto sax were too close together in terms of tone and timbre and that the baritone, with its five octave range, would be more suitable for the demands of Indigo’s music.

In the context of the ‘Jazz & Film’ weekend overall it’s interesting to note that the same trumpet / baritone combination occurs in “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” with the Gerry Mulligan / Art Farmer quartet. Meanwhile the Indigo musicians make reference to Mulligan’s work with trumpeter Chet Baker.

Despite the complexities of the music it isn’t the idea that it should be obtuse. Some of the music harks back to early New Orleans jazz, while dancer and chorographer Dr. S. Ama Wray, the film’s only female participant, explains that dance is in the DNA of jazz and that tap dancing has always been closely associated with jazz thus providing a neat link to the main BJF weekend when tap dancer Annette Walker and bassist Gary Crosby co-led a quartet at St. Mary’s Church. Wray also explained that other cultures dance and move to a variety of different, sometimes complex rhythms, it’s only in the West that dance music is habitually associated with 4/4.

It has always been Wallen’s intention that Indigo’s music should groove, regardless of the time signature and he expresses the opinion that the group’s album is “all about rhythm”.

During their conversation Wallen and Ray recall that it was Crosby who first brought them together around the time that Wallen was playing with Nu Troop. Wray then recalls the occasion when she and Wallen collaborated on the jazz dance work “Red”, which was supported by a grant from the Jerwood Foundation and performed at the Royal Opera House.

The film features a series of informal conversations between Wallen and the other band members, these filmed in outdoor locations by Lisa Wood, with Parsons taking the conscious decision to get away from the cliches of musicians being interviewed in the recording studio, and particularly at the mixing desk.

Wallen and Bartley recall co-founding a quintet in 1993 and playing regular gigs at the Jazz Cafe in Camden. It was Bartley who introduced Wallen to Skinner, by far the youngest member of the group. Meanwhile Skinner recalls being a fan of his bandmates when he was a teenager just getting into jazz and reading about them in the long defunct Straight No Chaser magazine.

Wallen and Kofi first met in 1991 and hit it off immediately, practising together in a manner inspired by Val Wilmer’s accounts of Ornette Coleman and Ed Blackwell in her classic book “Serious As Your Life”. The film includes archive footage of Kofi practising at around this time.

Blackwell’s New York apartment was always being visited by other musicians. Similarly, in Indigo’s early days the band’s musicians were always popping in and out of each other’s houses, as both Bartley and Kofi recall. It’s a fertile environment for creating new music and Wallen became particularly prolific as a writer, always bringing new material for the other band members to improvise around and develop, each putting their own stamp on the music.  Wallen speaks about room being left for collective interplay and improvisation within the written frameworks.

This intense period of ‘woodshedding’ was partly the result of the reluctance of promoters to book a ‘chordless’ quartet. Wallen remembers being asked “who’s the piano player” or “where’s the guitarist” on a regular basis.

But this period of constant rehearsal sharpened the band’s collective ‘chops’ and strengthened their rapport. Bartley speaks of the quartet developing their own “Indigo language” and when the band did eventually start gigging they quickly earned themselves a reputation as an exciting live act who succeeded in communicating with audiences despite the complexities of their music.

Bartley claims to have had the idea for the infectious double horn salvo that introduces “Harmony Of The Spheres”, the opening tune at all Indigo gigs. Skinner speaks of the quartet’s music as being “funky, but not in the obvious way” and explains just how much he has learned about rhythm from playing Indigo’s music.

The human stories behind the music are also featured. The film includes footage shot some ten years apart and one can see how the musicians have changed physically – “we were just kids when we started observes” Wallen.

Life events are also alluded are to, with one example being that Skinner has married and become a father during the period between the two live performances documented in the film. Indeed there are times when Parsons’ film reminds me of the more widely distributed “King Crimson at Fifty” , which documents Robert Fripp’s outfit on their 2019 tour, examining the sometimes tortuous history of the group and looking more deeply at internal band relationships plus the personal lives of the then current members. As with “Indigo” there’s a lot of human interest, it’s not just a film about music, and neither “Indigo” or “King Crimson at Fifty” are anything like the average ‘concert movie’.

Parsons’ film got me thinking about Indigo’s influence on the wider UK jazz scene and I think it’s probably fair to say that it can be heard in Sons of Kemet, Shabaka Hutchings’  distinctive reeds /  tuba /  twin drum kits quartet, with one of the two drummers being Tom Skinner. Kemet’s highly rhythmic music attracted the attention of a younger, non jazz-specific audience and earned the band a Mercury Music Prize nomination for the album “Your Queen is a Reptile”. The Jazzmann was a supporter of Sons of Kemet from the outset and the group has been featured on this site on numerous occasions, both in live performance and on disc.

Skinner’s success with Kemet attracted the attention of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and these three currently constitute The Smile, releasing the album “A Light For Attracting Attention” in 2022 to considerable acclaim. I’d like to think that Radiohead / Smile fans would be interested in seeing the “Indigo” film and learning more about Skinner’s life as jazz musician.

Indigo’s influence can also be heard in Larry Bartley’s own chordless quartet Just Us!. Featuring Kofi on alto sax, Ed Jones on tenor and Rod Youngs at the drums the bassist’s group released the excellent “Beauty in the Hideous” in 2014, an album that is reviewed here;
Larry Bartley & Just Us! - Beauty in the Hideous | Review | The Jazz Mann

The “Indigo” movie signs off with the wise words of Art Blakey and his famous remark about music coming “from the Creator, to the artist, to the audience”. It’s a good quote to conclude with, a near summation of Indigo’s approach to music making, and one that also places them within the context of a wider jazz heritage.

Parsons has made an impressive and highly enjoyable film and it is to be hoped that it can be seen widely. Yes, it’s about a relatively little known figure within a strain of so called ‘minority’ music, but I’d still like to think that a more ‘casual’ observer could still enjoy it and gain something from it.

For any jazz fan this film is a ‘must’ and as alluded to above I’d like to think that adventurous listeners of any persuasion could be attracted to it too, especially those Smile and Radiohead fans.

Parsons has the product, it’s just getting it ‘out there’ so that it can be appreciated. The so called ‘marginal’ status of the film means that it doesn’t have a BBFC certificate (the censors haven’t even watched it) and thus it can’t be shown to under eighteens, which is ridiculous as there’s not even a single swear word in there, and nothing else that could even remotely offend.

One would hope that adventurous film festivals, such as the annual Borderlines Film Festival in the Welsh Marches, might provide a suitable outlet, while for jazz clubs and festivals a double bill of Parsons’ film followed by an Indigo live performance represents a mouth watering prospect. It’s certainly prompted to me to check out the “Indigo” CD, (credited to Wallen), even though it was released as long ago as 2002. It’s still available via Wallen’s Bandcamp page.

Parsons and his team, including co-producer Wallen, have invested a lot of time and effort into this film and it’s one that deserves to be widely distributed and widely seen.

Brecon Jazz Festival’s new ‘Jazz & Film’ strand represents an interesting new addition to the programme and it would be good to see it continue. There must be a lot more jazz footage out there that isn’t likely to be seen in the multiplexes. I’d love to see the “And They Called Him Morgan” film about the late trumpeter Lee Morgan to mention just one example.


From Tom Parsons via email;

Thanks for the very comprehensive review!
I hadn’t been filming any of Byron’s gigs before we decided to try to make a documentary apart from the Crypt gig. The only other time I filmed Byron was when he was part of the horn section at the first Mulatu gig at Cargo, London. Other gigs we did were Chris Dave Trio (ft. Foley), The Invisible, Tom Skinner & Shabaka Hutchings (as Def Langoustine). Most of the gigs are up on the YouTube channel for Takminister. Tom Skinner suggested we filmed Indigo at the Crypt and after we did that and I proposed putting that on YouTube Byron said, no, let’s try and make a documentary. I guess it was Byron’s impetus that got the ball rolling.
Thanks again for the support! We’re hoping to have a London premiere in December as part of Byron’s mini-festival at The Coronet.







by Colin May

August 25, 2023

Guest contributor Colin May reports on the final two days of the 2023 Nice Jazz Festival. Performers include SuperBlue, Herbie Hancock, Ezra Collective, GoGo Penguin, Dianne Reeves, Donald Harrison.

Théâtre de Verdure and Scène Massena
July 18th to 21st 2023


Photograph of SuperBlue (Krt Elling & Charlie Hunter) sourced from

DAY THREE 20/07/2023

The third night promised to be the biggest for jazz at this year’s festival with Kurt Elling and Herbie Hancock on the bill and five of the six acts having strong jazz roots.. Also, it was the hottest night of the festival with the temperature still 27 degrees at midnight. Inside the festival stockade probably it was even hotter, so not a comfortable night for either performers or audience.


The evening started with Manouche gypsy Jazz with a difference. Edouard Pennes presents Generation Django was a new project that added the textures of a classical string quartet to the well-established Manouche groove and drum less line-up of guitars and double bass. Most of the group were young which suggested that indeed a new generation of Manouche jazzers was beginning to

Among the line up was clarinettist Giacamo Smith of Kansas Smitty’s House Band fame whose sinuous solo enlivened the group’s version of that old war horse ‘Summertime’. I found the string quartet to be a distraction though, but it still was a pleasant start to the evening.


It was a quick a visit to the Massena main stage for an artist I knew nothing about, Jalen Ngonda. He was said by the NJF programme to be “the new voice of modern soul,” who was originally from Maryland, USA, but now is based in Liverpool.

He has a striking falsetto voice and phrasing that could be a good fit with romantic soul ballads. But from the snapshot of four songs heard, what impressed was his cover of the Jimmy Reid blues classic ‘You Got Me Runnin,’(aka ‘Baby What You Want Me to Do’), which was so good it had me wondering if perhaps the blues was where his heart lay.


SuperBlue: Kurt Elling’s and guitarist /producer Charlie Hunter’s still newish project sees the gifted Elling embed his vocal prowess in a new context: a sound world with elements of processed music, funk and hip hop yet which continued to be deeply rooted in jazz. This world was created for Elling by Hunter, and drummer Corey Fonville and bassist/keyboardist DJ Harrison both from the
jazz/funk/hip hop group Butcher Brown.

Having declared “We’re goin’ to have some dancin’ up here tonight,” Elling was energised and dynamic despite the oppressively hot night, stomping across the stage to the music and constantly talking to the crowd between numbers.

Over the course of the set Elling used the full range of his voice and his vocal phrasing amid Hunter fusing delicacy and muscularity on guitar, Fonville laying down hip hop beats and DJ Harrison having moments of sounding like Headhunters era Herbier Hancock on the night Hancock was on the bill.

Two tracks from the eponymous ‘SuperBlue’ album were highlights. ‘Dharma Bums’ saw Elling part talking, part singing, almost rapping his way through the lyrics supported by classy interplay between Hunter and DJ Harrison, while the hopeful ‘Manic Panic Epiphanic’ was graced by an explosive drum solo from Fonville, and an unexpected chorus of ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’ for which Elling enlisted the audience as the choir, before dazzling them with falsetto
pyrotechnics in the finale.

It was an intriguing and dynamic set not just from Elling but from the whole SuperBlue group, and was an emphatic success with the Nice audience.


Ezra Collective came in as a late replacement and their mix of jazz. soul, hip hop, and funk and above all non-stop energy was perfect for the big Massena arena.

The band paid tribute to Herbie Hancock, saying they were honoured to be playing on the same day and same stage as him “for without him Ezra Collective would not exist.”

One of the band’s many abilities is that they can generate electricity in the crowd, and the Nice crowd responded excitedly to drummer Femi Koleoso’s and trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi’s urgings to “climb the mountain with them”. Tonight, the peak of the mountain was ‘Sao Paolo’, which is fast becoming the band’s top dance anthem.

I only saw the last part of their set having been held captive by Kurt Elling longer than intended. However, Ezra Collective had been at Cheltenham Jazz Festival a few weeks before, a performance witnessed in full by Ian Mann

.He said in summary
“Ezra Collective are a band capable of entertaining a large crowd without overly compromising either themselves or their music. Musical intelligence and instrumental virtuosity are still at the heart of their sound and this was still unmistakably a jazz performance.”

he full review can be found here;

So, it was in Nice too, and since playing the two festivals the news has been announced that Ezra Collective have had the accolade of being nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize.


It was a more cerebral atmosphere on Verdure where the last act was the trio GoGo Penguin with their hypnotic amalgam of minimalist jazz and rock, and electronica and club culture. Their communication with the audience was minimalist too in sharp contrast to Kurt Elling and the Ezras, but the audience still listened intently as the band let their music do most of the talking.

Their recent album ‘Everything is Going to be OK’ which was born out of loss, was the basis of their set. It’s modestly upbeat and optimistic tone transferred into their performance: in my notes I called one number joyful and described another as playful.

The understanding between the three, Chris Illingworth piano/keyboards, Nick Blacka bass and Jon Scott drums seemed almost telepathic at times despite Scott being a relatively new band member. Both Black and Scott got surprising sounds from their instruments creating the illusion there was a harmonium and an oud on stage.

On the one previous occasion I’d seen GoGo Penguin, I had found them rather too abstract and the gig hadn’t taken off for me. This was different, I experienced their music as more accessible. The main reason was new member Jon Scott’s direct rhythmic drumming with few if any electronic add ons. He made their sound more visceral and immediate. As a result I was as hypnotised as the rest of the audience and stayed listening for several numbers more than I’d intended.


Overstaying at GoGo Penguin resulted in missing most of Herbie Hancock’s long ‘Overture’, an amalgam of Hancock tunes from the seventies onwards on the Massena stage. Having heard this in full at last year’s Jazz A Juan ( see review embedded in / and-the-summer-jammin-sessions-july-2022) I was aware not only did it illustrate the many styles of Hancock’s music but was a prime example that he’s a genius at
making some knotty rhythmic and tonal music accessible* including apparently for a very attentive 6 to 8 year old in my line of vision whose gaze rarely veered away from the stage the whole set.

As well as Hancock, the presence of highly creative guitarist Lionel Loueke and trumpeter Terrance Blanchard in the band are two more reasons for grabbing any opportunity to see the living legend. According to Hancock Loueke “makes the guitar sound like instruments that haven’t been invented yet”, and Blanchard’s trumpet can sound as if there is more than just one brass player on stage.

Hancock favourite James Gaines was again on bass making the band almost the same as at Juan last year with the exception that 24 year old Jaylen Petinard had the drum seat previously occupied by Justin Tyson.

While the set list also was similar to Juan’s there was a strong sense that the 83 years young Hancock continues to explore the material seeking new angles.

The late Wayne Shorter’s well-known composition ‘Footprints,’ was a tribute to Hancock’s long-time close friend. The arrangement by Blanchard had each member of the band dialled into slightly different rhythm.

The version of “Future Proof “from Hancock’s 1974 album ‘Thrust’ was about fifteen minutes long. As well as solos from the principals, Hancock, Loueke and Blanchard this was a moment for James Gaines with a very inventive staccato driven bass guitar solo and for urban beat power drumming from Jaylen Petard.

Hancock then resorted to the vocoder “because I can’t sing,” for ‘Come Running to Me’ from 1978 album ‘Sunlight’. Loueke briefly added attractive Xhosa click click vocalese but with Hancock delivering a heart felt though rather over-long homily on humanity’s inter-connectedness this is where the set sagged a little.

Normal service was resumed with ‘Secret Sauce’, Hancock having strapped on his keytar and dazzling with nimble fingered runs as he rocked out with the rest of the band. They finished with Headhunter’s crowd pleasing ’ Chameleon’ whereupon the crowd let out a roar of approval.

* Some of the credit for the accessibility of Hancock’s music must go to Terrance Blanchard who is de facto director of his band.

DAY FOUR 21/07/2023

After all the rushing between the two stages on day three, I was relieved that the
final night’s line -up on Massena didn’t tempt me with the exception of the
headliner, and I could drop anchor at Théâtre de Verdure.


Pianist, drummer, composer, producer 24 year old Julius Rodriguez has jazz, gospel, and contemporary R n’ B, soul, hip hop, and electronica as well as some classical training in his kit bag for what he calls “the music”.

He got an early start in music appreciation. His jazz loving father took him to jazz clubs and concerts, and he heard musicians in church. We are told aged eleven Rodriguez delighted an audience at Smalls Jazz Club, New York with a rendition of ’ Take the A Train ’ (NPR’s Morning Edition).

He took classical piano and music theory lessons, taught himself drums, and now in concerts sometimes switches between piano and drums.

His first album ’ Let Sound Tell All’ was released last year. Along the way he had his first professional engagement aged fourteen, and at eighteen dropped out of the Juilliard School of Music to tour with a rapper.

In Nice Rodriguez eschewed the drums, and played piano and keyboards throughout in a trio with Jermaine Paul, bass, and Luke Titus, drums.

The first number which might have been ‘Blues at the Barn’ from his album, was very powerful fast pianism with Rodriguez showing (but not showing off) considerable technical ability.

In a total change of pace and style, the second was a sparse simple tune that could have been based on a children’s nursery rhyme, and for which Jermaine Paul swapped bass guitar for double bass.

Rodriguez began the next number with a repeated figure before building up the speed and volume considerably with his colleagues, then returned to the quieter gentler opening figure. He followed this with a playful take on what I recognised as a standard but couldn’t name, incorporating classical cadences, stride piano and a nod in the direction of Bill Evans.

The beautiful and soulful ‘Where Grace Abounds’ from his album, intertwined classical/ chamber jazz and gospel.

Rodriguez then made sure his trio gave the enraptured audience a big finish with ‘Star Maker’. Jermaine Paul’s tasteful bass guitar solo and the trio’s electro suffused (outer-space) textures gave way to Rodriguiz and his colleagues ratcheting up the volume and speed for an exhilarating finale.


New Orleans born and bred resident, Big Chief Donald Harrison Junior has, according to the NJF programme, “Over the years,...played with over 200 jazz masters (and) created three influential jazz styles.”

The immaculately dressed alto saxophonist and his group had introduced themselves to the packed audience with an opener that Harrison described as “jazz you can dance to.” Harrison had played a joyful solo and there’d been a telling contribution from pianist Daniel Kaufman and strong support from the tight rhythm section of bassist Noriatsu Naraoka and drummer Brian Richburg.

Harrison sax has a big bold sound, and he plays what he calls “nouveau swing,”. He explained to the crowd” without learning the history of jazz you can’t play nouveau swing. You have to mix these styles (from jazz history) with modern dance music (i.e., hip hop etc.) .”

He and his group then proceeded to do the history of jazz from the 1930’s to the 1960’s by playing one number to illustrate each decade, changing styles from one decade to another with ease.

The 1930’s was Sidney Bachet’s arrangement of Scott Joplin’s lively ‘Maple Leaf Rag’. The 1940’s was Harrison ‘s bebop composition ‘One for Bird (Charlie Parker)’ with bright bebop piano from Kaufman (channelling Bud Powell perhaps).

For the 1950’s Harrison’s alto sax “imitated” (his word) Miles Davis playing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ into which, he inserted a quote from ‘Fascinating Rhythm’. Then for the 1960’s it was John Coltrane, and a shortened version of ‘Impressions’ with another excellent Daniel Kaufman piano solo and Harrison’s finale a cascade of notes that helped earn the group two minutes plus of applause.

Then we were taken to New York’s Cuban Jazz scene with Harrison “putting all the styles” into a number from pianist, composer, bandleader and Grammy winner Eddie Palmeri with whom he’d played.

‘Temporale’, the final number, celebrated both ‘Nouveau Jazz’ and Harrison’s home city of New Orleans and he introduced it as “a happy song after moving on from a hurricane”. It was earthy and contemporary with Noriatsu Naraoka, now on bass guitar, and drummer Brian Richburg laying down beats and Harrison not only swinging but singing and getting the audience to join with the chant, ‘God lives in New Orleans’.

It was an optimistic finale to an enjoyable set that Big Chief Donald Harrison
Junior had played with a smile whatever the era.


It was the last night of a long European tour for five times Grammy winner Dianne Reeves but there was no sign of Reeves and her first-class quartet of pianist John Beasley, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reuben Romero and drummer Terreon Gully being on the plane already.

The first number was a slow soulful ballad with Reeves using her full range, her delivery contrasting yet melding with high-speed drumming from Gulley. The waltz time ‘I’m All Smiles’ from her 2003 album ‘A Little Moonlight’ saw bassist Romero sharing lead melody duties with Reeves, and Reeves’s scatting emerge organically and not as an add on effect.

Reeves had told the audience that” Music is medicine,” and the next song, a ballad, was a reflection on the pandemic and those that had been lost. For the following number Reeves voice took on an African timbre.

Next came a beguiling version of ‘Somebody to Watch Over Me’, after which Reeves brought on young Korean singer Song Yi now resident in Switzerland who sung a couple of numbers with great confidence.

Reeves love of Brazilian rhythms was to the fore in Hermeto Pascoal’s ‘Bebê’, and she scatted delightfully in her and the quartet’s version of Miles Davis’s ‘So What’.

As the set progressed it became ever more obvious that Reeves has assembled a fine quartet of talented musicians around her who have a great synergy with her and she with them. Her acknowledgement of them seemed deep felt.

At the start Reeves had sung her greetings to the Nice audience and now she sung her goodbyes, and as she headed off-stage and in the direction of the long flight home the audience leapt to their feet to show their appreciation.


The festival had one last hurrah to offer in French multi award winning alt- pop star Mathieu Chedid who was appearing as his stage persona as ‘-M-’.

A few years ago, similar to Blur’s Damien Alban, following a trip to Mali he’d created a group, Lamomali, with leading Malian stars, kora maestro Toumani Diabate and French based singer -songwriter and actress Fatoumata Diawara. Lamomali had toured Europe with a final appearance in the UK at WOMAD.

That was then. Tonight’s performance was high quality stadium pop and rock, overlaid with the theatricality of a Queen show as ‘M’ changed costumes and masks and the Massena arena was dazzled by a most spectacular light show. It was a highly dramatic way to bring the curtain down on this year’s festival.



The festival was a successful artistically and in attracting large audiences. The last night was sold out and there were big crowds on the other nights with 37.000 in total attending according to official figures.

Nice is a city that has a jazz culture, and at the Théâtre de Verdure “100% Jazz” stage it was nearly always standing room only with audiences that were attentive and enthusiastic.

This year saw fewer clashes with the Jazz A Juan festival just down the road but there still were some. My hope is that eventually the organisers of both festivals will find a way of ensuring there are no date clashes at all.

The enjoyment of the jazz on Verdure was enhanced by there being almost no unwanted sound penetrating from the main Massena stage. The organisers deserve congratulating for solving what had previously been a persistent problem.

The festival reinforced that jazz rubbing up against urban musics and electronica has become an important part of contemporary jazz. There’s much variety in what results,  as shown not only by the different performances of the new generation like saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins**, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill as part of Hiromi’s Sonic Wonder**, Emile Londinium**, Julius Rodriguez and Ezra Collective, but also by the performances of established stars Hiromi **and Kurt Elling.

Jazz fans in the U.K have the opportunity to hear Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter’s SuperBlue this autumn. The SuperBlue tour reaches Ireland and the UK at the end of October, along with Julius Rodriguez who is the support.

Hiromi’s Sonic Wonder will be at the EFG London Jazz Festival in November when the support will be Hiromi: The Piano Quintet which should make a fascinating contrast.

Straight-ahead contemporary jazz continued to be strongly represented with Dave Holland’s** and Dianne Reeves’ consummate performances with their excellent bands, while the evergreen Herbie Hancock continued to be Herbie Hancock.

Finally next year when Nice is substituting for Paris for the finish of the Tour de France and has Olympic football at the Allianz stadium, it will be interesting to see if the Nice Jazz Festival returns to a five day format as part of what is shaping up to be a spectacular Summer 2024.

** These artists performances were all covered in Nice Jazz Festival 2023 Part1
Nice Jazz Festival 2023 - Part One, 18th and 19th July 2023. | Feature | The Jazz


by Colin May

August 22, 2023

Guest contributor Colin May reports on the first two days of the 2023 Nice Jazz Festival. Performers include Hiromi, Dave Holland, Gabriels, Immanuel Wilkins, Roberto Fonseca, Emile Londonien.

Photograph of Immanuel Wilkins sourced from

Théâtre de Verdure and Scène Massena, Nice, France.
July 18th to 21st 2023

Part One

This year the festival had been condensed from five to four days, but the strong line up of international talent (Dave Holland, Hiromi, Herbie Hancock, Roberto Fonseca and more)newer stars (Gogo Penguin, Ezra Collective) and emerging stars (Immanuel Wilkins, Adam O’Farrill, Julius Rodriguez) meant the buzz in the run up to it was as strong as ever.

DAY ONE, 18/07/2023;


The festival got away to a happy upbeat start with multiple French jazz award winner Laurent Coulondre’s “Meta Festa” (My Party) project on the Théâtre Verdure stage
which had a large banner declaiming, “La Scène 100% Jazz”.

Pianist Coulondre led an eight strong band plus the voice of Laura Dausse. Solos and duos emerged from their infectious Latin groove. Coulondre’s percussive pianism was a recurring feature, but all the band got a solo moment. Alto and baritone saxophonist Lucas Saint-Cricq had several. I particularly enjoyed his baritone playing.

Classy trombonist Robinson Khoury grasped his one moment in the spotlight in typical blistering style and I’d have liked to hear more from this versatile player whom I happened to be hearing for the fourth time, each time in a different style of band (including in a Dutch big band playing South African township jazz at the BBC Proms).

Their last number ‘El Janito’ (Cocktail) neatly summarised both the arranging and the mood of their music, and made a lively end to a set that went down well.

Coulondre’s group was the first of the six acts a night split between two stages which is the NJF’s standard format. As the stage times were staggered and it was a short distance between the stages, it was possible to see something of all the acts but not all of all of them.

Mostly I focused on the Théâtre Verdure, capacity 2415 with over 1000 seated, which was the ‘dedicated to jazz’ stage, but combined this with some hurried to and fro visits to the all standing 6500 capacity Scène Massena main stage where there was an eclectic mix of musical styles (NJF has been a hybrid festival since 1994), including sometimes jazz. This year Sir Tom Jones and former patron of the NJF Herbie Hancock were among the main stage headliners (see Part 2).

The festival has undergone a revival in attendances since it moved to the city centre in 2011, also helped by reasonably priced tickets with several concessions available. This year nearly every Théâtre Verdure session drew big enthusiastic crowds, and on the final night the festival was sold out with Scène Massena the busiest I have ever seen it for that night’s and the festival’s final act: the dramatic performance and spectacular light show of the French alt rock star known as ‘M’.


But back to the beginning, and the second act at Théâtre Verdure, Hiromi’s Sonic Wonder, a new direction for the adventurous endlessly virtuoso jazz pianist Hiromi
Uehara. The only other time I had seen her it was as a duo with master of the Columbian harpist Edmer Castañada. This was very different.

Hiromi is known for blurring the boundaries between post-bop, stride, rock, fusion and classical. With Sonic Wonder she adds electro music, urban beats, and funk to her palette. Not only did she play grand piano but also electric piano and synthesiser, and often all three in the same number.

Her fellow “power quartet” (NJF programme) members who interestingly were all seated, were Adam O’Farrill, said by the New York Times to be “perhaps the music’s next great improviser”, whose trumpet was augmented with electronics, and the propulsive rhythm section of French born bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Gene Coye.

It was a high intensity set with exciting soundscapes and some unusual sounds. Hiromi was virtuosic and adventurous whichever keyboard she played. O’Farrill, using echo and reverb, created atmospheres with his ‘electronic’ trumpet, often producing beautiful long notes and also screeches, cries, and animal-like sounds and, according to my notes, at one point a foghorn on a lonely night which for me evoked the atmosphere of the paintings of American artist Edwin Hopper.

There was an impressive solo from Jaco Pastorius influenced bassist Feraud, and the quartet’s calmer reflective passages harked back to Miles Davis’s ‘Silent Way’.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Hiromi’s latest new direction develops and is received in the coming months. They have a big tour in the autumn to support the scheduled October launch of their album “Sonic Wonderland”.

Nice certainly loved them. The quartet went about 30 minutes over their allotted slot which is very unusual at the NJF, but hardly anyone left and at the finish they were given a great reception.


Dave Holland’s New 4Tet took one to a completely different jazz world. It saw the master bassist joined by acclaimed drummer Nasheet Waits (Jason Moran, David Murray)
saxophonist Jaleel Shaw (Roy Haynes Quartet), with whom Holland has collaborated before, and recent Grammy winner for her role in Terri Carrington’s ‘New Standards’
project, pianist Kris Davis.

It was the line-up that was new rather than the style of music which was straight ahead contemporary jazz that integrated some blues and a free jazz duet between Holland and Davis into a set in which all the numbers had been written by the band members. No electronics were seen or heard other than when Davis turned from grand piano to keyboards.

What made it a high quality experience was Holland’s as good as ever pizzicato soloing, some lovely melodies with both Shaw and Davis being players who emphasised melody in their playing, particularly saxophonist Shaw, and the independent multi layered drumming of Waits. A smiling Dave Holland seemed enjoy what was happening on stage, and it all added up to a classy jazz quartet performance.


During and in between acts on the Théâtre de Verdure stage I made a couple of excursions to the Scène Massena main stage. The first was to catch Franco- Caribbean singer, bass guitar and producer Adi Oasis’s mix of soul, funk and R n’ B embellished with a pinch of her creole roots.

She was clearly pregnant but this did not stop her impressing both as singer and bass guitarist, and by being able to do both skills to a high level simultaneously which is not that common. Her keyboard player and drummer both sang, and the three voices gelled beautifully resulting in some fine harmonies. She herself has bags of stage presence and potential, and should have a bright future ahead.


The second excursion was because the opportunity to see Gabriels was irresistible. They were a big success at this year’s Glastonbury fronted by the bass to falsetto voice and large personality of Jacob Lusk, who was one of the four guests chosen by Elton John, a long-standing fan, to appear with him on the Pyramid stage.

Lusk came on in his trademark tuxedo, a shiny colourful cape floating behind and moving his big body to the soul and R n’ B sound of the band. Then he started to sing, and his angelic falsetto and his angelic big face smile began to cast a spell. “You are in a church with me,” he opened his arms widely, the harmonies of the three females enhanced the magic and I caught myself thinking I might join this congregation.

Having tossed his cape aside Lusk danced, moving with the elegance of a later day Fred Astaire to the delight of the audience. He and his fellow Gabriels stole the show on what was a high quality day one.


DAY TWO, 19/07/2023;


The Immanuel Wilkins Quartet opened day two on the Verdure stage. The 24-year-old American alto saxophonist Wilkins is one of the new generation successfully integrating jazz and hip hop and R n’ B in their music. He has two critically acclaimed albums to his name and has topped Downbeat polls.

The first number began with Wilkins playing tersely, before pianist Micah Thomas took over with what sounded like discordant contemporary classical music until Wilkins
returned, now in a melodic meditative mode that Thomas underpinned with gentle piano phrasing.

Both members of the rhythm section bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Kweku Sumbry soloed in the next number leading into the quartet rapidly accelerating playing ever faster yet still very precisely and cleanly.

The centre piece was a controlled fifteen-minute solo from Wilkins that might have been a few numbers run together. It says a lot about him as a player that it did not seem a minute too long.

Overall it was a set of gripping often intense edgy jazz driven forward by hip hop rhythms with Wilkins and his quartet balancing power and subtlety.


Next up was French born trumpeter Ludovic Louis. His French roots helped him to get some lively interplay going with the now very big crowd. When he wasn’t playing, he
prowled the stage seeking to get the audience more and more involved, something he succeeded in doing.

Louis toured for ten years with Lenny Kravitz, and now as a leader he’s in a direct line of descent from the late Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor band that blended jazz, soul, funk and hip hop. One number blended African and Latin influences and another, a melodic ballad, had a strong jazz rock texture. For the final and best number Louis sang and did a vocal call and response with the crowd followed by staccato trumpet as a prelude to the big finish.

While starting from broadly similar territory as the Immanuel Wilkins Quartet, Louis and his group have arrived at a funkier, smoother, good time destination led by the big clean sound Louis’ trumpet.


Another change of style followed with Columbian singer Yuri Bonaventura and Roberto Fonseca the acclaimed Cuban pianist and their band-mates transforming Théâtre de
Verdure d into a little bit of Latin America with a one-off collaboration for the NJF.

It took me a little time to tune into Bonaventura’s voice but it grew on me. His singing did go down well though with the crowd, as did the speech he gave in the middle of the set about his home country.

Fonseca was the star though. As director of the six-piece band his contribution to their tight ensemble playing and arranging that included ensuring there was space for trumpeter Roberto Garcia to express himself must have been considerable, and every time Fonseca soloed the music was lifted to another level.


Curiosity resulted in a couple more trips to the Massena stage where first up Emile Londonien, a trio of talented young improvisers from Strasbourg, were laying out their mix of club culture, broken beat, hip hop, and jazz improvisation and groove. Their indebtedness to the London new jazz scene was obvious, including the band’s name (though also I heard it’s a tongue in cheek reference to star French saxophonist Émile Parisien).

The trio name the Ezra Collective among their influences. Whereas that group fuse aspects of the music of the African diaspora and jazz, Emile Londonien merged many elements of contemporary urban music and jazz improvisation.

Their line-up was bass guitar, keyboard and drums. All three players were talented, for instance there was a terrific bass guitar solo that didn’t sound like Jaco Pastorius. Maybe they pressed the very loud pedal a bit too readily for my taste but this is a marginal criticism. What stood out was the vitality of the interaction between the three and the adventurous experimentation which suggested that these guys genuinely didn’t always know what was going to happen next.


The Massena stage also hosted Hyphen Hyphen from Nice (the name derives from ancient Greek and literally means ‘under one’) who are a successful electro alt-pop band.

Though their music wasn’t my taste, they were very good at what they did. I went to see them mainly to sample the atmosphere at what was a big home town gig, and was
surprised to be quite moved.

It felt the band and the crowd shared a very close communion and a joyful celebration of being Niçoise. It was a moment of healing perhaps in a city where the scars of the outrage of 14 July 2016* are still just below the surface.

*A 19-tonne truck was deliberately driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade Des Anglais resulting in 86 being killed and 434 being injured. One
consequence was the cancellation of that year’s Nice Jazz Festival.

For an overview of this year’s festival please see Part Two.


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


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;


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 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 – 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 – 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.



by Ian Mann

August 18, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys a very full day of music including performances by the Rachel Starritt Trio, Faith i Branko, Festival Big Band with LaVon Hardison and Dionne Bennett & Friends.

Photograph of Liz Exell, the new “hardest working drummer in Brecon” sourced from


Sunday 13th August 2023


Mike Chappell – piano, Steve Tarner – double bass, Robert Wheatcroft – drums
with guests Gareth Roberts – trombone, Shakira Davies - vocals

An early start (noon) for me at St. Mary’s for this free admission performance by a trio led by locally based pianist Mike Chappell and their principal guest Gareth Roberts.

I’m a long time admirer of Roberts’ playing, a fact that influenced my decision to arrive in Brecon a couple of hours before the start of the scheduled concert programme. My decision was justified by a highly enjoyable performance from the Chappell Trio and their guests which included some first rate playing from all concerned.

The programme featured Chappell’s arrangements of well known standards and the core trio plus Roberts commenced with “All The Things You Are” followed by the less well known “Emily”, a song co-written by Johnny Mandel and Johnny Mercer. The first was delivered at a moderate clip, with features for each band member.  The second was a ballad with Wheatcroft wielding brushes as Chappell and Roberts delivered warmly lyrical solos.

Chappell’s knowledge of jazz history was impressive and he credited the composers of nearly every tune. Ray Henderson’s “Bye Bye Blackbird” was next, with features for Chappell, Roberts and the impressive Steve Tarner at the bass. Tarner is an important figure on the South Wales jazz scene and organises the regular Jazz & Blues Jams at the New Court Hotel in Usk.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” was performed as a ballad with Roberts deploying a mute to bring a vocal quality to his trombone soloing. Melodic solos then followed from Chappell at the keyboard and Tarner on bass.

Roberts sat out as young guest singer Shakira Davies joined the Chappell Trio for a lively “Fly Me To The Moon”, with the swinging rhythms generated by Wheatcroft and Tarner supporting a sweet vocal from Davies and an instrumental solo from Chappell.

The young vocalist really came into her own with a gospel infused version of the Etta James song “At Last My Love Has Come Along”, which eventually saw Roberts returning to the group to shadow her vocal line.

“The Girl From Ipanema” was performed as an instrumental and as a tribute to the late Astrud Gilberto. Roberts took the first solo on trombone followed by Chappell at the keyboard, who adopted a vibraphone like sound, suggesting a Stan Getz / Gary Burton influence in the arrangement.

This enjoyable set ended with a swinging version of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train”, which included features for Roberts, Chappell and Wheatcroft. The drummer had performed at the same venue the previous afternoon when he had formed part of the Deborah Glenister Trio.

This had been a great way to start the day and Roberts was to appear again later on at the helm of the Monmouth Big Band for their collaboration with the American vocalist LaVon Hardison. This was to take place at Theatr Brycheiniog as part of the concert programme, but more on that later.


Next at St. Mary’s was a duo performance from vocalist Tara Lowe and guitarist James Chadwick.

Cardiff based Chadwick had performed in the same space on Friday afternoon as part of a duo with vocalist / ukulele player Jane Williams, a short, four song ‘taster’ set that is reviewed as part of my Friday coverage.

Today’s set was more substantial and included eleven songs drawn from the jazz and bebop canon, but rarely the obvious ones.

The duo commenced with “Red Top”, a tune written by Lionel Hampton and later recorded by vocalist Betty Carter, who was presumably Lowe’s source of inspiration here. The song quickly revealed Lowe to be an adventurous vocalist with a real talent for jazz phrasing. Chadwick offered succinct instrumental support and delivered a typically thoughtful guitar solo.

The song “People Will Say We’re In Love” first appeared in the musical movie “Oklahoma!” but Lowe’s interpretation was inspired by an instrumental version recorded by the Israeli pianist Anat Cohen. Again this was an adventurous vocal performance from a singer prepared to take musical risks.

Duke Ellington’s “Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” introduced a more earthy approach with Lowe still singing convincingly. This was followed by a vocalese version of Illinois Jacquet’s “Robbin’s Nest” that included both lyrics and wordless scat style vocals, with Lowe’s contribution augmented by Chadwick’s agile and inventive guitar work.

A slowed down arrangement of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” featured Lowe’s elongated vocal lines and Chadwick’s thoughtful guitar soloing.

Lowe’s fascination with vocalese emerged again on “Twisted”, a song with words by Annie Ross based on a Wardell Gray saxophone solo. This featured some clever, genuinely tongue twisting lyrics, with both Lowe and Chadwick rising to the musical challenge with aplomb.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” was a little less demanding but a vocalese version of “I’m In The Mood For Love”, based on a James Moody sax solo, was described by Lowe as “difficult”. Again the duo dealt with the complexities with considerable aplomb.

Lowe was born in Cardiff and has recently returned to the city after several years of living in Spain and her parents were in the audience watching today’s show. The singer’s musical partnership with Chadwick is still relatively new but they have been gigging regularly as a duo and have already established an impressive rapport.

A passage of solo guitar introduced “Days Of Wine And Roses” and this was followed by a vocalese version of the Miles Davis classic “Four”, but I had to leave before the end of this to get to the first ticketed event of the day. It was scheduled to be the last number but the quality of the duo’s performance indicated that it was possible that an encore might also have been played.

Although I’ve seen James Chadwick perform many times before this was my first sighting of Tara Lowe. I have to say that I was very impressed with her singing and by her choice of an adventurous range of material. She also presented the show with charm and eloquence. Her return to Cardiff represents a welcome addition to the South Wales jazz scene and it would be fascinating to see her perform in other contexts, perhaps in a group with bass and drums and also with piano and horn players.


Rachel Starritt – piano, Ursula Harrison – double bass, Liz Exell – drums

Unsighted since her birth in 1994 Rachel Starritt is a young pianist from Bridgend who has studied both jazz and classical music at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. She has also studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and at the Conservatori Liciu in Barcelona. Her jazz tutors have included such jazz piano greats as Nikki Iles and Huw Warren.

Starritt pursues parallel careers in the classical and jazz worlds and is a member of the British Paraorchestra. As a classical musician she has performed internationally but her love of improvisation has drawn her increasingly towards jazz.

Brecon Jazz Club & Festival has been very supportive of Starritt’s jazz career and the pianist and her trio featuring bassist Clem Saynor and drummer Alex Goodyear performed livestream sets for the Virtual BJF in 2020 and the Hybrid BJF of 2021.

In March 2023 Starritt appeared at a Brecon Jazz club night at The Muse leading a trio featuring Liz Exell at the drums and Ashley John Long on double bass. This line up had never played together before but bonded instantly to deliver a set comprised of Starritt’s adventurous and inventive arrangements of a number of jazz standards.

Starritt has a very thorough knowledge of the standards repertoire and her approach to her chosen material is unfailingly audacious and inventive, very much in the spirit of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau on the occasions that these great American pianists play jazz standards. Like them Starritt takes these wonderful tunes by the scruff of the neck and her highly imaginative arrangements take them to places where nobody expects them to go. In Long and Starritt, two highly receptive and adventurous musicians, she had the perfect partners for such a musical quest and the results were often magical.

The Club performance elicited a highly positive audience response with some observers expressing the opinion that this was the best gig they had ever seen at Brecon Jazz Club. The praise was equal for all three musicians, which was reflective of both the individual brilliance of the players and of the quality of the overall group performance.

Following the success of the Club night performance in March it was no surprise to see Starritt being invited back to The Muse as part of the Festival Concert Programme. Today’s early afternoon performance saw Starritt performing to another full house with a slightly different line up as bassist Ursula Harrison replaced Long. Harrison responded magnificently to the challenge and performed superbly throughout the set while Starritt expressed her delight at being able to perform as part of an all female trio.

As in March Starritt was playing the venue’s Zender upright acoustic piano, an instrument she seems to be particularly comfortable with. Like Mike Chappell she likes to give credit to the composers of the pieces she plays and today’s performance began with “The Jamfs Are Coming”, a composition by the late tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (1928-2008). This opening number featured Starritt’s virtuoso piano soloing, but she is a generous leader and her arrangements also offer plenty of opportunities for her collaborators to express themselves. Harrison’s feature included a passage of unaccompanied double bass, while Exell’s included moments of finger snapping and hand drumming.

An aside – I recall seeing the late Griffin perform at BJF at the Memorial Theatre at Christ College back in 1992, although I can’t remember any of the details more than thirty years later. I also saw him at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 1997 but I’m just as vague about that. I just know that both gigs must have been good.

A subdued passage of unaccompanied piano introduced an otherwise uptempo arrangement of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love”, the music suddenly bursting into rapidly swinging life as the bass and drums kicked in. Starritt’s subsequent soloing was imaginatively supported by Harrison and Exell and the piece ended as it began with a solo piano coda.

Exell is training to be a music therapist and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” was introduced by a
‘musical seascape’ featuring the sounds of crystalline piano, this augmented by bowed bass and by one of Exell’s ‘therapy tools’ that imitated the sounds of waves lapping on the shore. Brushed drums then provided the undertow for the melodic pizzicato soloing of Harrison on double bass, with Starritt subsequently taking over on piano.

Ralph Rainger’s “If I Should Lose You” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano with the first orthodox jazz solo coming from Harrison’s double bass, subtly, but playfully, punctuated by Exell at the kit. Starritt then stretched out more expansively at the piano, with the rhythm team again providing swinging support. Exell’s drum feature included a fascinating series of exchanges with her colleagues, and particularly Harrison as they ‘traded fours’.

“Visitation”, composed by the former Miles Davis and John Coltrane bassist Paul Chambers (1935-1969) represented an unusual choice. A contrafact based on the chord changes of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” this was performed in a slowed down arrangement with Exell initially deploying brushes. The excellent Harrison was to feature prominently with two extended double bass features, these punctuated by Starritt’s piano solo. Starritt clearly has an affinity with bass players, her announcement of Chambers’ tune also referencing other influential bassists such as Slam Stewart, Sam Jones and Oscar Pettiford.

The Dave Brubeck composition “In Your Own Sweet Way” was performed as a waltz, ushered in by an extended solo piano intro, with Starritt subsequently joined by double bass and bushed drums. Starritt’s piano solo was followed by Harrison’s on double bass, this evolving into an absorbing dialogue between bass and piano.

The 1930s song “Gone With The Wind” (not to be confused with the novel and film of the same name) was adapted as a jazz vehicle by pianist Art Tatum and saxophonist Ben Webster and it was their version that inspired Starritt. Again introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano this was a feature for Harrison’s excellent arco playing as she conjured horn like melodies with her bow, subtly and skilfully shadowed by Exell’s brushed drums. Harrison reverted to the pizzicato technique to support an exuberant Starritt solo that introduced elements of Tatum inspired stride piano. The audience loved it.

The introduction to “I Hear A Rhapsody” featured a particularly lengthy solo piano introduction that saw Starritt exploring the full sonic capabilities of the modest upright. The addition of bass and drums, and particularly Exell’s crisp cymbal work, endowed the music with a fast, fierce sense of swing which fuelled solos from Starritt and Harrison plus a drum feature from the ever impressive Exell. The piece also included a freely structured collectively improvised episode, with Harrison taking up the bow, as the trio continued to stretch the boundaries.

The audience loved the trio’s spirit of adventure and the instrumental virtuosity of the individual members and gave the group a terrific reception. After some discussion the trio settled on a revised version of “Wave” as an encore, a subtly different version to the earlier performance.

This performance was another triumph for Starritt and also for her two colleagues, with audience members again singling out Exell’s contribution. Harrison seems to relish the challenge and the freedom that playing in the piano trio format offers. She played this venue with Eddie Gripper in June, and her playing just keeps getting better and better. I’ve never seen her wield the bow as often as today and her arco playing was extremely impressive.

It would be good if somebody could tempt Starritt into the recording studio. Her adventurous and imaginative interpretations of a broad range of jazz standards bring something fresh and invigorating to the material and really deserve to be documented on disc.


Faith Ristic – accordion, vocals, Branko Ristic – violin, Matt Bacon – electric guitar, Brian Heddemann – drums with guests Xenia Porteous – violin, Iago Banet – acoustic guitar

Faith I Branko is a band co-led by the wife and husband team of the English born Faith Ristic (accordion, vocals) and the Serbian Romani violinist Branko Ristic. The regular four piece line up includes guitarist Matt Bacon and the Danish born drummer Brian Heddemann.

The Ristics met in Branko’s home village in 2009 and began a musical and romantic partnership that has resulted in two albums, “Gypsy Lover” (2016) and “Duhovi” (April 2023). Now based in London the band bearing the couple’s name has toured internationally and accrued a strong following that transcends musical and international boundaries. Their music is based on traditional Serbian and Romani tunes but has much of the improvisatory spirit of jazz and the band regularly appears at both folk and jazz festivals.

For this special BJF appearance the core Faith I Branko line up was augmented by the Cardiff based violinist Xenia Porteous and the Galician born, London based guitarist Iago Banet. Porteous is a great friend of BJF and has appeared at the festival on numerous occasions and in various musical contexts. She is arguably best known to jazz fans as a member of the South Wales based gypsy jazz quartet Hot Club Gallois. Banet is a finger style acoustic guitarist with two albums to his credit who frequently appears as a solo performer.

Faith’s English language announcements helped, but I couldn’t be definitive about most of the tune titles so this review will be more in style of an overall impression of the gig than a strict song by song account.

The opening number established Faith as a virtuoso accordionist and saw Branko moving between pizzicato and arco techniques. In the jazz spirit the piece also included solo features for Branko, Porteous and Banet, although the last two were little more than cameos.

The next piece featured Branko’s virtuoso bowing as he soloed above Faith’s accordion drone and Heddemann’s drum rhythms. Branko then encouraged Porteous to take over from him and she responded with an impressive solo of her own. The two violinists rapidly seemed to establish a strong rapport based on mutual respect. This piece also offered Banet the opportunity to demonstrate his own abilities as a soloist.

An untitled Romanian folk tune followed with Porteous and Banet again encouraged to express themselves alongside Branko.

A number of the tunes had working titles such as “D Minor Weird Thing” which saw Branko and Porteous trading violin solos, followed by Banet on acoustic guitar.

The tune “Graveyard Rhumba” had been recorded at Heddemann’s home studio, adjacent to a London cemetery. It was a piece that featured his playing extensively during the course of a colourful drum feature.

Faith seemed to have settled into a more supportive role since the opener but came to the fore again on a Roma / Serbian folk song that featured her haunting vocals alongside the drone of her accordion and the shimmer of Heddemann’s cymbals. Branko’s violin provided melodic embellishment before evolving into a full on solo, with Porteous subsequently invited to take over from him. The song also featured Faith playing recorder and violin simultaneously, an impressive feat. The guitarists were eventually admitted to the proceedings with Banet acting as a soloist.

“F sharp Minor” featured the core quartet as Porteous and Banet temporarily vacated the stage with both Faith and Branko acting as soloists. This configuration also performed “Me Mangav Tut” (translating as “I Want You”), a tune from the recent “Duhovi” album.

From the same recording came Branko’s composition “Rumunska Vez”, a tune that was originally developed in 2021 for the couple’s livestream broadcasts. A highly energetic piece this saw Bacon, who had hitherto occupied a primarily rhythmic role, coming to greater prominence as folk melodies were merged with rock rhythms. Bacon also plays with She’ Koyokh, another band playing the music of the Balkans, and had appeared with them at a Festival in Church Stretton, Shropshire the night before. Further solos were to come from Branko, Porteous and Banet.

The next piece began slowly and atmospherically with violin and accordion drones allied to cymbal shimmers, before accelerating suddenly and rapidly, a device used in many strands of folk music and one which tempted a couple of dancers to their feet to gyrate in the aisles.

“Indian” was based on a Bollywood tune and saw Branko and Porteous exchanging phrases above a tambura like accordion drone. Porteous and Banet then soloed more expansively and Faith repeated her recorder / accordion manoeuvre.

The dancing fans, regular followers of the band, requested the tune “Techno” and the band closed the show with this. Fortunately it sounded nothing like EDM and was notable for a series of exchanges involving Bacon and the two violinists.

Overall I enjoyed this set from Faith i Branko and there was some genuinely virtuoso playing, not least from the co-leaders. The two guests made notable contributions with the versatile and adaptable Porteous integrating particularly successfully. She will return to BJF with Hot Club Gallois on Saturday 19th August.

However it was all a little relentless, the tunes racing along at a frantic pace and with little scope for light and shade amidst the bravado musicianship. The folk song sung by Faith was the only genuinely slow number. However this is music designed for dancing as much as for listening and I’m sure the band often play venues where dancing is more actively encouraged. It would be interesting to see them in a less formal environment.


LaVon Hardison – vocals
Gareth Roberts – Musical Director, trombone
James Graham, Huw Howell, Anne Holder, Jenny Cook, Rod Cunningham – reeds
Peter Lloyd, Colin Roberts, Martin Leighton, Harri Archer – trombones
Terry Claxton, Alan Holder, John Lindsay, David Ford, Ken McDonald – trumpets
Karen Millar – keyboard
Ian Graham – guitar
James Leney – bass
Louis Barfe – drums

Anybody who had witnessed the powerful performance by the American vocalist LaVon Hardison with the Glen Manby Quartet at the Castle Hotel could have had no doubts that the singer would be more than capable of holding her own when fronting a jazz big band.

The Festival Big Band was essentially the Monmouth Big Band, with only young bass trombonist Harri Archer not a regular member of that aggregation.

Gareth Roberts has been the Musical Director of the MBB for ten years and the band is a well drilled and highly accomplished unit, adept at playing the arrangements of Roberts and others. Previous performances that I have seen have also featured some of Roberts’  excellent original compositions, either from his “Monmouthshire Suite”, written specifically for the MBB, or scaled up arrangements of tunes written for his quintet and other smaller groups.

With Hardison guesting the focus was on standards and the band began with an instrumental version of “I Can’t Help Loving You”. It was good to be reminded of the huge sound that a traditional jazz big band can make and the performance included fluent solos from pianist Karen Millar and trombonist Colin Roberts.

A second instrumental, “I Got Rhythm”, featured a barnstorming trombone solo from Gareth Roberts as he featured his own superlative playing at his second gig of the day.

Hardison was welcomed to the stage for the standard “All Of Me”, adding her powerful, soulful voice to that authentic big band sound. Clad in the proverbial ‘little black dress’ she was more formally attired than at the Castle as she fulfilled the traditional role of the big band singer.

Hardison and Gareth Roberts had been emailing on a regular basis with regard to arrangements but had only actually met on the day of the gig. Both are extrovert personalities and they struck up an immediate on stage rapport and some of their between tunes banter was simply hilarious.

Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” followed, with Hardison’s sassy vocal augmented by another fine piano solo from Karen Millar, who had also featured on “All Of Me”.

In Hardison’s hands “My Funny Valentine” was less lugubrious than usual while a finger snapping version of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” was tailor made for the force of nature that is LaVon Hardison.

“L-O-V-E” featured both Hardison and Gareth Roberts and their scat vocal and trombone exchanges were as inspired as their verbal badinage.

“It Had To Be You” featured an arrangement by pianist / vocalist Harry Connick Jr. while an instrumental version of “In The Mood” featured a Jeff Tyzik arrangement that swung much harder than the familiar Glenn Miller version and afforded soloing opportunities for alto saxophonist James Graham, trumpeter Alan Holder and drummer Louis Barfe (or was it his Scottish alter ego Willie Barr?).

A strident “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” featured Hardison’s lively scatting and a further alto solo from James Graham.

“Moonglow” featured trumpeter Alan Holder alongside Hardison’s vocal. Her singing was almost operatic on an emotive “That’s All”.

We now entered a more prolonged “lunar section” that included arrangements of “Fly Me To The Moon”, and “Blue Moon”.

The blues “Route 66” featured the original American lyrics (as opposed to Laura Collin’s Welsh version from the day before) and also offered further opportunities for some of the instrumentalists to shine. Leney’s double bass was prominent in the arrangement as was Millar’s piano with James Graham again soloing on alto. Hardison encouraged the audience to clap along with her scat vocal feature, before embarking on a series of exchanges with Gareth’s plunger muted trombone. Finally we heard from guitarist Ian Graham as he finally stepped into the spotlight.

The last number was the Duke Ellington classic “It Don’t Mean A Thing” with Hardison enjoying a little call and response with the audience as well as embarking on another impressive scat vocal episode. Instrumental solos came from Gareth Roberts on trombone and Alan Holder on vocalised muted trumpet.

Gareth Roberts informed the audience that this would be his last gig with the Monmouth Big Band as he was relinquishing the role of MD in order to spend more time with his young family, who were present in the audience.

But what a special gig to go out on. The BJF audience loved LaVon Hardison and she had clearly been delighted to perform for them in the company of such an accomplished Festival Big Band.

Somehow I think we’re going to be seeing LaVon Hardison back in Brecon again this time next year.


Dionne Bennett – vocals, John-Paul Gard – organ, Dominic Norcross – tenor saxophone, Liz Exell – drums

The last gig of the day featured another powerhouse singer, Cardiff based Dionne Bennett.

Bennett first came to my attention as the vocalist and lyricist of Slowly Rolling Camera, pianist Dave Stapleton’s highly successful jazz / soul / trip hop outfit. She appeared on the band’s first two albums “Slowly Rolling Camera” (2014) and “All Things” (2016) before leaving the group, at which point SRC became an all instrumental outfit once more.

Bennett appeared at the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival as part of 6.0, an all female sextet led by bassist / guitarist Paul Gardiner. She then returned in 2022, appearing at The Muse with her regular quintet and with Gardiner featuring as a guest.

Billed as ‘Dionne Bennett & Friends’ tonight’s line up was a one off aggregation featuring organist John Paul Gard, tenor saxophonist Dominic Norcross and drummer Liz Exell, all Brecon Jazz favourites. Exell was playing her fourth concert of the weekend, surely making her “the hardest working drummer in Brecon”, a title once bestowed on Steve Brown. Exell’s gigs with tap dancer Annette Walker, the Gary Brunton / Emma Rawicz Quartet, the Rachel Starritt trio and now the Dionne Bennett combo were all very different and reflected well on her versatility and great musicality as a drummer.

Steeped in soul and gospel Bennett has also begun to develop a talent for vocalese as she increasingly pushes her astonishingly powerful voice further into improvised areas. Tonight’s organ driven ensemble had something of a ‘jam band’ feel about it with its roots in Blue Note style soul jazz and in the later Acid Jazz movement. It’s an approach that has accrued Bennett something of a following and it was noticeable how many younger people were in the audience for tonight’s event with an area left clear for dancing. There was a real ‘club atmosphere’ about The Muse for this late night gig.

The instrumentalists kicked the night off with Gard taking the lead at the organ, joined first by Exell’s drums and then by Norcross’ tenor. With Gard playing bass on the organ foot pedals the music soon built up a head of steam with blistering solos from Gard and Norcross and a powerful drum feature from Exell, who revelled in the freedom and informality that this group offered. The exchanges between Gard and Exell were particularly exciting and clearly delighted the watching Bennett.

Bennett joined the band for a radical soul jazz re-working of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”, singing the lyrics over a shuffling groove, with instrumental solos coming from Gard and Norcross.

An organ and drum groove fuelled “Ain’t No Sunshine”, with Norcross soloing above the seductive rhythms and Bennett delivering a soulful and impassioned vocal performance. Finally Gard took flight at the twin manual keyboard, soling above Exell’s sturdy back beat.

Voice and organ introduced “God Bless The Child”, a powerful rendition that was very different to the familiar Billie Holiday version. Bennett’s passionate singing was augmented by instrumental solos from Norcross and Gard.

I wasn’t expecting a break but the first set ended with a version of “Summertime” that included a dazzling scat vocal and a series of voice and tenor sax exchanges in addition to more conventional solos from Norcross and Gard. Perhaps the break was necessary for Bennett to re-charge her voice, she had certainly pushed it to the limit with her larynx shredding performances thus far.

The shorter second set also kicked off with an instrumental, with raunchy tenor sax and soulful, dirty sounding Hammond augmented by Exell’s powerful beats. This updating of the Blue Note organ trio sound was well received by the dancers at the front of the stage.

Bennett then returned to the stage to deliver a stunning version of “Amazing Grace”, her gospel drenched vocals transporting the listeners at The Muse to a Baptist Church somewhere in the American Deep South. It really was an astonishingly powerful vocal performance. Bennett’s remarkable singing was augmented by solos from Norcross and Gard, the latter’s organ playing at its most ‘church like’.

Thanking the band for a final time Bennett spoke of Exell ‘backboning it’ and it was true that her drumming was the foundation of the music. The closing “Sunny” saw Exell helping to establish a slinky, seductive groove that underpinned Bennett’s scat vocal feature and the solos of both Norcross and Gard. Particularly striking was the voice and drum dialogue between Bennett and Exell and the latter’s subsequent drum solo.

This high powered performance brought the day’s events to a memorable close and the only reservation was that it was just too short. I could happily have listened to more of this. Like Rachel Staritt, who had started the day off at The Muse, I’d love to hear Dionne Bennett’s music being committed to disc.




by Ian Mann

August 17, 2023

Ian Mann on the second full day of the main Festival weekend & performances by the All Stars of Brecon Jazz, Deborah Glenister, Annette Walker / Gary Crosby and the Gary Brunton / Emma Rawicz Quartet.

Photograph of Gary Brunton sourced from


Saturday August 12th 2023


Jo Fooks – tenor saxophone, Chris Hodgkins – trumpet, Ross Hicks – piano, Olly Blanchflower – double bass, John Gibbon – drums, Laura Collins – vocals

The first concert on Saturday’s programme was a celebration of a number of anniversaries. 2023 represents the 40th edition of Brecon Jazz Festival, a fact that was acknowledged and applauded at all the concert events during the weekend.

Today’s concert acknowledged that fact but also celebrated two personal milestones for the All Stars drummer John Gibbon, who turns seventy on August 24th and also celebrates fifty years as a professional musician.

Gibbon’s career has largely been based in Wales and the Borders and I first encountered his playing in the 1990s when he organised regional tours of the area featuring his trio fronted by a guest soloist from London. The circuit included Hereford as a regular venue, which was ideal for me. Gibbon’s trio usually featured bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Phil Mead and the list of visiting musicians included saxophonists Ray Warleigh, Peter King, Duncan Lamont, Mornington Lockett, Danny Moss, Virginia Mayhew, Don Rendell and Dick Heckstall Smith, trumpeters Dick Pearce and Henry Lowther and guitarists Phil Lee and Mike Britton, an impressive list by anybody’s reckoning. It’s just a shame that so many of these great players are no longer with us.

Gibbon also ran the long defunct,  but still legendary, Gibbs’ Jazz Club in Abergavenny and also spent a spell as a pub landlord, whilst still continuing to play music. Currently he co-ordinates the jazz programme at the Old Black Lion pub in Hay on Wye and continues to bring leading musicians such as saxophonist Simon Spillett to the Welsh Borders. Gibbon’s current trio features pianist Guy Shotton and bassist Dayne Cranenburg.

For this special anniversary gig Gibbon invited saxophonist Jo Fooks to assemble a sextet featuring musicians popular around Brecon and its environs, hence the All Stars of Brecon Jazz appellation.  All the players are well known in the immediate geographical area but are more than just good ‘regional’ musicians.

The programme featured a selection of standards, the majority well known to both the musicians and the audience. That said the instrumentalists kicked off with a standard tune that I knew but couldn’t pin a title on. It was the only piece that went unannounced. Gibbon was given the honour of opening the tune on the drums, before Fooks and Hodgkins combined to state the melody, subsequently embarking on fluent individual solos. Hicks, Blanchflower and Gibbon himself were also featured individually.

Singer Laura Collins joined the group for the Gershwin song “A Foggy Day In London Town”. I first heard Collins sing back in 2010 when I reviewed her then current album “Baltimore Oriole” but it’s ten years since I last saw her perform. I believe she’s taken a break from the music scene to start a family but it’s good to have her back, she’s a very classy vocalist and also a skilled arranger. Instrumental solos here came from Hodgkins on muted trumpet,  Fooks on tenor and Hicks on piano.

Collins sang the lyrics to “The Lady Is A Tramp” in the first person, an unusual move. Her singing was complemented by solos from Hodgkins, again on muted trumpet, and Fooks on tenor.

An intimate performance of the Hoagy Carmichael song “The Nearness Of You” featured a scaled down version of the group with Collins joined by just Hicks and Fooks, the latter acting as the featured instrumental soloist.

The majority of the group returned for the Luiz Bonfa song “Gentle Rain” with only Hodgkins sitting out. Collins’ vocalising was underpinned by the patter of Gibbon’s hand drumming with instrumental solos coming from Hicks, Fooks and Blanchflower. Once a professional on the London scene Blanchflower now lives in Ledbury, Herefordshire and has become an important figure on the music scene in both Wales and the Midlands.

The full sextet came together again for a blues infused arrangement of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” with Hodgkins soloing on muted trumpet, followed by Hicks, Fooks and Blanchflower.

Hodgkins again sat out for George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland”, with Gibbon’s rapidly brushed drums underpinning solos from Fooks and Hicks.

Collins left and Hodgkins returned for an instrumental version of “When You’re Smiling”, introduced by Gibbon at the drums. The tenor sax / trumpet frontline dovetailed effectively as well as contributing fluent individual solos. Hicks then sparkled at the piano and Gibbon rounded things off with a typically colourful drum feature.

Collins returned for a better than usual rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”, a song that really has become overly familiar in recent years. A voice and piano intro was followed by solos from Hodgkins on muted trumpet, Fooks on tenor and Hicks at the piano, the same Yamaha keyboard that Terence Collie and Jim Barber had played at the Castle Hotel the night before.

A word of praise for Hicks, easily the youngest member of the band and a replacement for the advertised John Paul Gard. Hicks rose to the challenge magnificently in front of a large crowd at the Guildhall. For a young musician he displays a remarkable level of maturity and the depth of his knowledge of a wide range of jazz piano styles is truly impressive. A recent gig with the BMJ Collective at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny also revealed him to be a composer of considerable promise. A bright future awaits for this young jazz star in the making.

The All Stars closed with an arrangement of “Route 66” that featured Collins singing her own lyrics depicting a Welsh road trip on the M4 and the A4226. A number of Welsh place names were mentioned, and not just the obvious ones, who else would rhyme Llandeilo and Clyro. Back in the day I also heard her sing a Midlands version (Moseley, Coseley, Wolverhampton). The instrumental solos came from Hodgkins on Harmon muted trumpet, Fooks on tenor, Hicks at the piano and Blanchflower on double bass.

Naturally the Brecon audience loved this and the All Stars encored with “But Not For Me”, introduced by bass and drums and with Collins’ vocals augmented by instrumental solos from Hodgkins and Fooks.

The sextet were very well received by the Guildhall crowd, but nevertheless this was a gig that divided opinion. Some fans clearly loved it but others were critical of the safe and predictable song choices and the over reliance on the head-solos-head format.

For myself I would probably have preferred something a bit more cutting edge, but overall I rather enjoyed it. All the musicians were in sparkling form in playing terms and the sound quality, courtesy of Gavin Hales and Emily Darlington of Sound Ratio was excellent throughout, really enhancing the quality of the singing and playing. This was high quality mainstream jazz from a band that had never played as a sextet before, although it included many separate individual alliances. The band clearly enjoyed themselves and that came through in the music.

Collins handled most of the announcements, which prevented Gibbon from overdoing the verbals and the old Ronnie Scott jokes he’s been recycling for most of his fifty years in the business. John’s a bit of a character and can be highly amusing, but he can get a bit much at times. Today he was able to concentrate more on playing and his drumming was excellent throughout, helping to produce an impressive group performance.


Deborah Glenister – piano, Ian Cooper – acoustic & electric bass, Robert Wheatcroft – drums and guests

It was bucketing down with rain when we exited the Guildhall so instead of viewing the outdoor performance by old Festival favourites Wonderbrass we opted for the sanctuary and dryness of St. Mary’s.

This afternoon’s music programme at the Church featured an informal session from the Deborah Glenister trio plus a number of guest performances.

The core trio featured Glenister, also a talented saxophonist,  at the piano in the company of bassist Ian Cooper and drummer Robert Wheatcroft.

As we arrived Rosalind Moore was singing a version of “Besame Mucho”. A volunteer steward on the Brecon Jazz team Welsh speaker Moore also handled many of the bilingual concert introductions over the course of the weekend.

The core trio then played Glenister’s own composition “Deborah’s Waltz”, an attractive piece with a title representing an obvious tip of the hat to Bill Evans.

Chris Hodgkins came over from the Guildhall to guest on another version of “Pennies From Heaven”, soloing with an open bell. He then played muted trumpet on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia”.

The group expanded to a quintet with the addition of alto saxophonist Leslie Maynerd on Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train”,  with all five musicians featuring as soloists.

Hodgkins dropped out, leaving the quartet to play another Carmichael tune, “Skylark”, with Maynerd’s pure toned Paul Desmond style alto featuring alongside Glenister’s piano.

The same line up performed “Summer Samba” with Maynerd, Glenister and Cooper featuring as soloists.

Hodgkins rejoined and Cooper switched to electric bass for Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”. The trumpeter soloed with a Harmon mute, followed by Glenister on piano and finally Maynerd on alto.

This section of the afternoon then ended with another Glenister original, the aptly titled “Moving On”, performed by the core trio of piano, drums and electric bass.

This had been an engaging, good humoured and very informal session that included some excellent playing, and I was pleased to hear a couple of Glenister’s own compositions in there too. Well done to all concerned.


Next to appear was guitarist Gerard Cousins, who had hitherto been handling the sound for the Glenister Trio.

The locally based Cousins is primarily a classical guitarist but has made frequent forays into jazz and has appeared regularly at BJF. In 2019 he teamed up with fellow guitarist Maciek Pysz and double bassist Paula Gardiner as part of a one off trio.

The previous year saw him presenting a trio Project that took a selection of Welsh folk tunes and explored them in a jazz context. 2017 had seen a larger Project  undertaking an intriguing re-imagining of the classic 1969 Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”.

Cousins has recently become fascinated with the music of the minimalist composer Philip Glass and has transcribed several of Glass’ piano pieces for classical guitar, this necessitating the use of alternative tunings.

A number of Glass pieces were included in today’s solo guitar performances including the composer’s “Study No. 1”.

Also featured was “Tomorrows” by the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and composer Olafur Arnalds, whose music proved to be more sparse and lyrical than that of Glass.

Cousins also performed a number of his own pieces, including “One Step Away” and a segue of “Prelude” and “The First Beat Is The Last Sound”.

Meanwhile his “White Cloud, Blue Sky”, a tribute to fellow guitarist John McLaughlin,  featured Cousins’ astonishingly agile fretboard fingering.

Even more astonishing was “Circle”, a minimalist style piece featuring interlocking rhythms variously generated by the thumb and fingers.

Cousins is a remarkable technician whose playing is widely respected in the classical world, but who has also been welcomed into the jazz community.


Annette Walker – tap dance, Gary Crosby - double bass, Dave Jones – piano, Liz Exell – drums

This ticketed concert, also held at St. Mary’s was an unusual event, possibly a first for Brecon Jazz, that featured London based tap dancer Annette Walker co-leading a quartet with double bassist Gary Crosby, the co-founder of the Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation. They were joined by two South Wales based musicians, pianist Dave Jones and drummer Liz Exell.

I was very much looking forward to this event after attending a gig in Ross on Wye earlier in the year that had featured the saxophonist Xhosa Cole leading a group that included tap dancer Liberty Styles. The rhythms generated by Styles’ flying feet had complemented those of the music surprisingly well in a remarkably well integrated collective performance.

Today’s show was rather different in that this was essentially Walker’s show and there was a far greater emphasis placed upon the performance of the dancer herself. Like singer LaVon Hardison the previous evening Walker was a huge personality and another ‘force of nature’.

The set began with a burst of energetic, virtuoso tap dancing, the band eventually joining in to perform a version of the Jazz Messengers classic “Moanin’”.

As well as dancing Walker also talked at length, explaining how she and Crosby had first met at a Jazz Panel Discussion centred around the concept of ‘Jazz & Dance’ and subsequently began working together. It was only later that Walker discovered that her father, Leroy, also known as Billy, had been at school with Crosby, a fact that served to strengthen the bond between the dancer and the bassist. Leroy Walker was present in the audience and like his daughter stayed in Brecon for the whole weekend. Like Hardison the Walkers took in the whole Festival experience and were also frequently seen around town supporting the gigs of others.
The next piece saw Walker and the instrumentalists tackling another Blue Note classic, Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”, with Walker’s dazzling footwork augmented by an instrumental solo from pianist Dave Jones.

Next up was “Cute”, a favourite vehicle for tap dancers and a bebop style tune written for the Count Basie Orchestra, with Basie’s drummer, Papa Joe Jones very much in mind. Walker explained that Joe Jones had himself been a tap dancer, as had many of the early jazz drummers, with jazz and dance much more closely linked in those days. Today’s performance included an instrumental solo from the venerable Crosby.

Walker explained that as a dancer she always travelled with her own tap boards. She then elicited a little audience participation by encouraging the audience to clap along with the two part rhythms of the “Shim Sham”, a piece she described as the “national anthem of tap dancing”. For the performance of the tune itself Exell laid down a marching rhythm on brushed drums with the audience urged to clap along at the appropriate moments. Great fun.

Walker explained something of the history of jazz tap dancing, from the vaudeville act The Whitman Sisters to Duke Ellington’s tap dancer Bunny Briggs, who performed regularly with the Ellington Orchestra, before eventually being replaced by Will Gaines.

Walker and the instrumentalists performed two Ellington compositions as a tribute to Briggs and Gaines, a lively “Take The A Train” and a more sedate ballad style reading of “In A Sentimental Mood”, which offered Walker the opportunity to demonstrate a slower, less frenetic style of dancing.

A later jazz period was explored in a version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” that was introduced by a tap / double bass dialogue, a reminder of the start of the Walker / Crosby partnership and their early duo performances. More orthodox instrumental solos subsequently came from Jones and Crosby.

This unusually configured quartet closed with a version of the Charlie Parker classic “Billie’s Bounce”, which included features for all three instrumentalists. Jones had contributed some fine solos throughout the set but the most striking aspect of this last piece was the dialogue between Walker’s feet and Exell’s sticks in a dazzling visual and audio panoply of rhythm.

This was a performance that had lasted for around an hour and which had both entertained and educated. I’d heard of Will Gaines before but had no other real knowledge of the history of jazz tap dance and was thus enlightened by Walker’s brief history lesson. Walker’s passion and enthusiasm for her art was palpable and communicated itself to her audience and she was also a radiant personality and a great entertainer. This was very much her show but all the musicians made excellent instrumental contributions in a performance that, with the exception of Crosby,  must have been very unusual for them.

The audience gave Walker and the band a great reception and the comments that I heard after the show indicated that everybody had enjoyed it immensely.

Walker was to give a talk on the history of jazz tap dance the following day but I missed this as it clashed with other musical performances. Nevertheless today’s event was both enjoyable and informative. Putting on a performance of this nature represented something of a gamble for Brecon Jazz but it was one that paid off admirably.


Gary Brunton – double bass, Emma Rawicz – tenor sax, Gareth Williams – piano, Liz Exell – drums

This was another ‘Made in Brecon’ bespoke line up that brought together a quartet co-led by bassist Gary Brunton and saxophonist Emma Rawicz.

Born in Burnley, Lancashire bassist, composer and bandleader Gary Brunton attended Swansea University and still retains strong links with Wales, with many friends from his time in the country present in the audience tonight.

Brunton now lives in Paris and has released three albums on the French record label Juste Une Trace, two of these featuring his Night Bus trio with pianist Bojan Z and drummer Simon Goubert. His latest recording has a Welsh title, “Tren Dydd”, meaning “Day Train” and features a new group with soprano sax specialist Francois Jenneau and drummer Andrea Michelutti, with piano duties shared between Emil Spanyi and Paul Lay.

Rising star saxophonist Emma Rawicz was born in Devon of Polish heritage and is a Parliamentary Jazz Award winner and a former finalist in the BBC’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. Although still only twenty one and still at college she has already released her debut album “Incantation” (2022) and has been signed to the prestigious German record label ACT for her second, “Chroma” (2023).

Tonight’s ‘one off’ group brought Brunton and Rawicz together with ‘house drummer’ Liz Exell and pianist Gareth Williams, another musician with strong Welsh connections, a bandleader and composer in his own right and a phenomenally talented piano soloist.

Both Brunton and Rawicz are composers of some distinction and tonight’s programme was to feature original material from both plus a series of inspired jazz and rock covers.

Brunton’s bass motif started his own “83 Bis”, a composition from the first Night Bus album, with Rawicz subsequently taking over the melody on tenor sax and then embarking on the first solo of the evening. Considering that she only took up the instrument at the age of fifteen Rawicz is an astonishingly fluent and inventive tenor sax soloist, and this ability, allied to her composing skills suggests, that she is going to become a hugely influential figure in the jazz world in the years to come, especially with the distributive power of ACT behind her. The mercurial Williams followed on piano, while Brunton’s bass remained at the heart of the music.

Rawicz’s first contribution with the pen was “Vera”, a tune that she dedicated to the memory of her late grandmother, “an absolute legend”. This began more sedately, with Exell wielding brushes, before gradually gathering momentum.  Brunton took the first solo on double bass, combining a huge tone with a strong sense of melody. Williams followed on piano and finally the composer on rhapsodic tenor sax.

Brunton’s “Brew Ten”, a tune from his latest album was dedicated to his late father, and also to saxophonist Pepper Adams. Named for a beer once popular in Lancashire it was a bebop style tune that represented a vehicle for the inventive soloing of both Williams and Rawicz. These two received responsive, understated support from Exell who was subsequently rewarded with her own feature.

Rawicz took up the compositional reins again for “The Mantra”, introduced by a tenor sax and piano duet, with Rawicz and Williams eventually joined by the sounds of Exell’s cymbal ticks and Brunton’s double bass. The music then gathered momentum, the intensity building through the course of solos by Rawicz and Williams and a dynamic drum feature from Exell.

The only true standard of the evening was the ballad “You’ve Changed” which featured Exell’s deft brush work in response to Williams’ lyrical piano soloing and Brunton’s bass counter melodies. Meanwhile Rawicz’s tenor solo exhibited a fluency and emotional maturity way beyond her tender years.

“Energy Master Loc”, a tune from Brunton’s latest album featured a freely structured intro that incorporated extended bass and drum techniques,  these allied to fleeting shards of tenor sax and piano melody. Subsequently the music became less abstract with the creation of a muscular groove that provided the foundation for solos from Williams on piano, Rawicz on tenor and the composer on double bass.

“Tren Dydd” also includes an arrangement of the Welsh national anthem that Brunton calls “Land of My Fathers, You Dig”. This was an avant garde version “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” as if re-imagined by Carla Bley that eventually segued into “Dirty Bebop”, a tune from the same album. This was more conventional and featured expansive solos from Williams and Rawicz. When announcing the tune Brunton recounted that back in the day the trad v bebop wars in France had been even more ferocious than those in Britain, often boiling over into actual physical violence. It’s a period that obviously still gets talked about in modern day Paris.

Brunton handled most of the announcements and now introduced tributes to two (relatively) recently deceased musicians.

Wayne Shorter was honoured with a performance of one of his lesser known compositions, “Yes or No” with admirably fluent musical eulogies from Rawicz and Williams.

Tribute was paid to David Bowie with two tunes that Brunton features on the second Night Bus album. “Ashes To Ashes” was a stunning solo bass performance that incorporated both plucking and strumming techniques, with the familiar melodies played on the bass.
This segued into a full band version of “Moonage Daydream” with solos from co-leaders Rawicz and Brunton.

The deserved encore was the Brunton composition “Behind The Bowlers Arm”, another piece from the second Night Bus album. Inspired by his late father’s love of cricket it was an appropriate title for a tune composed by a musician from Burnley, also the home town of England’s record breaking fast bowler James Anderson. Brunton still follows the sport from France and used to go to matches with his father. This was one of the evening’s simpler, most melodic pieces and was invested with a warm, elegiac, nostalgic feeling with lucid solos from Rawicz and Williams.

Having seen Rawicz perform with her own quintet in Shrewsbury earlier in the year this was a performance that I had been keenly anticipating. Brunton was previously unknown to me but nevertheless I had the feeling that this was going to be one of the best gigs of the Festival, especially with Williams also in the band. I wasn’t disappointed, this was state of the art contemporary jazz from four exceptional musicians. Brunton represented an exciting new discovery, both as a player and as a writer, and Rawicz and Williams were as good as expected, if not more so. For many listeners the revelation was Exell, who performed brilliantly behind the kit, helping Brunton to hold the music together and excelling (pun intended) in her individual features. For a one off group playing largely original material this was a brilliantly cohesive performance. You’d think they’d been working together for years. What a brilliant way to round off Saturday night at the Festival.

The quality of the music was enhanced by that of the sound, with the Ratio Studios team again doing a terrific job with a pinpoint mix. Thanks guys.


by Ian Mann

August 14, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys the first full day of the Festival and performances from Janet Evra, Edison Herbert, LaVon Hardison and many more.

Photograph of LaVon Hardison sourced from



Following a highly successful ‘Family Jazz & Dance Day’ at the Marquee on Brecon County Showground the previous Sunday (August 6th) the main Festival weekend began on Friday 11th with a full day of jazz at various venues around the town. Three ticketed concert events were punctuated by a series of free performances at St. Mary’s Church during the afternoon, with free events also running alongside the concert events in the evening at both The Foundry (formerly the Northhouse) and the Wellington Hotel.

In addition to this there were also outdoor performances at various open air stages around the town while the annual Fringe Festival was in full swing in Brecon’s pubs and clubs.


Janet Evra – vocals, double bass, Will Buchanan – guitar, Jamie Joiner – drums

My main focus will be on the concert programme which began at 1.00 pm at The Muse, the regular home of Brecon Jazz Club.

A near capacity audience assembled to enjoy the music of Janet Evra, a jazz vocalist and double bassist born in Gloucester, England but resident for many years in St. Louis, Missouri, USA where she has become a popular figure on that city’s jazz scene.

Evra had travelled to the UK with her husband and guitarist Will Buchanan, a native of Maryland, but now also a St. Louis resident. In a typical bespoke ‘Made in Brecon’ line up Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon had teamed Evra with the young, local drummer Jamie Joiner, from nearby Newport, to create a one off trio.

Evra sang and played bass simultaneously, an impressive feat, but the emphasis was on her singing rather than her playing (no bass solos) and the bulk of the instrumental solos were undertaken by Buchanan, with Joiner enjoying the occasional drum feature.

Evra is a bubbly personality and presented the show with considerable charm and great enthusiasm. This was a kind of ‘pop jazz’ as the effervescent Evra and her trio performed a set of well known songs drawn from both the jazz and pop canons, but with a number of engaging original songs also integrated into the repertoire.

The trio commenced with the Carole King song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, which established Evra as a highly competent vocalist, whilst Buchanan provided astute instrumental accompaniment and soloed fluently and concisely. As a rhythm section Evra and Joiner elected to keep things simple and effective.

A playful version of the Nina Simone song “My Baby Just Cares For Me” followed, subtly propelled by Joiner’s briskly brushed drums and with Buchanan again the instrumental soloist.

Encouraged by the positive response to the first two numbers Evra and Buchanan elected to perform an original song next. Jointly written by the wife and husband team this was a disarming tale of domestic intimacy, initially performed by the composers as a vocal / guitar duo, before understated bass and drums were eventually added.

An interesting choice of cover followed, “Koop Island Blues”, a song by the Swedish band Koop. Introduced by Evra at the bass this also featured rapidly strummed rhythm guitar and vigorously brushed drums as Evra sang this tale of lost love, adding an extra international dimension by singing some of the lyrics in French.

Evra likes to sing in other languages and a French chanson with a title translating as a “A Man And A Woman” was delivered in the appropriate tongue.

Evra and Buchanan share a love of Brazilian music and have even formulated their own brand of ‘Indie Bossa’. Two examples of this followed, the original songs “You Or Me” and “Tenderly”. These combined bossa rhythms with perceptive English language lyrics and also included pithy guitar solos from Buchanan and nuanced drumming performances from the increasingly confident Joiner. The first was somewhat melancholic in feel, the second more upbeat and sunny, a song about being on the beach with one’s lover. Evra informed the crowd that she’d made a visit to the beautiful Dunraven Bay on the South Wales coast during her current visit, something that endeared her to the audience even more.

Evra had elected to leave her own double bass in the US and was playing on an instrument borrowed from local musician Ian Cooper. Unfortunately a technical glitch surfaced around this time resulting in several on-stage forays from the sound man (another Ian). Evra refused to let this setback unsettle her and the heroic Ian ended up getting a round of applause.

Portuguese and English lyrics were combined on a vibrant rendition of the Antonio Carlos Jobim song “Sway”, a piece that also included a guitar solo from the impressive Buchanan and a drum feature from Joiner.

Evra and Buchanan performed “Bye Bye Blackbird” as a duo, allowing the singer a brief opportunity to showcase her scatting and humming skills.

Finally yet another language with Evra singing “Besame Mucho” in Spanish with considerable panache.

This was an enjoyable set that was very well received by the audience at The Muse and the trio made a lot of new friends on their first visit to Brecon.

To be honest it was all a bit too lightweight for my personal tastes but I particularly enjoyed Buchanan’s fluent and agile guitar soloing.

Nevertheless this was a feel good performance and a highly successful event that got the Main Festival Weekend off to an excellent start.


It has become customary for the Festival organisers to present a free programme of music featuring a number of different acts at St. Mary’s Church on the Friday afternoon of the Main Festival Weekend.

This was also the official opening of the Festival with the Mayor of Brecon, Councillor Michaela Davies and the Vicar of St. Mary’s both saying a few words of welcome.


The first performance featured the young professional dancers Aimee Casey and Ffion Elmer dancing to a soundtrack of Nina Simone songs in a programme choreographed for the FUSION project by Bella Ross.

The FUSION dancers subsequently performed at numerous other locations over the course of the weekend and had also featured at the Family Jazz & Dance Day at Brecon County Showground.


Jack McDougall – tenor & soprano saxes, clarinet, vocals, Gethin Liddington – trumpet, Tiggy Blackwell – trombone, Ursula Harrison – double bass, Ryan Thrupp – drums

The first musical event of the afternoon featured a New Orleans style quintet featuring some of South Wales’ leading musicians under the leadership of reeds player and vocalist Jack McDougall, colloquially known as Jack Mac.

A tireless and enthusiastic performer and an acclaimed educator Mac has recently been co-ordinating the JazzKatz workshop programme for young jazz musicians at the nearby Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny. He has also been leading the JazzKatz tutorial team, aka the BMJ Collective, in a series of evening concerts at the same venue, performing for the wider jazz public.

Today’s show featured a set of tunes played in a broadly New Orleans style, appropriate perhaps as in its early days Brecon Jazz Festival was billed as ‘New Orleans Beneath The Beacons’.

First up was a lively “Honeysuckle Rose” featuring solos from Mac on soprano sax,  Blackwell on trombone and Brecon Jazz stalwart Gethin Liddington on trumpet. Ryan Thrupp also enjoyed a series of drum breaks.

Eagle eyed readers may have spotted the young drummer on their TV screens recently when Thrupp performed with the Guinea born, Cardiff based balafon player and singer N’Famady Kouyate at Glastonbury Festival. It was one of the best things that I saw from the ‘Glasto’ weekend.

Soprano sax and trumpet introduced “Basin Street Blues”, with Liddington playing vocalised muted trumpet. Mac and Liddington subsequently shared the solos with two more of the band’s younger members, trombonist Tiggy Blackwell and bassist Ursula Harrison.

“Careless Love” saw Mac move to clarinet, soloing alongside Liddington and Blackwell. The young trombonist had also impressed the weekend before as part of the ten piece Funkyard group at the Family Jazz & Dance event.

An extended drum intro ushered in “Joe Avery’s Blues”, with Thrupp eventually settling on a marching rhythm that fuelled solos from Blackwell on trombone, Mac on earthy tenor sax and Liddington on muted trumpet.

Mac remained on tenor and also added a powerful vocal to “St. James Infirmary Blues” with further instrumental solos coming from Tigwell on trombone and the always impressive Liddington on trumpet. The three horns also combined to good effect,  carousing effectively on this earthy slow blues, Liddington rounding things off with a stunning solo trumpet cadenza.

“Blue Skies” saw Mac moving back to soprano sax and included features for all five musicians.

The leader remained on soprano and also sang on “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In it”, another piece to feature some impressive interplay between the horns, plus individual solos from all three.

This was a set that was extremely well received by the audience at St. Mary’s and the quintet encored, almost inevitably,  with “When The Saints Go Marching In” featuring Mac on clarinet and vocals and with Liddington, Blackwell and Thrupp also featuring as soloists.

The standard of the playing was excellent throughout and I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this set from five of South Wales’ finest.


James Chadwick – guitar, Jane Williams – voice, ukulele

A change of mood with this short, intimate duo set from guitarist James Chadwick and vocalist and ukulele player Jane Williams, two more stalwarts of the South Wales jazz scene, both as musicians and as organisers / facilitators.

They opened with a playful version of “Bye Bye Blackbird”, a song getting its second airing of the day. Williams, another lively personality, quickly had the audience singing along with the choruses.

By way of contrast “Autumn Leaves” was treated with greater reverence as Williams provided an emotive vocal and Chadwick a typically thoughtful guitar solo.

The guitarist was to feature again on “September in The Rain”, with Williams singing the lyrics as well as providing rhythmic accompaniment on her ‘uke’.

An all too short ‘taster’ set concluded with another famous standard as “All Of Me” allowed Williams to feature her scatting skills.

Chadwick was to return to the same venue later on in the weekend for a longer duo performance in the company of another vocalist, Tara Lowe. More on that in a subsequent feature.


Community involvement has always been important to BJF and it has become something of a tradition for the Uskulele Jazz Orchestra to perform in this Friday afternoon slot.

Directed by Ian Cooper the UJO is a community band featuring twenty to thirty massed ukuleles, with some of the members doubling on kazoo, swanee whistle and harmonica. The ensemble also includes a violinist, who takes on much of the melodic duties, while Cooper directs proceedings while playing acoustic guitar.

It’s fun and light hearted and audience members are invited to sing along with the members of the orchestra, with word sheets being passed around the venue prior to the performance.

The UJO have well over twenty tunes they can draw on and today’s set list began with the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”, which featured those whistles and kazoos.

“Fly Me To The Moon” followed, then “Summertime”, with the audience encouraged to get involved.

Violin featured on Jobim’s “Sway”, this followed by the jazz standard “All Of Me”.

“Mack The Knife” was performed as an instrumental while “Wonderful World” saw one UJO member deliver a convincing harmonica solo.

“When You’re Smiling” saw the return of the kazoos and whistles, raising an appropriate grin.

“A Little Help From My Friends” was a rousing sing along, as was the closing segue of “Has Anybody Seen My Girl” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”.

Nothing too profound here but great fun for audience and performers alike and a good humoured way to round off this afternoon’s proceedings at St. Mary’s.


Outdoors I managed to catch a few numbers from NPTC Big Band who were playing on the Bulwark Stage.

Featuring students from NPTC’s colleges in Neath and Port Talbot the band is directed by tutor Ceri Rees, a musician perhaps best known to jazz audiences as the alto saxophonist and musical director of Cardiff’s Capital City Jazz Band, themselves regular visitors to Brecon Jazz Festival.

The NPTC Big Band had played at the BJF Taster Day in June but I saw very little of their performance and was therefore pleased to be able to catch a bit more of their set today.

During the period I was watching them they played the standards “Blue Bossa”, “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Don’t Get Around Much More”, plus two Sonny Rollins tunes, “St. Thomas” and “Doxy”.

The young soloists, identified by Ceri Rees by their first names only, included Tyrice and Dan (trumpets), Sophie (tenor sax), Bethan (alto sax) and Louis (piano), with tutor Andrew George featuring on trombone.

I enjoyed what I saw and the future of jazz in South Wales is safe in the hands of Ceri Rees and the NPTC.


Debs Hancock – vocals, Martha Skilton – tenor sax, Ross Hicks – piano, Nick Kacal – double bass

I also had time to catch some of the set from a drummer-less quartet co-led by vocalist Debs Hancock and saxophonist Martha Skilton, both regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages.

The good weather on Friday meant that the performance could take place in the space outside the venue and the quartet was rewarded by a large and appreciative audiences who clearly enjoying the opportunity to relax with a drink and to listen to some high quality jazz music.

All the musicians have strong links with Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny, but also with Brecon Jazz too.

The programme included “Lover Man”, “Devil May Care”, “The Nearness Of You” and “One Note Samba”.

Hancock sang with her characteristic warmth, charm and precision and both Hicks and Kacal made telling instrumental contributions, including a number of fluent solos.

It was also great to see Martha Skilton playing jazz again. Her main focus in recent years has been playing with soul and function bands, a more lucrative source of musical income than jazz, but less satisfying to play. Today she was able to stretch out further and clearly relished the opportunity to do so. It was good to be reminded of how good a jazz saxophonist she really is.

The set closed with Hancock’s adaptation of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”, featuring her own ‘vocalese’ version of the lyrics.

An appreciative audience called them back for an encore but I had to miss this as I was already overdue for the first of two ticketed concerts at the Castle Hotel and had to scurry off rapidly.


Edison Herbert – guitar, Terence Collie – piano, Elliot Roffe – double bass, Magdalia Tamez – drums

Edison (aka Eddie) Herbert is Leeds born guitarist and composer who studied at Yorkshire College of Music and at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London.

His primary guitar influences are Wes Montgomery and George Benson, and elements of both can be detected in his playing. To date he has released two full length albums, “My Favourite Tunes” (2014) and “Time For Love” (2021). The latter features a mix of originals and covers, which is what we were also to hear tonight from a one off ‘Made in Brecon’ quartet, some of whose members had worked together before but never in this configuration.

The quartet opened with Herbert’s original composition “You Know”, a tune from his latest album. Herbert’s opening solo saw him making extensive use of the thumb in a manner obviously inspired by Montgomery. Collie adopted an acoustic piano sound at the borrowed Yamaha CP 300 electric keyboard, so the instrument will be referred to as a ‘piano’ for the purpose of this review. Collie was the other featured soloist and also engaged in an absorbing series of exchanges with the leader.

The Ramsey Lewis tune “You Are The Reason” featured Herbert deploying a mix of guitar styles, his melodic finger picking inspired by Benson,  but the use of the thumb was pure Wes.

A passage of unaccompanied guitar presaged a ballad arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”, featuring the delicate sound of Tamez’s brushed drums. Rolfe took the first solo on melodic double bass, followed by Collie on lyrical piano and finally the leader on guitar.

Rolfe’s bass and Tamez’s drums combined to drive a version of the standard “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” with expansive solo from Herbert on guitar and Collie on piano.

Herbert’s original “E’s Train”, which features on both his albums, is a tune written in the bebop tradition. Introduced here by a passage of unaccompanied guitar it also featured suitably boppish solos from Herbert and Collie plus a colourful drum feature from Tamez. This was an item that was particularly well received by a large and appreciative audience in the Ballroom at the Castle Hotel.

Roffe’s bass introduced a slow, blues infused arrangement of “But Beautiful” with lyrical solos from both Herbert and Collie, and with Roffe briefly flourishing the bow at the close.

A muscular near funk groove propelled an arrangement of Montgomery’s “The Thumb”, which included solos from Herbert and Collie, plus features for Roffe and Tamez, with the bassist making a particularly impressive contribution.

A change of pace with the ballad “More Beautiful Each Day”, a song with the feel of a standard (I think it may have been written by Joe Sample) that featured melodic solos from Collie and Herbert and sensitive brush work from Tamez.

We were firmly back in soul jazz territory for the closing “Why Not”, a funky, hard driving piece featuring solos from Herbert and Collie. This was a guaranteed crowd pleaser that saw the crowd calling for more, the encore being an arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime” that embraced elements of both bebop and soul jazz and which included expansive solos from Herbert and Collie.

This was an impressive performance from Herbert, a skilled guitar soloist and a good audience communicator. His well paced set represented a good blend of originals and covers and he was well supported by an excellent band.

Collie had performed in the same space the year before with his own Panoply Trio and was a welcome returnee. This was my first sighting of both Roffe and Tamez, but both impressed and will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.

My thanks to Terence and Edison for speaking with me after the show, and for their excellent playing of course. This was an excellent first half on a night that saw two concerts at the Castle Hotel, with a meal served to concert goers during the interval.


LaVon Hardison – vocals, Glen Manby – alto sax, Jim Barber – piano, Paula Gardiner – double bass, Paul Smith – drums

One of the big successes of the 2020 all online Brecon Jazz Festival featured a performance by the American jazz vocalist LaVon Hardison, singing from her home in Seattle, with accompaniment from the Jim Barber Trio, recorded together at Ratio Studios in Merthyr Tydfil.

Hardison had been recommended to Lynne and Roger by musician and broadcaster Rhys Phillips, a great friend of the Festival, and she had been due to perform at the Festival in 2020. Inevitably that ended up becoming a virtual appearance, but Hardison’s obvious enthusiasm and the warmth of her personality shone through, all the way from Washington State.

Writing at the time I predicted  “the combination of Hardison’s highly accomplished vocalising and a warm and generous personality is surely guaranteed to make her a favourite with the Brecon audience”.
It’s taken until 2023 to finally get her here in person but anybody who saw her perform with the Glen Manby Quartet on Friday or with the Monmouth Big Band directed by Gareth Roberts on the Festival Sunday will surely agree with that statement.

For the virtual performance Hardison had performed with Barber at the piano and a rhythm team featuring Bill Fletcher on bass and Greg Evans at the drums. For this in person performance at a packed Castle Hotel she appeared with a quartet led by the popular Cardiff based alto saxophonist Glen Manby that included Paula Gardiner on double bass and Swansea based Paul Smith at the drums. Barber himself was playing the same Yamaha keyboard as Collie, again on an acoustic piano setting.

What the online performance couldn’t adequately capture was the sheer power of Hardison’s soulful, gospel infused vocals. With a big voice and an equally big personality LaVon Hardison is a force of nature. The audience loved her.

Alongside her vocal power Hardison also has an impressive talent for jazz phrasing, something that quickly became apparent on the opening number, “S’Wonderful”, a song that also included a scat vocal episode and instrumental solos from Manby on alto and Barber at the piano.

The Bob Dorough song “Better Than Anything” represented an unusual and very successful choice, a ‘list’ song which here included references to jazz legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and John Coltrane. A second scat episode demonstrated Hardison’s astonishing vocal range and remarkable flexibility. Meanwhile Manby and Barber made cogent instrumental statements of their own.

“It Had To Be You” slowed the pace a little and featured Smith’s deft brushwork alongside Hardison’s vocals. The Swansea based drummer was in particularly impressive throughout the evening and excelled behind the kit.

“The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” featured an expansive piano solo from Barber, followed by Manby on alto. The audience then thrilled to the vocal / drum exchanges between Hardison and the excellent Smith.

“Honeysuckle Rose” was played in an unusual waltz time arrangement. Hardison and the Barber trio had performed the song in this manner on the 2020 stream and I hadn’t been totally convinced by it. It made more sense in the live environment and represented something genuinely innovative.

“Down With Love” was performed as a kind of ‘lyrical blues’, with Hardison imploring the instrumentalists, “I need some crying”, a quality that both Manby and Gardiner brought to their solos. The rapport that Hardison established with her musicians was remarkable, and this transmitted itself to the audience.

A tender rendition of “It’s You I Like” featured a warm vocal from Hardison and instrumental solos from Barber on piano and Manby on alto.

A jazz araangement of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”, a song made famous by The Clash, was surprisingly successful with Hardison’s powerful vocal augmented by Manby’s wailing alto and Barber’s rumbustious pianism.

Another inspired pop cover was an arrangement of the Katy Perry song “Firework” with Barber and Manby again responding to Hardison’s theatrical vocals.

There was a second outing of the day for “One Note Samba”, performed earlier by the Hancock / Skilton quartet, and here featuring solos for Manby and Barber alongside a scat vocal episode.

Suddenly we were at the last number of the set,  a version of “I Love Being Here With You” that seemed to sum up Hardison’s feelings both towards her band and her audience. The responsiveness of the quartet and the appreciation of the audience seemed to genuinely enthuse her.

It might have taken three years to get LaVon Hardison to Brecon in person but on the evidence of this performance the wait was well worth it, for everybody concerned.

In addition to a magnificent vocal performance Hardison also endeared herself to the crowd with her stream of consciousness banter, musing on anything that took her fancy, often with highly amusing results. She was clearly determined to make the most of her stay in Brecon and could be seen out and about around town all weekend, checking out all the other acts and dropping in at a gospel workshop with the locally based Alive ‘n’ Kickin’ Community Choir. The big smile and the infectious sense of humour isn’t just for the stage.

Tonight’s show was the huge success that the earlier stream had suggested it would be and there was more to come from Hardison later in the weekend.


From LaVon Hardison by email;

Hello Ian,
I saw you sitting in the front row at the Friday Castle show, and I wondered, who was this man taking copious notes; it was you! Thank you for the thoughtful and attentive review, not only for myself but for other artists as well. It is rare for someone to pay such close attention. I truly appreciate it.
LaVon Hardison















by Ian Mann

August 07, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys a hugely successful start to the 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival and three very different musical performances by the Rachel Hayward Swing Quartet, Fiesta Resistance and Funkyard


‘Jazz at the Marquee’, Family Jazz & Dance Day, Brecon County Showground, Brecon, 06/08/2023.


The 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival introduced a new innovation, the Family Jazz & Dance Day held in a marquee at the Brecon County Showground.

The Brecon County Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in Mid Wales, not quite as big as the Royal Welsh, which is held in July in nearby Builth Wells, but pretty close. Brecon County Show attracts literally thousands of visitors to the town and traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in August, which for many years was the weekend immediately prior to Brecon Jazz Festival.

The Covid inspired decision to schedule Brecon Jazz Festival across multiple weekends in August offered Brecon Jazz organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon to realise a long harboured ambition to work on an event in conjunction with their counterparts at the County Show.

With this in mind the Members’ Marquee at the County Show was kept up for an extra day to facilitate a ‘Family Jazz & Dance Day’ designed to attract new listeners to the music, with the emphasis very much on families and children.

The 2022 Family Jazz & Dance event took place on a blisteringly hot summer’s day and was a great success, with audiences entertained by three very different acts, the Jane Williams Band,  the Will Barnes Quartet and The Numbers Racket, with rising star saxophonist Alex Clarke guesting with both the Jane Williams Band and The Numbers Racket. My account of the 2022 event, from which much of the above background information has been sourced, can be found here;

Variously subtitled ‘Jazz at The Marquee’ or ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’ the 2023 event took place in a larger marquee and the Festival organisers and their team were rewarded with an even bigger turnout than last year with around three hundred people attending the event. The weather was surprisingly pleasant, with no rainfall and with temperatures that were less oppressive than in 2022. With a number of on site food and drink concessions it all made for a very welcoming family day out with numerous children and dogs on site, enjoying the relaxed informal atmosphere, and of course the music. The antics of some of the kids and canines were a source of entertainment in themselves.

The programme also included art and craft and dance workshops for the children, with many emerging from the arts and crafts area proudly brandishing their brightly coloured creations.

The music programme featured three very different acts from the South Wales area playing sounds drawing on various jazz genres. The Rachel Hayward Swing Quartet played traditional jazz featuring the songs of the 1920s and 30s, Fiesta Resistance performed the Latin music of Cuba and Puerto Rico, while Funkyard lived up to their name by drawing on American funk and soul traditions. The music of all three bands was eminently accessible and highly danceable and all three acts enjoyed a terrific reception from the appreciative audience at the Marquee.


Rachel Hayward – banjo, acoustic guitar, Zoe Lambeth – alto sax, clarinet, vocals, Dave Deakin – trombone, vocals, Tony Sharp – double bass

The first band to appear were the Rachel Hayward Swing Quartet, led by banjoist / guitarist Rachel Hayward but fronted by Zoe Lambeth (reeds, vocals) and Dave Deakin (trombone, vocals), with the line up completed by bassist Tony Sharp.

Hayward, who also plays vibraphone, is a stalwart of the trad jazz scene in Wales and beyond and some years ago I saw her perform as part of a trio led by the late trombonist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Munnery. She has also worked with saxophonist Sammy Rimington and with the all female Hotsy Totsy Band as well as leading her own group, Rachel’s Dream. Hayward has also been involved with the organisation of the Bude and Upton upon Severn Jazz Festivals.

Hayward’s Swing Quartet focusses on the songs of the 1920s and 30s and delivers them in a broadly traditional New Orleans style, albeit with nods to the jazz developments from their chosen era that were taking place in New York and Chicago.

I’ll admit that Trad isn’t my favourite jazz genre, but as with that Munnery gig many years ago I again found myself very much enjoying a performance featuring the playing of Rachel Hayward. This was highly accessible music and every song in the quartet’s set was familiar to me, as they probably were to most members of the audience.

Most of the songs were driven by Hayward’s crisp, highly rhythmic banjo playing as she worked in conjunction with Sharp’s double bass. Occasionally Hayward would switch to acoustic guitar when a less forceful rhythmic attack was required. Both Hayward and Sharp enjoyed moments in the spotlight as soloists but it was their partnership that allowed Lambeth and Deakin to shine both instrumentally and vocally.

The quartet opened with an instrumental version of “Undecided”, which included solo features for all the musicians, with Lambeth appearing on alto sax and Hayward on banjo. This acted as a good introduction to the instrumental voices of the band.

Vocals were introduced with Lambeth’s singing on “Button Up Your Overcoat”, with instrumental features from Deakin on trombone, Lambeth on clarinet and Hayward on banjo.

Lambeth returned to alto sax as Deakin took over the vocal duties for “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, the instrumental solos coming from trombone and alto.

An intriguing slowed down instrumental arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” saw Hayward moving to acoustic guitar, her gentle rhythms underpinning solos from Deakin on trombone, Lambeth on clarinet and Sharp on double bass.

Similarly “Comes Love”, described by Hayward as “a 1930s blues” was also played more slowly than usual and featured Lambeth’svocals alongside Deakin’s authentically bluesy muted trombone. This was an item that was particularly well received by the audience.

Deakins took over the vocal duties for a second Fats Waller tune, “Ain’t Misbehaving”, again featuring on muted trombone alongside Lambeth’s alto sax and the leader’s banjo.

“Blue Skies” was performed as an instrumental with Sharp leading off the solos on double bass, followed by Hayward on banjo, Deakins on trombone and Lambeth on clarinet.

“It Had To Be You” featured Hayward’s guitar and Deakin’s vocal, with instrumental solos from clarinet and trombone.

Hayward moved back to banjo for an instrumental rendition of the enduringly popular “Sweet Georgia Brown”, a popular choice among the audience. Solos came from the front line of trombone and clarinet, followed by features for banjo and double bass.

The last scheduled number of the set was “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, with Lambeth featuring on voice and alto sax, alongside further solos from Deakin on muted trombone and Hayward on banjo.

A well deserved encore featured a further Lambeth vocal on “Bei Mir Bist du Schon”, once a hit for the Andrews Sisters and a song that I’ve seen performed many times by the Bristol based combo Moscow Drug Club. Lambeth’s singing was complemented by her playing on clarinet, and also by Deakin’s trombone solo.

The audience at the Marquee had clearly enjoyed this good natured set and gave the quartet a great reception. Lambeth and Deakin had fronted the show and handled the majority of the announcements but a happy Rachel Hayward stepped up to the vocal mic to thank her colleagues and the audience at the close.

A highly enjoyable start to the day’s musical events.



Lorena Macarthy – lead vocals, percussion, Tim Morgan – double bass, Sabina Turvey – keyboards, Edward Jones – trumpet & flugelhorn, Joe Bentley – trumpet & flugelhorn, Rich Colquhoun – trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, Nick Baron – drum kit, percussion, backing vocals, Noel Watson – congas, percussion

Describing themselves as “one of the UK’s leading Cuban style Salsa bands” Fiesta Resistance are based in Cardiff where they play regularly on the city’s jazz circuit as well as appearing at specialist Salsa dance events.

The band play Salsa classics from both Cuba and Puerto Rico in addition to a series of ingenious Salsa style arrangements of a number of pop and rock classics, the majority of these having been formulated during the Covid lockdown period.

Fronted by singer Lorena Macarthy, who also featured on maracas and other hand held percussion, the band have a bright brassy sound enlivened by the presence of no fewer than three trumpeters in its ranks. Fiesta Resistance is also a highly rhythmic ensemble with double bass, drum kit and Noel Watson’s array of congas and other percussive devices helping to drive the band, alongside Sabina Turvey’s keyboards, which combine rhythmic, melodic and textural functions. Some gigs have also seen the versatile Turvey operating as a bassist.

I didn’t catch the Spanish language titles of the Cuban and Puerto Rican pieces so this won’t be an accurate song by song account, although I did recognise all the pop and rock material that the band had adapted.

Things kicked off with some genuine Cuban Salsa with Macarthy’s voice augmented by the sounds of trumpet soloists Colquhoun and Jones. A Puerto Rican song followed, with a title translating as “Crazy but Happy”.

The first of the pop and rock songs to get the distinctive Fiesta Resistance treatment was “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.

A return to more hardcore Salsa material included another song, plus an instrumental that gave full rein to trumpeters Bentley and Colquhoun.

The band had already encouraged a good number of people, both adults and children, to take to the dance floor and the numbers were further encouraged by a series of Latin-ised arrangements of various pop and rock songs. “Valerie” (The Zutons, Amy Winehouse) was followed by the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and then by a slowed down arrangement of A-ha’s “Take On Me”, which featured the unusual sight of three flugelhorns working together.

A brief return to more authentic Cuban sounds followed, presaging an arrangement of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” that incorporated both English and Spanish lyrics.

A passage of unaccompanied piano from Turvey introduced a showcase instrumental that featured high octane solos from all three trumpeters plus an extended percussion feature from the excellent Watson, who had hitherto been rather hidden from the audience at the back of the stage. It was good to see him finally ‘letting rip’.

That endlessly versatile Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol classic “Caravan” was given the Afro-Cuban treatment with Bentley the featured trumpet soloist.

An unexpected moment of repose followed, with Jones playing beautiful Miles Davis style Harmon muted trumpet on a ballad that featured a scaled down version of the group.

The ballad provided the opportunity for both the band and the occupants of the dance floor to recharge their batteries before two energetic genuine Salsa pieces brought the show to a vigorous finale.

The many dancers had particularly enjoyed this set, but the audience as a whole again gave the band a terrific reception.

On the whole I was impressed by Fiesta Resistance, whose music gathered sharpness and momentum as the set progressed. Macarthy was an engaging vocal presence and all the instrumentalists impressed with their contributions, with Baron also appearing to act as the band’s Musical Director.

I’d guess that several of these musicians have been students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff so it came as no surprise that the standard of the musicianship was so high. Both the band and their exhilarated, and in some cases exhausted, audience seemed well satisfied with the afternoon’s proceedings.



Maddie Penfold – tenor sax, Charlie Herbert – keyboards, Elijah Jeffery – guitar, vocals, Soren Chakrabarti – alto sax, Tiggy Blackwell – trombone, Huw Llewelyn – trumpet, Amy Marsden – vocals, Sylvie Nobel – vocals, Josh Sharp – electric bass, Tom Williams – drums

Gracing the Marquee stage later in the evening were Funkyard, a ten piece band from Cardiff led by tenor saxophonist Maddie Penfold.

Comprised of students and graduates of the RWCMD the band has been together for just over a year and has already accrued something of a following on the Cardiff music scene and appears regularly at the RWCMD’s regular Friday evening Amser Jazz Time sessions. Again the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high and the band is a tight and cohesive unit centred around propulsive bass and drum grooves, punchy horns and the vocal blend of singers Marsden, Noble and Jeffery, who share the lead vocals around while also singing effective b-vs and harmonies. The guitar and keyboards combine rhythmic, melodic and textural duties with Herbert coaxing a range of sounds, mostly electric piano and organ, from his Nord Stage 3 keyboard.

The band’s love of American funk and soul is palpable and Funkyard name the formidable Tower of Power as their primary influence, with a goodly number of that band’s songs included in tonight’s set.

Funkyard came to the stage around 7.15 pm, by which time some of the families with younger children had headed for home and audience numbers had reduced from the afternoon peak, which had probably occurred when Fiesta Resistance were playing. Nevertheless the band’s infectious funk grooves encouraged a good many people to their feet and the dance floor was well populated throughout their highly accomplished set.

Funkyard kicked off with their version of Brother Strut’s “Vinyl Is My Bible” with Elijah Jeffery handling the lead vocal and providing the instrumental solo on guitar. Marsden and Nobel provided effective backing vocals with Marsden subsequently taking over the lead for Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip”, her powerful singing augmented by instrumental solos from Herbert, producing a Hammond organ sound from his Nord, and leader Penfold on tenor sax.

Sylvie Nobel took lead vocal duties on an admirably tight and funky version of Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” with Chakrabarti providing the instrumental solo on alto and drummer Williams enjoying a brief cameo.

Marsden’s powerful vocals were again heard to good effect on “Credit”, another Tower of Power song that also included a tenor sax solo from Penfold.

The band stayed with the T of P back catalogue for “I Got To Groove”, powered by Sharp’s six string electric bass and featuring Nobel’s lead vocals and Penfold’s tenor sax.

There was more from Oakland’s finest on a rousing “Funk The Dumb Stuff” that featured all three vocalists singing the lead at various junctures. Throughout the set the songs featured the output of all three singers, and although the lead vocal might vary from song to song the blend of the three voices was always an important part of Funkyard’s music. This extended run through “Funk The Dumb Stuff” was driven by propulsive electric bass and drum grooves and also featured fiery instrumental solos from Blackwell on trombone, Llewelyn on trumpet and Chakrabarti on alto sax.

Yet more from Tower of Power with “Soul With A Capital S” with Jeffery and Nobel sharing the lead vocal, followed by “Taste Of Freedom” with Marsden fronting the blend of voices. Driven by a tight horn driven groove “Taste Of Freedom” also featured a keyboard solo from Herbert, this time adopting a classic electric piano sound.

A lengthy sequence of Tower of Power songs concluded with “You’ve Got To Funkifize”, a piece that lived up its title and included instrumental features for Chakrabarti on alto and Llewelyn on trumpet.

The run of Tof P material was punctuated by “Cuddly Toy”, a song from the catalogue of Beverley Knight sung by Amy Marsden.

Back to Oakland for T of P’s “Only So Much Oil In The Ground”, song from that group’s 1975 album “Urban Renewal”,  whose environmental message seems even more pertinent today. Nobel sang the lead vocal, with Penfold featuring on tenor sax.

I’m not sure how familiar most of the audience were with Tower of Power’s back catalogue, but surely everyone must have known Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, which acted as the springboard for solos from virtually all of the band’s instrumentalists, with Llewellyn going first on trumpet, followed by Blackwell on trombone, Chakrabarti on alto, Penfold on tenor, Sharp on electric bass and Herbert on electric piano.

Jeffery was to feature on guitar and vocal on “Well Run Dry”, a song by the American band Phat Funktion, originally from Madison, Wisconsin.

British ‘acid jazz’ was represented with a version of the Incognito hit “Always There”, itself a cover of a Ronnie Laws tune. Introduced by Herbert’s keyboards and featuring Nobel’s vocals this was another song that most of the audience were familiar with and it represented an exciting conclusion to Funkyard’s set.

The numerous dancers were in no mood to sit down just yet, although the group did reduce the energy levels a little with a deserved encore of Stevie Wonder’s “As”, with Jeffery taking the lead vocal.

Although they’d played to a smaller crowd than the earlier acts Funkyard seemed very satisfied with their night’s work. The enthusiasm of the audience members that had remained was palpable and the dance floor was crowded throughout a highly charged and hugely funky set. The singing and playing was extremely accomplished and collectively Funkyard were a credit to themselves and to the RWCMD.

My thanks to Maddie Penfold for speaking with me after the show and for emailing me a set list and full details of Funkyard’s personnel, both which have helped enormously in the writing of this section of the review. For more on Funkyard check out  and  Instagram account 



BJF’s 2023 Family Jazz & Dance Day was another tremendous success and this collaboration with Brecon County Show looks set to become a much loved annual event. Good weather, a relaxed family atmosphere and three enjoyable musical performances, all of them very different, helped to make this a day to remember. All the bands were very well received and although Funkyard played to a smaller crowd they were probably the pick of the three in purely musical terms. A great afternoon that was enjoyed by many people of all ages – and some dogs too!

Congratulations to Lynne, Roger and team for such a successful event, which represented a terrific curtain raiser for the main Festival weekend, which will kick off on Friday August 11th. Full details at





by Colin May

August 05, 2023

Guest contributor Colin May reports on the 62nd Jazz A Juan Jazz Festival. Performers include Brad Mehldau, Branford Marsalis, Sophie Alour, Stochelo Rosenberg, Guy Mintus, and Sixun

62nd JAZZ à JUAN
Juan-les-Pins, France, July 2023


France’s national day is when the local authority sponsors Jazz à Juan, so that all tickets free and the music is followed by a firework display.


Guy Mintus is an Israeli born pianist, composer, singer and arranger described in the programme as “possess(ing) the finesse of a trained concert pianist, the energy of a rock star, and the exploring spirit of a jazz musician ...(who) is able to create a musical playground filled with joy, spontaneity, groove, and humour.”

All these elements were present in his set. The first number ended with a thunderous crescendo which had me thinking Rachmaninov. The second was a version of Gershwin’s
‘I Got Rhythm ’ done as an entertaining gallop through different piano styles particularly stride and honky tonk. The audience loved it.

Mintus had his trio with him but the focus was very much on him. The drums and double bass were mainly a rhythm section backing him in contrast to those trios in which both drums and double bass have strong individual voices alongside the piano.

The third number was Mintus’ composition “What’s the Difference ?”. It was written, he said, “some years ago, at a time of great difficulty in Israel”. The question he poses is what’s the difference between Israeli, Arab and Christian children. There’s an on-line video with Mintus playing the lovely tune in a relaxed style and images of children. But the playing of it at this concert was much angrier perhaps because of the latest grim news
from Israel and Palestine.

He followed this by singing a song that he introduced as “from the great Israeli songbook” and which had some more thunderous Rachmaninov style playing interspersed with some quieter passages. A version of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ was next, into which Mintus inserted an excerpt from the Marseillaise to the applause of the audience.

The final number was a Chopin polonaise which was another vehicle for Mintus’ tongue-in-check pianistic virtuosity. He played it as it might sound if performed on a worn out upright before launching into a frantic performance of the minute waltz in which he played himself off his piano stool. This was pianism as entertainment which was entirely appropriate on the day when France celebrated her national day.



I was looking forward to this concert being a fan of combining jazz and middle eastern modes. Saxophonist, clarinettist, flautist and composer Sophie Alour has an impressive jazz track record. Winner of the “Instrumental Artist of the Year 2022” award at the Victories du Jazz, she’s played as part of Rhoda Scott’s Quintet and Scott’s Lady All Stars and has put out seven varied albums as leader between 2004 and 2020.

After an album of standards,‘Time for Love’ in 2018 it seems she decided to do something very different and her next album ‘Joy’ 2020 combined middle eastern music and jazz and had Mohammed Abozekry on oud and voice. Alour then received the Django Reinhardt Award from the French Jazz Academy in 2021.

When the oud player had to leave his replacement was his brother Abdullah Abozekry also on voice but playing a different instrument the saz, a long thin necked stringed Turkish instrument that’s plucked. It’s an instrument I’d only heard the played in a jazz context once before by UK based Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier.

When Alour next returned to playing live she not only included the saz in the line -up but further expanded her exploration of the musics of other cultures and jazz by adding also darbouka, Irish fiddle and South Indian Carnatic singing alongside her jazz quartet (

Tonight though only the saz and Carnatic singer, Raphaëlle Brochet were on stage with Alour and piano, double bass, and drums/percussion. A second drummer/percussionist joined the group from the second number.

Middle Eastern modes were noticeable from the beginning. The first number carried me to an Istanbul coffee house and featured powerful drumming and the atmospheric wordless vocals of Raphaëlle Brochet.

The second high tempo number featured impressive solos first from Alour on sax and then from pianist Damien Argentieri after which the two drummer /percussionists took over.

The third number began with a saz solo that sounded like a traditional tune and drew a response from the combination of Sophie Alour now on flute and the voice of Raphaëlle Brochet that could have been a folk tune from Western Europe before again the saz held sway and built excitingly until it sounded more like saz rock than saz jazz.

Alour did not confine her band to mixing jazz and middle eastern sounding music . The two drummer/percussionists had a number to themselves that became a witty percussion dialogue and made abundant use of a variety of hand percussion and the best whistling of the festival.

Next came some Afro Cuban swing dominated by Alour’s sax which ende with her getting a most satisfying deep growl from her instrument. Then the band headed back to the mix of middle east modes and jazz with a high tempo ensemble piece, after which Raphaëlle Brochet’s voice and Abdullah Abozekry’s saz joined forces in a delicate melody that sounded as if it might be a children’s song, with Alour joining in with a bird song like phrase on the flute which she repeated several times.

Their last number was rooted in mainstream contemporary jazz with strong ensemble playing and solo’s from Alour back on sax, her excellent pianist Damien Argentieri and which came to a timely end just as the first fireworks lit up the sky.

For much of the set the saz had been just another instrument in the rhythm section, albeit one that was drowned out occasionally, rather than an exotic curiosity, I was surprised too how well the South Indian Carnatic wordless vocals of Raphaëlle Brochet gelled with middle eastern modes and how well both gelled with the jazz quartet. The arranging which is presumably down to Alour, played a significant part in this. Overall the very unusual and possibly unique line-up worked well and Alour deserves to be applauded for the bold and adventurous path she’s taken.




I heard some fine jazz pianism during the main festival and the associated Summer Sessions but nothing quite compared with Brad Mehldau’s playing which was on a higher
plane. He seemed to build complexity from clarity and simplicity and from his wonderful touch on the piano keys. Even when he and his long standing trio of drummer Jeff Ballard and double bassist Larry Grenadier were in chamber jazz mode, Mehldau individually and the trio collectively couldn’t help but groove.

They opened with Mehldau setting up a dynamic between left and right hands before Ballard’s propulsive drumming increased the trio’s tempo as the tune unfolded so that they were speeding along until the narrative ran down in a manner reminiscent of the metronomes petering out in Ligeti’s ‘Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes’.

The next number started with a sinuous double bass solo from Grenadier that morphed into a hypnotic repeated figure which then underpinned relaxed unhurried playing from Mehldau. Grenadier soloed again in the following tune as did Ballard who got a marching rhythm going on the drums.

The dialogue between the trio members was superb particularly in the next four numbers, the second of which was a delicate ten minute version of Cole Porter’s ‘I
Concentrate on You’. In this section of the concert sometimes the tune was taken so far away from the original by Mehldau that you wondered if he would get back home.  However, in a sparse and elegiac version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ’ The Nearness of You ‘, Mehldau stuck closely to the original doing a lot with relatively few notes, and then adding an elegant coda.

The trio’s concert came to a rousing end with a high energy encore with Grenadier’s driving double bass solo and the call and response between Melhdau’s piano and Ballard’s drums. It brought most of the audience to their feet to applaud what had been a consummate set played with the heart as well as with the head.


The Branford Marsalis Quartet took to the stage just 24 hours after playing at London’s Barbican. Despite the rapid turn around there wasn’t any sign of travel tiredness about their performance. The long running quartet of Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo (joined 1997), double bassist Eric Revis (joined 1999) and newest member drummer Justin Faulkner (joined 2009) had an almost telepathic understanding and a joy both in playing with each other and in the music.

There were several compositions by members of the group starting with the opener, Joey Calderazzo’s ’ The Mighty Sword’. After Marsalis’s brief soprano solo Calderazzo took over and the quartet in effect became the Joey Calderazzo trio with Faulkner’s powerful drumming supporting Calderazzo’s muscular, explosive playing that contrasted sharply with that of Meldhau.

Next came the quartet’s high tempo treatment of Keith Jarrett’s ‘Long as You Know You Are Living Yours’ which was a hot mix of post bop, middle eastern scales, country blues, free jazz and township jazz. If there ever had been a group jointly led by Sonny Rollins and Abdullah Ibrahim their version of this number might have sounded similar.

After these two high energy numbers the minimalist lyricism of Calderazzo’s ’ Conversation Among the Ruins’, was a welcome counterpoint, with Marsalis again expressive on soprano sax and Faulkner using just his hands to re-create the sound of a djembe,

For the quartet’s update of Sammy Fain’s ’ 1931 song, ‘When I Take My Sugar to Tea’ Marsalis switched to tenor and played an agile cadenza that was followed by a Calderazzo solo. But this number belonged to Revis and to Faulkner who both had delightful solos, during which each made musical jokes that had the rapt audience laughing. Meanwhile Marsalis wandered off stage for about 4 or 5 minutes, and at one point Calderazzo looked
over his shoulder and appeared concerned that he had not yet come back

Marsalis did return in time to play his own composition ‘A Thousand Autumns’. The quartet played this ballad with intensity until the tune faded away with Marsalis using just his breath for the final notes. Next we were plunged into the totally different unruly free jazz world of Eric Revis’ ‘Nilaste’ with Marsalis playing no holds barred soprano and Calderazzo trying to take the piano speed record.

Then it was the encore which was a joyous version of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Oleo’. It brought what was an engrossing concert from first to last note to a joyous conclusion.



Travel problems resulted in the concerts having to have later start times and therefore later finish times. While this had no impact on the first concert, Sixun’s concert finished well after midnight which might have contributed to some of the audience not staying to the end.


This was a concert of Jazz Manouche, with a drum free jazz manouche line-up of three acoustic guitars and the double bass of Thomas Bramerie.

Thomas Dutronic is a singer as well as a jazz manouche guitarist and the set was a mix of songs and instrumentals. The songs were more in the style of French chanson than jazz with Dutronic sometimes almost whispering his vocals and at other times sounding as if he was bringing the equivalent of a Gallic shrug of the shoulders into his singing.

He showed that he was a good manounche guitarist but in this he was outshone by Stochelo Rosenberg . Rosenberg is from the Sinti sub group of Romani people and started playing aged 10. With two cousins he formed the Rosenburg Trio in 1989. With his amazingly nimble and speedy fingers and the precision of his playing he stole the show.

Though there were a couple of songs that Dutronic introduced as new ones the set was mainly songs and tunes well known to the big audience, like Dutronic’s own
’ J’aime plus Paris’, the Sidney Bechet composition, ‘Petite Fleur’ and Django Reinhardt’s well known tune ’ Nuages’. Two dancers even came on and jived French style to the music.

There was a close rapport between the good humoured talkative Dutronic and the audience and this created an intimate atmosphere; it was as if this concert was happening
in someone’s front room.

When it came to the finale Stochelo Rosenberg played unbelievably fast. Perhaps it was showboating, but it was dazzling conclusion to what was a very French set.


Founded in 1984, Sixun are a band who were a flagship group of European jazz fusion in the 80’s and 90’s. They found one another again during the pandemic, recorded a new album, ‘Unixsity’, and now were back playing live after thirteen years of not doing so.

The group’s name means six as one, and they lived up to this in various ways. There was some fine soloing particularly from lead guitarist Louis Weisberg , who looked rather like fellow guitarist John Mclaughlin, and from Alain Debiossat, mainly on soprano sax but also on alto sax and flute. The interplay between them was sharp too, but whatever they played was always in service to the music and the group’s overall sound. So no showboating.

Throughout the ensemble playing was tight as if this was the latest concert in a long tour and not one of the first back after a long hiatus from playing live. The arranging was high quality with solos and ensemble passages well integrated and the contributions of the individual instruments being able to be heard clearly.

Overall Sixun’s music was an uplifting combination of melody and rhythm towards the jazz end of the jazz rock spectrum but that drew on other genres and cultures as well.

‘Essaouria’, a tune named after the Moroccan coastal town which hosts an annual Gnawa music festival, drew on Gnawa music. Spanish rhythms wound sinuously through another number and there was an out and out funk based tune. This later tune sounded like the band might have been influenced by Ian Dury’s ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll’ from 1977 or by Ornette Coleman’s tune ‘Ramblin’ from1959, the bass line of which was lifted by Dury for his song. But any such influence was relatively fleeting as Sixun’ made sure that they owned the tune.

Back in 2006 Sixun got an award for a live album. On this showing they’ve lost none of their sparkle for playing live. My only reservation was that the volume of the bass guitar was too high at times, unbalancing the collective sound somewhat but this is only a small quibble.

It could have been disappointing for them that the arena emptied significantly after Thomas Dutronic and co finished, and that people continued to drift away during their set perhaps due to the lateness of the hour. By their finale they were playing to an arena only about a quarter full. But to their credit if they were disappointed it didn’t show in their playing which continued to be committed and uplifting, and earned them a well deserved ovation from those that remained to the end.



The hybrid model continues to be important for Jazz à Juan. Out of the evenings I attended it was visible that the evening with Brad Mehldau and Branford Marsalis had the lowest attendance despite both being major stars in the jazz firmament. This is not a new phenomenon. I recall the same thing happening when the late Wayne Shorter last played the festival.

Overall the festival was well attended with an average occupancy rate of 90% according to official figures, with the three top selling evenings being those with Nile Rodgers and Chic, Ludovico Einaudi and Melody Gardot.

There was good mix of touring American jazz stars and French Jazz talent. Lizz Wright , Brad Mehldau and Branford Marsalis gave performances that were high quality, Jacob Collier’s perhaps was a window into music of the future. I enjoyed discovering the adventurous Sophie Alour, the lightening fingered Stochelo Rosenberg and the Sixun ensemble, while Matthis Pascaud and Hugh Coltman’s ‘Night Trippin’ was something different but worthwhile.

Unfortunately I did not get to Samara Joy (10th July) who performed before I arrived. Nor did I see Melody Gardot (20th July), who invited capoeira fighters/dancers to the stage, as I chose to be at the Nice Jazz Festival that night as Kurt Elling and Herbie Hancock were on the bill there.

There were some new aspects to Jazz à Juan this year. The festival village had been improved, and one could play mini-boulle before the evening’s concert, and there was an after party every night on the beach that proved very popular. Also the festival significantly improved it’s recycling.

As to further developments, my wish list would include Jazz à Juan and the Nice Jazz Festival finding a way to avoid their dates clashing. Also, I hope that Jazz à Juan
might include in the main programme some of the excellent jazz groups who have proven their quality at the autumn Jammin’ Juan market place and /or at the Jammin’ Summer Sessions . Finally I hope that next year after the concerts there might be a late night shuttle bus service from Juan to Cannes and to Nice.


by Colin May

August 04, 2023

Guest contributor Colin May reports on the 62nd Jazz A Juan Jazz Festival. Performers include Jacob Collier, Lizz Wright, and Matthis Pascaud & Hugh Coltman paying homage to Dr. John.

62nd JAZZ à JUAN
Juan-les-Pins, France, July 2023

Juan-les-Pins, the home of this historic long- running festival is a village on the Côte d’Azur whose population in the summer is swelled by an influx of holiday makers and tourists. Jazz à Juan needs to attract some of these visitors, as well as people from the nearest local centres of population, Nice and Cannes, to help fill the 2800 seater Pinède Gould arena. It seeks to do this by being a hybrid festival that mixes jazz and big names from other genres. This year’s programme ran from the 10th to the 21st of July with a rest day on 17th July. Unfortunately some of the dates clashed with the Nice Jazz Festival which ran from 18th to 21st July, which meant some difficult choices had to be made.

As is usual at Jazz à Juan there were two acts a night (with one exception when there were three) on the Pinède Gould stage with its stunning backdrop of the Mediterranean. I went to six of the eleven nights but on some nights had to leave well before the end of the second act to catch the last train back to Nice where I was based.



This collaboration between guitarist Pascaud and singer Coltman was a trip into the legacy of New Orleans’ “ Night Tripper” Dr John (1941-2019). Pascaud is “a young guitar prodigy” according to the festival programme. The same source described Coltman as “the most French of English crooners”. He’s better known in France than in the UK and his biography includes fronting a rock band ( The Hoax), recording an album of Nat King Cole songs, winning a French Jazz award and time spent in New
Orleans . The one time I’d seen him he’d performed a set that comprised jazz standards and his own songs.

I was able talk briefly with Coltman after the sound check and he confirmed the set would be entirely numbers associated with Dr John, “It’ll be based on his first two or three albums when he was really psychedelic.”

Pascaud, Coltman and band (bass guitar, drums, percussion, sax/bass clarinet) came on stage to the sound of Dr John’s voice coming eerily over the PA. The set was about an hour and nine or ten numbers long. Not knowing Dr John’s music I could not tell the extent to which they were reproducing or were reinterpreting his music, so tried to forget the Dr John aspect and listen to the performance as just a set of music.

Coltman and Pascaud played in number of styles: New Orleans swamp blues , jazz, R n’ B, rock and funk. Different songs stressed different styles in what was a very well
constructed set with plenty of changes in mood and dynamics to sustain attention. Added to this most of the lyrics were saying something thought provoking.

Pascaud deserves his rising star of the guitar reputation, impressing with a range of styles from soulful blues to dirty swamp blues to all out rock, and with enough musicality to avoid repeating himself even in an extended solo.

Coltman was a charismatic front man, no doubt drawing on his rock band experience but avoiding a bombastic display. His attractive rich baritone voice had a good range with a gravelly edge (not dissimilar to a young Nick Cave?) and was easy to listen to but was not just an easy listening voice. Praise too for the sax player who doubled for one number on bass clarinet and whose name I didn’t catch. He played a couple of blistering sax solos and with the aid of effects pedals at one point had me thinking that a Hammond organ had been smuggled on stage mid set.

A couple of songs stood out, and not just because they were ones I recognised. Coltman’s voice was very expressive and he used it’s full range in what was a minimalist version of ‘Mama Roux’, with himself on acoustic guitar and little else by way of accompaniment.

Also, I very much liked how ‘Right Place Wrong Time’ was played, with swamp rock and an Afro Cuban percussion sound.

This was not a concert for the jazz purist but was very well done and very enjoyable. If one of Pascaud and Coltman’s aims was to encourage people to seek out the music Dr. John they succeeded in doing so with me.


The need to catch the train back to Nice meant I only heard the first two numbers of three time Grammy nominated and multiple chart topping blues-rock guitarist and singer songwriter Bonamassa’s set. Dressed in black and wearing his trade mark wrap around shades he made a striking figure, striding across the same stage on which B. B King, withwhom Bonamassa started his career, had played.

The two songs for which Bonamassa sang as well played seemed similar in style. But I could have missed something because I was overwhelmed by the volume. He and his band were too loud for me even though I was standing almost at the exit to the arena in readiness for the dash to the station, and I have to admit to being relieved when I had to leave to catch a train.




Deluxe are a well known French band who according to the programme have toured around the world including the UK. They are a pop band whose performance was as much
about theatrical kitsch as about the music. There were dramatic held poses, an excursion off the stage into the midst of the audience, something about an emblematic moustache and a scene in which the lead singer ‘ran through’ the band’s saxophonist with a sword, which was rather unfair as his occasional solos were one of the better elements of their music.

They had their name in lights hoisted above the stage which might be thought somewhat egotistical, but they were very good at communicating excitement and getting the audience going. This was a band for which either you suspended your critical faculties, plunged into the midst of their enthusiastic audience and went with the flow, or retired to the bar.


Jacob Collier’s illuminated initials replaced Deluxe’s name in lights above the stage. But then the singer, composer, multi instrumentalist and multi talented Collier has earned the right to have his initials up there as he does have four Grammys, one for each of his first four albums, and he’s only 28 years old.

Collier has described his sound as a “great big mixture” of music that takes in jazz, classical, folk, rock’n'roll, trap, rap and soul. “I love all music,” he says. “It’s one massive language.” (Jacob Collier: The Grammy winner making music in his childhood bedroom- BBC News). Also he brought with him a growing reputation for dynamic live performances in which he involves the audience more than is usual.

He starts by running onto the stage, and instantly gets the crowd to follow him in singing scales in order to warm up their voices. This turns out to be preparation for him to later shape the audience into a four part harmonic choir which sang beautifully.

Nearly all the songs in the set were Collier compositions and he was in fine voice delivering them. The first four songs went by very quickly with Collier rushing from piano to keys, to guitars, and to percussion. For ‘The Sun is in your eyes’ he slowed a little accompanying himself on an acoustic tenor guitar, while for his cover of ‘Can’t help falling in love’, made famous by Elvis, he became his own choir by multi-tracking and layering his voice very effectively.

He returned frequently to the piano and he was an impressive pianist. At one point his enthusiasm almost resulted in playing himself off the piano stool. Singers and instrumentalists Bryn Bliska, Emily Elbert and Alita Moses and the rest of his band gave him good support.

Jazz was a modest presence in the gig but to quibble about this is would be to miss the main point that the very talented Collier’s music is indeed a “great big mixture”, and on the evidence of this concert also a great big adventure.

His boundless energy, his songs and music certainly were a crowd pleasing mixture. The younger than usual Juan audience was eating out of his hand even before his and his band’s version of Queen’s ‘Somebody to love’ brought them all to their feet.

The encore was a Collier composition ‘Sleeping on my dreams’. But Jacob Collier must feel he is not sleeping on his dreams but living them.




Lizz Wright is known for her velvety rich voice which blends jazz, gospel and blues. In the early stages of her career she was often compared with Norah Jones because of her phrasing, and coincidently shortly after this concert was due at Jazz in Marciac on the same night as Norah Jones.

But Lizz Wright now is very much Lizz Wright. Her last studio album ’ Grace’ 2017 marked a return by Wright, who was born in Hairira in Georgia, to her southern roots, and was widely praised. As was her ‘Holding Space’, 2022 release of a live recording of a concert she did in Berlin in 2018 and which was the first album put out on her own label.

All this had me looking forward to hearing her for the first time especially as the musicians she had with her were the same as on much praised live recording from Berlin.

Wright came on to a funky jazz-rock intro from her band who were already on stage. Collectively they were ‘on it’ from the start with Wright’s voice soaring and with high octane solos from Bobby Sparks on keys and Ben Zwerin on bass guitar. She told the audience the band were “my musical family,” and the close bond between her and the four musicians was not only was transparent in how they sounded but in how the band were grouped in a tight semi circle around and not spread out across the stage.

She and the band were soon into a stirring version of the gospel classic,‘Walk with me Lord’ which she recorded on her debut album ‘Salt’ 2003, that featured a powerful rolling keyboard solo from Sparks and Wright hitting the high notes in an ecstatic ensemble passage before the quieter reflective conclusion.

Wright’s own enigmatic soul ballad ‘Chasing Strange’ featured some lovely acoustic guitar from Marvin Sewell. ‘Stop’ saw Wright’s vocal being complemented by a Latin pulse and a drifting guitar solo from Sewell. The band was at full tilt and at high volume for the cover of Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ with Sewell impressing again this time with some terrific rock guitar, and Wright’s voice cutting through and soaring above the band.

Wright was back in gospel jazz mode for Candi Stanton’s ‘Sweet Feeling’ with Ivan Edwards contributing a powerful drum solo. An uplifting version of ‘Seems I’m never tired of loving you’ followed. Written by Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s younger sister, and most often associated with Nina Simone, it was another soulful synthesis of gospel and jazz, and also perhaps of spiritual and carnal love.

Arguably a theme emerged across the set. Many of the songs that were about aspects of love also seemed to be about a search for meaning and companionship. The last song in the set ‘Grace’, about forgiveness and redemption and sustaining oneself, had the line ‘Life won’t take your song from you’ which was a good summary of the message of the journey Wright and her excellent fellow musicians had taken us on.

If Wright had been searching for meaning and companionship in music it seems that she has found it with this quartet. She and her group’s heartfelt performance was spell binding and was a triumphant return to Jazz à Juan for her after a seventeen year gap. Surely it won’t be another seventeen years before she’s back.


This was another instance when I had to leave to get back to Nice when the headliner on the night had only just got going. What I heard were two slow middle of the road ‘tinkly’ piano pieces that created a vaguely meditative atmosphere.

I don’t know how his set developed but reports I got the next day suggested it sharply divided opinion. One jazz writer who was there for the full concert described the music as “empty” and suggested that I would have fallen asleep if I had stayed and wondered why the organisers had invited Einaudi. On the other hand friends of friends who also had been in the audience were said to have enjoyed Einaudi very much.


by Colin May

August 03, 2023

Guest contributor Colin May enjoys the music of seven different acts at the Jammin' Summer Sessions, the series of free concerts that form part of the annual Jazz à Juan Festival.



The Jammin’ Summer Sessions are a series of free concerts that are part of the Jazz à Juan Festival, and continue on after the main festival ends until 18th August. Mostly they take place on an outdoor stage in Juan’s Petit Pinéde (small pine grove) adjacent to the main Pinède Gould arena and in the evening before the main concerts.

There’s one band per session, with many of them having been selected after impressing at an edition of Jammin’ Juan, the very competitive late autumn jazz market place where bands play 35 minute showcases in front of promoters and festival bookers.

The Summer Sessions are an opportunity to hear bands play a longer set in more relaxed circumstances, and for the public the sessions are free and not ticketed.


This band are the group Anbessa under another name and as Anbessa they had played a Summer Session the evening before. This second session was unusual as it took place at 11am and at the Médiathèque Albert Camus, Antibes with whom the Summer Sessions had formed a partnership.

Anbessa are a band on a mission to make the music of Manu Dibango (1933-2020)*, the Paris based Cameroonian saxophonist, vibraphonist, singer composer and arranger who
had a career that spanned six decades more widely known. They are well qualified to do so as some members of the band played and recorded with Dibango during the last decade of his career.

I had seen Anbessa in Paris just a few months before giving a vibrant performance that ended as a full on dance party.

The Paris gig demonstrated they would be an excellent band for a festival, while this session showed that they are equally at home playing a more low key concert in a club or arts centre.

Their set omitted ‘Soul Makossa’ the world wide hit for which Dibango is largely known to make a point because as Anbessa say “The repertoire of Manu (is.)..often reduced to only ‘Soul Makossa’.”

Of the nine tunes the band played only one wasn’t written by Manu Dibango. The exception was ‘Anbessa’ (The Lion in Amharic) which is the band’s tribute to Diabango from which they take their name, and which ended with a haunting valedictory chord.

The line-up of the six strong band was saxophones, marimba and vibraphone, bass trombone, lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums(David Georgelet). Generally their sound was that of Afro Jazz but the sophisticated arrangements had a great deal of melodic and rhythmic variation with frequent switches of soloists and of band members playing as a duo.

A highlight of Anbessa’s very enjoyable set was ‘Otetena Munja’ which they re-imagined as gospel/spiritual ballad. Throughout the band played with a joie de vivre that was very much in the spirit of Manu Dibango.

*Manu Dibango played at Brecon in 2009, a gig that was reviewed by the Jazz Mann


Sarah Lenka is a jazz vocalist who is deep into the blues. On a hot evening when temperatures could have been similar to those in the southern USA, she sang songs about
“nobody knows my troubles with God”, advising “mammy don’t you marry a railroad man,” and that told us that “I’ve been mistreated”. She had an excellent group of musicians with her who supported her all the way, with guitarist Taofik Farah shining whenever he soloed.

Lenka has a very pure voice that arguably is not totally suited to singing the blues. But with her commitment and phrasing she makes the songs work. When she wasn’t singing the blues she was singing her own compositions, which were either sad or on the dark side. One song about putting on a brave face when a new immigrant to a country-” I fight every day to wake up with a smile” - was very moving.

Throughout Lenka involved the audience. She’s very good at this and had them eating out of her hand. Her last number was the civil rights anthem, Mavis Staples’ ‘Turn Me Around’ which Sarah Lenka changed into a feminist anthem with the support of the audience. It made a rousing end to the set.

ISHKERO 12 July 2023

Ishkero are a youngish band from Paris, all the members of which are in their mid to late twenties. They have known each other and played together for several years including at the second Jammin’ Juan market place in 2018 which is when I previously saw them.

Then they were talented progressive jazz-rock band but hadn’t totally found their own voice. Now four and a half years later and with three albums under their belt, they had developed. Their sound has moved more towards the rock end of the jazz rock spectrum but still had strong jazz roots. The instrumental line features lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, keys and flute/triangle, with the main soloist being the lead guitarist Victor Gasq who tended to play rock riffs, with a number of tasteful solos also coming from flautist Adrien Duterie.

The set consisted entirely of the group’s own compositions. There was plenty of variety. Nearly all the tunes had pleasing melodies, some had an ethereal psychedelic jazz quality and one number took an unexpected turn into frenzied free jazz before a softer psychedelic jazz ending. Their performance was warmly received by the audience.

Ishkero are one of just four bands currently selected by Jazz Migration who support emerging bands, and on this showing it is easy to see why. They are a band on the up.

CHI QUARTET, 14 July 2023

I had seen Chi Quartet at the most recent Jammin’ Juan market place in November 2022 when they had impressed individually and collectively but not quite enough to make it into my top picks. For this session a lot of the repertoire was the same but the performance was much stronger. Talking afterwards to leader, pianist and composer Tin-Chi Sun she said in November they had felt the pressure and been very nervous.

Their style can be described as chamber jazz. Tin-Chi Sun merges jazz and classical influences in her compositions which are inspired by a variety of sources that include a Cantonese folk song, the flatlands of the Netherlands (Chi Quartet is based in Rotterdam), and her late beloved Grandfather.

Tin-Chi Sun’s touch on the piano keys is superb. Also she sings the Cantonese folk song very beautifully. As a composer she is very skilled at conveying emotion and painting pictures for example the warm feelings for her grandfather, and what sounds like a hailstorm over Netherlands’ flat lands. The other members of the group also are very talented and with their leader they make a fine jazz quartet.

They were shouts of “Bravo “at the end of their set and one member of the audience commented that Chi Quartet would not be out of place on the Jazz à Juan main stage. It’s a view I agree with.


This piano led trio was another of the groups I had previously heard at November’s Jammin Juan, and another group who impressed but had not quite made my top picks.

The trio open with Brussels based Salemi playing a finely nuanced solo which developed into a bright bluesy vamp underpinned by inventive playing from double bassist Boris Schmidt, which was the first of several excellent contributions from him. Leader Salemi played with precision and was another pianist who had great touch on the key while drummer Daniel Jonkers gave solid support.

The set, which I think consisted entirely of Salemi’s compositions, mixed meditative slightly downbeat numbers and upbeat ones. In the more meditative ones Salemi used the space between the notes to build tension and atmosphere. In one of the upbeat numbers humour was introduced, including a repeated phrase that had me imagining the Charlie Chaplin tramp character staggering down the road after one to many drinks, while another number that proved to be a crowd pleaser was a mix of blues, gospel, township jazz and rock with again some great double bass.

The trio saved their best ensemble playing for the last number which rounded of a very polished and professional set.


This was a voice and keyboards (Meritxell Neddermann) and drums (Stéphane Scharlé) duo with a difference. The difference was they had a high concept electronics and
computer set up which not only gave drummer Scharlé a vast palette of sounds but transmitted the notes of Neddermann’s keyboard to Scharlé‘s computer so that the drums
would play the same notes.

At least I think that was what was happening but I have to admit I didn’t fully understand the explanation I was given by Stéphane Scharlé when he talked to me after the session. Nor was I clear about what impact this set up had on what we heard.

What was clear was that Meritxell Neddermann is a talented keyboard player able to change the mood in just a few short notes and who seemed to reference both Brad
Mehldau and Joey Calderazzo early on.

There was a strong thread of urban dance beats and electro-fuzz running through the set and an interesting range of sounds. While it wasn’t my sort of music it was exciting and adventurous, and one has to give credit to the Summer Sessions for being prepared to put on such an experimental group.


This was the second of the 11a.m sessions at the Médiathèque Albert Camus, Antibes. The Brussels based trio usually play as the Wajdi Riahi Trio, and under that name had played an evening Summer Session the day before. I had heard them at Jammin Juan in November where they had been one of my top picks so I had high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed.

Tunisian born pianist Riahi had to adapt to playing the small electric piano provided rather than a full piano he would normally use. He told me after the session that this had added an extra layer of uncertainty “as we weren’t sure what would happen”, and it had been very noticeable how closely the trio were listening and watching each other.

All three members contributed compositions to the set but they started with a version of Cole Porter’s ‘I Love You’ with Riahi playing a solo which in which notes seemed to cascade over each other, yet it never felt forced. Throughout the set different melodic ideas followed one another rapidly with double bassist Basile Rahola more than once taking the lead playing the melody.

Like many other groups, the trio had a number written during the pandemic’Memories of the Future Past’, a great title for a meditative introspective tune with the drums sounding like a clock ticking.

‘Piano in the House’ had something of an Afro- Latin beat over which Riahi played another fine solo though he did not have the inside of a piano available to reach into to re-create the sound of an oud which is what I’d heard him do previously. The number could also have been called ‘Drums in the House’ as there was an impressive solo from drummer Pierre Hurty.

This was another Summer Session that was very well received by a rapt audience, and which confirmed that the excellent Wajdi Riahi Trio should have a bright future.


The Wajdi Riahi Trio session was the last one I got to on this trip. The Summer Sessions go on to mid August and there’s more more high quality jazz to come as four more out of my six picks from November’s Jammin Juan are on the programme: Daniel Garcia Trio, DAÏDA, Tal Gamlieli Trio and Sanne Sanne. Doubtless some of the other bands yet to play will also be high quality.

Based on what I heard and saw this year, the Summer Sessions are going from strength to strength. Not only was the standard of the groups very high, with, to echo Joni Mitchell, bands ‘playing real good for free’, but the sessions were very well attended and the audiences very attentive. The Summer Sessions have grown into one of the highlights not only of Jazz à Juan but also of summer jazz on the Côte d’Azur.


by Ian Mann

August 02, 2023

Guest contributor Tom Brumpton talks to singer, multi-instrumentalist & songwriter Kenneth Roy about his new album "Chairman" and his collaboration with engineer & producer Daniel ‘Doctor’ Ryman.

The Jazz Mann – Kenneth Roy interview by Tom Brumpton

TB - Kenneth, how did you and the ‘Doctor’ meet?

KR- Years ago, when the early synths needed tape or computer back-up I was looking for a specialist. I was recommended I call Daniel ‘Doctor’ Ryman. He was quite busy doing recording sessions but eventually we got together and he created and set-up my sound library. He later listened to some of my music and offered to take me into a studio setting to do some songs with me. It sounded great and we ended up doing our first album with the ‘Doctor’ engineering and produced ‘Forever Love’. ‘No Dice’ and ‘Chairman’ followed as more recent album releases.

TB - There are many great songwriting duos across musical history, can you tell us about your collaborative process?

KR - Well, I’m the ‘Singer/Songwriter’ and ‘Doctor’ Ryman works production some arraignment, all recording, engineering and mastering the music. His background is rooted as a musician and studio vet. We are are both multi-instrumentalists and play and perform most tracks. Our last single ‘I Still Love You So’ for instance is just the two of us. Some big songs we use our great friends, bassist Baron Chase and saxophonist Richard Howell and more.

TB - What were the core themes you wanted to explore on ‘Chairman’?

KR - The ‘Doctor’ and I are more album oriented artists. We have both been exposed to many kinds of music. We listen a lot…and try mostly to pick the best songs that we think fit stylistically together and not so much thematically. We explore the sounds and try to incorporate what we have learned together and individually. Musically, the record is a melting pot of genres.

TB - Can you walk us through your core influences?

KR - I am influenced by all styles and kinds of Music. Blues, Rock, Jazz, Soul, R&B, Country, Latin, Hip Hop, Rap, Funk, whatever. The Doctor Has recorded over 40 years with many name artists ( Quincy Jones, Earth Wind & Fire among others) and has many influences from early Soul, The Beatles, Africa to Electronica…

TB - You started playing at a young age. Smashing drums at 4 years and playing keys at the age of 6. Did you come from a musical household?

KR - My father played the acoustic guitar by ear and sang classic Blues & Country and Western music. My older brother Kevin played alto saxophone. We had a lot of Rock and Funk. My Uncle Russell ‘Chub’ was into Movie Soundtracks at the time. So defiantly a yes on that one!

TB - Tell us about your career prior to meeting the ‘Doctor’. How did you get your start in music?

KR - I joined junior high school big band in the middle of 7th grade. I started to study music privately at the time and never looked backward since. I have played in San Francisco hotels as well as private parties, big bands and everything in between periodically over the years.

TB - You have seven album releases to your credit. How does ‘Chairman’ vary to your previous work?

KR - I think music is a progression and each work or album you might be referring to is from different periods of time. I try to focus more on what to do in the moment we might be tracking and recording the most part. In other words more ‘in the moment’.

TB - Are you working on new material, independently or with the ‘Doctor’? If so when can we hope to hear it?

KR - Well, we have been caught up doing a lot of publishing and promotion. We could not have foreseen six consecutive Indie Singles, let alone the longevity of the songs. Our seventh single ‘Close Enough to Know’ will début shortly. We hope to be back in the creative mode soon. Depending on if we do live shows or not, I try to come up with new song ideas and fresh material all the time. We need to get back to more creative writing time for sure as soon as possible.

by Ian Mann

June 09, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys Brecon Jazz's free 'Taster Day' publicising the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival and musical performances from the Debs Hancock / Eddie Gripper Duo and the NPTC College Big Band.


With the 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival due to take place over three separate weekends in August it was decided to hold a ‘Taster Day’ publicising the event to both local residents and visiting holiday makers.

The Taster Day is a product of the partnership between Brecon Jazz Festival and the BTec students at Brecon Beacons College (part NPTC group of colleges - Neath, Port Talbot and Coleg Powys).

On a brilliantly sunny June day musical performances took place at two nearby locations in the town, Bethel Square & the Cwtch Building, the latter the former Tourist Office but now home to Brecon Beacons College, or Coleg Bannau Brycheiniog.

The students, and not just those studying music, have been fully involved in the planning of the Taster Day, designing the publicity posters and becoming involved with the staging of the music, the dissemination of information to the general public and generally helping to promote, publicise & gain visibility for the forthcoming BJF2023. Central to these efforts was fund raising and on the Taster Day a total of £200 was raised for Festival funds through a street collection organised and conducted by the students. An excellent effort.

Jazz music itself was, of course, central to the day’s activities with two separate live performances taking place.

The first of these was in Bethel Square, a busy thoroughfare and shopping area  where shoppers and passers by were entertained by the duo of vocalist Debs Hancock and pianist Eddie Gripper.

Hancock is a popular presence on the South Wales jazz scene and has performed in Brecon on numerous occasions. She is also closely associated with the Black Mountain Jazz Club in nearby Abergavenny.

Gripper, originally from the Cotswolds, is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Cardiff University and is still based in that city. Also a regular performer on the South Wales jazz scene he has recently released a stunning début album for the London based Ubuntu record label.
“Home” features Gripper’s original compositions exclusively and sees him playing alongside two more young Cardiff based musicians, bassist Ursula Harrison and drummer Isaac Zuckerman.  It’s an impressively mature first release and an album that has captured the attention of the national jazz media, including the esteemed Jazzwise magazine. My own review of “Home” can be found here;

Gripper has also established close ties with Black Mountain Jazz and has performed there with drummer Alex Goodyear, bassist Clem Saynor, vocalist Marvin Muoneke
and saxophonists Alex Clarke and Dan Newberry.

The pianist has also been working regularly with Hancock, often in a duo format. Here the focus is on standard material, much of it sourced from the ‘Great American Songbook’  but with a dash of Brazilian samba and bossa thrown in.

This morning’s good natured performance saw Hancock and Gripper serenading the many passers by, with just a handful of jazz club stalwarts sitting to watch the whole performance. But this wasn’t a formal concert and the duo certainly caught the eyes and ears of people going about their business with many pausing to listen briefly and to pick up the flyers advertising the forthcoming Festival. This was exactly the kind of reaction the organisers were looking for and some listeners also made a financial contribution with a donation to the student’s collection buckets.

Hancock sang with great assurance and engaged with the passers by, skilfully accompanied by Gripper who also undertook a number of excellent solos on his Nord Grand electric keyboard on an acoustic piano setting.

The first set began with the standards “Lover Man” and “The Nearness of You”. These were followed by “On Green Dolphin Street”, which included Hancock’s accomplished scat vocalising. An extended passage of unaccompanied piano then introduced a yearning “Someone To Watch Over Me”. 

A breezy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova song “Wave” was a perfect encapsulation of the sunny weather, we could almost have been in Rio rather than in Bethel Square.

“Cry Me A River” then saw a return to ‘torch song’ territory, or maybe it was a ‘revenge ballad’ after all.

The first set concluded with more scatting on the rarely heard “Devil May Care”.

A celebratory “Our Love Is Here To Stay” opened the second set, followed by “Nature Boy”.

“Alfie” was performed as a tribute to the late Burt Bacharach, who had famously performed at the ‘old’ Brecon Jazz Festival.

“The Girl From Ipanema” then represented a homage to the recently departed Astrud Gilberto (1940-2023). “Ipanema” also included Hancock’s improvised lyrics name checking Brecon and its Festival.

Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” featured further scat vocalising and the set also included an emotive “Willow Weep For Me” and a playful “Embraceable You”.

The performance concluded with a similarly playful “Take The A Train”, with Hancock even encouraging a little audience participation (“Mind The Gap!”).

Those who watched the whole show thoroughly enjoyed a fine performance from this excellent duo. As well as acting as a ‘Taster’ for the Festival in August the show also acted as a trailer for Gripper’s appearance with his regular trio at Brecon Jazz Club’s regular monthly event at The Muse Arts Centre on Tuesday June 13th 2023. This will feature Gripper with Ursula Harrison on bass and Patrick Barrett-Donlon at the drums playing music from that exceptional “Home” release. In addition Gripper will have the luxury of playing the venue’s upright acoustic piano.
Tickets for this event, which also incorporate a Festival preview, nibbles and a jazz quiz, are only £8.00 and are available here;

An absolute bargain.

The second performance of the day took place on the steps of the Cwtch venue and featured the musicians of the NPTC College Big Band comprised of students & staff from NPTC’s Music Department.

Featuring students from NPTC’s colleges in Brecon and Neath the band was directed by tutor Ceri Rees, a musician perhaps best known to jazz audiences as the alto saxophonist and musical director of Cardiff’s Capital City Jazz Band, themselves regular visitors to Brecon Jazz Festival.

I have to confess that I saw very little of the College Band’s performance. After sitting out in the sun in Bethel Square for well over an hour I felt the need to go indoors and cool down over a coffee and a sandwich. By the time I re-emerged the NPTC Band were coming towards the end of their set and I only caught a couple of numbers. One featured the impressive young vocalist Molly. The other was a raucous romp through “Tequila!” with everyone shouting along. My apologies to Ceri and the band for not catching more of their set. Everybody seemed to enjoy it though, students, tutors and audience alike.

I’m informed that the public reaction to the NPTC Big Band performance was highly positive and that they will now be making a return to Brecon to play at the main Brecon Jazz Festival on Friday August 11th 2023.

After the show the band members packed their instruments away and boarded the bus to go off and play another show in the evening! Well done to them.

The general consensus was that the Taster Day had been a very worthwhile event, raising awareness of the forthcoming Festival and adding some very welcome funds to the Brecon Jazz coffers.

The musicians that performed seemed to enjoy it and the day was also an invaluable educational experience for the students who had been involved in all aspects of the organisation of the event, as well as performing in it in some cases. Credit is due to lecturer Carolyn Davies, who oversaw the entire process.

For those like me who just turned up to watch and listen it was a very enjoyable day out.

I’m now looking forward to Eddie Gripper’s return on Tuesday (see above) and to the Festival itself in August. Details of the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival and appropriate ticket links can be found at;

by Ian Mann

June 09, 2023

Jen Wilson, jazz pianist, author, historian and archivist died on Monday 8th May 2023 at the age of 78. Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club and Festival pay tribute.

Jen Wilson 1944 – 2023

Jen Wilson, Jazz pianist, author, historian and archivist died on the evening of Monday 8th May 2023 at the age of 78.

Below Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club and Festival pay tribute.


The Jazz, research and Welsh music history network & international community has been dealt a great loss with the recent passing of Jen Wilson of Jazz Heritage Wales. It was an organisation she founded (beginning as Women in Jazz in 1986) and pioneered through to its current established and highly respected status. It was just in November that JHW organised a brilliant ‘Documenting Jazz’ 2022 international conference in Swansea  (UWTSD) chaired by Paula Gardiner and Orphy Robinson.

As Brecon Jazz, we’d been involved in its early discussions, via Pedro Cravinho of DocJazz, and ran a panel session on Women in Jazz Lineups, Jazz Performance & Promotion - a topic close to Jen’s heart. It had a line-up of musicians and contributors from far and near for the debate. When we last spoke, Jen had asked us to look for photos in the Festival archive of Brecon’s Gena Davies, for something she was working on: her connections with Brecon Jazz Festival were strong & deep rooted.

Jen was an accomplished musician and jazz pianist in her own right and active over many years in supporting and highlighting the role of women in jazz, particularly in Wales. Saxophonist Deborah Glenister speaks for many when she references Wilson’s many music workshops and advocacy of female musicians and band line-ups, and indeed, Jen and a female sextet performed at the BJF opening in 2016 also bringing their stunning ‘Women in Jazz’ exhibition panels from the JHW archive.

Jen was also working on her book (Freedom Music, 2019), to highlight not just women’s role in Welsh Jazz, but cross-cultural influences too, particularly African American music in Wales. And her searching Ottilie Patterson interviews have been used in a recent TV documentary & film. We loved her work on the Tower Ballroom venue in Swansea (a book) in particular, and her bringing to life of the female music promoters & thriving big band events in the Welsh Valleys during WW2.

For all of this scholarship, Jen was awarded an honorary professorship from University of Wales Trinity St David, and in 2017, the St David’s Award for Culture, a recognition she especially valued in her own city and country. The unique multi-media JHW collection is based at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea*. Jen was a driving force in securing the base for the archive, but also part of a very able team at Jazz Heritage Wales - Gail, Deborah, Margot, Elissa and many others, including dedicated volunteers, supporters including family and husband Mike, UWTSD colleagues and students.

We will all need to carry on supporting and contributing to this work - jazz history, jazz heritage in Wales, diverse contributions to jazz. At Brecon Jazz, we were also actively discussing with Jen and the JHW team the Brecon Jazz documentation & heritage - now at 40 years - and these strong links and an actual archive material donation, in the autumn, will continue.

We hope everyone will take this as a moment to not just read the tribute to Jen but also have a look at (& maybe use) the fantastic work of JHW on their website:

Lynne Gornall & Roger Cannon (Brecon Jazz Club & Festival)

*Dylan Thomas Centre, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR

Ian Mann adds;

Although I never got to know her well I do remember meeting Jen Wilson and other members of the Jazz Heritage Wales team on their occasional visits to Brecon. Her brief appearance at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Festival, as referenced above, also gets a short mention as part of my Festival coverage here;

A virtual tour of the  Jazz Heritage Wales exhibition at Swansea Museum in the company of Jen Wilson formed part of the all online Brecon Jazz Festival in 2020. My thoughts on this can be found as part of that year’s Festival coverage here;

In March 2023 Deborah Checkland and Margot Morgan of Jazz Heritage Wales visited one of Brecon Jazz Club’s monthly events at The Muse Arts Centre. During the interval in a performance by pianist Rachel Starritt and her trio they delivered a short presentation outlining the work of JHW. I would surmise that at this time Jen Wilson wasn’t well enough attend. In any event my account of the evening, which references the presentation, can be found here.

It should not be forgotten that Jen Wilson was also an excellent musician and composer in her own right, primarily a pianist but also a saxophonist. In 2011 her album “Twelve Poems; The Dylan Thomas Suite” was favourably reviewed by guest contributor Charlotte Keeffe, then a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and now based in London and regarded as one of the UK’s leading trumpeters. Charlotte’s review can be found here;

I have heard “Twelve Poems” myself and can confirm that it is a very good album indeed and I very much concur with Charlotte’s appraisal. One of the pieces from the Dylan Thomas Suite, “The Force That Through The Green Fuse” was played at her funeral, which took place at Swansea Crematorium on 1st June 2023.

As Lynne and Roger mentioned a more comprehensive tribute to Jen’s life and work can be found on the Jazz Heritage Wales website here;

Jen Wilson’s website, which contains more information about her work, can still be accessed here;

RIP Jen.


From Clive Downs;

I was sad to learn of the passing of Jen Wilson.

In 2015 I heard a track from her suite ‘Twelve Poems’ on the radio, and bought a copy of the CD.
It is a remarkable composition, full of unusual time signatures, quotes from Mozart and Bach, echoes of natural sounds, and memorable melodies. There is much humour, as well, in some of the instrumental interludes between lines of poetry. Jen’s liner notes describe how she drew on the rhythms of the poems in writing the suite.

The composition doesn’t seem to be well known. Even with a gap of fifty years between the two suites, Jen’s seems sadly rather overshadowed by the success of Stan Tracey’s 1965 Under Milk Wood.

Having difficulty in finding the CD after hearing the radio extract, I contacted Jen directly. She sent a note with the album, saying “I hope you enjoy this as much as we did making it”.

I hadn’t played ‘Twelve Poems’ for some time, but after seeing the obituary, I listened again, and was struck by its originality, and how ingeniously the poetry had been translated into jazz.

by Ian Mann

May 12, 2023

Instigated by Dave Fuller in May 2022 Music Spoken Here showcases exceptional, original and contemporary jazz-influenced music on a monthly basis at The Marr's Bar, Worcester.

We have received the following press release;

Worcester Jazz, Funk & Fusion club celebrates one year at The Marrs Bar

Worcester has a great live music scene, boasting around 50 venues offering regular or occasional live music. Every week you will find a number of solo / duo acts, guitar-based rock, pop, punk, grunge and tribute bands performing around the city. But if you’re looking for something a bit less mainstream, it’s about time you checked out Music Spoken Here.

Instigated by Dave Fuller, who moved from London to Evesham 5 years ago, Music Spoken Here showcases exceptional, original and contemporary jazz-influenced music. Starting in May 2022 with shows usually on the third or fourth Thursday each month at The Marrs Bar, they have featured seasoned veterans such as bassist Yolanda Charles (Paul Weller, Robbie Williams, Squeeze and Hans Zimmer) and relative newcomers on the contemporary jazz scene such as Birmingham’s Tom Ford and London-based Rosie Frater-Taylor.

Fuller elaborates, “A lot of people have preconceptions of jazz being old music for old folks, but it’s constantly developing as each generation interprets and infuses it with the technology and cultural influences of their own time. Birmingham has some of this going on with notable artists coming through the Conservatoire and there’s quite a scene in Bristol, but it’s organizations like Tomorrow’s Warriors (who have turned out the likes of Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia) and Jazz Re:freshed, both based in London, that are, in my opinion, at the forefront of 21st century music. With Music Spoken Here, I want to challenge those preconceptions, bring some of that innovation to our neck of the woods and persuade as many people as I can to take a chance on something new. In my experience, that is when the magic happens!”

Music Spoken Here have a full program for the rest of 2023 featuring bands hand-picked by Fuller, exploring a variety of jazz-influenced styles. With so many exceptional and original bands looking for representation in the area, shows will increase to every two weeks from October.

The next event on Thursday 25th May features Italian guitarist, composer and musical director Francesco Lo Castro joined by Neil Bullock on drums (Mica Paris, Beverly Knight Chaka Khan), Rob Statham on bass (Mike Stern, Keith Emerson, Ruby Turner) and Sam Leak (“One of the brightest young stars in the jazz piano galaxy” – Helen Mayhew, Jazz FM).

Check out for more information.

Other forthcoming Music Spoken Here promotions at the Marrs Barr are;

THURSDAY, 22 JUNE 2023 AT 20:00
Music Spoken Here presents Zeñel
Limited  tickets available at 20% off with promo code EARLYBIRD – Offer ends 25 May 2023
Energetic, innovative and eclectic mix of beats, sounds and improvisation - no labels, just brilliant music!
Zeñel is a London-based quartet with a unique approach to computer-based performance, allowing them to create a poetic combination of jazz improvisation and electronic music. Their style is centred around sounds seldom heard in live band contexts, drawing upon influences from a plethora of electronic production styles including grime, UK drill, Afrobeats and future bass.
Zeñel are Laurence Wilkins (trumpet, guitar, electronics), Alex Wilson (keys), Jay Verma (keys) and Zoe Pascal (drums)

Law of Three
July 20 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Breathtaking virtuosity and innovation from a power-trio melding aspects of jazz, world, blues, funk, gypsy and classical music
World-renowned multigenre guitar virtuoso, composer and Fusion pioneer, Roy Marchbank formed Law of Three in 2022 with Andy Edwards (Robert Plant, IQ, Frost`*) on drums and Mark Hartley on bass. They bring together a broad range of musical influences and technology with incredibly skilled musicianship to deliver a unique fusion experience! Be among the first to see this power-trio perform live.

Jingu Bang
October 5 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Limited  tickets available at 20% off with promo code EARLYBIRD – Offer ends 5 September 2023!
Funk-fusion mastery honouring the works of Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Brotherly and others along with their own creations
During unsettled times, five travellers from distant lands went in search of their destiny. In the imposing mountains soaring high above the bamboo forests of Bristol, they banded together as one unstoppable force, and accepted the calling of the JINGU BANG.
Their free-flowing funk mastery is expressed across the lands through both their own creations and by honouring the works of Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters, Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report, Brotherly and others.
Join them in the earthly realms as they leave no stone unturned in their mission to bring you their irrepressible… funky magic!
Jingu Bang are Scott Hammond (drums), Greig Robinson (bass), Lisa Cherian (percussion), Dale Hambridge (keys) and Ruth Hammond (sax/flute/vocoder).

The Marrs Bar
12 Pierpoint Street
WR1 1TA.
Phone: (01905) 613336

Jazzmann reviews of previous Music spoken Here events can be found here;


by Ian Mann

May 08, 2023

Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by Kit Downes, Andrew Woodhead, Squeeze and Binker Golding.

Photograph of Binker Golding by Tim Dickeson



For Cheltenham Jazz Festival regulars St. Andrew’s United Reform Church, situated on the walking route between the Parabola Arts Centre and the main Festival site in Montpellier Gardens, represents something of a landmark. Over the many years that I have been coming to the Festival I must have walked past it literally dozens of times but prior to today had only been inside once, for  “Sketches From A Northern Town” a brass led Festival commission by trumpeter Neil Yates way back in 2007.  The American saxophonist Chris Potter performed a solo saxophone recital at St. Andrew’s some years later but I wasn’t present for that.

Today’s event featured an improvised solo performance by Kit Downes who was to play the venue’s magnificent two manual Willis organ. Downes trained as an organ scholar before becoming a jazz musician and has retained his fascination for the instrument. His Wedding Music and Vyamanikal projects, both duo collaborations with saxophonist Tom Challenger, featured his playing on various church organs, often in and around Downes’ native East Anglia.

A series of recordings on the boutique Slip label caught the ear of ECM owner Manfred Eicher and Downes was signed by the German label as a solo artist. He continued his quest to combine church organ music with jazz, releasing the acclaimed albums “Obsidian” (2018) and “Dreamlife of Debris” (2020). Both of these albums are reviewed elsewhere on this site, as are two earlier Vyamanikal recordings “Vyamanikal” and “Black Shuck”, both from 2016. In 2022 ECM released “Vermillion”, a more conventional jazz recording featuring Downes as part of a collaborative piano trio alongside bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren.

Introducing today’s performance Tony Dudley-Evans explained that Downes had performed at CJF on eleven different occasions, all with different projects. These have included his own small groups of various sizes, his duos with drummer Sebastian Rochford and cellist Lucy Railton and various international collaborations including the groups Barbacana, In Bed With and the Hammond organ trio Deadeye, with whom he had performed at the Parabola Arts Centre the previous day.

Downes himself explained that he would perform a single full length improvisation on the organ, the performance lasting around fifty minutes. He told us that because every church organ is different and that each has its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies the instrument is a “gift for improvisers”. He also explained that he would periodically insert composed material into the piece, either his own works or traditional folk tunes. The choice of the latter was intended to celebrate the role of the organ as a community instrument, around which people have traditionally gathered to sing.

The Church was absolutely packed for this performance and with the main space fully occupied the upstairs balcony was opened up for latecomers. Ironically they probably got the best view as they could look down on the organ loft. I suspect that many people on the ground floor, myself included, couldn’t actually see much of Downes at all but at least we could hear him. This was sometimes meditative music that slowly beguiled and drew in the listener and I’m sure that there were many audience members who listened with their eyes closed.

The performance began quietly, almost subliminally and featured Downes’ unconventional and innovative use of the stops. Freed from the shackles of having to play hymn tunes Downes was able to explore the full sonic capabilities of the Willis, probably taking it to sonic spaces where it had never been before.

Organs were originally developed to simulate the sounds of orchestras and I suspect that centuries ago they were hated for putting ‘real’ musicians out of work – the synthesisers or drum machines of their time. The orchestral possibilities of the organ represented another area for Downes to explore, layering his sound,  making effective use of dynamic contrasts, inserting elements of wilful dissonance and making use of the various stops, among them the various flute sounds and the vox humana.

At times I was reminded of the electronic music of Tangerine Dream,  the German group whose music had a similar meditative quality and who often used to perform concerts in churches and cathedrals.

In the main Downes avoided conventional ‘churchy’ organ sounds as he emulated the sounds of bird song, inserted snatches of folk inspired melody or created rhythmic pulses that again invited comparisons to electronic music.

Only towards the end were more conventional church organ sounds deployed with the organ sounding genuinely ‘hymnal’ and ‘Bach-like’.

At the conclusion of this ‘recital’ Downes applauded the Willis as the audience gave its player a rousing reception.

After the show many listeners went to have a closer look at the magnificent instrument. Downes had left his notes propped up above the keyboards and I could just about make out the words “Hungarian Folk Tune” and “Sun Valley”. I assume that the latter refers to a traditional folk song rather than to the Glenn Miller tune or the chicken factory in Hereford and that these were among the folk melodies we heard.

Downes has made the church organ a convincing vehicle for improvisation and his work in this field has proved to be surprisingly popular with the listening public, as today’s large, attentive and enthusiastic audience proved. An unusual, but totally absorbing and highly satisfying, event representing excellent start to the day.


More church related music at the 2.30 performance of “Waves II”, conducted by Andrew Woodhead.

Born in Sheffield but now based in Birmingham Woodhead is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and is a pianist, composer and electronic musician. He also co-promotes the Fizzle series of improvised music events that take place on a regular basis at various venues around Birmingham, sometimes working in conjunction with Tony Dudley-Evans’ TDE Promotions.

“Waves II” is based on Woodhead’s 2021 album release “Pendulums”, a recording subtitled “Music for Bellringers, Improvisers & Electronics”. This ambitious project brought the seemingly disparate musical worlds of jazz, bell ringing and electronics together to create a convincing whole. Six jazz musicians came together with a team of eight bell ringers with Woodhead handling the live electronics element. Successful live performances have seen been held in various churches, mainly in the Midlands area. My album review of the “Pendulums” album can be found here;

Supported by the Jerwood Jazz Encounters programme “Waves II” was an installation in the Montpellier Woods area of Montpellier Gardens and featured eight bells of various sixes hung on various ropes from a giant steel framework.

“Waves II” was performed three times a day on the main days of the Festival (Saturday, Sunday, Monday) and this 2.30 pm performance was the penultimate one. Having favourably reviewed “Pendulums” and having walked past the Waves II structure several times during the course of the Festival I was determined to catch a full performance of this fascinating project.

The publicity for the event promised a combination of “music and physics” and just prior to the performance Andrew Woodhead kindly explained to fellow Jazzmann contributor Colin May and myself just where the physics element came in. Of course the bells are of different weights and the ropes of different lengths, so when they are swung the bells all move at different speeds and remain swinging for different periods of time.

The performance itself featured Woodhead and a team of helpers marshalling a team of eight volunteer bell ringers who were each assigned a bell and were instructed to swing their bell and hit it with a hammer each time it came back to them. The result was a magical peal of interlocking rhythms and patterns with many listeners likening the musical sounds to those of a Steve Reich composition. The sound was very full and complex at first, but came more sparse as the laws of physics entailed that at different times some bells eventually stopped swinging and fell silent. By the close of the piece only the solitary ring of Bell No. 8, the largest and heaviest remained.

The large crowd that had gathered around the installation were totally immersed in the performance and gave Woodhead and the ringers an excellent ovation.

In the spirit of jazz no two performances of “Waves II” will be exactly the same but the overall shape and effect of each performance will be similar. This may have been a non-paying event but it was a fascinating one and I was very glad to have seen it during my only window of opportunity. My thanks to Andrew and his team and to the Jerwood Foundation for making it happen.


My only visit to the Big Top this year was for this sold out show from South London rock royalty Squeeze.

This much loved British institution is centred around the songs of guitarist / vocalists Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Although initially roped into the punk and new wave movements Squeeze are actually more in the lineage of the Kinks, their often witty songs written from a distinctly London point of view.

It’s a band that has gone through many line up changes during its near fifty year history with Jools Holland and Paul Carrack among its illustrious former members. Carrack played a successful set with his own band in the CJF Big Top back in 2017.

The current line up is a septet, with Difford and Tilbrook joined by flamboyant keyboard player Steve Large, bassist Owen Biddle, drummer Simon Hansen, percussionist Steve Smith and Melvin Duffy, alternating between guitar and pedal steel.

Squeeze produced a string of chart singles, particularly back in their late 70s heyday and hit the ground running with their début hit “Take Me I’m Yours”, with Difford and Tilbrook sharing the lead vocals.

Most of the other members contributed backing vocals and the group’s collective vocal harmonies made a significant contribution to “Take Me To The Bridge”.

One of the band’s biggest hits, the enduringly popular “Up The Junction” followed, with Tilbrook singing this witty tale of South London kitchen sink desperation. Tilbrook handled most of the lead vocals and was a powerful and distinctive singer. He also took most of the lead guitar breaks and shouldered a large degree of responsibility in terms of the overall group sound.

“What Have They Done” included Large doubling on melodica. Standing on his own riser / podium and surrounded by keyboards Large took a number of searing keyboard solos during the course of the set and carried on Holland’s penchant for showmanship.

“Cradle To The Grave”, one of the band’s later songs, saw them really rocking out and included lyrical references to Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.

By way of contrast the country tinged “Labelled With Love” elicited an audience sing along and the hits just kept on coming with “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and “Annie Get Your Gun”.

The band encouraged the audience to sing and clap along with “Tempted”, a song that was originally sung by Carrack, but it was their other enormous hit, “Cool For Cats”, with lead vocals from Difford, that eventually saw the entire audience get to its collective feet.

The crowd remained standing for “Goodbye Girl” and a foot stomping “Black Coffee In Bed” that included instrumental features for all the members of the band.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be a huge Squeeze fan I did enjoy this. Difford and Tilbrook are witty and intelligent songwriters and have written some excellent songs, songs that have become part of the British national consciousness. There were hits a plenty in this crowd pleasing set but a glance at the group’s extensive discography reveals that were many more that they could have drawn upon. The sound quality was a bit muddy at times, perhaps inevitable with a seven piece electric band in a huge space, but this is a relatively minor quibble in the context of a very professional and enjoyable show.


My final gig of the Festival was this superb performance by saxophonist Binker Golding and his quintet at The Jazz Arena.

Tenor sax specialist Golding has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages thanks to his work with the duo Binker and Moses, himself and drummer Moses Boyd. Boyd led his own quintet for a superb show in this same venue on the equivalent day in 2022, so it was only fitting that today should be Golding’s turn.

As a musician with an increasing commitment to the art of free improvisation Golding has also worked in a duo with pianist Elliot Galvin and in a trio with two real free jazz heavyweights, bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble.

Golding and Boyd are products of the Tomorrow’s Warriors scheme and the saxophonist has maintained his links with the association with a number of the members of his current quintet having passed through its ranks. He has also worked closely with another TW alumnus, vocalist Zara McFarlane. His playing has also been heard with Eden, a quartet led by Kent based drummer Lorraine Baker.

In 2019 Golding released his début album as a leader, the intriguingly titled “Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers”. This featured a quartet with Joe Armon-Jones, of Ezra Collective, on piano, Daniel Casimir on double bass and Sam Jones at the drums, all TW alumni. The album represented a highly accomplished début and was generally well received both critically and commercially, but nevertheless I felt that Golding’s influences, and particularly that of John Coltrane, were just a title too apparent. Given that he was working with free improvisers such as Galvin by this time I was expecting something a little more radical and adventurous. My review of the album can be found here;

The saxophonist promised something different for his next solo release and with his second album “Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy” that is exactly what he has delivered. Recorded in 2021 and released on 2022 the album appears on the London / Tokyo independent label Gearbox Records, the imprint with which Golding has enjoyed a long and fruitful association and which is the home of his previous solo album and the entire Binker & Moses catalogue.

The new recording sees Golding retaining the services of bassist Casimir and drummer Jones with the piano chair now occupied by Sarah Tandy, a bandleader in her own right and a regular member of saxophonist Camilla George’s group. The Golding band has been expanded to a quintet with the addition of guitarist Billy Adamson, whose playing I have previously heard in bands led by vocalist / guitarist Sarah Gillespie, trumpeter Matt Roberts and DAGDA quartet, led by saxophonist Tom Harrison.

The inclusion of Adamson makes an enormous difference to the Golding group’s sound. As its title might suggest “Dream Like A Dogwood Wildboy” brings the influence of Americana to Golding’s music and it’s the inclusion of Adamson’s guitar that helps to facilitate that. Golding’s other tenor sax influences include Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker and for me it’s the influence of the latter that is most apparent this time round, but only in that the instrumental format of Golding’s new group is essentially the same as that on Brecker’s classic 1996 album “Tales From The Hudson”, a recording that Golding has named as one of his favourites and which features guitarist Pat Metheny as one of the members of an all star line up.

Comprised entirely of Golding’s original compositions “Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy” features melodic writing and strong, incisive soloing, particularly from the leader. It’s a more adventurous and distinctive recording than its predecessor and today Golding and his quintet, lining up exactly as on the album, played the whole album in sequence, presenting the performance as some kind of suite.

“(Take me to the) Wide Open Lows” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied finger picked acoustic slide guitar from Adamson that was rootsy and swampy, setting the new Americana agenda. His vigorous strumming then set up the main bulk of the tune as the rest of the band joined in and Golding sketched the main melodic theme on tenor sax, also accompanied by piano, double bass and vigorously brushed drums. The leader then stretched out to solo more expansively, his playing powerful and incisive but always highly melodic. He was followed by Tandy at the piano, who soloed with an expansive, flowing lyricism.

Adamson switched to electric guitar for the slow blues “Love Me Like A Woman”, again performing with a slide alongside Golding’s tenor. The saxophonist took the first solo, his blues tinged tenor sounding authentically bruised, but still capable of generating an impressive power. Adamson cranked up his amps for a scorching blues / rock guitar solo and the performance was also notable for a series of feisty guitar and tenor exchanges.

“My Two Dads” began quietly, with the gentle rumble of Jones’ mallets on skins and the introduction of Casimir’s grounding bass motif. Golding then sketched the main melodic theme above a combination of piano and guitar arpeggios, the piece having an almost song like construction and acting as a further demonstration of Golding’s gift for melody. Tandy’s lyrical piano solo was followed by that of Golding, much of it conducted in the tenor’s altissimo register.
Casimir was featured on double bass, stepping out from the shadows at last to solo melodically above the soft patter of Jones’ hand drumming. Thereafter the momentum began to increase and the piece concluded with a joyous ‘hoedown’ section that delighted the Cheltenham crowd.

The wonderfully titled “Howling and Drinking in God’s Own Country” was introduced by Jones’ drums, subsequently joined by the leader’s tenor in a brief reminder of the Binker & Moses duo. Adamson’s electric slide guitar then joined in to take the music to another place, the rest of the band then coming in to add extra heft to the music. Golding’s solo was a true marathon but threw in a couple of quotes to lighten the mood. Tandy’s appropriately joyous piano solo simply sparkled.

The ballad “’Til My Heart Stops” introduced a gentler side of Golding’s music and was ushered in by a trio of piano, double bass and brushed drums. Gently melodic and lyrical solos from Tandy and Golding were followed by Adamson’s keening electric guitar solo, a feature that saw him making effective use of both finger slide and tremolo arm. Casimir was also featured at the bass before Golding returned to solo more expansively than previously.

Adamson returned to acoustic guitar for “With What I Know Now”, a highly melodic piece that sometimes reminded me of Pat Metheny at his most country-ish. The music gradually began to gather momentum through the course of engaging solos from Adamson and Golding and the piece appeared to have peaked via a powerful drum feature from Jones that included some seriously ferocious hitting. However there was still time for Golding to cut loose again before the close.

Golding introduced the band to the crowd and indulged in a few other verbal ramblings before announcing the last piece, “All Out Of Fairy Tales”, describing it as a “heartland rock number”. Centred around Adamson’s recurring guitar motif and incorporating rock rhythms the piece had the feel of a rock ‘power ballad’ and might have elicited a bout of lighter waving at other venues. Along the way we enjoyed final solos from Tandy and Golding as this excellent and memorable gig drew to a close.

The critical reaction to “Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy” has been overwhelmingly positive and the Cheltenham public loved it too, with many queueing up to purchase it at the signing session immediately after the event. I was among them and the music has sounded just as good on CD second and third time around. It’s Golding’s most accessible recording to date and the sort of album that listeners are likely to return to on a regular basis. It is capable of appealing to a broad listenership and deserves to be widely heard.

Today’s performance differed slightly from the album with lengthier solo features or the occasional change in the solo running order but was basically true to the recording. It was a great way for me to round off Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2023.


With audience numbers up even on last year CJF 2023 was a resounding success and maintained the balance between the popular and the esoteric, with plenty of room found for both. The improvement in the sound quality at the Town Hall was also something to be welcomed.

My personal preference is for events at the more ‘cutting edge’ end of the jazz spectrum and the Festival provided plenty of that,  and particularly on the programme at the Parabola Arts Centre.

However this year’s Festival and the Parabola programme in particular was a bitter-sweet affair. As he approaches the age of eighty Tony Dudley-Evans is going to step aside from his role of Programme Adviser to the Festival after many years working either in this role or previously as Artistic Director. Tony has done a fantastic job of bringing cutting edge jazz to CJF and has brought us brilliant music from the UK, the US and Europe over the years, and although there were no Americans on the Parabola programme this year the overall standard of the music was as high as ever. Tony will continue to promote jazz and improvised music in Birmingham but he will be greatly missed at CJF. Good luck Tony and many thanks for the excellent music you have presented to us both in Cheltenham and Birmingham over the years.

For those of us who have become Parabola regulars there is some concern as to what might happen in the future without Tony at the helm. He does have a unique talent for spotting and encouraging new, ground breaking music. Hopefully somebody with similar qualities will take charge of the Parabola programme. It’s the exciting new music that is presented there that is the true heart of the Festival for myself and for many others, hardcore jazz fans who follow the music all year round.

As I’ve said many times before I don’t mind acts such as Squeeze effectively funding performances by the likes of Kit Downes or Paal-Nilssen Love, but I’d hate it if CJF abandoned its commitment to the more experimental side of jazz and became ‘just another pop festival’, albeit one with a jazz flavour and the occasional visit from a big name American.

Food for thought. The 2024 Cheltenham Jazz Festival will be awaited by many with a sense of anticipation tempered by a degree of trepidation. Tony will be much missed, but hopefully not too much will actually change.


by Ian Mann

May 06, 2023

Ian Mann on performances by Paal Nilssen-Love's Circus, Deadeye, Mozes Rosenberg / Giacomo Smith Quartet, Stanley Clarke's N'4EVER, Julian Lage Trio and Fergus McCreadie Trio.

Photograph of Stanley Clarke by Tim Dickeson



Paal Nilssen-Love – drums, percussion, Juliana Venter – vocals, Thomas Johansson – trumpet, Signe Emmeluth – alto sax, Oddrun Lilja – guitar, vocals, Christian Meaas Svendsen – electric and acoustic bass, Kalle Moberg – accordion

The Festival’s Norwegian strand continued with this performance by Circus, a septet led by the Norwegian drummer, percussionist, composer and improviser Paal Nilssen-Love.

Nilssen-Love is best known as a ferocious free jazz improviser and has worked with such celebrated figures of that scene as saxophonists Peter Brotzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee. British musicians with whom he works on a regular basis include fellow drummer Steve Noble and pianist Alexander Hawkins.

One time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen is something of a fan and reviewed some of Nilssen-Love’s live appearances during the early days of the site, notably by free jazz power trio The Thing, featuring the drummer alongside Gustafsson and bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten.

But Nilssen-Love is also a composer and bandleader, leading his own groups, including the celebrated twenty one piece Large Unit. He has recorded frequently as both leader and sideman and details of his extensive discography can be found at his website

His latest project is Circus, a band featuring six young musicians, most of whom who have passed through the ranks of Large Unit. The majority are Norwegian but the line up includes the extraordinary South African born vocalist Julia Venter.

Conceived during lockdown the septet’s début album “Pairs of Three” is inspired by the music of Brazil, although today’s astonishing performance never sounded obviously Brazilian. Nilssen-Love also draws on the inspiration of Ethiopian music as well as both the American and European jazz and improv traditions.

Today’s show was structured as a single unbroken performance, a mix of written and improvised music divided into discernible sections within the framework of the piece as a whole. I spoke to bassist Svendsen after the show, who informed me that the band had a number of tunes that they could dip in and out of at will but that the performance was largely improvised. With the exception of Venter, who had crib sheets for the lyrics, no one was sight reading an indication of the overall concept of freeness with regard to the project.

This was also a highly visual performance, with Nilssen-Love and his equipment situated centre stage, with three huge gongs situated behind the conventional drum kit. Even before the band came on this set up represented an arresting visual spectacle.

Nilssen-Love began by standing to play the gongs. Those of us of a certain age will remember the huge gongs that prog rock groups used to have, which were probably only ever hit once at the very end of the set.  ELP I’m thinking of you here.

But this was very different from such prog rock excesses, Nilssen-Love’s playing of the gongs during an atmospheric opening section was inherently musical,  beautiful, and even magical. He was joined by the sounds of Venter’s voice, emulating bird song, the fluttering of Emmeluth’s alto sax and the muted whisper of Johansson’s trumpet.

The momentum increased as Nilseen-Love rattled shakers before moving to the drum kit, his rhythms augmented by the free jazz squalls of alto and trumpet. As Svendsen’s electric bass locked in with the leader the whole band coalesced with an explosive power around a mighty riff, although at this stage of the proceedings Lilja’s guitar was still a little too low in the mix.

Gradually the riffing fragmented into a softer dialogue between Moberg’s accordion and the leader’s hand drums and small percussion. Venter’s remarkable vocals were then added to the equation, ranging from semi-operatic to primal screaming but also incorporating her own lyrics, sung in English. At one point there was even a snippet of Dolly Parton’s “Joelene” but in truth this music was closer to that of Frank Zappa and his cut and paste approach.

Venter’s voice proved to be an incredibly versatile instrument, ranging from piercing high pitch screams to almost impossibly deep ululations akin to throat singing. She also represented a visual presence,  a previously demure looking figure coming to the front of the stage to dance in shamanistic, dervish like fashion as if battered by the force of the music, rather like David Byrne with Talking Heads or Peter Hammill during Van Der Graaf Generator’s more extreme instrumental moments.

The music continued to ebb and flow, veering between the written and the improvised with bouts of monumental riffing interspersed by more reflective episodes featuring the lonely ring of muted trumpet and the quiet rustle of small percussion.

A rousing ‘marching band’ style section fragmented into a free jazz episode, from which Johansson emerged to deliver a powerful trumpet solo as the rest of the band coalesced around him playing a mighty, drum driven riff.

The music continued to evolve in kaleidoscopic fashion with various members of the group coming to the fore at different points. Venter delivered more extraordinary larynx splitting screams, a kind of vocal shredding, as well as singing further passages of English language lyrics.

Emmeluth screamed through her alto, soaring above the odd meter riffs and grooves generated by the rest of the band, these enough to set heads nodding around the venue as the audience became increasingly immersed in this remarkable music.

Lilja, a solo artist in her own right with two album to her credit, came to the front of the stage to deliver her guitar solo. We could certainly hear her now as her guitar seared and soared and as she entered into an unlikely face off with accordionist Moberg.

Eventually all good things come to an end and the audience responded with an ecstatic reaction to this extraordinary music. All the copies of the Circus CD had been sold before I had even exited the auditorium, which was the only disappointment about a gig that was probably my favourite of the Festival.

This year’s Festival featured a number of long form improvisations, including CollapseUncollapse and Black Top on Saturday and Deadeye later in the day, but this had to be the pick of them for its sheer distinctiveness and unpredictability. Venter’s astonishing vocal performance was also a major factor, as was the dazzling playing of Nilssen-Love, a phenomenally gifted drummer and percussionist who was technically brilliant and also marshalled the entire performance from the drum kit. It was his vision that helped to make this such a remarkable performance.


The second gig of the day at the PAC featured Deadeye, a new trio featuring the British organist Kit Downes plus the German musicians Reinier Baas (guitar) and Jonas Burgwinkel (drums).

Downes has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years and I have have encountered Burgwinkel’s playing in groups led by pianist Pablo Held and saxophonist Peter Ehwald, but Baas was a new name to me.

The trio operate in the classic ‘organ trio’ format with Downes on Hammond and they have already released two albums, the studio set “Deadeye” and the concert recording “Deadeye Live”, the latter only available on vinyl.

The band attempt to update the concept of the organ trio for the 21st century and place a strong emphasis on the process of improvisation. The trio’s sound owes little to the classic organ trio sound of vintage Blue Note recordings and the group’s Bandcamp page features the following mission statement;

 “It has been a long-cherished wish for the three of us to play music together, and we have done as much in different settings and projects. We feel we have found the right instrumentation to unify our various musical influences in the tried and tested formula of the Hammond trio. In doing so, we are indebted to Ennio Morricone, Lili Boulanger, Richard Strauss, Wes Montgomery and MF DOOM, among many others”.

The trio’s show at the Parabola featured Downes playing a vintage, dual manual, matt black Hammond complete with Leslie speaker cabinet. Their performance featured two lengthy excursions that pushed the boundaries of the organ trio to their limits.

The title of the first piece was unannounced but was introduced by Burgwinkel at the drums, playing with a combination of mallets and bare hands. Baas responded to his rhythmic patterns with the sound of FX drenched guitar as Downes added church like organ sounds.

Baas adopted a purer, more conventional guitar sound as the music began to veer in the direction of prog rock in a manner that was sometimes reminiscent of the fondly remembered Troyka, Downes’ previous organ trio with guitarist Chris Montague and drummer Joshua Blackmore. That said Deadeye probably push the envelope even further than Troyka, in a manner that sometimes reminded me of Medeski, Martin and Wood and particularly the Norwegian trio Elephant9, featuring organist Stale Storlokken. Reviews of this show have also made comparisons with the original edition of Lifetime, featuring drummer Tony Williams and organist Larry Young.

Sit down guitarist Baas delivered incisive,  nimble fingered solos that occasionally ventured into the realms of extended technique. Downes meanwhile explored the full range of the organ’s sonic capabilities, from the celestial and ethereal to the deep and earthy, whether in dialogue with Baas or Burgwinkel. In the main he avoided the usual jazz Hammond clichés and his performance was consistently exploratory and inventive.

The second half of the set was based around Baas’ composition “On Two”, a piece that appears on the “Deadeye Live” album. This was introduced by the sound of guitar and drums as Downes made brief running repairs to the Hammond. As a trio the musicians then established a taut, riffy groove, the basis for enterprising solos from Downes and Baas, plus a drum feature for Burgwinkel.

At this juncture I suspect that the music segued into another piece but the music continued unbroken with a quieter, more atmospheric episode featuring the sounds of organ drones, guitar scratches and rubbed drumsticks.

An odd meter groove then emerged, with Bass soloing above the sound of Burgwinkel’s drums and Downes’ growling Hammond. The organist’s own solo saw him pushing the instrument to its limits, exploring the kind of bass frequencies that you feel rather than hear. For the second time this afternoon I was reminded of Van Der Graaf Generator and the lurid 1970s music paper headlines that the group’s keyboard player, Hugh Banton, was “building an organ that can knock down walls”.

Thankfully the Parabola survived Downes’ low end experimental rumblings and in a performance of extreme dynamic contrasts we now enjoyed Baas’ gentle solo guitar ruminations before the music segued into the American folk / gospel tune “The Wayfaring Stranger”, a version of which appears on Deadeye’s studio album. This featured Downe’s Hammond playing at its most celestial and church like.

Finally a neatly constructed solo drum passage from the excellent Burgwinkel led to a dazzling riff based closing passage featuring turn on a dime dynamic changes and final solos from Downes on swirling Hammond and Baas on guitar.

This was music that was both exploratory and highly exciting, an excellent combination, and again the audience responded accordingly. The free vinyl offered by Downes was quickly snaffled up and the CD wasn’t available, so I wasn’t able to take a piece of Deadeye home with me, which was again disappointing.

From where I was sitting, not far from the mixing desk, the sound was well balanced and in the rare quiet moments one could even hear the swish of the Leslie as the drum spun around. However audience members right at the front of the hall complained that the guitar was too loud and blotted out both the drums and the Hammond. I can only surmise that the bulk of the organ itself blocked the sound from the Leslie. An interesting phenomenon, I’ve been attending events at the Parabola for many years and this is the only real complaint I’ve ever heard about the sound, which has generally always been excellent.


From one sit down guitarist to another, albeit one operating in a very different genre of jazz.

Mozes Rosenberg is a member of the famous Dutch gypsy jazz dynasty, a clan that also includes guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg, regarded by many as the natural heir of the great Django Reinhardt, and rhythm guitarist and vocalist Johnny Rosenberg.  Members of the family often perform together under the collective name The Rosenbergs.

I recall seeing Mozes perform as part of a quintet led by Stochelo at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival that delivered some of the finest gypsy jazz playing that I have ever seen or heard.

Today Mozes was co-leading an international quartet alongside Kansas Smitty’s clarinettist Giacomo Smith, with rhythmic duties being undertaken by guitarist Oswald Remi and double bassist William Brunard, both from France.

Gypsy jazz is rarely heard as part of the concert programme at CJF but the enduring popularity of the genre was reflected by the large and highly attentive audience at the Jazz Arena. The excellent turn out was also testament to the reputation of the Rosenberg family as keepers of the gypsy jazz flame and to the popularity of the affable Smith and the Kansas Smitty’s franchise.

Inevitably the music of the Rosenberg / Smith quartet is inspired by the playing and writing of the late, great Django Reinhardt and although Reinhardt’s most famous collaboration was with the violinist Stephane Grappelli he also worked regularly with horn players, and particularly with clarinettists, so there were plenty of precedents for today’s collaboration, among them the American clarinettist Evan Christopher’s popular Django a la Creole project.

As rain drummed on the roof of the Jazz Arena during the course of one of the few promised heavy showers the erudite Smith announced the first tune, a brisk romp through “After You’ve Gone”, with solos from himself on clarinet and Rosenberg on guitar.

“Double Scotch” featured further solos from Smith and Rosenberg and also included a solo from Brunard on double bass. Apparently Paris based Brunard is a multi-instrumentalist capable of playing any instrument in the band, including the clarinet.

Introducing the Reinhardt composition “Minor Blues” Smith recounted the now familiar story of Reinhardt losing two fingers in a caravan fire but overcoming this setback to become a virtuoso guitarist. As an American based in London Smith equated this tale with that of baseball pitcher Mordecai Brown, inventor of the “knuckle ball”. For British audiences a more familiar parallel might be Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who damaged his fingers in an industrial accident and took inspiration from Reinhardt as he adapted his guitar technique to compensate for his injuries.

Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine” featured solos from Smith, Rosenberg and Brunard, with Remi focussing on the vital rhythm guitar function throughout the set.

The Porter theme continued with “Just One Of Those Things”, with the rapid chug of Remi’s rhythm guitar fuelling solos from Rosenberg and Smith.

The clarinettist then performed a stunning unaccompanied version of Reinhardt’s best known ballad, the enduringly popular “Nuages”. “An appropriate title for today”, mused Smith although the rain had abated by now. This was a performance that combined awesome technique with great beauty, but for the first time sound leakage from the other stages was unfortunately noticeable.

Reinhardt recorded a version of another of his most famous compositions, “Tiger Rag”, with a French alto saxophonist, whose name Smith did announce but which I didn’t catch. This version was unusual in that Reinhardt played rhythm guitar, and was, of course, just as brilliant in this role as he was as a soloist. This afternoon’s duo version from Smith and Rosenberg saw the guitarist playing mainly rhythm, only breaking ranks towards the close to exchange melodic flourishes with Smith. 

The other members of the quartet returned for the final two numbers, both of which were unannounced but were delivered in rapid ‘Hot Club’ style with dazzling solos from the co-leaders on both tunes and from Brunard on the first.

As with the 2019 Brecon concert with Mozes and Stochelo this was gypsy jazz of the first order and the crowd responded accordingly, giving the members of the quartet a terrific reception. The only misgivings I heard were from serious guitar aficionados who wished to have heard more from Rosenberg and a little less from Smith. It may have been the clarinet dominated versions of “Nuages” and “Tiger Rag” that prompted this response. Personally I had no complaints and this amiable set from four very talented musicians added greatly to the variety of music played at the Festival. On this evidence a regular gypsy jazz slot on the concert programme in future years would be something to be welcomed by many Festival goers.


I grew up listening to Stanley Clarke’s virtuoso playing on recordings by Chick Corea’s Return To Forever and on Clarke’s celebrated solo album “School Days”. My personal jazz tastes have moved on from that kind of fusion but Clarke remains something of a legend and I couldn’t resist the opportunity of seeing one of my very first jazz heroes performing in the flesh for the first time. (I’d already caught up with the late Corea performing in various different musical guises over the years).

Clarke’s current band, N’4EVER is touring Europe at the moment and features the seventy one year old in the company of a group of highly talented young musicians, most of whom are probably half, or even a third, his age. For today’s show Clarke and the American musicians Emilio Modeste (saxophones, EWI), Colin Cook (acoustic & electric guitars) and Jeremiah Collier (drums, percussion) were joined by the Georgian born Beka Gochiashvili on grand piano and electric keyboards.

No two Stanley Clarke shows are ever the same and although the bassist has acquired a reputation for being something of a showman he is still a serious musician and the process of improvisation remains at the core of his music.

Clarke played for many years with the late keyboard player and composer George Duke (1946 – 2013) and he makes a point of playing a George Duke tune at every gig. Today’s set began with a lengthy exploration of Duke’s composition “Brazilian Love Affair”, introduced by Collier at the drums and with Clarke playing the melody on acoustic double bass. There was an interesting mix of acoustic and electric instruments with Cook featuring on acoustic guitar and Modeste on EWI. Meanwhile the impressive Gochiashvili took the first solo on acoustic piano, followed by Cook on acoustic guitar. The leader’s bass solo combined a strong sense of melody with a deeply resonant tone and an astonishing manual dexterity, his technique incorporating flamboyant flamenco style strumming and the use of the body of the instrument as a form of auxiliary percussion. Clarke’s hands are huge and his fingers almost prehensile, already six feet tall by the age of twelve he is the perfect physical fit for the double bass. Clarke’s extended solo developed into a dialogue with the dynamic young drummer Collier, a native of Chicago aged just twenty two. As Gochiashvili moved to electric keyboards the impressive Collier rounded off this first piece with an explosive drum feature, underpinned by the Georgian’s synth bass lines.

Clarke’s sets will often include an interpretation of a jazz standard and today’s choice was the Joe Henderson composition “Black Narcissus”, introduced by a gentle passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano from Gochiashvili. Once again Clarke took up the melody on double bass, with Modeste joining him on tenor sax to expand upon the theme and to take the first solo. Cook had switched to electric guitar and his solo was both cool and elegant. Gochiashvili than took over on piano and then Clarke on double bass. Collier deployed brushes throughout and his drum feature initially represented a total contrast to the hammering at the close of the Duke piece. Eventually he did pick up the sticks to increase the power levels, with Modeste returning to restate Henderson’s theme.

The publicity for this gig had suggested that the performance would be centred around the classic 1976 Return To Forever album “Romantic Warrior”. Instead Clarke’s tribute to the late Corea was the title track of the previous year’s RTF album “No Mystery”. I’d not heard this in a long time and had forgotten just what a good tune it is. The performance saw Cook moving back to acoustic guitar while Modeste took up the soprano sax. Clarke demonstrated his impressive technique with the bow before eventually switching back to pizzicato bass. Gochiashvili’s acoustic piano solo was a rumbustious, fiery affair and he was followed by Modeste on soprano sax and Cook on acoustic guitar,  both of whom displayed great virtuosity, with Cook adding some flamenco style flourishes of his own. Clarke then took over for a totally compelling double bass feature, much it performed in the sole company of Collier, a showcase that combined prodigious plucking with strumming and slapping techniques. The rest of the band, led by Modeste’s soprano, then returned for a final theme statement.

Although they had only played three pieces N’4EVER had already exceeded their designated seventy five minute Festival slot and despite the cheers of a rapturous audience there was to be no more. Two electric basses were propped up at the back of the stage but we were denied the opportunity of seeing Stanley strut his stuff through “School Days” or something similar.

Nevertheless nobody was complaining about what they had seen and heard. Clarke’s own virtuoso playing had been nothing less than stunning, and like Ezra Collective the previous evening the crowd pleasing elements were only part of a wider musicality. The leader was well supported by a hugely talented band of younger musicians, of whom Collier, in particular caught the eye. Already a phenomenally talented technician his playing will improve even more and gain a greater subtlety as his career progresses. These young guys certainly help to Clarke on his toes. He may perch on a tall stool to play the double bass these days but his fingers are as fast as ever and his love of the music remains undimmed.

It’s not always easy to mix a band that contains electric and acoustic instruments but the quality of the sound was very good, especially in a venue that I have criticised for its acoustics in the past, so once again well done to the sound engineers too. They played their part in making my first Stanley Clarke gig such a memorable one.


Like so many other leading musicians the American guitarist and composer Julian Lage (born in 1987) first came to the attention of jazz audiences as a member of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s band.

Burton’s quartet, featuring Lage, appeared in this same venue ten years ago, but I remember being slightly disappointed by them at the time.

It was only after some deliberation that I came to Lage’s gig today. In a case of unfortunate Festival scheduling he was playing at the same time as British trumpeter Laura Jurd at the Parabola, who was performing a special commission honouring Tony Dudley-Evans at what was to be his final gig as Programme Advisor at CJF. A tough choice, but I figured that Laura’s commission might get a second performance in Birmingham later in the year, so working on the principle that you have to catch American musicians when you get the chance I opted for the guitarist.

During the course of the last decade Lage has established himself as a bandleader in his own right and now has fifteen recordings as a leader to his credit. He is currently signed to Blue Note Records following a previous tenure with Mack Avenue and his regular trio, which is currently touring Europe, features Jorge Roeder on double bass and Bad Plus drummer Dave King behind the kit.

Lage is very much a ‘guitarist’s guitarist’ and the audience included his fellow axemen Chris Cobbson and Andy Bowen, who both later told me that they had been hugely impressed with Lage’s playing. Also present were saxophonist / vocalist Kim Cypher and her drummer husband Mike, plus pianist Alex Steele. The Cyphers and Steele had recently played a gig in Cheltenham with the American guitarist B.D. Lenz and there was certainly something of B.D.’s jazz meets rock meets Americana sound in Lage’s playing.

The trio commenced with “Twilight Summer”, a track from Lage’s first Blue Note album “Squint”. Lage has developed a guitar style that draws on the influences of Pat Metheny, another Burton alumnus, and Bill Frisell, but which is very much his own. Indeed Frisell appears alongside Lage on Julian’s latest album “View With A Room”, from which much of tonight’s material was sourced, and its companion EP “The Layers”.

The new album was represented by “Auditorium”, which featured the Frisell like twang of the leader’s guitar alongside the subtle swing of Roeder’s bass and the deft brush work of King. It was interesting to see King play in a different musical setting to the Bad Plus and to note that in the context of the Lage trio that his drumming was more obviously jazz, rather than rock, influenced.

Also from “View With A Room” the track “Castle Park” featured King’s playing more prominently as it concluded with a rousing drum feature.

A passage of unaccompanied guitar introduced “Fairbanks”, another tune from the “View With A Room” album. Roeder and King then combined to produce an insistent,  chugging rhythm that underpinned Lage’s six string explorations, the guitarist drawing inspiration both from the blues and from early rock’n’roll. Much like Frisell Lage has developed his own brand of Americana. This piece also included a bass feature for the impressive Jorge Roeder.

King’s drums introduced the hard driving “Chavez”, the most energetic piece thus far and one that delivered some dazzling soloing from Lage, a flurry of mercurial single note lines and complex, sophisticated chording.

Tune announcements fizzled out as the members of the trio just focussed on the playing, clearly enjoying themselves immensely. The programme included two elegant ballads featuring Lage’s fluent soloing, sounding almost Metheny like at times, and more skilled brush work from King. The second of these had an almost anthemic quality, drawing on the influence of mainstream rock.

There was an obvious Metheny homage with a blisteringly fast, technically brilliant rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip / Broadway Blues”, a tune that appears on Metheny’s “Bright Size Life” album. This was more loosely structured than Metheny’s version and included a drum feature for the excellent King.

I certainly enjoyed this performance from Lage, whose blending together of various types of American music – jazz, rock, country and more – is undeniably impressive and highly skilled. Yet even with the irrepressible King on drums that sense that it’s all just a little bit TOO tasteful remained.

The rest of the audience seemed to have no such reservations and this admittedly excellent show was rewarded with a great reception.


My final gig of the day found me back at Cheltenham Town Hall for this performance by the Scottish pianist, composer and improviser Fergus McCreadie and his trio.

A frequent award winner and a Mercury Music Prize nominee McCreadie is a rising star of the UK jazz scene and his appearance at one of the Festival’s larger venues is a testament to the size of the following he has generated for his distinctive blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music.

McCreadie is not the first Scottish jazz musician to integrate elements of Scottish folk music into his sound, but his inclusion of it in the context of a Keith Jarrett inspired jazz piano trio must surely be unique.

An increasingly important player on both the British and European jazz scenes McCreadie has released three albums to date, beginning with the self released “Turas” (2018), which won the 2019 Parliamentary Jazz Award for best album. The success of “Turas” led to the McCreadie Trio signing to Edition Records for “Cairn” (2021) and the Mercury nominated “Forest Floor” (2022).

Tonight’s performance saw the pianist in the company of long serving trio members David Bowden (double bass) and Stephen Henderson (drums). These three young musicians are all still in their twenties and “Turas” was recorded when they were still students. Nevertheless they have developed an impressive and astonishingly mature rapport and this was a quality that was readily apparent throughout this performance.

Playing with minimal amplification this was essentially an acoustic performance and the clarity of the sound at this sometimes difficult venue was again a significant factor in the success of this excellent concert.

McCreadie uses his folk inspired melodies as the basis for improvisation and spontaneity is very much a factor in the trio’s live appearances. Like all the best jazz no two McCreadie Trio shows are exactly alike and today’s show was very different to my last sighting of the trio at Clun Valley Jazz in Bishop’s Castle in the Autumn of 2022. That performance had sometimes been very intense but the playing tonight was more measured and spacious and was frequently very beautiful.

McCreadie was very busy during lockdown and gave weekly online performances, in which a substantial part of the programme was given over to lengthy Jarrett style solo improvisations. The quality of these suggested that Fergus could give Keith a run for his money and McCreadie has suggested that he may record in this format at some point in the future.

Tonight there was a Jarrett like quality about a fifty minute opening segue that took in four different tunes, “Morning Moon” from the “Forest Floor” album, “Ardbeg” from” Turas”, the traditional Scottish tune “The Kerfunken Jig” and the as yet unrecorded new composition “Snowcap”, inspired by the wintry beauty of the Scottish landscape around Glencoe.

The sequence evolved from a hymn like solo piano introduction to embrace folk inspired melodies, classical style flourishes and an increasingly animated McCreadie solo that contained a veritable outpouring of musical ideas.  Bowden and Henderson were in step with the leader every inch of the way and the bassist’s arco feature, accompanied by Henderson’s filigree cymbal work provided the link into the next section of the segue. Bowden put down the bow for a more conventional bass solo before McCreadie took over again, working on a fresh set of ideas throughout a spellbinding solo that again invited those Jarrett comparisons. Significantly nobody was sight reading, a sign both of the trio’s instinctive rapport and to their commitment to the art of improvisation. The performance seemed to be coming to a conclusion with a near anthemic passage that included some dramatic drumming from Henderson, but the subsequent diminuendo developed into an engaging dialogue between Bowden and Henderson, supported by the leader’s gently rippling piano arpeggios.

McCreadie had been playing with his back to the crowd but now turned to face the audience, informing us of the individual tune titles in that dazzling but totally immersive opening segue. He also stressed that like Jarrett he liked to take to the stage unprepared and to let the music lead him. We were also informed that the trio have a new album in the pipeline. As a long time supporter of McCreadie’s music I shall very much be looking forward to that.

The next piece was announced as “a new tune, we’ll see where it goes”. Introduced by piano and drums the piece included features for both Bowden and Henderson as well as the expansive pianistic explorations of the leader as the music continued to gather momentum during its ten to fifteen minute duration. As with much of McCreadie’s music the results were so absorbing that I lost track of time.

The trio’s final piece was quiet and spacious, almost hymnal and was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano, again possessed of an almost hymn like quality. Bowden’s bass solo was achingly melodic, augmented by Henderson’s feather like cymbal embellishments. This was delicate, intensely beautiful music that sometimes reminded me of Tord Gustavsen, Jarrett’s ECM label mate and another possible influence for McCreadie.

As this was the last show of the day at the Town Hall and as the audience reaction was so ecstatic the trio were accorded the rare Festival luxury of playing an encore. This combined folk inspired melodies with E.S.T. inspired grooves and featured a dazzling final solo from the leader.

There may have been less people in than for Ezra Collective or Stanley Clarke but the size of the audience was still re-assuringly large and their love for the music was even greater. This must have been one of the biggest UK gigs the trio have played thus far and it was an undoubted triumph for them.

So ended an incredible day of music, for me probably the best of the Festival all round. It was certainly the most varied, covering a broad range of jazz genres and featuring musicians from many different countries, a tribute to the unifying power of music and of jazz in particular.

It’s hard to pick a gig of the day, but it probably has to go to Paal Nilssen-Love for a strikingly original performance that was so unusual and unexpected.





by Ian Mann

May 03, 2023

Ian Mann enjoys a series of sold out shows including performances by Birmingham / Siena Jazz Exchange, CollapseUncollapse with Stian Westerhus, Black Top with Xhosa Cole and Ezra Collective.

Photograph of Ezra Collective at Cheltenham Town Hall by Tim Dickeson


Following a very successful and well attended post coViD return in 2022 the 2023 Cheltenham saw audience numbers increase even further with many shows selling out. And it wasn’t just the big headlining events such as Van Morrison, Gregory Porter and Squeeze in the Big Top; three of today’s events on the more ‘cutting edge’ side of the programme at the Parabola Arts Centre also attracted capacity audiences. This, coupled with the fact that there seemed to be more people than ever enjoying the events on the Free Stage in Montpelier Gardens added up to a highly memorable weekend of music at a Festival that must have represented a huge artistic and financial success for the organisers.


The first ‘full house’ on today’s PAC programme was for the annual ’Jazz Exchange’ event showcasing the talents of students on the Jazz Course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire alongside their counterparts from various equivalent European institutions.

For many years the visitors were from Trondheim in Norway but more recent exchanges have featured students from Paris and from the Siena Jazz-Accademia Nazionale del Jazz.

Although today’s event was billed as a Birmingham / Siena Exchange logistical problems meant that the Italian contingent were unable to travel. Nevertheless the event still had an international flavour with several Italian students who are currently studying in the UK making appearances alongside other students currently studying in Milan and Hamburg.

As is traditional at this event three different ensembles, known simply as Groups One, Two and Three each presented a short programme lasting around fifteen to twenty minutes.

The event was hosted by CJF’s Programme Advisor Tony Dudley-Evans and the standard of the musicianship from each of the three ensembles was as outstanding as ever. The logistical hiatus had caused no discernible loss of quality and it has to be said that every year the skill levels of these young musicians, wherever they may be from, is hugely impressive. This also says much for the standard of the teaching at the various institutions involved.

Group One, mentored by Jeremy Price of RBC, featured Birmingham based students Ben Partridge (tenor sax),  Marcin Muras (trombone), Nick Manz (piano) and Aidan Amann (drums) plus Roz MacDonald, originally from Scotland but now studying in Hamburg on double bass.

Conscious of the need to move things along, the Exchange event has often overrun in the past, Dudley-Evans didn’t encourage the applause of individual musicians during the introductions. Also no tune announcements were made by the musicians but we were informed that all three groups would be playing programmes of original music, with several pieces composed specifically for this event.

Group One’s first piece began with a passage of unaccompanied piano from Manz, who had been a finalist in the 2022 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. Gradually bass, drums and horns were added as the group adopted a contemporary jazz sound, perhaps inspired by recordings on the ECM record label. Fluent solos came from saxophonist Partridge and pianist Manz, with a neatly constructed drum feature from Amman coming towards the close. I surmised that Amann might be the son of Midlands based pianist and composer Tim Amann, perhaps somebody reading this can confirm that for me.

The second piece featured a more conventional, ‘mainstream’ jazz sound with tenor sax and trombone combining effectively on the ‘head’. Polish born Muras impressed with his trombone solo, as did MacDonald on her bass feature.

Manz’s piano arpeggios introduced the third piece, quickly joined by Partridge and Muras for a ‘chamber jazz’ trio section sans bass and drums. MacDonald and Amann eventually joined the party and a more conventional piano trio section followed with the impressive Manz soloing. The return of the horns resulted in an increase of energy and momentum and a short cameo from MacDonald was followed by a powerful and expansive tenor solo from Partridge, who seemed to be the effective ‘leader’ of this first aggregation.

Group Two, mentored by Ed Puddick, featured RBC students Rebecca Wing (alto sax), Tom Marsh (double bass) and Henry Wakley (drums) plus the Italian musicians Luca Gianassi (guitar) and Daniele Nocella (trumpet), the latter studying in Milan.

Marsh’s bass introduced the first item, first joined by guitar and drums and then by the mournful sound of Nocella’s trumpet. He then entered into a series of absorbing exchanges with Wing’s alto, these followed by a tasteful, measured solo from Gianassi on guitar. Trumpet and sax then took over again, continuing to exchange ideas as the music continued to gather momentum, with group generating an impressive collective power.

An episodic second piece was led in by Wing’s alto, combining again with Norcella’s trumpet to create a kind of opening fanfare. The two horns were joined by the rest of the group to state the melodic theme, this followed by an outstanding trumpet from Nocella, now adopting a harder edged sound that demonstrated his versatility on the instrument. His solo was followed by that of Wing, with further features coming from Marsh and Wakley. The closing section had a song like construction and was positively anthemic, with the impressive Nocella again leading the way.
The length of this second piece meant that the second group only got to play two numbers, but those two pieces certainly made their presence felt.

The final group, mentored by Andrew Bain, featured RBC students Ben Goodman-Church (piano), James Routledge (trumpet, flugel) and Milo Kirkham (drums), together with Polish born bassist Jaromjr Rusnak, who is studying in Milan, and alto saxophonist Paul Beskers, who is studying in Hamburg.

Their first piece saw trumpet and alto sax combining on the ‘head’ before the impressive Rusnak took the first solo at the bass. Beskers followed on alto and Goodman-Church at the piano, prior to a closing drum feature from the powerful Kirkham.

Routledge moved to flugel and displayed an impressive fluency and sensitivity on the next tune, a ballad that also revealed a more sensitive side to Kirkham’s playing as he switched to brushes. Routledge took the first solo on flugel, this followed by a melodic double bass feature from Rusnak.

Kirkham picked up the sticks again to introduce the swinging, bebop flavoured final item. This proved to be an energetic, upbeat set closer with lively solos from Routledge on trumpet, Beskers on alto and Goodman-Church at the piano.

This was the most varied set of the three but all of the groups were given a very generous reception from the knowledgeable audience at the PAC as they applauded these rising stars, with all fifteen musicians gathering together on stage to acknowledge the acclaim at the end. Each is already a highly accomplished musician and many of today’s performers will surely be joining the professional ranks very soon. I’d be more than happy to see any of them perform again should they ever visit a club near me.


Another annual event at CJF that seeks to promote and nurture young musical talent is the Oldham Foundation Showcase double bill that takes place in the Jazz Arena.

The performers are not always strictly jazz, although the 2022 event featured rising star jazz vocalist Georgia Cecile, who returned this year with her own show at the same venue as part of the concert programme.

2022 was probably the best all round Showcase event that I’ve seen as the other act was blues singer and songwriter Elles Bailey, a highly talented vocalist and writer with a commanding stage presence and with an excellent band around her. I enjoyed Bailey’s performance so much last year that I checked her out again at subsequent blues festivals in Bilston and Upton.

Although it didn’t quite hit last year’s heights (for me, anyway) 2023 featured another all female bill with Kent based singer, bassist and songwriter Immy followed by Scottish vocalist, pianist and songwriter Tamzene.

The double bill was introduced by CJF’s Head of Programming, David Gaydon, who emphasised the Festival’s support for “early career artists”, while emphasising the success enjoyed by both Cecile and Bailey in the wake of last year’s event.

I could find precious little on line about Immy, who opened the show here playing bass guitar and singing her self penned songs while fronting a trio featuring guitarist Josh and drummer Angus. Her sound has been described as “pop, soul and funk with a touch of jazz”, with artists as diverse as Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis and Julie London mentioned as influences. From a musical family her inspirations also include poet Emily Dickinson.

Be that as it may this was essentially a pop / rock performance with Immy’s assured vocals and accomplished bass guitar playing supported by Angus’ drums and Josh’s wah wah guitar sound on opener “Falling For You”.

Most of Immy’s songs were about relationships and despite the Dickinson influence the lyrics were rather callow and formulaic, although given her young years this perhaps wasn’t so surprising. Her tunes however were effective and arresting and the singing and playing more than competent. The young trio soon had the audience on their side with drummer Angus helping to elicit an audience clap along to the second song, “Taking It Slow”.

Next up a song described by its writer as “a dancey one”, an upbeat indie rock flavoured offering that kept the energy levels up and the audience onside, and particularly so when Immy demonstrated her bass playing chops with a brief instrumental solo.

“So Pretty”, described as “a song about misjudging someone” that started out as a love song but turned in to a hate song slowed the pace slightly with a voice/ guitar intro as Angus temporarily dropped out.  The pretty / shitty rhyming couplet couldn’t help but raise a smile, while Josh impressed with an instrumental solo.

Immy has already released two EPs, 2021’s “Golden Skies” and 2022’s “Lovestruck in London”, plus a handful of singles. Her next single release will be the hypnotic, blues tinged “Sweet Nirvana”, which should do well given its reception here.

It wasn’t always easy to catch the song titles but next up was a tight, taut funky offering that highlighted Josh’s guitar skills.

The only cover of the set was of the Eloise song “Subside”. Also from the UK Eloise is a little older than Immy and is an artist with an international reputation. She is clearly also a huge inspiration for the younger singer - “she’s the reason I’m doing this”.

Another “love song turned hate song” was the bitter revenge ballad “Pretty In Person”. This was followed by “Out Of The Blue”, a co-write with singer Stefan Mahendra.

More of the promised funk arrived on the closing “Lovesick”, a 2022 single that elicited more clapping along and instrumental features for both Immy and Josh. The vibrant rhythms, catchy chorus and instrumental dexterity helped to generate an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd, with many getting to their feet to applaud the band at the end of their set.

Although it was rather more ‘poppy’ than my usual listening these days I rather enjoyed this. The songs were generally good, the singing and playing accomplished and the energy levels impressive. It’s not easy to sing and play an instrument at the same time but Immy multi-tasked impressively, well supported by her young band mates. There is much potential here and I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing or hearing Immy performing again. An excellent start to this two part showcase.

From the Scottish Highlands Tamzene is described as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. At today’s event she restricted herself to singing and playing the grand piano at The Jazz Arena.

Influenced by Roberta Flack, Alicia Keys, Aretha Franklin and Eva Cassidy she has recently released her début album “Lullaby”. Although only nineteen years of age Tamzene seems to be an old soul, her lyrics about relationships were more mature and nuanced than Immy’s and more rooted in the ‘Great American Songbook’ style of writing. To be fair to Immy she’s not really looking for the same effect and her words and music are more indebted to the pop / indie rock idiom.

Tamzene’s lyrics also draw on the ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter style pioneered by Joni Mitchell and opener “Called You Up” functioned as both torch song and revenge ballad.

“It’s Just Working, Babe” explored similar emotional territory but the more upbeat “Alive” brightened the mood and the optimistic “Not Just Anyone” celebrated the joys of falling in love.

The lyrics of “Ripcord” drew on inventive analogies (“you’re my ripcord when I’m falling) and the last song that I got to hear before having to make an early departure to cover another event was “I Don’t Want To Talk About Love”, a co-write with Scottish singer-songwriter David Sneddon, who was present in the audience.

There was much to enjoy here, Tamzene has a strong singing voice and is an accomplished pianist, although instrumental soloing wasn’t her business, her piano playing was there to support her songs.

With their focus on love and relationships the lyrics were a little one dimensional in terms of thematic content, but Tamzene’s words were also mature, poetic and evocative. More serious in tone than Immy it was perhaps surprising that she was scheduled to play second as a voice and piano solo performance couldn’t match the energy of a three piece electric band. That said Tamzene is more well established and I also noted that the sounds leaching in from other stages didn’t really affect Tamzene’s set, although they could be heard when Immy was announcing songs and her band weren’t actually playing. Thus the running order may have been determined by events happening elsewhere. On balance I probably preferred Immy out of the two, partly because there were other instruments to focus on.

Not quite up to 2022’s lofty standards but an enjoyable event nevertheless. Like the Jazz Exchange event the Oldham Foundation Showcase has become a central part of my CJF experience and I was very pleased to have been able to dip into it once again.


CollapseUncollapse is the improvising duo of Birmingham based musicians Mark Sanders (drums, percussion) and Chris Mapp (electric bass, electronics). They have recently recorded an album for subsequent release on the Brooklyn based label 577 Records.

The duo regularly invite other musicians to perform with them and for this Festival event, commissioned by Cheltenham Festivals and TDE Promotions, they asked the extraordinary Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus to join them.

I first remember seeing Westerhus play at the 2006 CJF when he was a member of Fraud, the ‘punk jazz’ quintet co-led by the British musicians James Allsopp (reeds) and Tim Giles (drums). Fraud delivered an incendiary performance at the old Pillar Room venue in the Town Hall and I recall enjoying seeing the band play live again at Warwick Arts Centre in 2007. Fraud was a relatively short lived venture and the group eventually disbanded after recording one eponymous album.

In 2011 Westerhus returned to CJF to deliver an astonishing solo guitar and electronics performance at the Playhouse Theatre. My review of that remarkable event can be found as part of that year’s Festival coverage here;

At the 2014 CJF Mapp, openly acknowledging the influence of Westerhus, gave a solo bass guitar and electronics performance at The Playhouse in which he explored similar sonic territory. This was part of a triple bill known as The Edge Project, presented by Dudley Evans that also featured music from Tricko-Tareco (the duo of pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton augmented by saxophonist Julian Nicholas) and the sax / electronics duo of Pete Wareham and Leafcutter John. Review here;

Fast forward to 2023 and Westerhus continues to perform such solo ‘recitals’ and had done so the previous evening at the Parabola. Those that had been there were suitably impressed, but not all fancied submitting themselves to a second Westerhus sonic barrage in as many days.

Introducing today’s trio Tony Dudley-Evans of TDE Promotions explained that the musicians would play a wholly improvised set. All clad in black the musicians took to a stage strewn with foot pedals and other electronic devices designed to expand the sound of both Westehus’ guitar and Mapp’s five string electric bass. Meanwhile Sanders augmented his drum kit with an array of small gongs and cymbals, singing bowls and sundry other items of small percussion.

A forty minute improvisation began quietly and atmospherically, with Sanders laying down an almost funereal beat via the use of mallets on toms as Westerhus and Mapp deployed their instruments and their wide ranging array of electronic FX to create layers of colour and texture. Pointillist guitar combined with ambient sound-washes, but subtly the music began to change, becoming louder and more intense, with Mapp deploying touch guitar techniques on his bass and sometimes using a pick. His use of a floor mounted effects unit allowed him to deliver some diaphragm rattling deep bass frequencies as an increasingly animated Sanders made effective use of those gongs and small cymbals.

Westerhus eventually took over to deliver some seriously brutal guitar shedding, the six string pyrotechnics augmented by screeching squalls of foot pedal generated electronic noise. Turning the volume up even further he entered into the realms of doomy, metalloid drone, punctuated by shrieks of feedback. This was seriously, rock band loud and one or two listeners sneaked out, alarmed at the volume and intensity.

An eerie,  more atmospheric passage followed featuring the live looped sounds of Mapp’s bass and Sanders’ use of bows on gongs and cymbals.

Westerhus is also famed for the use of the bow on his guitar and in previous reviews I have referred to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page as a “dilettante” or a “mere dabbler” in comparison. A set piece section featuring his impressive arco technique and his use of ringing overtones was augmented by his plaintive singing, delivered in English. It wasn’t easy to make sense of the lyrics but I seem to recall the phrase “you never know until tomorrow”. Westerhus’ guitar and vocal work was complemented by Sanders’ hand drumming and his use of singing bowls and other small percussion.

The final passage saw the trio cranking up the volume again and making full use of their arsenal of electronic effects as they went into ‘free jazz power trio’ mode, powered by Sanders’ volcanic drumming and with Mapp’s bass occasionally taking over the lead from Westerhus’ guitar. Some of the rhythms were derived from the rock world and provoked a bout of head nodding from some members of the audience.

This excoriating finale drew a rousing response from the crowd and the trio then embarked upon a second twenty minute improvisation that wasn’t strictly speaking an ‘encore’, but which somehow felt like one.

This shorter improvised excursion was introduced by Mapp at the bass, his subtle rhythmic patterns complemented by the soft chime of Sanders’ gongs and cymbals, the delicate filigree periodically punctuated by the harsher sounds of a cymbal scrape.

Westerhus had sat out thus far but now joined to combine with Mapp to create a swirling, ambient reverie of guitar washes and electronically generated sounds, with Sanders temporarily dropping out.

The drummer returned to add mallet rumbles to this atmospheric mix, the reverie subsequently being punctured by electronic squalls as the music became increasingly clangorous, with Westerhus again cranking up his amps and embarking on what was effectively a guitar solo that incorporated some serious shredding and incorporated effective use of the tremolo arm. Meanwhile Mapp elicited howls of feedback from his bass as Sanders hammered his kit in dynamic fashion as the threesome generated an enormous, wailing rock band power.

Having reached a furious peak the music gradually subsided with Westerhus again making use of the bow on the closing ‘comedown’ section.

Acknowledging the applause of the crowd Sanders stepped forward to the vocal mic to thank the audience and to also pay tribute to Tony Dudley-Evans for his role in organising today’s gig and also for his work at CJF and on the Birmingham jazz scene over many years.

CollapseUncollapse and Stian Westerhus had taken us on a remarkable sonic adventure, and little more than an hour later we were to return to this same room to embark upon another one.


Like CollapseUncollapse Black Top is also an improvising duo, this time featuring Pat Thomas on piano and electronics and Orphy Robinson on vibraphone and electronics.

It’s probably fair to say that Black Top is more established as an entity than CollapseUncollapse. Thomas and Robinson have been performing as a duo since at least 2011 and made their recorded début in 2014, a live set recorded at one of the still ongoing Jazz In The Round events at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, London. That album features the duo in the company of guest saxophonist Steve Williamson and is favourably reviewed here;

Black Top also like to invite other musicians to collaborate with them and in 2015 they released their second album, a recording of a 2014 performance at London’s Vortex Jazz Club, this time with guest saxophonist Evan Parker.

The third album in the series was released in 2017 and documented a live performance at Café Oto in London in the company of the American musicians William Parker (double bass, flutes, trumpet) and Hamid Drake (drums, percussion). All the albums in the series appear on the Babel label.

2019’s “Black Top Presents Some Good News” documented another Oto live performance in the company of William Parker, Drake, and vocalist Elaine Michener. It appears on the Otoroku label.

Previous collaborators have included  saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Jason Yarde, vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, drummer Louis Moholo Moholo, and trumpeters Claude Deppa and Byron Wallen among many others. 

Today’s performance featured the Black Top duo alongside rising star saxophonist Xhosa Cole, a bandleader in his own right and a former winner of BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year. There’s something of a buzz about Xhosa Cole and incredibly the Parabola was sold out for this performance of avant garde jazz.

Again the set was to be totally improvised, with the sounds of piano, vibes and sax / flute augmented by the various electronic devices deployed by Thomas and Robinson.

Black Top describe themselves as “a shape shifting unit, dedicated to exploring the intersection between live instruments and lo -fi technology”. Their music is wholly improvised but incorporates the use of loops, samples and dub reggae effects. The duo refer to it as “utilising music and sounds influenced by the African diaspora”.

Today’s performance began with the sounds of sampled speech generated by Robinson and referencing various elements of the Black experience.  This was accompanied by the piping sounds of Cole’s flute and by Thomas’ explorations of the piano’s innards.

When Robinson moved to the vibes he deployed the four mallet technique as Thomas gravitated between piano and electronics. Robinson’s vibes playing also included the use of extended techniques, such as rattling the mallets within the tubes of the instrument.

Thomas generated barrages of electronic noise, which I’m not sure were entirely intentional, these contrasting with the soft chimes of the vibraphone.

Cole moved to tenor sax to deliver a solo of sorts, his fluent playing augmented by glitchy electronics. At one juncture Robinson and Thomas dropped out entirely, leaving Cole to improvise solo, a challenge that he dealt with comfortably. It wasn’t the first time that the saxophonist had played with the duo and a strong rapport has clearly been established.

Thomas then rejoined to create an engaging piano / tenor sax dialogue, with Robinson subsequently coming in on vibes, deploying only two mallets this time, as the trio performed a rare all acoustic section.

The next passage saw the introduction of sampled voices and reggae beats, these forming the backdrop for a second tenor solo from Cole and a furious bout of Cecil Taylor like piano from Thomas. The pianist’s playing also draws on the legacy of such giants of the jazz genre as Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington.

An extended vibes / piano dialogue followed as Cole sat out, eventually returning on tenor as the electronics were reintroduced, this followed by a further switch to flute as the sampled voices and reggae beats returned.

Cole continued to move between instruments, taking up the tenor again to solo above Thomas’ jagged piano rhythms. A bout of unaccompanied tenor saw Cole demonstrating his circular breathing technique. He’s a phenomenally talented and open minded musician.

A rousing ‘ragtime’ section featured a passage of stride style piano from Thomas and more four mallet virtuosity from Robinson. This seemed to signal the end but there was still a twist in the tale with a quieter, more impressionistic final section which included Robinson intoning a list of homilies, of which I jotted down “listen to the silence”.

Robinson’s striking T shirt, with the words ‘Windrush Generation’ on the back and the words “More Blacks!, More Dogs!, More Irish!” in red, gold and green on the front drew admiring glances and reinforced Black Top’s political message.

This time there was to be no ‘encore’ but this improvisation had lasted a full hour and represented a fascinating and distinctive musical journey with a strong political message. Black Top have created a unique duo sound, but it’s one in which their guests can feel at home and every performance is different. Having enjoyed hearing the group’s live performances on disc I was delighted to see them ‘in the flesh’ for the first time, and particularly in the company of Xhosa Cole, of whom I was already very much a fan.

To see such adventurous and uncompromising music being played to a full house was very much the icing on the cake.


The third sell out gig of the day was this performance by this Norwegian trio led by pianist and composer Espen Eriksen, joined by the British saxophonist Espen Eriksen.

This event was one of the earliest sell outs of the entire Festival and all the seats had gone before I even applied for press tickets.

Fortunately a couple of returns in the week leading up to the Festival saw the status of the event change to ‘low availability’ and I was able to phone the box office and purchase a couple of tickets just three days prior to the gig.

This was a show that I didn’t want to miss, despite the reservations I have expressed about the Eriksen trio in the past. As I attended as a paying customer I don’t intend to give a fully detailed review but I did enjoy the performance and was very pleased that I was able to witness it.

The Eriksen Trio, also featuring bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye, was formed in 2007 and the line up has remained constant ever since. The group has released a series of albums for the Rune Grammofon label and my rather guarded review of their 2010 release “You Had Me At Goodbye” can be found here;

The trio specialise in melodic, folk influenced jazz and Eriksen’s compositions often resemble instrumental ‘songs’. It’s an approach that lies somewhere between that of their compatriots Jan Garbarek and Tord Gustavsen and the group’s music has invited criticisms of blandness and bloodlessness, and although I broadly I enjoy their sound I can see where their detractors are coming from.

In 2013 the members of the trio met with the British saxophonist Andy Sheppard when both acts were playing at a festival in Bergen and they subsequently began working together, releasing the album “Perfectly Unhappy” on Rune Grammofon in 2018. Although some of the earlier reservations remained the group sound was much fuller with Sheppard’s sax out front and, for me, this was a more satisfying release than the earlier trio recording.

Better still was 2022’s “In The Mountains”, a collection of live concert recordings, some recorded in the trio format, others with Sheppard on board. As so often happens the frisson of live performance gave the music added heft and my review of this recording was much more favourable.
Some of the pieces had appeared on previous studio recordings but sound more vital here.

Such was the case today, although I didn’t take notes and thus won’t be giving my usual tune by tune account. I do recall that they played the title tracks of both the “Perfectly Unhappy” and “In The Mountains” albums, plus “1974”, which appears on both releases and has a title that references the year in which Eriksen was born.

Eriksen proved to be a lucid and witty interlocutor between tunes and was clearly relishing the opportunity of performing in front of a capacity audience. Seeing the trio performing live made one appreciate just how high their level of rapport is, honed over more than fifteen years of making music together. It was particularly interesting to view from close range the subtle details and nuances of Bye’s drumming. Eriksen was a fluent soloist who thrived in the live environment and Jenset a capable anchor and occasional soloist. The now extravagantly bearded Sheppard fitted in perfectly and was a fluent soloist and an urbane on stage presence, leaving the verbals to Eriksen. Instead he spoke softly and eloquently through his tenor, although observers later expressed misgivings that he hadn’t ‘let himself go’ a bit more.

Nevertheless this was an absorbing and hugely enjoyable performance. As I observed in my “In The Mountains” review “The live environment seems to suit the Eriksen Trio, with the addition of Sheppard representing a very welcome bonus”.


Back in 2013 I saw Ezra Collective,  a quintet of young South London teenagers, deliver a highly impressive performance in the performance space at Ray’s Jazz at Foyles as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. The group had emerged out of the Tomorrow’s Warriors development programme founded by Gary Crosby and Jeanine Irons and it was already clear that they had tremendous potential. Review here;

Three years later I caught up with the band again at the new, larger performance space at Ray’s and it was pleasing to see just how much they had kicked on during the interim. Playing to a sold out crowd they played with confidence and swagger and considerable musical skill. Review as part of our Festival coverage here;

Already it was clear that this was a band that was going places, although quite how far they would go nobody could imagine. Fast forward to 2023 and Ezra Collective are capable of selling out venues like Islington Town Hall and Cheltenham Town Hall as well as delighting audiences at the Green Man Festival in Crickhowell, Mid Wales. A friend of mine who wouldn’t really consider himself as a jazz fan, saw them at Green Man and enthused that they were the best band of the Festival.

It says much for the Collective’s abilities that they are able to delight non jazz audiences by playing entirely instrumental music that is still very obviously jazz. Yes, they are entertainers, but it’s still the music itself that represents the core of their act.

The 2023 edition of Ezra Collection features only one line up change since the band’s inception a decade ago. The group is still led by drummer Femi Koleoso, joined in the ‘engine room’ by his brother, TJ Koleoso, on electric bass. Joe Armon Jones plays piano and keyboards, James Mollison is on tenor sax and Ife Ogunjobi is on trumpet, replacing founder member Dylan Jones.

A sold out Cheltenham Town Hall was absolutely rammed for this standing only gig, even the upstairs balconies were full. It was so hot and crowded that taking notes was impossible, so this will just be an overall impression of the gig.

TJ started things off on the bass, prowling the steps at the back of the stage that lead up to the pipe organ. With brother Femi he helped to lay down Ezra’s irresistible grooves, with Armon Jones’ often filthy sounding electric keyboards adding an extra element of funkiness. The horns of Mollison and Ogunjobi were electronically hooked, allowing them to roam the stage delivering searing solos, while Armon Jones moved between grand piano and electric keyboards, contributing dazzling solos on both.

It was non stop energy all the way with the band members whipping up the crowd and Femi stepping out from behind the kit to talk to the crowd, a hip and charismatic personality dispensing streetwise homilies and pleas for unity and tolerance. The crowd loved him both for this and for his dynamic drumming. Once he had told them that the band’s first ever gig had been on the Free Stage at the 2013 CJF under the Tomorrow’s Warriors Presents banner they were practically eating out of his hand.

Ezra’s music mixes elements of jazz, funk, soul, reggae, Afrobeat, samba and hip-hop, an amalgam of just about all the elements of the African diaspora, but with jazz still very much at its core. This is a brand of jazz from the streets of South London, vibrant, urgent and uncompromising. This may be party music but it still carries a strong political message and the jazz content is undiluted. All of these players are superb musicians and gifted soloists, they don’t water down the jazz content but somehow manage smuggle it past the jazz police and make it appeal to a young audience who might otherwise tell you that they don’t like jazz.

All around me people were dancing, swept along by the sheer energy of Ezra’s performance. They applauded the set piece solos and Femi’s occasional verbal musings, but it’s still essentially all about the music. In addition to being great communicators these guys are also brilliant musicians with serious jazz chops.

The material included an arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye Of The Hurricane”, from the 1965 Hancock album “Maiden Voyage”,  plus Ezra crowd pleaser “Sao Paolo”, from their 2019 album “You Can’t Steal My Joy”.

“Sao Paolo” was the group in real party mood, with TJ, Mollison and Ogunjobi down amongst the crowd and whipping up the audience. This was the last gig of the day and the show was allowed to overrun, but nobody was complaining.

I thoroughly enjoyed this high energy, crowd pleasing performance by Ezra Collective, a band capable of entertaining a large crowd without overly compromising either themselves or their music. Musical intelligence and instrumental virtuosity are still at the heart of their sound and this was still unmistakably a jazz performance. The sound was also remarkably good for the Town Hall, so well done to the sound engineers for that.

And as the crowd melted away into the night I couldn’t resist a smug smile, heartened by the band’s awesome progress and thinking to myself “you read about them here first”.















by Trevor Bannister

April 24, 2023

Trevor Bannister enjoys music from Chad Lelong & Oliver Darley's ‘The Songs of David Bowie Re-Imagined’ project & interviews Jazz at The Snug founders Keith Ives, Mayank Patel & Jonathan Wingate.

Photograph of The Snug by Jim Wade

Playin’ in the (Farm)Yard - The Snug Sessions at Bishop’s Court Farm

Reflecting on his monumental success at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival which represented a rebirth for his orchestra after years in the doldrums, Duke Ellington famously remarked that “skill is a wonderful thing to have if and when the four points converge – being at the right place, doing the right thing, before the right people, at the right time.”

The time, place and circumstances were very different, but Keith Ives, Mayank Patel and Jonathan Wingate would no doubt nod their heads in agreement with the great man’s pronouncement as they reflect on the birth of ‘Snug Sessions at Bishop’s Court Farm’, an exciting, hugely ambitious and totally unique jazz project set in the beautiful location of Dorchester-on-Thames. Now in its second season, ‘Snug Sessions at Bishop’s Court Farm’ is a welcome addition to the thriving jazz community of South Oxfordshire.

“Mayank and I met Keith, landowner of Bishop’s Court Farm, almost by chance in the wake of lockdown,” explains Jonathan Wingate, erstwhile spokesman for David Bowie and Bob Geldof and now a music journalist and broadcaster. “I’m closely associated with Mayank, the founder of Hampstead Jazz Club located in the characterful cellar of the Duke of Hamilton pub, once a popular haunt for the ‘hellraising’ likes of Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton and involved as Executive Producer of his Lateralize record Label. We were immediately impressed by Keith’s extraordinary vision and tenacity. When we discovered that he shared our passion for the music and that he wanted to ‘open-up’ his then newly acquired farm to the community, the germ of an idea took root in our minds; why not bring our artists from Hampstead, stars of world-class stature like vocalist Jo Harrop, to perform at Bishop’s Court?”

“I was thrilled by the idea of promoting jazz in my own farmyard,’ exclaimed Keith Ives. ‘It added a unique dimension to my plans to breathe new life into Bishop’s Court and restore it to the heart of the community.”

It’s a measure of Keith Ives’ commitment to this vision that in the earliest days of his tenure as a landowner he removed miles of barbed wire fences erected by his predecessor which denied public access to Days Lock Meadows beside the River Thames and the historic Iron Age settlement of Dyke Hills. Thanks to his efforts they now enjoy permanently protected status as Village Greens.

Meanwhile he has transformed the farm with the introduction of alpacas (numbering 60) and miniature horses, the opening of a farm shop/café, encouraging bees and producing honey, continuing with sheep (lambing days are a great family attraction) and an on-going programme of building renovation embracing the use of re-cycled materials and sustainable energy. ‘I believe that the future of farming depends on carefully managed diversification,’ he fervently declares, ‘I want to encourage agri-tourism; future plans include setting up holiday-let eco-pods around the lake as well facilities for educational visits and community events.’

As you will have gathered, Keith Ives is not a man to do things by halves. The performance venue he has created for jazz whilst totally in keeping with the traditional buildings of the farm is jaw-droppingly incredible as a concept. It deserves a place on ‘Grand Designs’ – a marquee within a barn, built to the highest standards of acoustic quality, able to accommodate nearly 200 people on neatly arranged garden tables and chairs, with its own bar and stage, a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system … and a grand piano.

Keith Ives relishes his role as mein host. On the occasion when I visited the Snug, along with my Jazz in Reading colleague Jim Wade, he generously found time to talk to us, amid ushering guests to their seats, moving chairs and tables to create more space where needed, answering queries and keeping the bar staff on their toes with the service of locally sourced food and drink.

The atmosphere buzzed with excitement and the electric anticipation of the entertainment to come – ‘The Songs of David Bowie Reimagined’ featuring virtuoso pianist Chad Lelong and the remarkable voice of Oliver Darley, supported by Nick Ereaut on double bass.

David Bowie, I was surprised to learn from Jonathan Wingate, loved jazz.  “As a young boy,” Jonathan explained, “David went to see a rock ‘n roll movie with Little Richard backed by a whole section of saxophones. He was knocked-out by the sound. ‘I’ve got to have one of those,’ he told his Dad on his return home. In due course they visited Furlong’s Music Shop in Bromley to buy a white plastic Grafton saxophone (of the type sometimes played by Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman).”

“But how to learn the instrument? David scoured through the local telephone directory and found the name of Ronnie Ross, the foremost British baritone saxophonist of the day and asked him for lessons. After some persuasion Ronnie reluctantly agreed. Years later when David was producing Lou Reed, he repaid the favour by booking Ronnie to solo on ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.”

Much like the youthful Bowie, Wingate was knocked-out when he heard Chad Lelong and Oliver Darley performing ‘The Songs of David Bowie Re-Imagined’ at the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer of 2022. “This was more than a mere tribute to David. It presented a completely fresh perspective of his songs, capturing that special quality of jazz that writer Whitney Balliet described as the ‘Sound of Surprise’. The songs are familiar and yet unlike anything fans would ever expect.”

Judging by the response of the sell-out audience, including many hard-core Bowie aficionados, everyone shared Wingate’s enthusiasm for the Darley/Lelong partnership and will be looking forward with eager anticipation to the release of their album, ‘The Seat with the Clearest View’, on the Lateralize record label later this year.

It remains to thank Keith Ives, Jonathan Wingate and Mayank Patel for their truly imaginative approach to bringing ‘high-end’ jazz to South Oxfordshire with ‘Snug Sessions at Bishop’s Court Farm’.

The season continues from 30th April at 2-weekly intervals with themed shows featuring some top stars of UK jazz;

Jo Harrop/Andy Davies/Alex Hutton: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Ian Shaw: The Magic of Joni Mitchell

Ciyo Brown: Acoustic Soul Session featuring Geraldine Reid

Claire Martin CBE with Rob Barron (piano): The Great American Songbook

Jeremy Sassoon: The Ray Charles Project

Paul Edis Trio: The Music of Bill Evans featuring vocalist Noa Levy

Tickets are priced at £20 and further details can be obtained via

Don’t miss any one of these special treats!

Trevor Bannister,
Jazz in Reading.

by Ian Mann

March 25, 2023

To celebrate Woman’s History Month, Aberdeen Jazz Festival asked jazz musician and broadcaster Seonaid Aitken to interview a group of female/non-binary performers at this year’s Festival.

We have received the following press release;


To celebrate Woman’s History Month, Aberdeen Jazz Festival asked jazz musician and broadcaster Seonaid Aitken to interview a group of female/non-binary performers at this year’s festival to learn about their concerts there, to understand what inspires them and to get their views on being a woman/non-binary artist in jazz today.

The Aberdeen Jazz Festival celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year and it’s encouraging to see such a diverse and interesting array of artists and venues on the bill. This is mostly thanks to Jazz Scotland CEO and visionary Coralie Usmani (also a jazz violinist) who has placed female representation high on her list of priorities for the festival and who has rejuvenated spaces across the city to showcase jazz.

Home to jazz year-round, the iconic venue The Blue Lamp had many festival artists excited to perform there for the first time including saxophonist Rachel Duns, singer Lissa Chen Robertson of band Atom Eyes and current Scottish Jazz Awards ‘Best Vocalist’ kitti who said she’d “heard great things” about the venue. Georgia Cecile - Jazz FM Awards 2022 ‘UK Jazz Act of the Year’ and ‘Vocalist of the Year’ - calls The Blue Lamp one of her “favourite gig venues in the whole of the UK”. The singer- songwriter says “It’s always a special and intimate atmosphere and always a lovely audience!” And this is high praise indeed from an artist who’s career highlight so far was opening for Gregory Porter at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “It was a big milestone for me getting to support an artist I look up to, on one of the world’s most famous stages. My career has grown for the better as a result of that moment.” It’s the grassroots clubs and settings across Scotland, established venues such as The Blue Lamp and many of the performance spaces used by the Aberdeen Jazz Festival that are important for our Scottish jazz artists in nurturing their talent and giving them new and well-loved platforms from which to share their art.

Saxophonist Helena Kay and cellist Juliette Lemoine both perform at the Bon Accord Baths as part of ‘Soundbath’ this Saturday 25th March. Helena says “I’m really looking forward to playing in such an unusual place - an empty swimming pool! It’ll be a totally unique experience for me.” Juliette echoes that fact and relishes the opportunity the festival has awarded these musician-composers by commissioning two new solo works to be performed in this unusual and reverberant space.

Award-winning singer Marianne McGregor is “looking forward to being part of the hustle and bustle of doing a daytime gig this time around”. She performs as part of ‘Jazz The Day’ at the Anatomy Rooms on Saturday 25th March - an afternoon jazz extravaganza spanning 4 venues and 9+ artists. Marianne has represented UK jazz in a performance for the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba, but says her biggest achievement is “keeping going with music against all the hurdles life can throw at you.” Her inspiration comes from many places - jazz vocalists such as Amy Winehouse, Esperanza Spalding and Billie Holiday…“I listened to a lot of Billie as I was growing up and I love how she delivers songs in her own way.” She also admires Ella Fitzgerald…“she really swings and her improvisation is fearless and so instrumental.”


And it’s the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, that is kitti’s “number one Queen” having been introduced as a young kid to the legendary singer by her Nonna. Indeed, Ella is an artist who many of this year’s Aberdeen Jazz Festival performers look up to. Singer Melodie Fraser, who was excited to be on stage with Son al Son last weekend and to be “playing Cuban music with genuine Cubans”, says Ella “was a true genius and innovator, as well as a once in a lifetime voice.” Juliette says “I am in awe of her voice and musicality, her compassion - not to mention the fact that she
achieved everything she did whilst facing the racial barriers inflicted upon African- American women in the 1950s.” However, Nancy Wilson is Georgia’s favourite jazz singer and feminist…“She embodies what I believe are the signs of a true artist: authenticity, mastery, self-assuredness, empowerment, and grace.” Susan McCathie, part of vocal harmony trio The Vintage Girls who performed with their 10-piece orchestra last weekend at the Lemon Tree, is a fan of icon Joni Mitchell…“She’s all encompassing both lyrically and musically. It’s a rare thing to get right into the bones of life through song but, my goodness, she does it with ease. And she does it all on her own terms - she’s such a pioneer for female musicians. I don’t think she’s ever allowed her authenticity to be compromised.”

It’s lesser-known female jazz artists that saxophonist Rachel enjoys researching. She discovered German pianist Jutta Hipp and says “I love her playing so much. I find her inspiring as, although she didn’t get the recognition she deserved globally, she still caught the attention of popular jazz musicians at the time. I think Hipp felt like that partly because she was one female jazz musician outnumbered by men. She is a reminder to me that I deserve the same treatment and opportunities as my male peers and that I shouldn’t be afraid to take up space as a female musician.” And it’s Geri Allen who is one of Helena’s heroes…“I believe she changed the way people approach the piano forever. I never got to meet her, but I’ve heard so much from friends and people I’ve met, she just sounds like one of a kind. I only discovered her after I left music college, which was completely shocking to me, as she’s so talented and influential…this is why we have Women’s History Month!”

Artists that are currently inspiring this group of performers include recent double GRAMMY-winning vocalist from New York Samara Joy. Georgia says “She’s got a beautiful talent and it’s so refreshing to see someone being recognised for singing traditional jazz standards in their original form - she is shining a light on the songbook for younger generations.” Lissa is inspired by Naledi Herman from Mother All Mighty… “Her lyrics are current and relatable, empowering for both women and people of colour.” Other vocalists the festival artists say are worth checking out are Veronica Swift, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Rosie Frater Taylor, Jazzmeia Horn, Little Simz, Hiatus Kaiyote and Beyonce. But it’s UK musicians who are inspiring Helena - they’ve worked with Josephine Davies, Emma Rawicz, Luca Manning, Laura MacDonald, Zoe Rahman, Kate Williams, Issie Barratt and say “To me they are legends. They are prolific, bold and unashamedly themselves.” Rachel says “I am currently inspired by Camille Thurman. As well as being an awesome sax player AND vocalist, she is one of the few women playing with the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra.”

Many of this year’s performers say they are also inspired by their peers who they get encouragement from. Women are naturally great at lifting each other up and championing each other and so, when asked who lifts them up, it’s no surprise that Mothers, best friends and female band mates are at the top of their lists. kitti says: “There are so many amazing women in our jazz scene…who support each other in a space that’s still (in this day and age) predominantly powered by men. My friends and family are amazing at lifting me up when I need it most, but there’s a fair few in this jazz community that go way beyond. The female organisers of Jazz Scotland, the musicians and performers, sound engineers, radio presenters and producers, the managers and booking agents. It’s so important that we as women keep supporting each other.”

So, what does female empowerment look like to the group? Well, there are so many positive words to include here! Susan puts it simply: “Honesty. Encouragement. Respect. From all directions. Less judgement, more celebration.” Lissa’s outlook is…“Talking, listening, engaging, including one another in thought and action.” Helena says “It looks like being yourself, listening to your inner self and projecting love and warmth, no matter your gender. It looks like freedom.” Georgia’s view is:
“Authenticity, kindness, entitlement as a positive term, loving and caring for one’s self, removal of comparison, inspiring and encouraging others, using words only to highlight truths.” And kitti talks about what it looks like to her in the world of music…“Female empowerment is essential when working in an industry like music. For too long we’ve been surrounded by men who have pushed us to do things we didn’t want to do because we felt uncomfortable or outnumbered. It’s important that women have spaces within this industry to take time and bond with other women. We empower each other through sharing stories and experiences that have made us realise how difficult it can be to be the only woman in the room. We must support one another in ensuring there’s opportunities for more women to enter the industry.”

Asked what these artists would like to see changed, or more of, in the jazz scene as a women/non-binary artist, and the resounding message is: more visibility, community and opportunity for female/non-binary musicians and composers. “More collaborations, more acknowledgment of the female artists and songwriters who came before us” says Marianne, while Melodie would like to see “more women in less expected roles (drummers, sound techs etc). I think this is gradually happening and I’d like to see an increase in festival lists more like Aberdeen’s which is strong on the representation of women.” Susan says “As women in music, we thrive on seeing the success of other female artists and we also want to inspire the next generation of women. The gender disparity is still evident but getting better.” And it’s encouragement for the younger generation coming through that Rachel is looking for…“When I was just starting out I felt very intimidated as I wasn’t exposed to all the amazing female musicians on the scene. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to look up to so I did not have an idea of what a successful female jazz musician looked like. More female musicians gigging at big festivals such as Aberdeen Jazz Festival and at jazz venues across Scotland is so important to encourage young female musicians to pursue jazz.” Juliette, who is primarily involved in the Scottish folk scene, would like to see “more funding and opportunities for jazz and traditional musicians in the early stages of their careers” and Helena concludes that “Generally, the jazz world is a wonderful place to be, but it’s still a subsection of our very misogynistic, racist,
homophobic and transphobic society, I’m sorry to say. That’s why the term ‘women in jazz’ even exists. Maybe one day we can all just be people!”


Sat 25th Mar - Helena Kay & Juliette Lemoine - Soundbath (Bon Accord Baths)

Sat 25th Mar - Marianne McGregor - Jazz The Day (Anatomy Rooms – 1-4.30pm)

ABERDEEN JAZZ FESTIVAL runs until Sunday 26th March

by Ian Mann

March 03, 2023

Guest contributor Peter Cole interviews jazz engineer and lecturer Dave Clements, the inventor of 'Robot Glasper'.

Peter Cole writes;

 I’m a jazz pianist, vocalist, arranger and composer. I have lectured at Middlesex and Trinity College of Music.

I’ve written an interview, below, with jazz engineer and lecturer Dave Clements.

It’s about a soloing ‘jazzbot’ he has created that can improvise its own solos. I think people would be amused and interested to know about it. 

Meet ‘Robot Glasper’: A ‘Jazzbot’ Who Invents His Own Solos

Sample Link:

By Peter Cole

“Why would I ever want to jam with a machine?’, I once heard Wynton Marsalis remark, when asked if future jazz musicians might ever want to play with computers rather than humans.

But he hadn’t met ‘Robot Glasper’. 

The humorously-named ‘jazzbot’, named after the contemporary jazz pianist, is an algorithm-based software who improvises his own solos spontaneously.

How does it work? Depending on what sort of a solo you’re in the mood for, you can turn his dials to incorporate as much or as little of the techniques you like: triplets, chromaticism, enclosures, blues. According to preference, you will be able to programme him to burn up the keyboard like Oscar Peterson or hang back like, well, like Robert Glasper.

Dave Clements, its designer, is a lecturer at Middlesex University, sound engineer, and programmer who is fascinated by jazz. I sat down with Dave to find out what his creation can do and if it’s here to put jazz musicians out of the few jobs we have left.  


How did you come up with the idea for a soloing jazzbot? How much work did it take?

It all started when I began wondering just how possible a soloing jazzbot really was! It’s been a lot of work. I’ve been tinkering with it on and off for two years. There are a few intricacies I haven’t fixed, and I always get new ideas. It will probably never end. 

How is this different to a backing track, or to other software of its kind? What makes Robot Glasper unique?

Backing track apps like iRealPro will perform the harmony for you, with some decisions about the voice leading, rhythm and bassline, but they don’t tend to actually improvise solos. Robot Glasper works entirely in real time, making decisions in the moment based on what it just did. This is different to other programmes, such as Robert Keller’s Impro-visor, which thinks about the whole solo and prints it out before performing. My robot genuinely doesn’t know what it’s going to do next until it happens. 

What’s remarkable is that, for a robot, he doesn’t actually sound that square. In fact, since he invents rather than playing set licks and phrases, he sounds like he’s trying to be hip! How exactly does he decide what to do next? 

It’s all based on probabilities. Whatever it just did makes certain outcomes more or less likely. So, for example, if he begins a triplet group, then the likelihood of completing that suddenly becomes much more likely. Or if he does something unusual, like playing chromatic note on a weak beat, he will feel the need to resolve that in a strong way — or he can keep delaying the resolution, it’s just less likely. There are a ton of little rules like this that make it function. 
It’s all based on a mathematical concept called Markov chains, where future events are based on the past, and that’s maybe his biggest limitation. Unlike a human, Robot Glasper doesn’t decide on a future place and find a way to get there — he’s always basing choices on what happened before. The future only exists as probabilities.

‘The future only exists as probabilities’—I think that really describes some of the joy of improvising. What uses do you think robots like this might have for jazz musicians, teachers and students? Despite what Wynton says, will we want to play with them?

Yes, I think jazzbots are going to become more commonplace. Following a robot’s solo is just going to be really useful for ‘comping’, improvised accompaniment. My big hope is that it will create more inspiration for our own solos. Human musicians suffer from ‘familiarity bias’: we naturally lean towards what we already know, and that makes it hard to get fresh ideas. That’s why I’ve kept the boundaries hazy and given my robot the constant possibility of new directions. 

So, your robot sounds more human if he makes mistakes?

Exactly. The more you take away his ability to do ‘un-jazzy’ things, melodic lines that don’t ‘work’ musically, the more you take his choices away, and make him sound formulaic and dull instead of spontaneous and unpredictable. Just like any real musician, he comes out with some weak stuff, but then might play some genuinely interesting lines that a human player, in their limited imagination, just might not think of. If you’re bored of what you play over a certain progression, you can let him have a go, and of course, he might give you a few bad takes. But the other takes might be more interesting and unexpected for having unusual or strange moments in them.

Are there things robots still can’t copy, like groove, time-feel, or swing? 

Well, swing is relatively easy to copy, just in a mathematical sense — it’s just a way of dividing up the beat. But when we talk about real swing, we’re talking about more than just that: as you say, time-feel, groove. There are all sorts of little irregularities in human playing that actually make it sound human, and they’re a lot harder to emulate. You can program a certain amount of push and pull, but a robot solo will always come out different to a natural performance, which has more reason to do those variations (?) even if the player isn’t consciously thinking of them. What I meant by this is that when a human drags or rushes time it’s because they’ve got an idea of how they want that phrase to sound, just randomly dragging or rushing based on probability doesn’t have the same effect. 
If you remember the film The Matrix, the agents are flawless, but beatable, because they’re based on rules. That’s exactly how algorithms work: if you can describe it to them as a rule or set of rules, that’s how they understand it. But some aspects of playing become so complex, with so many variables, that they’re hard to describe in terms of rules. Have you ever sat down and tried to think about why Miles Davis plays certain notes at certain velocities at certain points of a solo? Could we even describe that as a set of rules? That’s why Miles isn’t in any danger just yet: you’d need the robot to understand concepts like energy, emotion and tension. Who knows if perhaps those things could one day be described in rule terms.
One way to achieve something along those lines is through machine learning, or AI, where the jazzbot makes a ‘pastiche’ based on the material it studies, but that wasn’t what I was trying to create. I wanted something that doesn’t only pastiche, but could potentially develop what we think of as ‘jazz language’. Another difficulty is getting it to think about a solo in a bigger-picture way. Robot Glasper is pretty good at creating lines and phrases, but less good at thinking about how those lines and phrases fit together to create a wider narrative. I’m working on solving this next!

Did you use any particular references in creating Robot Glasper? Such as particular artists or music? 

I was interested in Line Up by Tristano. Obviously it’s a classic, but I was interested in how Tristano famously slowed down the accompaniment to record his own solo. It seemed like an interesting idea to take that limitation away because, of course, a computer can think really quickly. 

In time will we eventually have a robot who can pass the ‘Turing Test’ of being indistinguishable from Art Tatum, say, or even one day, Miles Davis?

Artificial soloing is much easier to do on piano as there are fewer variables than for horns and it translates to digital easier. Pianists are always gigging with digital instruments even if they moan about it, but you don’t see that for sax because it’s much more complex than just what note you hit, when you hit it, and how hard. Maybe my robot will always sound like a robot, but that could be a valued thing in itself. It’s a strange goal to have someone sound indistinguishable from Miles. Perhaps that degree of exact similarity would have the opposite effect and convince a Miles enthusiast that it was in fact a robot! 
The Turing test is usually when a machine tries to convince someone it’s a human, which is a wider brief than being a particular human. I think my programme could convince someone that it’s an unspecified jazz soloist. Of course, it depends who you’re trying to convince — perhaps the Turing Test equivalent here might be to convince another band member, such as the bass player or drummer, that they were playing with a human being. It would be an interesting experiment to blind test!
I’d like to try, especially if it could react to my own playing. Perhaps the Turing Test for the listener is if we no longer know or mind the difference. If a robot’s solo were good enough — or alive enough —that it inspires the same emotions in us as the playing of a real person, then perhaps it’s passed the test.

Where does the future lead next for jazz robots? Are we in competition with them or not? What future improvements will we make? 

I’ve had a lot of fun pushing the program to see how far it can go, but I don’t really think of it as even the same world as a human soloist. I think AI and algorithms can be tools that help us, but only a human can ever truly put their lived experience into their art. Then again, AI art and driverless cars both seemed impossible not so long ago, so who knows? I think jamming with, and learning from, robots can help us become better players and to me that’s a good thing. 

Interesting. Perhaps robots are here to help us learn how to be better humans!

Follow Peter Cole at at:


Ian adds;

This makes for fascinating reading and I’m grateful to Peter for allowing it to be shared on The Jazzmann.

Peter’s article remind me of “Garden of Robotic Unkraut”,  the recent album from the Vienna based trio Blueblut. The recording features the sounds of the trio, Mark Holub (drums), Pamelia Stickney (theremin) and Chris Janka (guitar) plus the Totally Mechanized Midi-Orchestra, a collection of six mechanical musical instruments invented by Janka. effectively ‘musical robots’.

2021 saw the band collaborating with guitarist and software experimenter Nicola Hein who developed a customized artificial intelligence software that enabled the ‘robots’ of Janka’s TMMO to respond to the live musicians, effectively allowing them to improvise. The last five tracks on the new album are improvisations with the members of Blueblut interacting with Hein and the ‘robots’. 

My review of “Garden of Robotic Unkraut”, which includes fuller details about the making of the album, can be found here;

More information on the Totally Mechanized Midi-Orchestra can be found at

Blueblut website




by Ian Mann

December 13, 2022

Saxophonist and vocalist Kim Cypher on two projects close to her heart, 'Bring Your Own Sunshine', which raises funds for cancer charity Maggie's and 'Brighter Tomorrow', a Tribute to The Arts.

Kim Cypher has forwarded the following press releases;


CHARITY SONG & VIDEO composed, performed and produced by Kim Cypher

A song for MAGGIE’S

Cancer affects many people’s lives. It can be a frightening, daunting and lonely experience.

UK saxophonist, vocalist, composer and band leader Kim Cypher spreads positivity, hope and sunshine to cancer patients and their families with an original uplifting, gospel-inspired song and video ‘Bring Your Own Sunshine’

In honour of Karen Jackson, who fought a long, brave battle with cancer, ‘Bring Your Own Sunshine’ is an anthem for cancer charity Maggie’s – everyone’s home of cancer care.

With centres across the UK and worldwide, Maggie’s provides a welcoming, supportive home from home for anyone affected by cancer.

Join the conversation…#bringyourownsunshineformaggies

Featuring phenomenal US guitarist B.D. Lenz and London-based CK Gospel Choir, ‘Bring Your Own Sunshine’ is available on all music platforms. You can also download the song at the link below and contribute to the ongoing fundraising. All monies received from Bandcamp for the track download are donated to the cause:

‘Bring Your own Sunshine’ – THE VIDEO!
Filmed in New York and at Maggie’s Centres in London and Cheltenham, the music video was released on 12th November 2022 after a special VIP Video Première event at Maggie’s Cheltenham, compered by BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Dominic Cotter.
View the video here:

The project has currently raised over £4,400 for Maggie’s, including a series of sell- out performances by Kim Cypher and her band.

It is hoped the project will encourage donations to Maggie’s at the link below whilst sharing HOPE, POSITIVITY and SUNSHINE to all, especially anyone affected by cancer:

Kim Cypher is one of the UK’s most exciting and respected saxophonists, vocalists and composers. Creating quite a stir on the jazz scene, Kim has performed at top
venues in New York and world-renowned Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club as well as being a regular performer on the London and UK jazz circuit. With Top-10 rated albums and
award-winning music videos, Kim always delivers the highest quality performance with incredible style, warmth and passion.

“A true heart and soul performer” – Pee Wee Ellis



UK saxophonist, vocalist, composer and band leader Kim Cypher presents ‘Brighter Tomorrow’ – A Tribute to The Arts:

A wonderful collaborative celebration of amazing creative people who demonstrate incredible passion, drive, determination and dedication to their Art, ultimately contributing to our #brightertomorrowforthearts

Kim Cypher:

“I have never felt more pride being a musician than I do right now. Choosing to work in The Arts is a labour of love. When creativity is in your heart and soul, there is no other path in life that offers comparable fulfilment and reward. The sense of unity and joy of connection and communication with an audience is a truly beautiful thing.

When COVID-19 hit the world, taking all of this away so unexpectedly and brutally, The Arts experienced an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. Initial numbness and shock led to grief and despair as our identity and purpose in life vanished overnight.

But, driven by creativity, passion, commitment, compassion, willpower and sheer determination, The Arts kicked back into action big-time with a united effort and dedication to ensure ‘The show must go on!’

Finding and adapting to new ways, performances and creativity continued, maintaining morale, keeping people connected, providing positive support and company for those feeling isolated and alone as well as channelling emotions into new creative projects.

So many unsung heroes dedicated and devoted to their work, a real sanctuary of positivity. It fills me with such joy and pride to be part of an amazing, caring community, which has led me to this project – ‘Brighter Tomorrow’ – A Tribute to The Arts and a celebration of like-minded

The project features:

New original music by Kim Cypher, born out of lockdown including a ‘live’ track and video with one of the UK’s greatest jazz performers Liane Carroll, recorded and filmed at London’s 606 Club (due for release 24th February 2023).
View trailer video here:

Forthcoming new album (album number 3 for Kim) featuring Liane Carroll and new original music with amazing special guest musicians to be announced soon.

Plus, the whole project is consolidated into an online magazine supported by Women in Jazz Media and Jazz in Europe with a wonderful portfolio of photography and a vast collection of work by musicians, venues, performers and artists in celebration of the amazing, creative people who contribute to a BRIGHTER TOMORROW for The Arts. The magazine explains the background behind the project and brings everything together including a celebration of venues and live performances plus special thanks and recognition to some amazing creative people who have left a lasting impression on Kim’s life and who ultimately, inspired Kim to lead her very best life.

A project driven by absolute pride in The Arts and a commitment to celebrate EVERYONE who is contributing to our #brightertomorrowforthearts

View the online magazine here:

Kim Cypher is one of the UK’s most exciting and respected saxophonists, vocalists and composers. Creating quite a stir on the jazz scene, Kim has performed at top
venues in New York and world-renowned Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club as well as being a regular performer on the London and UK jazz circuit. With Top-10 rated albums and award-winning music videos, Kim always delivers the highest quality performance with incredible style, warmth and passion.

“A true heart and soul performer” – Pee Wee Ellis


by Ian Mann

November 23, 2022

Five concerts @ the 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival from Aaron Liddard & The Argonauts, Charlie & Jake, Marvin Muoneke w. the BMJ Collective, Julie Campiche Quartet, Debs Hancock w. the Monmouth Big Band

Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 18 -20 November 2022.


The 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival was a highly successful event that featured five very different ticketed concert performances, a series of workshops aimed at encouraging active participation in music making, particularly by youngsters, plus a Community Free-access Afternoon that included a series of free live music performances in the Melville Centre Bar.

The Melville Centre, home to the Black Mountain Jazz Club who promote the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival as well as organising regular monthly club events, was formerly the King Henry VIII Grammar School. It’s a venue that lends itself particularly well to the Wall2Wall format. One former classroom has been converted into a well appointed theatre with excellent acoustics. The Melville Theatre was the setting for the concert events with other former classrooms being utilised for some of the workshop events. The bar is also a former classroom and represented a relaxing place to relax between events with a beer or a coffee.

It was good to have Wall2Wall back in its regular format following the online festival of 2020 and the ‘hybrid’ event of 2021, both also hugely successful in their own ways.

This year’s concert programme offered a wide variety of jazz related music from an array of acts ranging from international touring bands to local musical talent. Variety has always been a hallmark of BMJ’s programming and this year’s schedule roamed freely across the jazz spectrum and its related genres.

Friday’s events began with the well attended “Jazz 4 Little ‘uns” session, an introduction to the joy of jazz for young children aged three to five years hosted by one Louby Lou. The “Jazz for Little ‘uns” event has been a popular strand at the Festival in previous years when its hosts have included saxophonist Martha Skilton and vocalist Naomi Rae.


Aaron Liddard – tenor sax, keyboard, piano, voice, Giulia Marelli – vocals, Issac Asumadu – piano, keyboards, Michael Searl – electric bass, Jimmy Norden – drum kit, Eric Young - percussion

The concert programme kicked off later in the evening with a performance by this quintet led by multi-instrumentalist and composer Aaron Liddard. Primarily a saxophonist Liddard has enjoyed a stellar career as a session musician working with such global stars as Amy Winehouse, Prince, Beverley Knight and the Boomtown Rats. In jazzier contexts he was worked with ex James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker , Sheila Tracey’s Big Band and with BMJ favourite Shez Raja (electric bass). Liddard has also worked extensively in the fields of Latin and gospel music and his own music embraces an astonishingly broad range of influences.

Liddard is currently touring to promote his recently released début solo album “Nylon Man”. Now aged forty nine Liddard is a late addition to the ranks of ‘solo artists’ and he describes his lavishly packaged and wide ranging début as having been “twelve years in the making”.

The album takes its titles from the three cities that have had the biggest influence on Hertfordshire born Liddard’s career, New York, London and Manchester, but the music ranges far further than that both musically and geographically, and includes pieces recorded in Brazil and Cuba. The album features the playing of an astonishing forty two musicians and was documented at a variety of recording studios over a number of years.

Liddard has dubbed his regular working band The Argonauts and tonight’s line up included three of the album personnel with Italian born singer Giulia Marelli joined by drummer Jimmy Norden and percussionist Eric Young. Tonight’s quintet was completed by Michael Searl on electric bass and the Ghanaian born Isaac Asumadu on piano and keyboards, thus creating a truly international ensemble that was reflective of the breadth of Liddard’s musical interests.

The evening commenced with album opener “Corean Castaway”, Liddard’s tribute to Chick Corea and a piece that owed something to the Flora Purim / Airto Moreira edition of Return To Forever. Indeed Liddard was to play with Airto and Flora when he visited Brazil, a unique musical experience. This was a song that began by featuring Marelli’s voice and the melodic electric bass of Searl before moving through a series of contrasting loud / soft passages, one of these featuring Liddard playing sax and keyboard simultaneously as the drums and percussion temporarily dropped out. The return of the rhythm section saw a groove being established, this forming the basis for a more expansive sax solo, with Liddard’s blistering tenor fuelled by the fiery cross rhythms of Norden and Young.

Another city to have entered Liddard’s orbit is San Francisco. The song “Frisco” is co-written by Liddard and vocalist / lyricist Carleen Anderson, who sings on the recorded version. Tonight Anderson’s role was filled superbly by Marelli on this jazz / soul offering which also featured an instrumental solo from Asumadu on the Melville’s acoustic upright. Liddard had featured on keyboard during “Frisco” but moved to tenor sax as the music segued into the joyous “Together Forever” with its “I want to live forever” refrain. This featured another impressive vocal performance from Marelli and a tenor solo from Liddard that grew to develop a Michael Brecker like power and intensity.

The song “Thru You Eyes” addressed the subject of mutual empathy and ‘agreeing to differ’ and featured Liddard on both electric keyboard and acoustic piano as Marelli delivered the lyrics. Liddard commented that this was a difficult piece to play, but that didn’t stop Searl inserting a cheeky ‘Love Supreme’ quote into his bass line.

The instrumental “Chicken Soup” was introduced by Liddard as a “slice of 7/8 Latin jazz”. The album version was recorded by Liddard with a trio of Brazilian musicians, with bassist Felipe Cortes particularly prominent. Tonight’s version was introduced by a dialogue between Liddard on acoustic piano and Young on percussion. Drums and bass were then added with Searl moving to centre stage as a soloist. Liddard later took up the tenor to deliver the catchy sax motif that distinguishes this tune before stretching out to solo more expansively. The performance closed with a fiery drum / percussion face off anchored by electric bass, a spectacular and high energy way to round off the first set.

There had been much to enjoy here but the band had arrived later than they would have liked after encountering heavy traffic on the M25 at the start of their journey. Technical problems with both sound and lights, plus a couple of false starts from the band had interrupted the flow of the first half but the second was to be much better as Liddard and the Argonauts really hit their stride. Marelli’s vocals had been too low in the mix originally but once this difficulty had been overcome one could really begin to appreciate the purity and flexibility of her voice.

Set two kicked off with the quirky “Apples and Pears”, the title a nod to Liddard’s Cockney heritage. This was another piece centred around a catchy sax hook, this time complemented by a clipped funk groove with Liddard soloing on tenor sax before moving to the keyboard as Norden and Young resumed their percussive dialogue.

Marelli returned for the charming “Snowdrops”, a song about the hope that the coming of Spring provides. This was a delightful vocal performance, augmented by instrumental solos from Asumadu on acoustic piano and Liddard on tenor sax.

“Manana” is a Spanish word used by Cuban musicians to describe music that is played with both technical excellence and from the heart, a rarity to find the two together. Liddard’s tune of the same title was written during a visit to Cuba and the recorded version features the Cuban born violinist Omar Puente as guest soloist. Tonight the song became a vehicle for audience participation with Young, playing bongos, laying down the rhythms for the audience to clap along to. Everybody entered into the spirit and the whole thing was great fun with the crowd taking their cues from Young and from the hand clapping of Norden and Marelli. Searl’s electric bass groove underpinned the leader’s sax melodies and some people were even moved to get up and dance.

The calm after the rhythmic storm was an intimate duo performance of the ballad “Beautiful”, performed by Marelli on vocals and Liddard on acoustic piano.

This allowed the audience time to recover before the final “One Million Children” with its anthemic “We are watching you” refrain. Inspired by the annual gathering of one million school children at a Thai temple to meditate for world peace this was another song of hope. Between them Marelli and the gregarious Liddard got the whole audience word perfect and the anthem rang out around the room with the whole crowd at its feet. It represented a truly unifying experience and it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to envisage this song being sung in a huge stadium. In a better world it would be.

The inevitable encore was an early Liddard tune, “My Mean Bop”, the only piece played tonight not to be sourced from the “Nylon Man” album. A kind of bebop / hip hop mash up this featured the leader’s tenor sax, Marelli’s scat vocals and a searing synth solo from Asumadu that recalled the late great Bernie Worrell (Parliament, Funkadelic, Talking Heads).

This was a great way to round off a highly memorable evening with the gremlins of the first half quickly forgiven and forgotten. Liddard has obviously learned a few tricks from the illustrious pop artists he has worked with and his friendly, slightly geeky presenting style quickly endeared him to the crowd. The way in which he involved the audience also owed something to the pop and rock worlds and the crowd responded warmly to him and really ‘went for it’ with their singing, clapping and dancing.

The two items from “Nylon Man” that we didn’t hear were the punk jazz thrash of “My Kinda” (which reveals a very different side of Marelli) and the part funk part / Afro Cuban instrumental “Catfood” (nothing to do with King Crimson).

My thanks to Aaron for speaking with me afterwards - and do please check out “Nylon Man”. For all its diversity it hangs together very nicely and listening to it represents a highly uplifting experience. Just like tonight’s concert.


Saturday’s programme began with ‘house drummer’ Alex Goodyear passing on brushed drum techniques to aspiring drummers both young and old at his Brushes Workshop.

This was followed by BMJ Jazz Katz workshop for eleven to nineteen year olds as BMJ seeks to create a new youth big band in Abergavenny. I’m informed that this was also a highly successful event and some of the attendees later joined the audience for the first ticketed event of the day, a theatre performance from the young Bristol based duo Charlie and Jake (no surnames given).

The pair were billed as a ”live looping duo” and I wasn’t quite certain what to expect. Initially I’d been inclined to think that they would be primarily instrumental and would perform some kind of mix of jazz and techno but instead they proved to be songwriters who happen to deploy technology to bring their songs to life. So, not a million miles away from Ed Sheeran in this regard.

They were also billed as ‘multi-instrumentalists’, and again, in a sense they are. Jake plays keyboard, electric bass and percussion, Charlie keyboards and percussion and she also handles most of the vocals. But the emphasis isn’t on instrumental virtuosity or on technology, instead it’s on the songs themselves, which feature intelligent, evocative lyrics, many of them with a focus on mental and physical health and well being.

They’re jazz enough to have appeared at Ronnie Scott’s and at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and this afternoon show was very well received by a small but supportive audience, later swelled by the young workshop members. I was pleasantly surprised by them and will certainly be interested in hearing their début album “Internal Weather System”, which is due for release in early 2023.

The duo began with “Gold and Green” which saw Charlie establishing a rhythm track by looping the sound of shakers and adding electronic beats as Jake doubled on bass guitar and Yamaha keyboard. The use of live looping techniques also allowed Charlie to provide her own vocal harmonies. The way in which they deployed the technology at their disposal was impressive and visually arresting, but it was still the quality of the song itself that counted, and this piece represented a convincing start.

“Happening Now” was written by Charlie in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and the song’s lyrics address the very real fears that affected everybody at the time, the refrain “Face the Fire” and the line “did you ever think about it?” reflecting the collective anxiety. Musically the piece saw Charlie looping the sounds of a kalimba (African thumb piano) and also her own voice. Jake added further backing vocals and also delivered a brief keyboard solo.

The fact that Jake’s brother was isolated in China at the beginning of the Covid crisis also informed the duo’s writing at this time. The next song, written by Jake, addressed the subject of childhood memories and was sung on this occasion by Charlie as Jake was still suffering with the after effects of a cold. The performance also included a lyrical keyboard solo from the composer.

After some pretty heavy subject matter a jazz inflected arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” came as a shot of light relief.

Since lockdown began Charlie and Jake have been part of the Open Collab project which began life as a monthly online show. The duo put out an open call for poets all over the world to send them their words, with the duo setting the best of them to music. The project is still ongoing and numerous live music and poetry shows have been presented under the Open Collab banner in Bristol.

From the Open Collab project came the song “Life Begins With Sound” which featured found sounds and the sampled voice of poet Holly Moberley reading her words. These included such evocative lines as “What the Thunder Said” and “If you think I’m loud you should hear the voices in my head”.

One song slated for the new album is “Make Art Of Me” another highly evocative autobiographical song written by Charlie about a skin condition that she suffers from.

The new song “A Place For Everything” introduced a degree of theatricality as dry ice, triggered by Mark Viveash of 47Studios who were filming and recording the Festival, swirled around the duo.

Charlie readily admitted to the mental unease that continued even after the worst of the pandemic was over. The song “Fluency” addressed the healing qualities of leaving the city to visit her parents’ home in the country. This featured the sounds of layered voices and glitchy keyboards and was greatly appreciated by Charlie’s parents, who were seated in the audience.

“Resilience” addressed the subject of its title and featured the defiant lyric; “I’m speaking on behalf of her, my inner girl, I won’t lose my voice this time”.

The similarly personal “Lilac Light” featured synth like sounds and the lyric “I am not defined by all that I have survived”. The “Lilac Light” of the title references both enlightenment and healing.

The set’s second cover was “Clear My Head”, a song recorded in English by the Icelandic artist Dadi Freyr. This featured the sound of twin keyboards, Charlie was playing an Avesis V49, and looped voices. This was a charming and quirky song that fitted neatly into the Charlie and Jake aesthetic.

“Pick Up” was another song to address themes of mental health and well being and featured Jake on electric bass and percussion. Written about overcoming adversity the positive nature of the song saw Charlie encouraging a little audience participation, taking over where Liddard had left off the night before.

“Internal Weather System” addressed the subject of changing moods within the ongoing mental health theme and was another piece to feature the sound of electric bass in addition to voices and keyboards. Whether Donald Fagen’s blues tinged “Weather In My Head” was a possible source of lyrical inspiration I couldn’t say.

The set closed with the playful sing along “Hey!”, which featured more audience participation. The younger members of the audience who had come to join us absolutely loved it!

Overall I was highly impressed with Charlie and Jake. Their songs were an intriguing mix of the serious and the playful, tackling sensitive and sometimes highly personal subject matter in a whimsical, non self pitying way that sets them apart from many other singer-songwriters. And despite the weightiness of some of the content their presentation is good natured and humorous, this is a duo that take their music seriously but not themselves, always a good combination in my opinion.

My thanks to Charlie and Jake for speaking with me afterwards and I look forward to the release of their album in the New Year.


Marvin Muoneke – vocals, flugelhorn, Eddie Gripper – piano, Clem Saynor – double bass, Alex Goodyear – drums

Marvin Muoneke is a vocalist, pianist and trumpeter based in Weston-super-Mare. He works regularly on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West with his quartet and he is also a session singer specialising in jazz, pop and soul.

Muoneke appeared at Wall2Wall fronting the BMJ Collective, led by Cardiff based drummer Alex Goodyear and on this occasion featuring two other South Wales based musicians, pianist Eddie Gripper and bassist Clem Saynor.

Muoneke and Goodyear first met at the Stage & Hounds Jam in Bristol, an encounter that helped to sow the seed for tonight’s collaboration. Muoneke has a striking baritone voice and this, coupled with his imposing physical presence, have invited comparisons with Gregory Porter. Muoneke acknowledges Porter as a source of inspiration but doesn’t base his vocal style on him. Nevertheless Porter’s success has had something of a knock on effect and Muoneke is a musician who is never short of work. On the evidence of tonight’s performance it’s easy to see why.

In general I’ll admit to not being overly fond of male jazz vocalists and once again I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this show. Like Charlie and Jake earlier Muoneke quickly won me over with his charismatic vocal performance - and the fact that he also proved to be an adept instrumental soloist on flugel horn was the icing on a very tasty cake.

The singer was brilliantly supported by a young, swinging rhythm section who all performed superbly with both Gripper and Saynor delivering wonderfully fluent solos as Goodyear anchored the group from the drum kit. From the quality of the overall performance one would never guess that Muoneke had never sung with this particular trio before.

This was one of the best attended events of the Festival and the audience provided the quartet with great encouragement from the outset as Muoneke kicked things off with the Steve Allen song “This Could Be The Start of Something Big”. This established the singer as a commanding stage presence and his authoritative rendition of the lyrics was augmented by a scat vocal interlude.

Muoneke explained that he was of mixed Nigerian and Guyanese heritage, his surname meaning “created by the spirit”. This was by way of introducing his self penned signature song “The Young Man With The Old Soul”, which featured him on both vocals and flugelhorn.

A stunning version of the ballad “Moonlight in Vermont” followed with Muoneke’s sensitive vocal performance complemented by Gripper’s lyricism at the acoustic upright piano and the delicacy of Goodyear’s brush work, the latter rather appropriate after the earlier workshop. The performance also featured the velvety sounds of Muoneke on flugel, his playing exhibiting similar qualities to his vocals. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the band played this.

At Muoneke’s instigation a passage of unaccompanied double bass introduced a swinging “Let There Be Love” with the singer giving his instrumental colleagues a chance to really stretch out, with Gripper and Saynor responding with fluent, swinging solos.

Muoneke introduced “You and the Night and the Music” on flugel, later putting down the horn to sing the lyrics. The song was taken at a fast pace and the performance also included a scat vocal episode, another excellent solo from Gripper and finally a brushed drum feature from the irrepressible Goodyear.

Muoneke introduced the Matt Dennis composition “Angel Eyes” as a “saloon song” or “torch song” and paid homage to recorded versions by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin. His own rendition was also highly impressive with the band bringing a blues feel to the song and with Muoneke featuring on both vocals and flugel, with Saynor briefly picking up his bow at the close.

It was Goodyear’s turn to introduce Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”, playing the skins with his bare hands. The quartet had arranged the song themselves, giving it a Latin-esque twist and incorporating a scat vocal episode alongside instrumental solos from Gripper and Saynor.

Inspired by Nat King Cole’s version “Route 66” was given a powerful blues treatment with Muoneke’s vocals augmented by another inventive piano solo from the inventive Gripper. Goodyear had played with brushes for most of the set, not wishing to overpower the singer, but at the close he and Muoneke became equals in a series of thrilling scat vocal / drum exchanges, with Goodyear now wielding sticks.

The third solo instrumental introduction saw Gripper ushering in the Gus Kahn song “It Had To Be You”. Muoneke joined him in a voice / piano duet before Saynor and Goodyear joined in on bass and drums. The performance also included a solo from Muoneke on flugel.

From the film “High Society” came the song “Now You Has Jazz”, originally performed by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Muoneke took both roles here in a high energy performance that also included instrumental cameos for Gripper, Saynor and Goodyear plus a flugel solo from Muoneke.

The up-tempo swinger “Love or Lust” was a second Muoneke original. His own songs fitted well into the fabric of the largely standards based programme and this performance featured a scat vocal episode plus a piano solo from Gripper. Muoneke claimed to have written the song when he was eighteen, but I wasn’t totally convinced that he was being serious.

Encouraged by the reception given to “Love or Lust” the singer opted to perform another original, “Love Is The Only Way”. This was written during his university days and subsequently updated during the lockdown period. This was another convincing offering, with Gripper taking the instrumental honours.

An excellent collective performance concluded with “Every Day I Have The Blues” in a version inspired by the Count Basie Band with singer Joe Williams. This was a terrific way to end an excellent set and the audience participation theme continued with a bout of Cab Calloway style call and response, a feature at the close of all of Muoneke’s shows apparently. Elsewhere we also enjoyed solos from Gripper, Saynor and Goodyear.

Muoneke enjoyed a terrific reception and doubtless made a lot of new friends this evening. It was unfortunate that his two albums, “The Young Man With The Old Soul” and “Lockdown Hootenanny” are currently only available digitally , otherwise he would have had plenty of CD sales this evening.

Blessed with a voice that is both tough and tender Muoneke is a skilled vocalist / instrumentalist and a charismatic stage performer. He’s also a genuinely nice guy who mingled readily with festival goers after the show and it was a pleasure to talk with him. His music may be a little outside my usual listening zone but he’s definitely a name to look out for in the future.

And a word too for the brilliant support offered to him by Goodyear, Gripper and Saynor. Marvin spoke very highly of them as he chatted after the show.


Julie Campiche – harp, electronics, voice, Leo Fumagalli – tenor saxophone, Manu Hagmann – double bass, Clemens Kuratle – drums, percussion

For me the most keenly awaited performance of the weekend was that of the Julie Campiche Quartet, the group led by the Swiss harpist and composer. The band are currently on a European tour in support of their latest album release “You Matter”, issued on the German label Enja Records.

Wall2Wall was the last of only three UK dates, the others being at the Cambridge and London Jazz Festivals so it represented quite a coup for BMJ’s Mike Skilton to bring the group to Abergavenny.

I first became aware of Campiche’s extraordinary music when I reviewed a Swiss Jazz showcase event that formed part of the 2020 EFG London Jazz Festival, which, of course, took place entirely on line. She was just one of three highly contemporary Swiss jazz acts.

I enjoyed Campiche’s performance so much that I asked her UK publicist to forward me a copy of the quartet’s début album “Onkalo” for review. A CD subsequently arrived from Switzerland complete with a hand written note from Julie herself, a nice touch, and we have remained in contact ever since.

The “Onkalo” album was a seriously impressive piece of work and is reviewed here;

It whetted my appetite for seeing a full live performance from the quartet and I got somewhere near with a livestream from the Unterfahrt Jazz Club in Munich in April 2021, probably the best streamed event that I witnessed during the whole lockdown. This was largely due to the music but the experience was helped by the extremely high standard of the sound and visuals. At this time the quartet’s material was still largely being sourced from the “Onkalo” album but there was a teaser for the next release with the inclusion of “Aquarius”, the opening track on “You Matter”. My review of the Munich show is here;

Only one thing could top this, and that was watching the band play live in person. But before that there was the matter of reviewing the quartet’s new album, a similarly impressive statement that found Campiche and her group continuing to refine their sound while tackling themes such as climate change, gender politics and the interdependence of humanity. My review of “You Matter” can be found here;

Tonight’s show saw the quartet playing the entire “You Matter” repertoire, albeit with a slight deviation from the album running order. They began with album opener “Aquarius” a piece that takes its title from the name of a boat that was criticised in Italy for trying to save drowning refugees. “That pissed me off” explained Campiche, who speaks excellent English and has clearly picked up on the some of the earthier elements of our language.  The music began in gentle, atmospheric fashion with the sound of harp and electronics, bowed bass and Kuratle’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Fumagalli’s tenor was the outlet for Campiche’s anger as the saxophonist delivered a searing solo above a backdrop of arpeggiated harp, percussive bass bowing and increasingly powerful drums. Like all of his colleagues Fumagalli’s sound was augmented and mutated via the use of electronics. Both he and Hagmann were in possession of pedal boards while Kuratle had an electronic percussive device capable of generating deep, dubby sounds and the leader had a whole table of electronic gizmos. I’ve commented before about the contrasts between the power of the tenor and the delicacy of the harp and indeed Campiche’s writing is full of dynamic and textural contrasts, constantly shifting and mutating in a rich and colourful sonic tapestry. The excoriating force of Fumagalli’s solo contrasted with a more reflective episode featuring a dialogue between the leader’s harp and Hagmann’s bowed bass. Hagmann then switched to the pizzicato technique as Campiche soloed more expansively, with Fumagalli’s tenor eventually returning to stoke up that sense of rage once more. This was essentially a protest song without words, a powerful and evocative composition that introduced the quartet’s unique sound to the Abergavenny audience.

There was a change in the album running order with Kuratle’s composition “Lies” being played next. It’s another piece with a political edge to its title and again it began in atmospheric fashion with the sounds of harp, electronics and mallet rumbles, these elements joined this time around by the piping of high register tenor.  Hagmann then set up a powerfully plucked bass groove augmented by Campiche who threaded a silk scarf through the strings of the harp to give them a dampened, more percussive sound. Extended techniques were to be a feature of her playing throughout the set, at other times she used a drum mallet on the strings, these in addition to the liberal use of electronics. Middle Eastern music is an acknowledged influence on the quartet’s sound and there was something of that here with the dampened harp strings sounding decidedly oud like. Gradually Fumagalli’s tenor began to assume prominence; Campiche’s compositions unfold constantly and solos are not sign posted as in more conventional forms of jazz. In this mutually cooperative environment the instrumental hand-overs are less obvious and more organic, part of the fabric of the music.
The closing dialogue between Hagmann’s bass and Kuratle’s drums and percussion, including the use of that electronic percussive device, represented a segue into the Campiche composition “Fridays Of Hope” a piece that takes its title from the young Swedish climate activist  Greta Thunberg’s “Friday for Future” network. The sampled sounds of a Thunberg’s speaking voice were skilfully woven into the fabric of the music, with the clarion call of Fumagalli’s tenor representing the instrumental counterpart to Thunberg’s words with their “wake up and change” message. A particularly dramatic sequence saw Kuratle’s drums responding powerfully to the disembodied voice of Thunberg declaring “I wanted to act”. I’ve never seen a ‘trading fours’ sequence quite like this before.

A change of pace with the gently brooding “Parenthese”, a Campiche composition that
addresses “the many things we constantly put off doing” and which draws inspiration from the spiritual jazz of Alice and John Coltrane. This commenced with a dialogue between Campiche and Hagmann, life partners and parents, and the music also featured the ethereal sounds of Campiche’s wordless vocals. Fumagalli’s tenor wove wispy melodies, revealing a softer side of his playing. Kuratle largely played with mallets but also introduced the atmospheric sounds of small percussion – shakers, bells etc. On this most impressionistic of pieces Mark Viveash triggered the dry ice machine and the mist swirled around the performers to provide a strong visual image. “We’re on fire!” declared Campiche, and in a sense they very much were.

“The Others’ Share” was another tune inspired by inter-personal relationships and  “the complex relationship between oneself and others, or between ones own many facets”. Complex staccato phrases distinguished the introductory stand off between Campiche and Kuratle, this followed by a brief passage of unaccompanied double bass and then a more expansive solo from Campiche. Fumagalli was also to feature on tenor sax, the sound of his horn heavily echoed. This was another piece that saw Campiche utilising drum mallets on the harp’s strings.

The Campiche quartet are fond of seguing tunes together and eventually “The Other’s Share” morphed into the twelve minute epic “The Underestimated Power”, arguably the album’s centre piece. The title of this this continually mutating magnum opus  refers to “the undervalued power of women”.  As so often in Campiche’s work the music ebbed and flowed, alternating between aggressive, groove based passages and more reflective interludes , with the plaintive but angry ‘cry’ of Fumagalli’s sax again giving voice to Campiche’s concerns. To be honest I was so absorbed in the music by this point that I’d stopped taking notes, happy to immerse myself in the richness of the quartet’s sound and the multiple twists and turns of the writing. I do recall Hagmann’s arco bass being prominent in the early stages and the sounds of both harp and sax being heavily distorted and manipulated.

The performance concluded with Fumagalli’s composition “Utopia”, also the closing track on the album. This evolved from a quiet introduction featuring just harp and double bass to embrace a staccato sax motif, to which Kuratle responded in dynamic fashion, prompting the composer into a suitably powerful tenor sax solo. A more reflective episode featured a double bass solo from Hagmann before the composer took up the cudgels once more to deliver a blistering sax solo.

I was a little concerned about how the experimental sounds (the group has been described as ‘avant-garde’) of the Campiche Quartet would go down with the BMJ audience, but I needn’t have worried. The audience wasn’t the largest of the weekend, but it was far from sparse either. It was however the most enthusiastic with several members of the crowd getting to their feet to give this remarkable band a standing ovation. The warmth of the response was reflected in the number of CD sales afterwards and following sold out shows in Cambridge and London, where the quartet had played at The Vortex, this represented a highly successful conclusion to the British leg of the band’s European tour.

They say you should never meet your heroes (or heroines) but for me it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Julie and the members of her quartet. Following our exchanges of cards and emails Julie was every bit as charming as I’d hoped and she had some very kind word to say about my previous reviews of her albums and livestream performances. I’m also grateful to Clemens Kuratle for providing me with a copy of “Lumumba”, the recent release by his quintet Ydivide, an international ensemble that includes the English musicians Dee Byrne (alto sax) and Elliot Galvin (piano). I intend to take a full look at this excellent new recording very shortly.

After waiting so long to see this band this gig was everything that I had expected and a definite Festival highlight.


The final ticketed event of the Festival took place on Sunday evening and featured the Monmouth Big Band, directed by trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts, together with guest vocalist Debs Hancock.

But this wasn’t the only event of the day. There had previously been a successful Gospel Singing Workshop conducted by Tanya Walker and a Community Free-access Afternoon that had featured a number of live performances in the bar.

These included guitarist / vocalist Mansel Davies performing songs from his excellent début album “Breaking Bread”. Album review here;

The programme also included jazz vocalist Emma Davidson followed by pianist Ross Hicks who played a programme comprised of material associated with jazz artists from Kansas City – a fair sprinkling of Charlie Parker tunes one would suspect.

Finally Cardiff based saxophonist Josh Heaton introduced a jazz and poetry session, which I would imagine to have been a variation on his Mouth of Words project. A 2018 performance by Mouth of Words forms part of this review of a Welsh Jazz Showcase in Brecon;

The live events were bookended by two screenings of videos filmed for the 2020 online Wall2Wall Jazz Festival featuring the Kim Cypher Quintet and the Remembering Charlie Parker event, a centenary tribute to the great saxophonist by a sextet featuring saxophonists Ben Waghorn & Martha Skilton, trumpeter Jonny Bruce, pianist Dave Jones, bassist Ashley John Long & drummer Alex Goodyear. I reviewed these performances at the time of transmission. Links below.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend of these events as the live music programme had been announced very late and I was already committed to other family related obligations. This was a shame as I would have undoubtedly enjoyed the live events in the bar and it was particularly disappointing to miss Mansel Davies after having given such a favourable review to his album.

However it was always my intention to come and see BMJ director and Stalwart Debs Hancock sing with a big band for the first time as she guested with the Monmouth Big Band and their musical director Gareth Roberts.

Hancock has developed into a highly accomplished jazz vocalist who sings regularly with her own small groups and who has also featured in a number of one off events at previous Wall2Walls. She is also a great organiser and was heavily involved with the success of this year’s Festival.

I’ve been a fan of Gareth Roberts’ playing and composing for many years, both with his own quintet and as a member of Heavy Quartet and numerous other bands, including the quartet that he co-leads with pianist and composer Dave Jones.

In recent years Roberts has been the MD of the Monmouth Big Band, an eighteen piece ensemble featuring some of South Wales’ best jazz musicians. I finally caught up with the band at the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival when they performed at The Guildhall with a number of guest soloists, among them saxophonists Tmasin Reardon and Dominic Norcross. This had been an excellent set and I was very much looking forward to seeing the MBB again. The Brecon performance forms part of my Festival coverage here;

Lining up with six reeds, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, electric bass and drums, plus Roberts himself on additional trombone the band kicked things off with an instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone” in an arrangement by Oliver Nelson for Buddy Rich. The line up was slightly different to that at Brecon and was notable for the addition to the ranks of trumpeter Mike Prestage, a fine player who took the soloing honours here.

Prestage also featured alongside fellow trumpeter Terry Claxton on an arrangement of Count Basie’s “Corner Pocket”. The pair featured as soloists alongside Roberts himself, with a brief cameo also coming from pianist Carol Miller.

Debs Hancock joined the band to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia”, acquitting herself well in this unfamiliar setting. The instrumental honours went to tenor sax soloist Tom Hennessey.

An arrangement of “The Lady Is A Tramp” saw Hancock warming to her task and introducing an element of showmanship to her performance with a series of effective hand gestures. The impressive Prestage was again the featured instrumental soloist.

Hancock left the stage as the rest of the first set was given over to a series of performances from “The Monmouthshire Suite”, a work composed by Roberts for the Band as the result of a commission from the Ty Cerdd organisation in Cardiff.

The full suite was premièred at the Savoy Theatre in Monmouth in 2019 and parts of the work were also featured at the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival performance.

“The Monmouthshire Suite” is inspired by the landscape and history of the county and the first piece from this work to be performed  today was the ‘overture’ “Dawn” which segued into “Descending the Blorenge”, named for the mountain separating the towns of Abergavenny and Blaenavon. The cadences of the music were designed to mimic those of the steep descent while the melody was based on a traditional Welsh folk tune collected by Augusta Hall, Baroness Llanover. Today’s rendition included solos from Claxton on trumpet and Hennessey on tenor sax.

Also based on a folk melody collected by Lady Llanover was the ballad “After The Battle”, a piece inspired by Monmouthshire’s war torn history. This was to be a feature for the band’s lead alto saxophonist James Graham.

Inspired by another landmark local to Abergavenny “Skirrid Fawr” featured Louis Barfe’s drums simulating the sound of thunder on the mountain as he featured alongside the composer’s trombone. The piece segued into the closing “Dusk”, a suitably crepescular horn chorale.

  Once again I was very impressed by the quality of Roberts’ writing and I would welcome the opportunity of hearing “The Monmouthshire Suite” in its entirety, should that ever become possible.

Set two opened with a fiercely swinging arrangement of “In The Mood”, which Roberts described as being “hotter than Glenn Miller”. This saw altoist Graham and tenor man Hennessey exchanging phrases, followed by a solo from star trumpeter Prestage.

Roberts paid tribute to the celebrated big band arranger Dave Wolpe who recently passed away on 25th October 2022. Wolpe’s arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” was played with great verve by the MBB and featured Roberts himself as the instrumental soloist.

Hancock rejoined the band for a playful rendition of “Too Darn Hot”, which also included solos from Prestage, both with and without the Harmon mute.

Hancock has always had an affinity for ballads and her choice here was “Cry Me A River”, a ‘revenge ballad’ that she performed here with great conviction, with Prestage again featuring instrumentally.

The singer’s final item was an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”, which she performed with great élan with her scat vocal episodes complemented by Prestage’s plunger muted trumpet solo.

 The quirky Roberts original “Mop Dancing” first appeared on the trombonist’s début album “Attack of the Killer Penguins” back in 2006 and it has been part of his repertoire ever since. The piece is dedicated to the long-suffering souls who mop up spilt beer at jazz clubs. This big band arrangement saw an already rollicking tune becoming even more boisterous with solos coming from Prestage on stentorian trumpet, Hennessey on tenor and Graham on alto, the whole thing driven along by Steve Tarner’s monstrous electric bass grooves.

Robert’s love of Ellington was reflected in the inclusion of yet another Duke tune, this time “The Echoes of Harlem”, a blues inflected ballad featuring Claxton first on plunger muted trumpet and later with an open bell.

The performance concluded with two more Ellington pieces, beginning with “C Jam Blues”, which included solos from some of the musicians who had not previously been highlighted. Rod Cunningham weighed on on baritone sax followed by Colin (first name only) on trombone and Tarner on high register electric bass. There was also a brief solo from pianist Miller.

Finally we heard “Caravan”, actually written by Juan Tizol,  in arrangement by Dave Wolpe, which featured tenor man Tom Hennessey as a soloist.

This event had attracted the largest audience of the whole weekend and the Theatre was officially sold out. The audience gave Roberts, the MBB and their own Debs Hancock a terrific reception as Wall2Wall 2022 ended in style.

Hancock returned to the stage to thank the many people who had made the Festival possible, among them workshop organiser Rod Cunningham (of the MBB), official photographer Kasia Ociepa, sound crew Mark and Sean and their team, Patricia Morgan on lights, front of house John Anderson and the team at the Melville Centre for running the bar. She should have thanked herself too.

The only cloud on the horizon was the fact that BMJ’s main man, Mike Skilton was admitted to hospital during the early hours of Sunday morning. He was due to undergo heart surgery in the near future and this may prove to be blessing in disguise if the planned operation can take place sooner rather than later. Reports suggest that he’s currently doing OK and all at BMJ and the wider jazz community will wish him all the best. Get well soon Mike.

He can rest assured that with the assistance of Debs Hancock and the rest of the team mentioned above he has helped to curate another excellent Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. All of the ticketed acts delivered with some of them exceeding expectations. My personal highlight has to be Julie Campiche but others will no doubt have their own favourites.

A couple of exciting new local discoveries were trumpeter Mike Prestage and pianist Eddie Gripper. It would be intriguing to see them coming back to BMJ on a club night as leaders of their own groups. Just a thought.















by Colin May

November 16, 2022

Guest contributor Colin May enjoys performances by seven different up and coming acts at this year's showcase event.

Photograph of the Wajdi Riahi Trio sourced from

Palais des Congrès, Juan-les-Pins, France
2nd, 3rd and 4th November 2022

Publicised as a scene to discover young jazz talent, the 5th edition of Jammin’ features 21 groups each playing a 35 minute showcase, and another 3 more established bands in concert. It’s three jam packed afternoons and evenings.

There were bands based in Holland, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Israel as well as France playing to an audience including festival directors from as far apart as the Canaries, Tampere in Finland and La Réunion in the Indian Ocean all looking for fresh talent.

This year 145 groups applied to play a showcase so getting selected must count as success as only 14.5% of the applicants did.

There were no UK bands on the programme but there was a representative of a well known UK venue present for all three days, raising the possibility that a group or groups could earn themselves a UK appearance.

What follows is a my pick in no particular order from the 18 showcases I heard. I restricted myself to seven short reports with the result that some good groups don’t get a mention.


All three of the Brussels based Wajdi Riahi Trio led by the 27 year old Tunisian pianist/ composer from whom the band takes its name, are strong players. Bassist Basile Rahola and drummer Pierre Hurty’s touch and feel are as impressive as that of Riahi. They formed the trio in 2020, though the three members have known each other for longer and it shows in how cohesive they are in a set which has a good deal of attractive and sophisticated rhythmic and melodic variation, and tunes that are very appealing and accessible.

Their opening number (or it might have been two numbers played as one) begins contemplatively, even sounding like a thoughtful lullaby, then becomes more high energy with a sharp drum solo. Then there’s a tender ballad like tune which is enhanced by Riahi singing gentle, wordless and rather lovely harmonies.

The trio’s final tune references Wajdi’s Tunisian origins with him plucking the piano’s strings making it sound momentarily like an oud followed by a drum solo with African rhythms after which the trio builds to very danceable and joyful climax. Overall it’s a very pleasurable and engrossing 35 minutes.


The Daniel Garcia Trio is led by a Spanish pianist who has been a prizewinner at Berklee, mentored by Danilo Perez and the first Spanish jazz artist to be signed by the prestigious German Act label.

He’s ventured across a number of musical styles including rock and electronica .The music that he and his two Cuban colleagues on drums and on bass bring to Jammin’ Juan is predominately an encounter between the language of the contemporary jazz trio and various musical languages from his homeland.

The first number is a tribute to an icon of Spanish music Paco de Lucia. This is followed by a tango done flamenco style. Then comes a piece based on rhythms and melodies from Salamanca from where Garcia originates. This is an intriguing number with what seems to be folkloric elements, and also what could be echoes of playful of children’s songs. Over this Garcia uses a vocoder to add tender wordless vocal harmonies.

Led by Garcia’s high quality pianism this is a very classy trio and Garcia’s take on his Spanish roots help them stand out even more.


The 26 year old Fanou Torracinta’s lively “Gypsy Guitar From Corsica” is a pleasure from start to finish. His is a set in which rhythm rules most of the time. I’ve since learnt that the mazurka and the waltz are the hallmark of Corsican guitarists, but it’s the influence of Django Reinhardt my ear keeps picking up.

Torracinta’s technique is superb as one might expect, but it’s technique fused with heart and soul. The unobtrusiveness of his rhythm section, a second guitar and double bass, just serves to highlight his virtuosity even more. The fourth member of the group though, pianist Bastien Brisson, is Torracinta’s companion in swing and in the final number his sparing partner as piano and
guitar engage in some teasing interplay.

Before that they complement each other in a delightful re-imagining of “How About You”, and also in a number that could be music for a sinister film noir as it starts with the guitar sounding like a zither and later there are some menacing sounds from Brisson’s piano.

It’s a fun set that leaves me with a grin from ear to ear.


Dutch singer, percussionist and composer Sanne Huijbregts and her quartet Sanne Sanne, (not to be confused with Sanne Group which is an asset management firm) bring together influences from experimental pop and alt-folk with jazz. By doing so they create a sound world that’s different from any of the other bands doing a showcase.

Sanne’s voice and phrasing is at times reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and some of her lyrics don’t make for easy listening for example, “Paper thin skin the snake has shed, it’s still thicker than mine”. But her bravery in putting her apparent vulnerability out there is part of her appeal.

This vulnerability is reflected in some of the music from an unusual line-up of drums, double
bass, plucked viola, Sanne on vibraphone, bells and kalimba thumb piano and the supporting voices of two other band members. There’s a lot of multi-layered atmospheric tinkling going on but also some very organic and earthy double bass.

The last song, “Tremble”, a love song, becomes a three part harmony with the voices coming together in unison for the finale. Its beautiful.

While Sanne Sanne might not be a band for the jazz purist, what they do they do well. They have something going that could make them a group that breaks out beyond the jazz world.


François Poitou and Pumpkin is a collaboration between a quartet led by double bassist Poitou with a saxophone and trumpet front line, and a female hip hop artist, Pumpkin, who began her French hip hop career in the 1990s.

The band draw on the influences as far apart as free jazz and the legacy of New Orleans marching bands, but whatever their style the sound of Pumpkin’s raps blend in organically. She does a call and response with the saxophonist, and a high speed rap in tandem with the drummer.

Pumpkin has presence on stage, and interacts both with other band members and the audience. Because of the energy and tension they generate between them, François Poitou and Pumpkin probably are at their best live.

I was told that some of Pumpkin’s language, which I did not understand, was unnecessarily vulgar. If that’s so it’s a pity for she and the band show they are well able to generate electricity without this.


The five strong DAÏDA are a young band that play a high voltage fusion of nu-jazz, electronica and urban beats. They have a front line of trumpet and electric guitar and when the trumpeter Arno de Casanove, who has a glorious tone, plays drawn out mournful notes they sound similar to one of the biggest stars of French jazz, French Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf’s band.

Their default setting seems to be intense, jagged music near to the edge of the abyss. (They take their name from a giant creature in Japanese mythology, so large that it’s movements shape the world). So when their guitarist plays a lovely contemplative solo, his skill making his electric guitar sound like an acoustic one, it comes as a surprise. As does the waves of spell- binding gentle electronica overlaid with keyboard swirls at the start of “Huitres” (Oysters) which take you on an imagined journey under the waves into the oyster’s world that is peaceful until a return of the default music signals a change (perhaps it’s the oysters struggling to escape capture).

Dynamic, exciting, engrossing and also subtle, they are another band that’s almost
certainly best sampled live.


What’s striking about this from Israel led by double bassist Tal Gamlieli is the contrast between soft and loud in their music. This is because when they are loud they are very loud for an acoustic trio, and they can work themselves into an almost frenzied state. Especially Amir Bar Akiva who hits the various elements of his drum kit with a ferocity that could earn him a place in a heavy metal band. They can play delicately too though, as in “Ordinary Girl”,  which Gamelieli composed following the tragic deaths of two young girls, one Israeli one Palestinian, with the trio sensitively and effectively conveying the emotion of the song.

Gamlieli can write a good tune, and also has lively exchanges with drummer Akiva and pianist Char Bar David whose soloing conveys a sense of space. The trio are a fine jazz unit as well at times a ferocious one, and their expressive body language and facial expressions makes them good to watch as well. They end on the charge, bringing a memorable set to a fiery conclusion.


Jammin’ Juan is superbly organised and partially funded by the Office of Tourism Antibes Juan-les-Pins who had the idea for the event. Remarkably from a UK perspective, public money and resources are being used to give opportunities to young and to relatively unknown jazz talent. Praise be, and let’s hope in the current financial environment that Jammin’ Juan can continue to do so.

To find out more about Jammin’ Juan 2022 visit

All the bands feature on the web and on YouTube.


by Ian Mann

September 08, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys three very different albums released simultaneously by trumpeter and composer Chris Hodgkins.

Chris Hodgkins International Quartet - “Festooned With Trumpets”

Chris Hodgkins & His Band - “A Salute To Humphrey Lyttelton”

Vic Parker with Chris Hodgkins and Jed Williams - “At The Quebec Hotel”

In May 2022 trumpeter Chris Hodgkins took the bold step of simultaneously releasing three very different albums onto the market. It’s a move that’s not totally unprecedented, I recall another trumpeter, Jack Davies, doing something similar back in 2012.

Two of the albums feature Hodgkin’s recent projects, the other, credited to the late Vic Parker, reaches deep into the archives, but more on that later. I’ll begin with the first of the more recent recordings.


Chris Hodgkins – trumpet, Jinjoo Yoo – piano, Wayne Wilkinson – guitar, Alison Rayner - bass

“Festooned With Trumpets” was recorded in 2019 following an Arts Council supported tour featuring Hodgkins’ International Quartet, a line up that included Korean born, New York based pianist Jinjoo Yoo, American guitarist Wayne Wilkinson and the British bassist Alison Rayner.

In a sense the project represents a continuation of the chamber jazz trio that recorded the albums “Present Continuous” (2005) and “Future Continuous” (2007), the second of which is reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. This group featured Rayner on double bass and Max Brittain on guitar and the line up was subsequently expanded to a quartet with the addition of saxophonist Diane McLoughlin. The four piece released the conceptual “Boswell’s Journal”, a collaboration with the composer and arranger Eddie Harvey, in 2008.

In 2017 Hodgkins and Rayner toured with a quartet led by the American pianist Lenore Raphael, a line up that also included Wilkinson and which may have been the seed for this International project. A review of the live performance by Lenore Raphael & Friends at Brecon Jazz Club in 2017 is reviewed here;

With a drummer-less line up the International Quartet follows in the footsteps of Hodgkins’ previous ‘chamber jazz’ projects. Recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho the album features eight arrangements of jazz standards plus three originals written by members of the quartet specifically for the tour. These originals acknowledge the influence of famous musicians who have inspired the individual composers.

Things commence with the title track, written by Hodgkins and arranged by Diane McLoughlin. The composer’s liner notes recount the tale of how Hodgkins lent his trumpet to Humphrey Lyttelton when the latter managed to leave his horn at home prior to a gig at the Bull’s Head in Barnes. After Hodgkins saved the day Humph thanked him by playing a track from Hodgkins’ then current album on the “Best of Jazz” radio show and recounting the tale, recalling how Hodgkins had “turned up like the US Cavalry, festooned with trumpets”. The tale establishes a nice link between this recording and the “Salute To Humphrey Lyttelton” project.
Musically the piece represents an uplifting start to the album, swinging in a relaxed manner despite the absence of drums and featuring fluent, pithy solos from Wilkinson on guitar, Hodgkins on vocalised, blues tinged trumpet and Yoo at the piano.

The leader sits out on Johnny Green’s famous ballad “Body and Soul”, which represents something of a feature for Yoo. The performance is introduced by an extended passage of lyrical solo piano. Rayner’s melodic double bass and Wilkinson’s understated guitar eventually join in but its Yoo’s elegant playing that really stands out.

The Lerner & Loewe song “Almost Like Being In Love” is performed here in an arrangement by Max Brittain. Besides Brittain’s involvement there are also links to Hodgkins’ previous work in that the arrangements throughout the album eschew any superfluous flourishes or musical flab. The solos are consistently concise and fluent, as evidenced here in the features for Hodgkins, Yoo, Wilkinson and Rayner. Hodgkins has previously spoken of following the dictum of the late, great cornet player Ruby Braff that jazz soloists and improvisers should always place their focus on “the adoration of the melody”.

The Rayner original “Two Hats And A Paper Bag” pays homage to another late and great, the inspirational bassist and composer Jaco Pastorius. Rayner recounts the story behind the title in the album liner notes, but you’ll have to buy the album in order to read it. Not surprisingly the composer’s bass figures strongly in the upbeat arrangement but there are also substantial contributions from Yoo and Wilkinson, both of whom feature as soloists as the selfless Hodgkins again sits out.

The trumpeter returns on the Matt Dennis tune “Angel Eyes”, which Hodgkins describes as “an old torch song”. There’s a suitably melancholy, after hours feel about Hodgkins’ playing on muted trumpet. Hodgkins eventually hands over to Yoo and Wilkinson, both of whom deliver a gentle,  blues tinged lyricism in their solos. Next we hear from Rayner’s melodic, but deeply resonant double bass, before the sound of the leader’s mournful trumpet returns.

Wilkinson’s “Martino’s Waltz” represents a homage to his fellow guitarist Pat Martino, who Wilkinson cites as a major influence on his own playing. The piece is more up-tempo than its title might suggest and is a real tour de force for Wilkinson, one of the most virtuosic guitar pickers around. He receives vigorous support from Yoo and Rayner, with the pianist also featuring as a soloist.

Hodgkins returns on “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan”, written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz and arranged here by Max Brittain. The leader’s subtly bluesy muted trumpet is followed by Yoo’s piano and Wilkinson’s guitar.

The Johnny Hodges tune “Everybody Knows” explores broadly similar territory, but in a more overtly blues manner. Hodgkins, Yoo and Wilkinson again feature as soloists, as does Rayner at the bass.

The Frank Loesser song “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” is an up-tempo swinger with Rayner supplying the rhythmic impetus, aided and abetted by Wilkinson and/or Yoo.  These two also feature as soloists alongside leader Hodgkins.

Written by David Mann and Bob Hilliard the song “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” was the title track of a famous 1955 Frank Sinatra album. Here it’s a solo guitar feature for the nimble fingered Wilkinson, an outstanding but underrated jazz guitarist of the old school. Wilkinson’s adherence to the ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound has arguably prevented him from reaching out to the larger listening constituency that the skill of his playing undoubtedly deserves.

The album concludes with Wilkinson’s arrangement of “Flying Home”, a tune associated with both Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton. It’s a famously energetic piece and it doesn’t lack urgency even in this chamber jazz format. Some dazzling unison playing on the ‘head’ is followed by sparkling solos from Yoo, Hodgkins and Wilkinson.

This opening salvo in this Hodgkins ‘trilogy’ features some excellent playing, imaginative arrangements and a trio of engaging original compositions. It’s a worthy successor to Hodgkins’ impressive catalogue of ‘chamber jazz’ recordings and is possessed of an energy and joie de vivre that transcends the instrumental format in which it was recorded.


Chris Hodgkins – trumpet, Henry Lowther – trumpet & flugelhorn, Noel Langley – trumpet, Charlotte Glasson – baritone sax, clarinet, penny whistle, Diane McLoughlin – alto & soprano sax, Alex Clarke – tenor sax, clarinet, Mark Bassey – trombone, Max Brittain – guitar, Jinjoo Yoo – piano, Amy Baldwin – double bass, Buster Birch – drums

In November and December 2021 Hodgkins and a stellar hand picked band embarked upon a lengthy UK tour with a show paying tribute to the late Humphrey Lyttelton (1921 – 2008).

Hodgkins’ liner notes explain the reasons behind the project;
The “Salute to Humphrey Lyttelton” is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth and to showcase his wonderful life, times and music. As a lifelong fan of Humphrey Lyttelton I wanted to highlight how Humph led the way for the jazz revival of the late ‘40s and ‘50s by bringing jazz to the UK mainstream with ‘Bad Penny Blues’, the first UK jazz record to reach the Top 20. This album, and the tour that preceded it, is my dedication to Humph to thank him for his huge contribution to, and advocacy of, the UK jazz scene”.

Lyttelton became so famous as a radio personality that his importance as a musician and composer is sometimes overlooked. Hodgkins concentrates on the music of the man and the album repertoire includes many of Lyttleton’s own compositions alongside other tunes performed by the Lyttelton band, plus a couple of originals written by Hodgkins specifically for this project. Several members of the Hodgkins band are involved in the arranging process and overall this is very much a team effort.

The album was recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London at the end of the tour and the recording band is slightly different from the touring line up, which featured both Alison Rayner and Wayne Wilkinson. Hodgkins also thanks the numerous ‘deps’ who stepped in at various points on the tour for musicians that had contracted Covid.

The album commences with a version of the Lyttelton tune “Cross A Busy Street” in a new arrangement by saxophonist Frank Griffith. This gets the album off to an invigorating start and features some colourful ensemble playing alongside the individual solos. Unfortunately the soloists aren’t listed by name but Brittain and Yoo are easy enough to identify, the horn players less so, but we get to hear from Bassey on trombone plus (I think) all three trumpeters and all three saxophonists. Baldwin and Birch also enjoy features and overall this is a fine introduction to the voices of the band.

“Cecil Beaton Strides” again is a Hodgkins original arranged by Alex Clarke. The eleven piece ensemble swings like mini big band while individual solos come from Yoo on piano and Bassey on trombone.

“Tribal Dance” was written in 1965 by pianist and composer Harry South. The Hodgkins Band’s version features another Frank Griffith arrangement. As its title might suggest the piece places a strong emphasis on ‘tribal’ rhythms and the arrangement also features vocalised trumpet sounds plus subsequent trumpet, sax and trombone solos.

“Fat Tuesday” is a tune by the West Indian saxophonist and clarinettist Freddy Grant who joined forces with Lyttelton to form the Grant-Lyttelton Paseo Jazz Band. This is performed in another Griffith arrangement and although he doesn’t actually play on the recording it is undeniable that Griffith makes a huge contribution to the success of the album as a whole. This is another vibrant and highly rhythmic piece with something of a calypso feel. It’s introduced by Birch at the drums and features solos for trumpet and piano plus a further drum feature for the irrepressible Birch.
Clarke and Glasson also feature strongly in the arrangement and there’s some terrific interplay between the brass and reeds.

“Susan” is a Hodgkins original, dedicated to Humph’s manager, Susan da Costa. Again this boasts a Frank Griffith arrangement and is a feature for Henry Lowther on mellifluous flugel horn. There are also some lush ensemble textures on this first ballad item.

The pace picks up again with “Holy Main”, a Lyttelton tune arranged for the Hodgkins Band by trombonist Mark Bassey. The trumpeters feature extensively and I think I’m correct in stating that all three take a solo here. Bassist Amy Baldwin also steps out of the shadows with an engaging solo.

A succession of Humph originals continues with “In Swinger”, this time arranged for the band by Alex Clarke. I’d guess that the opening muted trumpet salvo is from Hodgkins himself while Glasson solos on baritone. The piece also represents an excellent example of Clarke’s abilities as an arranger.

“Late Night Final” is one of Lyttelton’s slower tunes, a ballad with a suitably ‘after hours’ feel that is sometimes reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”. Frank Griffiths’ arrangement is a feature for Lowther on trumpet and Glasson on baritone sax, the latter demonstrating a remarkable fluency on the ‘big horn’.

Glasson’s own arranging skills are featured on the lively Lyttelton original “Mezz’s Tune/Mezzrow”. This was a piece that used to feature the versatile Lyttelton on clarinet. Glasson and Clarke play clarinets here with McLoughlin also featuring on soprano sax. Further solos come from Bassey on trombone, Yoo on piano and Brittain on guitar, with Glasson also doubling on baritone sax. Following a clarinet ‘stand off’ drummer Birch is featured towards the close.

The Lyttelton ballad “We Fell Out Of Love” features a pared down group featuring Yoo, Clarke, Brittain, Baldwin and Birch. It commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano, later joined in duet by the warm tones of Clarke’s tenor. Yoo’s lyrical piano soloing and Clarke’s ballad playing form the main focus with the rhythm section adding understated and sympathetic support.

Two Henry Lowther arrangements of Lyttelton tunes follow. Both “One For Buck” and “Wrestler’s Tricks” celebrate Humph’s musical relationship trumpet and bandleader Buck Clayton. The lively “One For Buck” leads off with Brittain’s guitar and includes features for trumpet and drums.

The suitably playful “Wrestler’s Tricks” is a swinging ‘mini big band’ arrangement featuring some fluent and fiery trumpeting in addition to sax and trombone solos.

Written by the man himself “Bad Penny Blues” was Humph’s ‘big hit’, entering the British charts in 1956. Johnny Parker’s famous piano riff is re-created here by Jinjoo You and this version also features solos from Lowther on trumpet, Clarke on tenor sax and Brittain on guitar.

At a time when female instrumentalists still represented something of a rarity Lyttelton’s bands regularly featured the talents of tenor saxophonist Kathy Stobart, later a bandleader in her own right. Lyttelton’s composition “Kath Meets Humph” celebrates their musical relationship and appears here in an arrangement by Jinjoo Yoo. Her piano playing is prominent and the arrangement is also notable for a fluent and emotive solo from trombonist Mark Bassey.

The album concludes with a Diane McLoughlin arrangement of the Lyttelton tune “Let’s Get Out”, which ends the album on a swinging, suitably celebratory note. Guitarist Brittain leads things off and a rollicking arrangement also features solos from McLoughlin’s alto, Clarke’s tenor and a remarkable set piece from Glasson, who Hodgkins refers too as “the Roland Kirk of the penny whistle”. Naturally the trumpets are featured too, this is a “Salute to Humph” after all, as is the excellent Bassey. Brittain returns for more before the close and Yoo also features on piano. Finally we hear from Baldwin and Birch as the album concludes much as it began with features for the whole of this excellent band.

One suspects that Lyttelton himself would have enjoyed hearing this album and the “Salute to Humph” project also has the approval of Susan da Costa, who continues to manage the late Lyttelton’s affairs.

It’s an album that highlights Lyttelton’s skills as a composer and although it’s a project awash with nostalgia the new arrangements breathe new life into these much loved compositions. The playing, from a band that strikes a good balance between youth and experience, is exceptional throughout.

The “Salute to Humph” album has garnered considerable critical acclaim as Lyttelton’s contribution to British jazz continues to be re-assessed and more widely appreciated.


Vic Parker – guitar, Chris Hodgkins – cornet, Jed Williams – drums

Hodgkins was born in Cardiff and as a young musician he worked regularly on that city’s jazz scene.

In the mid ‘70s he played regular Monday and Wednesday night residences with the late guitarist Vic Parker at The Quebec Hotel, Crichton Street in the famous ‘Tiger Bay’ district. “We had a little duo, just playing standards and he would sing in a Cardiff accent”, recalls Hodgkins in his album notes.

Val Wilmer’s liner notes give a fuller account of the life of Parker, who was born in Cardiff in 1910 of Barbadian heritage and followed a musical career that took him to London but eventually brought him back to Cardiff. He died in 1978, shortly after these sessions were documented and this album represents the only available recording of Parker’s playing.

Parker enjoyed near cult status within the Cardiff jazz community and is still fondly remembered, which makes this archive release all the more welcome. The album features material from two separate sessions in 1976. The first, recorded on 14th January features Parker and Hodgkins, playing cornet, in a trio with drummer Jed Williams. A further five tracks featuring just the Parker / Hodgkins duo was captured on 4th February.

Williams (1952-2003) is another Welsh jazz hero who is perhaps best known for his work as a journalist and promoter administrator and who was once the Artistic Director of Brecon Jazz Festival, helping to turn it into one of the biggest and most successful jazz festivals in Europe. Taken far too early he too is much missed.

Understandably the quality of the recorded sound on this album is less pristine than on the other two releases, but it still manages to capture the energy and bonhomie of the performances. One can almost imagine being in the room with the musicians, especially as the hum of conversation and background chatter can be heard.

The album commences with brisk romps through “Back Home Again in Indiana” and “Cheek to Cheek” with Hodgkins’ cornet in the lead, propelled by Parker’s highly vigorous rhythmic guitar and Williams’ drums. The latter are rather far back in the mix and consequently many of the details of Williams’ playing are indistinct. On “Cheek to Cheek” Parker’s guitar briefly comes to the fore and there are also snatches of wordless vocals.

“Georgia On My Mind” is less frenetic and features some impressive high register playing from Hodgkins as Parker continues to fill an essentially rhythmic role. Nevertheless it’s Parker’s chording that’s at the heart of the music in this bass-less trio. A brisk version of the Rodgers and Hart song “You Took Advantage Of Me” find his guitar coming to the fore, but his soloing is still essentially chord based.

“Bill Coleman”, written by er…  Bill Coleman finds Parker coming to the fore once again. One suspects that US trumpeter Coleman may have been an influence on Hodgkins’ own playing and that this tune was one of the cornet player’s selections. As one of the less familiar tunes on this disc it’s also one of the most interesting.

“Deep Purple” and the Duke Ellington composition “Solitude” follow, with Parker given a little solo space on each. On the quieter numbers such as “Solitude” the poor recording quality becomes even more evident. We’re really into ‘official bootleg’ territory here. Nevertheless the crowd sounds are highly evocative, we’re in a busy, happy pub and one can almost imagine oneself being there. Apparently the Quebec was eventually demolished in 2012 as the gentrification of ‘Tiger Bay’ continued. Quibbles about recording quality aside it’s good to have such an evocative musical souvenir of a much loved venue and a now vanished era.

Next up are “Undecided” and “I’ve Found A New Baby”, two mainstream jazz staples, and this trio session concludes with “Ida! Sweet as Apple Cider”, which offers plenty of Parker for your money, and “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket”.

The duo session from February ‘76 commences with “C’est si Bon”. The recording quality here is slightly better allowing one to more fully appreciate the musical relationship between Hodgkins and Parker. The intimacy of the performances can perhaps be viewed as a precursor for Hodgkins’ later ‘chamber jazz’ albums, including “Festooned With Trumpets”. In this duo situation Parker is afforded more solo space and “C’est Si Bon” also appears to feature him whistling along to his playing, as does the following “At Sundown”.

“Blueberry Hill” finds the duo giving a jazzy twist to the old Fats Domino hit and the pair wind up this shorter session with “As Long As I Live” and “China Boy”.

The poor recording quality ensures that the Parker disc is really of historical value only, but it will mean a lot to those Cardiffians who still remember Parker and Williams and the Quebec Hotel. The playing from Parker, who has a very distinctive guitar style, and the then youthful Hodgkins is actually very good and there is much to enjoy here if one can cut through the background hubbub. Williams is rather too buried in the mix and it’s difficult to assess his contribution.

Hodgkins clearly remembers Parker with a lot of affection as his album notes make clear. The guitarist is also the dedicatee of “VP”, a Hodgkins / Diane McLoughlin composition that appears on the 2015 album “Back In You Own Backyard”, credited to Hodgkins and pianist Dave Price. Album review here;

Meanwhile the two studio quality albums represent excellent examples of Hodgkins’ craft. The Lyttelton album has attracted the most attention and understandably so, but personally I’m more drawn to the more intimate ‘chamber jazz’ sounds of “Festooned With Trumpets”, a worthy successor to Hodgkins’ previous triumphs in similar drummer-less formats.

Star Ratings;

“Festooned With Trumpets” - 4 Stars

“A Salute To Humphrey Lyttelton” - 4 Stars

“At The Quebec Hotel” - 3 Stars


by Ian Mann

August 28, 2022

Ian Mann on the final day of the 2022 Festival and a live performance by J4 followed by streams of two live events from London by the Atsuko Shimada / Alan Barnes Quartet and the Juan Galiardo Trio.

Photograph of J4 sourced from




The final day of the final weekend saw a return to the ‘hybrid’ format that had distinguished the 2021 “Wherever You Are” Festival.

Located entirely at The Muse the evening began with an in person performance by the Cardiff based quartet J4, co-led by guitarist James Chadwick and pianist Julian Martin.

This was followed by two live performances in front of a paying audience at the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury-on-Thames which were streamed directly to Brecon. These shows were a collaboration between Brecon Jazz and Janet McCunn and Terence Collie of West London based promoters Mood Indigo Events.

BJF and MIE have regularly worked together and similar collaborations took place in 2020 and 2021 to create the ‘Brecon Jazz London Weekend’. The 2022 Festival had also seen pianist Collie and vocalist McCunn visiting Brecon to perform live at the Castle Hotel on the Main Weekend of the Festival. Collie was leading the one off Panoply Trio featuring bassist Marianne Windham and drummer Caroline Boaden, with McCunn guesting on one number. A full review of the Panoply Trio’s performance can be found as part of the appropriate day’s Festival coverage (Friday August 12th).

The Sunbury shows featured a quartet co-led by the Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada and the British reeds player Alan Barnes, followed by a trio led by the Spanish pianist Juan Galiardo, but more on that later.



James Chadwick – guitar, Julian Martin – piano, Don Sweeney – double bass, Ian Williams – drums

Cardiff based James Chadwick had also appeared at the 2022 BJF leading a trio featuring bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Mark Whitlam, augmented on some numbers by guest saxophonist Deborah Glenister.

This group appeared at the Northhouse on 12th August playing an intriguing set of Chadwick arrangements,  these including jazz and bebop standards, a Welsh hymn and a remarkable version of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Again a full account of this performance can be found as part of the relevant day’s coverage.

“Strawberry Fields” forms a neat link into today’s performance. J4 specialises exclusively in the music of The Beatles and performs a series of jazz arrangements of Beatles songs, the majority of them by either Chadwick or Martin but with “Here There and Everywhere” arranged by the whole group. I assume that the band name is a reference to the forenames of the co-leaders, the size of the line up and is also a subtle homage to “The Fab Four”.

In May 2022 J4 recorded an eponymous album featuring their Beatle interpretations and this is currently available at gigs. It doesn’t include “Strawberry Fields” but it does feature ten other imaginative and intelligent examinations of Beatles material and we were to hear all of them performed tonight at this concert supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Nos Allan (or ‘Night Out’) Scheme.

Like Huw Warren the previous evening Martin was able to make use of Kawai upright acoustic piano that was in temporary residence at The Muse. I had seen J4 give a highly enjoyable performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth earlier in the year, which had found Martin deploying an electric keyboard. Once again the presence of a ‘proper’ piano moved the music up a notch and today’s performance also benefited from the more formal ‘concert’ setting.

J4 set the ball rolling with Martin’s piano led arrangement of “A Hard Days Night”, which brought elements of jazz swing and even funk to the familiar song.  Solos came from Martin on piano, Chadwick on guitar and Sweeney on melodic double bass.

Also arranged by Martin “Eleanor Rigby” featured Chadwick’s elegant rendition of the melody and was also notable for the playing of drummer Ian Williams who excelled in his role of colourist with a nuanced drumming performance that made use of brushes, sticks, mallets and even his bare hands.
Williams is often an exuberant figure behind the kit but he is also capable of great sensitivity. The featured soloists were Martin and Chadwick, stretching out within the framework of a graceful arrangement that remained true to the melancholic spirit of the original.

“Here, There and Everywhere” was arranged collaboratively by the whole group and was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Chadwick. In essence the piece was performed in the style of a jazz ballad with Williams deploying brushes throughout. Solos came from Chadwick on guitar and Martin on piano, with Chadwick returning as the song began to gently accelerate towards the close.

Martin’s arrangement of “In My Life” brought a subtle Latin tinge to the piece and featured Williams’ hand drumming, alongside more conventional brush and stick work. Chadwick’s inventive guitar chording was also prominent in the arrangement and he and Martin were again featured as soloists. It should however be noted that these arrangements are in no way set in stone, today’s performance incorporated features for both Sweeney and Williams that are not present on the recording. J4 is very much an improvising jazz quartet, despite their choice of material.

A song praised by Frank Sinatra, no less, the inclusion of George Harrison’s “Something” ensured that J4’s remit included more than just Lennon and McCartney. This was the first piece to feature a Chadwick arrangement, and rightly so given Harrison’s role in The Beatles. Chadwick’s thoughtful playing was prominent at the start, but today’s performance also included a passage featuring just piano and double bass, again a variation on the album version.

Chadwick commented that many of The Beatles’ songs were “weirdly constructed”,  their irregular chord progressions and sudden twists and turns making them more interesting to arrange and play than regular jazz and bebop standards. “We make them even weirder” added Martin.  The Beatles lack of formal music training is probably a factor here, particularly in the case of Lennon, but this does nothing to detract from their genius as songwriters.

Chadwick’s remarks related to “A Day In The Life”, arranged for J4 by Martin. This was introduced by a passage featuring guitar and piano only, subtly embellishing the familiar opening melody. With the addition of bass and drums the quartet then launched into a passage of ‘free jazz’, roughly corresponding to the “woke up, fell out of bed”, section of The Beatles song, the theme of which did eventually emerge. Sweeney’s bass solo represented a diversion from the recording and presaged a reprise of the “I read the news today, oh boy” melody. The group resisted the temptation to try to emulate the famous final chord.

The introduction to “Nowhere Man”, arranged by Chadwick, also included free jazz elements, before Chadwick picked the melody out on guitar. This song about “a man who’s a bit discombobulated” incorporated solos for guitar, piano and bass plus a feature for drummer Williams.

“Norwegian Wood” has long been a favourite song for jazz artists but Martin managed to bring something new to it in a slowed down arrangement that approached the piece at a more leisurely pace than most jazz interpretations. Introduced by a passage of solo piano the piece also featured Williams’ ‘vocal percussion’.

By way of contrast Martin’s arrangement of “Let It Be” speeded the song up, approaching it in the style of one of Keith Jarrett’s ‘country blues’ style tunes such as “The Windup” or “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours”. An appropriate gospel tinge flavoured this ‘secular hymn’ and the performance included solos from Martin, Chadwick and Sweeney.

The deserved encore was Martin’s sympathetic arrangement of “For No One”, ushered in by a passage of solo piano and with Chadwick eventually joining his co-leader in duet. Bass and brushed drums were introduced towards the close as J4 closed their set on a pleasingly reflective note.

At this stage of musical history it’s not easy to find something new to say within the framework of The Beatles catalogue but J4 have managed it. Their arrangements are faithful to the spirit of the original songs but allow plenty of room for variation, improvisation and self expression. Both in person and on disc these are jazz performances, without a doubt. As arrangers Martin and Chadwick are thoughtful, imaginative and sophisticated, skilfully adapting the songs to a jazz aesthetic without sacrificing anything in terms of melody and beauty.

The familiarity of the source material allied to the quality of the playing ensured that this was a set that was very well received by the audience at The Muse.



Atsuko Shimada – piano, Alan Barnes – alto sax, clarinet, Matyas Hofecker – double bass, Alfonso Vitale – drums

The majority of the Muse audience departed after the J4 performance but a few intrepid souls stayed on to watch the two livestreams from Sunbury. These were introduced by Janet McCunn with Terence Collie dealing with the audio and visuals.

Atsuko Shimada and Juan Galiardo are a married couple now based in Southern Spain. Both pianists the Japanese Shimada and the Spanish Galiardo met when they were both were studying at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.

Now based in Galiardo’s homeland the couple have had a long standing relationship with Brecon Jazz Club and Festival and Shimada first visited the town in 2015 for a Club performance, this followed by a Festival appearance in 2017 and a further Club date in 2019. These performances featured a variety of different line-ups and all are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

The 2020 ‘Virtual Brecon Jazz Festival’ saw Shimada and her trio featuring Rafa Sibajas on bass and Jose Luis Gomez on drums performing at a studio in Granada, Spain and linking up remotely with their guest Alan Barnes from his home in England.

Like all the ‘Virtual’ shows that year this was a short set but it was well received by the viewing public and it was always likely that a genuine live meeting between Shimada and Barnes would eventually happen.

Post Brexit the logistical issues associated with bringing a whole band over from Spain meant that only Shimada and Galiardo made the trip and both were teamed with a London based rhythm section featuring Hungarian born bassist Matyas Hofecker and Italian drummer Alfonso Vitale, both hugely accomplished exponents of their respective instruments. Thus the Shimada / Barnes Quartet was a truly international line up, linked as ever by the shared language of jazz, a connection that even Brexit cannot sever.

Technical glitches affected the stream in its early stages, which was somewhat irritating, but eventually these were sorted and I was able to immerse myself more fully in the music. One big plus was the fact that the Riverside possesses a beautiful acoustic grand piano, which ensured that both Shimada and later Galiardo could be heard at their best, and both proved to be highly impressive.

Shimada’s performance began in trio format with “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”, which featured solos from Shimada on piano and Hofecker on double bass, with Vitale adding a series of brushed drum breaks. The stream featured split screen coverage, thereby allowing the viewer to concentrate on a musician of their choice, much as at a live gig. And of course this WAS a live gig and one could hear the applause of the audience in Sunbury. And of course we clapped too, even though the musicians couldn’t hear us.

Barnes then joined the group on alto, sharing the solos with Shimada on the pianist’s arrangement of the jazz standard “All The Things You Are”.

Shimada then introduced an original composition about a tiger that “scratches and bites, I hope you can hear that in the music”. This found expression in Vitale’s drum introduction, accompanied by Barnes’ alto sax squiggles. A boppish theme eventually emerged, fuelling more orthodox jazz soloing from Barnes on alto and Shimada on piano, with Vitale weighing in once more with a series of drum breaks.

Barnes switched to clarinet for a ballad performance that featured a lyrical piano solo from Shimada and a melodic bass feature from the excellent Hofecker, a solid time keeper and a highly articulate soloist. A solo piano cadenza at the close featured Shimada quoting Rachmaninov.
I believe the next piece was the Dexter Gordon tune “Cheese Cake”, which saw Barnes back on alto and soloing alongside Shimada and Hofecker, with Vitale again contributing a series of drum breaks.

The final tune of the first set in this double bill at The Riverside was the Shimada original “Third Impression”, a piece based on John Coltrane’s composition “Impressions” and Eric Alexander’s homage, the “second impression”, if you will. Shimada’s own tune was suitably ‘Trane-esque’ and featured solos from Shimada on piano, Barnes on alto and Vitale at the drums.

Once the technical issues had been sorted this was a very enjoyable set and it was good to see Shimada and Barnes finally linking up in person. The rhythm team of Hofecker and Vitale also did a terrific job and with Shimada handling the announcements we were spared Barnes’ litany of now over familiar jokes. That said I do appreciate that he can be very funny first time around and that in general audiences love him. I’ve probably seen him a bit too often, but fortunately his playing doesn’t pall in the same manner. Barnes’ mastery of a variety of reeds (we didn’t get to hear him on baritone tonight) is seriously impressive.



Juan Galiardo – piano, Matyas Hofecker – double bass, Alfonso Vitale – drums

During the changeover at The Riverside those of us in Brecon enjoyed a delicious vegetarian buffet provided by Ruth Gibbs at The Muse. Thank you Ruth.

Suitably fortified and with the technical gremlins banished we then sat back to enjoy the second performance from Sunbury by the Juan Galiardo Trio.

I first witnessed Galiardo perform back in 2014 when he undertook a short tour of Wales co-leading a quartet with his fellow Spaniard Arturo Serra (vibraphone). I reviewed the ‘Espana Cymru’  shows in Abergavenny and Brecon, which featured different all Welsh rhythm sections, the latter date being a double bill with the Cardiff University Big Band.

Galiardo returned to Brecon in 2018 for a Club date and in 2020 was part of the ‘Virtual Brecon Jazz Festival’ appearing in a livestream from Granada with the Sibajas / Gomez rhythm section.

Tonight he was to link up with Hofecker and Vitale to perform a set that mixed jazz standards and his original compositions in pretty much equal measure.

The trio commenced with the standard “If I Should Lose You” which included solos from Galirdo and Hofecker plus a series of brushed drum breaks from Vitale.

Next up was the Galiardo original “Brecon Beacons”, a most appropriate choice and a beautifully lyrical tune that featured the melodic soloing of Galiardo and Hofecker and the exquisite cymbal work of Vitale. There could be no doubting that tonight’s gigs were a joint venture with the logos of both Mood Indigo Events and Brecon Jazz adorning the Riverside stage.

A second Galiardo original, dedicated to the uncles who first introduced him to jazz,  increased the tempo and saw features for all three musicians. The sight of Hofecker’s double bass reflected in the body of the piano also made for a striking visual image.

The third and final Galiardo original was a ballad dedicated to one of his musical heroes, the American pianist and composer Kenny Barron. This was another piece that demonstrated Galiardo’s gift for melody and included lyrical solos from Hofecker and the composer, with Vitale largely deploying brushes. I’d guess that this was the tune “Kenny’s Mood”, a track from Galiardo’s self titled album from 2014. Review here;

It was the first time that Galiardo had played with this rhythm team so the decision to include so much original material was both courageous and commendable. Of course musicians of the calibre of Hofecker and Vitale rose to the occasion magnificently and more than did justice to Galiardo’s compositions.

The trio now returned to the standards repertoire with a version of “If I Were A Bell” which featured solos from Galiardo and Hofecker plus some brisk brush work from Vitale.

Galiardo has a knack of taking extremely familiar themes and doing something fresh and interesting with them – a nice link here with J4. His album saw him transforming “The Girl From Ipanema” with an innovative slowed down arrangement. Tonight we enjoyed a ballad reading of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee”, a tune frequently tackled by jazzers at a furious pace. Galiardo’s graceful, slowed down arrangement featured his own piano lyricism, the melodic bass playing of Hofecker and the delicate brush work of Vitale. Besides highlighting the skills of Galirdo as an arranger it also demonstrated the sheer versatility and adaptability of Noble’s composition.

A deserved encore increased the pace once more with features for all three musicians. From the style Galiardo’s playing I deduced that this may have been a Thelonious Monk piece but I couldn’t hang a title on it. It was highly enjoyable nevertheless.

As we’ve all now learnt again watching on screen isn’t the same as being there but tonight’s ‘hybrid’ event came close as I watched with other people around and with a pint by my side, physically applauding musicians who were more than a hundred miles away.

Once the gremlins had been despatched the sound quality was good, helped enormously by the presence of that piano,  and the visuals also.  However I would have appreciated a few audience shots from the Riverside and to have got more of a feel for a venue whose events have been advertised many times on The Jazzmann. Instead the cameras were focussed entirely on the stage, but I appreciate that technical limitations may have prevented the opportunity to present anything more expansive.

Maybe I will one day get the opportunity to visit the Riverside or one of MIE’s other venues myself, but for now the link up with Brecon Jazz is something to be cherished and nurtured.


Another excellent Festival from Lynne and Roger at Brecon Jazz with a series of excellent and varied performances spread over three weekends and covering an impressively wide array of jazz styles. Variety has always been one of Brecon’s strengths and continues to be so and its willingness to present one off collaborations, many of them international affairs, is also to be applauded. So too is the support and opportunity given to young up and coming musicians from all over the country and to the Welsh jazz scene as a whole.

With healthy attendances at nearly all events there was a real sense of celebration and the feeling that things were finally getting back to normal, particularly with the Fringe also in full swing around the town. The boost to the local economy must have been most welcome and it’s the Jazz Festival that is at the forefront of it all.

The amount of work undertaken by Lynne & Roger and their team is almost unimaginable. Thank you and very well done to them all.






by Ian Mann

August 25, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Huw Warren's 'Sounds of Brazil' Trio with guest Seu Gaio, the Kris Nock Big Band and The Booj Collective with guest Abi Flynn.

Images of Seu Gaio and Huw Warren sourced from



The third and final weekend of the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival was less full and inevitably quieter than the main weekend had been but there was still plenty of excellent music on offer, again embracing a wide variety of jazz genres.


Huw Warren – piano, Ursula Harrison – double bass, George Povey – drums, Seu Gaio – vocals, cavaquinho, pandeiro, triangle, drovo

With no street music and with the Fringe Festival over the town itself was much quieter and I did fear that this weekend’s events might be rather sparsely attended.

Of course I needn’t have worried. Arriving in town in mid afternoon I made my way to The Muse to find a near capacity crowd of around 80 or so crammed into the room for the opening performance by pianist and composer Huw Warren and his ‘Sounds of Brazil’ Trio with guest vocalist / percussionist Seu Gaio.

Welsh born pianist Warren has been a great friend of the Festival and has appeared on the concert programme on many occasions, often as part of international collaborations with artists such as drummer Jim Black, clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi and vocalist Maria Pia De Vito. From 2012-2016 he was the Festival’s Artist in Residence and in 2014 premièred his suite “Do Not Go Gentle”, a homage to the poet Dylan Thomas.

Before the start of today’s concert Festival organiser Lynne Gornall presented Warren with a piece of decorative glass ware crafted in the town by Kathryn Roberts of The Gate Gallery, the gift an acknowledgement of Warren’s loyalty to the Festival over many years. A similar gift was also presented to musician and educator Paula Gardiner, whose daughter, Ursula Harrison, was today playing bass with Warren’s trio.

Warren’s love of Brazilian music is well documented and in 2009 he released “Hermeto +” (Basho Records), an album that paid tribute to the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal.  Recorded with Martin France at the drums and the Austrian musician Peter Herbert on double bass “Hermeto +” featured a near 50/50 split between arrangements of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals inspired by the great man. The album attracted considerable acclaim and is reviewed here;

In addition to his work as a musician and composer Warren is also an acclaimed educator with teaching posts at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and at Cardiff University. I suspect that the two young members of today’s ‘Sounds of Brazil’  were probably his former students.

I’ve seen Warren perform with his Trio Brasil, featuring bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Zoot Warren (Huw’s son), on numerous occasions, the Trio sometimes supplemented by the renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy.

But today was to be different with this afternoon’s group augmented by Seu Gaio, a Brazilian musician and vocalist now based in Cardiff. Gaio’s presence added even greater authenticity to Warren’s vision of Brazilian music. It was the first time that I’d seen Gaio perform and his energetic stage presence and immense musical and vocal skill quickly endeared him to the Brecon audience.

Warren was fortunate to have the use of an upright acoustic piano (manufactured by Kawai) that had been hired by The Muse for another (non Jazz) event that was taking place later that evening. The quality of the sound from a ‘real’ instrument added hugely to the success of the performance.

Today’s show began with the core trio playing a segue of of Warren’s original composition, “The Beginning Is Also The End” and the Hermeto Pascoal composed “Santo Antonio”. Warren’s piece was quiet and lyrical with Povey deploying brushes and acting in the role of colourist. He was to become much more animated as the trio segued into Pascoal’s vibrant and energetic “Santo Antonio” and both he and Harrison responded to the rhythmic demands of Pascoal’s often complex music with considerable aplomb. Warren delivered a barnstorming solo at the piano and Harrison was also featured as a soloist. Warren revealed that he’d been lucky enough to meet with Pascoal and that the veteran Brazilian composer still remains his musical hero.

The trio then went on to play Warren’s “This and That”, a tune originally written for a radio broadcast. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano the piece expanded to embrace a melodic dialogue between Warren at the piano and Harrison at the bass before beginning to accelerate with the addition of Povey’s drums. The young rhythm team again handled some pretty tricky contemporary grooves with Harrison again featuring as a soloist and Povey impressing with his vigorously brushed rhythms.

Warren now called Gaio to the stage, announcing him as “coming from Rio via Cardiff!”. Gaio wasted no time in terms of getting the audience on side, encouraging the crowd to clap along even before he set foot on stage. His own composition “Elo R’..” featured his joyous singing of the Portuguese lyrics and his virtuoso playing of the tambourine like pandeiro, a traditional Brazilian instrument with its origins in Iberia.
Gaio’s mastery of the instrument and the range of sounds that he was able to elicit from it was astonishing – at times the skill of his playing reminded me of an Indian tabla master.

Gaio explained that Brazilian music and its various sub genres, among them samba and bossa nova, were the products of a merging of European and African musical influences. “Panos E Planos” demonstrated this, with the irrepressible Gaio continuing to shine on vocals and pandeiro.

From the Bahia region of North East Brazil “Chorinho Em Cochabamba” introduced Afro-Cuban influences to the existing Brazilian elements and included more virtuoso pandeiro playing,  with Gaio’s exuberance matched by Warren at the piano.

The atmospheric intro to “Cacua” saw Povey sitting out as Gaio produced thunder like sounds from the drovo (at least I think that’s what he called it) and Warren played with dampened strings and explored the upright’s innards. This opening section also featured Gaio’s vocal and percussion and Harrison’s bowed bass.  Gaio was also to feature on triangle and pandeiro during a mesmerising group performance that also included solos from Warren at the piano and Harrison on pizzicato double bass.

“Por Tao Pouco” was a slower number for voice and piano only that introduced influences from Western popular music in a more obvious song like construction, but with Gaio singing in Portuguese. With the rhythm section sitting out there was also an extended passage of unaccompanied piano from Warren.

The more traditionally Brazilian sounding “Um A Zero” (meaning “One Nil”) celebrates a famous Brazilian football victory over arch rivals Uruguay. It’s a tune that’s been in Warren’s repertoire for some time but gained an additional exuberance with Gaio on board. His joyous vocal and percussive exchanges with Warren were a delight.

Gaio moved to the cavaquinho, a small, four stringed guitar like instrument for “Amiga Da Minha Mulher”. This was a song that also incorporated elements of jazz and funk and which drew a number of dancers onto the floor at The Muse at Gaio’s behest, with Warren delivering a suitably energising piano solo.

The last item of the programme was the instrumental “Frevo Em Maceio”, played by a combination of piano, pandeiro, double bass and drum kit. Harrison’s bass was prominent in the arrangement and there were solos from Warren at the piano and Povey at the drums.

This had been an excellent collective performance with Warren and Gaio feeding off each other and communicating their love of this music both to their young band mates and to the listening audience. The multi-talented Gaio was a great focal point and a highly charismatic front man and helped to bring the best out of Warren, Harrison and Povey. There was a real joyousness about the singing and playing that transmitted itself to the crowd. It was substantially different to Warren’s previous Brazil themed performances, good as they were. But Gaio’s presence brought an additional authenticity, energy and joyousness, ensuring that today’s show represented a real Festival highlight.

The musical relationship between Warren and Gaio is a highly creative one and the pair clearly have enormous respect for each others’ abilities. This is a partnership that is surely destined to continue.

My thanks to both for speaking with me afterwards and to Seu for giving me a copy of the set list so I could get those Portuguese song titles.


The second event of the day took place in the function room at Brecon Workmens Club, a new venue for the BJF concert programme but a performance space that has been playing host to Fringe events for many years.

The ‘Workie’, as the locals call it, proved to be a friendly and surprising spacious venue (“it’s like the Tardis” remarked one of the staff about the multi-roomed venue) and it was pleasing to see another substantial audience in attendance to see the Bristol based Kris Nock Big Band.

Directed by Kris Nock the KNBB is a relatively new ensemble that has already won Platinum Awards at two National Concert Band Festivals (in 2019 and 2021). Its players are primarily youthful (trumpeter Dan Hammond is only fifteen!) and are largely based in Bristol, although members do travel to play from Gloucester, Newbury and even Leicester.

Tonight’s band line up was as follows;

Saxes - Tom Bridger Haskins – Alto & Soprano, Charlotte Atherton – Alto, Beth Holton – Tenor, Beth Levi - Tenor, Vicky Middleton - Baritone
Tom Sherwood – Trombone, Caz Chandler – Trombone, Michael Kingston – Trombone, Jack Smith-Pawson - Trombone
Issy Britton – Trumpet, Euton Peters – Trumpet, Dan Hammond – Trumpet, Benedict Wood - Trumpet
Travis Glover - Piano
Sam Thompson - Guitar
Paul Mahon – Electric & Acoustic Bass
Mike Hoddinott - Drums

Mahon and Hoddinott were the ‘old heads’ in the band, forming a firm rhythmic foundation for the younger soloists. Interestingly Mahon played more electric than double bass, which reflected a programme that placed a greater emphasis on more modern material, often with a strong funk element about it. Drawing on pop, rock, soul, the cinema and even computer games for inspiration KNBB’s repertoire eschews the traditional big band canon of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich etc, although Gordon Goodwin remains a touchstone for Nock.

It was interesting to contrast tonight’s big band performance with that of the Monmouth Big Band who had appeared the previous weekend under the direction of trombonist Gareth Roberts. Their repertoire had been more ‘conventional’ but was still thoroughly enjoyable. There’s room for both approaches and I was able to appreciate the qualities of both performances.

The KNBB began with an opening fanfare before launching into an electric bass driven “The Chicken”, which if memory serves was written by former James Brown saxophonist and one time Bristol resident Pee Wee Ellis. This included fluent and incisive solos from two of the band’s star instrumentalists, trumpeter Benedict Wood and alto saxophonist Tom Bridger-Haskins.

From the film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” came “Pure Imagination”, an increasingly popular vehicle for jazz musicians.  This saw Mahon moving to double bass and included solos from trombonist Tom Sherwood and guitarist Sam Thompson.

An arrangement of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “In The Stone” saw Mahon moving back to electric bass as the Band upped the funk quotient. This was largely an ensemble piece, but with Sherwood’s trombone prominent in the arrangement.

Gordon Goodwin’s “Jazz Police” introduced a rock influence in a hard driving arrangement featuring Thomson’s guitar and with keyboard player Travis Glover gravitating between piano and organ sounds. Solos came from Bridger-Haskins on alto and Thompson on guitar.

Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland”, written for the classic Weather Report album “Heavy Weather”, kept the pot simmering with solos from Euton Peters on trumpet and Beth Holton on tenor.

Next came Bob-Omb Battlefield” from Super Mario 64, another frenetic romp that featured a sax solo from Bridger-Haskins on alto and a drum feature from Hoddinott.
“There must be a slow one in there somewhere!” gasped a breathless Nock and it has to be said that it was all getting a bit relentless at this stage.

Goodwin’s “Hunting Wabbits” represented the composer’s homage to his fellow composer Carl Stalling of Looney Tunes fame. Pleasingly this was more varied and included features for the individual sections, notably the saxes and trombones. These made effective use of counterpoint and once the full band came in all the trumpets were muted, helping to give more of a conventional big band sound.  A second, more fiercely swinging section included solos from Sherwood on trombone and Holton on tenor before featuring the sections again towards the close. This was a quirky and varied composition that made effective use of colour, texture and contrast. It came as a bit of a relief after the earlier energy overload.

Another multi-faceted composition, Chick Corea’s “Spain”, featured Peters on trumpet and Thompson on guitar.

A title translating as “Beginning to End” began with Glover’s heartbeat like piano arpeggios, something that returned at the close. Representing the journey through life the arrangement was appropriately reflective or joyous by turns and featured the sounds of muted trumpets,  with Mahon’s double bass also prominent in the arrangement. The featured soloist was trumpeter Benedict Wood.

Finally we heard a second Chick Corea tune, “Señor Mouse”, with Mahon restored to electric bass. This featured solos from Glover on piano, Bridger-Haskins on curved soprano sax and Thompson on soaring, rock influenced electric guitar, channelling his inner Al DiMeola.

The deserved encore was “Theme From Sesame Street”, an increasingly popular item in the big band repertoire, which introduced a more conventional big sound with solos for Wood and Hoddinott and a cameo on baritone from Vicky Middleton, Nock’s fiancée.

Overall I very much enjoyed this largely high octane set from the Kris Nock Big Band. The playing and the arrangements were excellent throughout and the band is a well drilled unit with several highly talented soloists among its ranks. Arguably the show could have been paced a little better but this would be my only real criticism, and a relatively minor one at that.

My thanks to Kris Nock for speaking with me afterwards and for supplying the full band line up via Facebook. During the course of our conversation he told me that he was a relatively late convert to jazz, having come to the music via playing the trumpet in marching bands.  He later studied jazz at Bath University and at Montana State University in Billings, where his tutors included trumpeter Wayne Bergeron.

This high profile Festival gig will have done the KNBB no harm at all. They are definitely an act to look out for in the future.


Ollie Hatch – guitar, Abbey Neave – trumpet, Benjy Sandler – alto sax, Matthew Lake – keyboards, Alex Shipsey- electric bass, George Milnes – drums plus guest Abi Flynn – vocals

Also hailing from Bristol the Booj Collective is a sextet of young musicians sourced from the ranks of the Bristol University Jazz Orchestra (BUJO).

The group was put together by guitarist Ollie Hatch specifically for this performance, which teamed the sextet with Brighton based vocalist Abi Flynn, whose mother lives in Brecon and is part of the Festival team of volunteers. This local connection was the spark for Festival organiser Lynne Gornall to suggest this collaboration. Flynn had never met her bandmates before today, but as ever at Brecon a musical rapport was quickly established.

The core sextet got things moving with an instrumental, the Miles Davis classic “Nardis”, which included solos from Sandler on alto sax and Lake at the keyboard, adopting an electric piano sound on his Nord electro 6.

Flynn joined the band to add her soul style vocals on a funk style arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime”, the instrumental solos now coming from Neave on trumpet and Hatch on guitar.

Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” incorporated a convincing scat vocal episode from Flynn plus further instrumental solos from Hatch and Neave.

The Jobim composed “No More Blues” introduced a bossa nova feel with Flynn singing the English lyric and with instrumental solos coming from Lake on keyboard and Sandler on alto.

At this juncture Flynn vacated the stage and handed over to the sextet for a couple of instrumentals. Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple” featured some impressive unison playing on the tricky bebop head and fluent individual statements from Sandler on alto, Lake on piano and Hatch on guitar.

“Mark Time” was less frenetic and was underpinned by Milne’s martial drum rhythms.  Solos came from Neave on trumpet and Lake at the keyboard, again adopting an acoustic piano sound.

Flynn returned for “Sway”, which took the music back into Brazilian territory with Neave featuring on muted trumpet. Flynn delivered the English lyric with instrumental solos from Hatch on guitar and Sandler on alto.

Lake’s piano introduced the up-tempo swing of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” with Flynn delivering another impressive scat vocal episode. Although primarily a soul / r’n’b singer Flynn convinced as a jazz vocalist, particularly as part of a band at that end of the jazz spectrum. She proved to be a sassy and confident performer with an engaging and enthusiastic stage presence and overall I was very impressed with her contribution.

Flynn was very much in her element on a version of the Michael Jackson song “I Couldn’t Help It” from the “Off The Wall” album.  A funky arrangement saw the impressive Lake adopting a clavinet like sound at the keyboard and also included a feature for drummer George Milne.

The singer’s work was now done as she handed over to “The Mighty Booj” to finish the show with a brace of instrumentals. First we heard Sandler’s original “Dance Of The Underworld” which juxtaposed complex melodies with serious funk grooves. Solos came from the composer on alto and Neave on trumpet, followed by a series of exchanges between the pair. Lake and Hatch then took over for their own instrumental ‘duel’.

“Billie’s Bounce” saw a return to the bebop repertoire, the theme producing some more razor sharp unison playing prior to solos from guitar, alto sax, trumpet and piano.

The Booj Collective were very well received by the audience at the ‘Workie’ and remained on stage for a deserved encore, a funked up arrangement of the Wayne Shorter modern standard “Footprints”. This included features for Hatch, Neave, Sandler and Lake, the latter deploying an electric piano sound before switching to clavinet as he underpinned Milne’s drum feature. This was good stuff but it might have been nicer if the encore had been a vocal item with the sextet inviting Flynn back to the stage. She was however accorded due thanks and appreciation for her earlier efforts.

My thanks to Ollie Hatch and Matthew Lake for speaking with me afterwards and for answering my occasional queries regarding the set list.

This rounded off an excellent afternoon / evening of music featuring three very different acts but all united by the presence of some seriously talented young musicians within their line ups. As Lynne Gornall observed the future of British jazz would appear to be in good hands.











by Colin May

August 23, 2022

Guest contributor Colin May reports from France on the 61st Jazz A Juan Jazz Festival which took place in July . Performers include Charles Lloyd, Tigran Hamasyan, Herbie Hancock, Cross Currents Trio

Photograph of Charles Lloyd sourced from


61st Jazz A Juan Festival and the Summer Jammin’ Sessions, July 2022.

Set among a sweet-smelling pine grove and with a view across the see-through stage (there’s no backdrop) to the bay, to the sea to the big skies, to the horizon and to the sunset, Jazz A Juan is one of the most beautiful settings for listening to jazz or any other music. The musicians often remark on its beauty and it enthrals me without fail every time I come here (if it didn’t I’d get my pulse checked).

The other part of the magic is that with 3,000 seats to fill in front of the single stage, commercial realities mean that most nights big names are on the bill,  not only from the world of jazz but from other genres like Van Morrison this year and Sting and Tom Jones in previous years. This year there are new artistic directors, three of them, and interestingly more names on the programme who play some form of pure jazz compared to recent editions.

The CHARLES LLOYD QUINTET is one of the bands I enjoyed during my  4 ½ nights at the festival. It’s 56 years since jazz legend Lloyd first played at Juan with Keith Jarrett in his band.  He remains at the top of his game. His playing is still mellifluous, at times gritty and always searching, plus his use of space continues to be exemplary. His multiple textures are well matched by renowned guitarist Bill Frisell’s harmonies and Americana, and with Kenrick Scott excellent on drums this isn’t a sentimental occasion but jazz of now, with the masterful 84 year old Lloyd leading from the front.

Making a great double bill with Lloyd is fellow veterans CHUCHO VALDES’ AND PACQUITO D’RIVERA’S RE-UNION QUARTET. They first met 60 years ago even before founding path breaking Grammy award winning Cuban folkloric and jazz band Irakere. They have only recently started to play together again releasing an album “I  Missed You Too”. D’Rivera particularly is in top form, his fine clarinet playing ranging from the sonorous to the ethereal as he compliments the many moods of Valdes’ piano.  They clearly enjoy being back together and let’s hope they continue to do so.

The CROSS CURRENTS TRIO of virtuosos Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain and Dave Potter was a joy. There are sparkling solos of course and outstanding duo playing, Holland and Hussain have a telepathic understanding. But they don’t take their egos on stage, every touch is in service of the music which was drawn entirely from the trio’s “Good Hope” album. Potter is much more confident with the north Indian rhythms and when his sax is in dialogue with Hussain’s table than when previously I heard the trio at the London Jazz Festival. Now he’s on equal footing with the other two in playing this style of music.  “Good Hope” is an appropriately upbeat, energetic and even funky finish to the set, with the trio making it dance before Holland and Potter chase Hussain in a race to the finish.

The Cross Currents Trio are paired with GILBERTO GIL in what turns out to be a smart piece of programming, as the many Brazilians in the audience get, appreciate, and applaud the trio’s Indo-Jazz. Hence there’s a buzz even before Gil comes on. He’s  touring Europe with his “family” including 8 children and plus  grandchildren, so the stage is crowded with the age range stretching from an 8 year old boy to the 80 year old god of Brazilian music. The still incredibly active Gil  isn’t presenting his latest work, rather it’s a joyous warm-hearted tour through his back catalogue. The Brazilians in the audience are thrilled to hear the many tunes well-known to them and to sing along to “Toda menina baiana” (Every girl from Bahia) with Gil is joined by his grand-daughter Flor for “The Girl From Ipanema”.  With many of the audience dancing their way through the set and waves of love flowing towards the Brazilian icon it’s party time.

The other non-jazz big name I saw was VAN MORRISON surprisingly making his first ever appearance at Juan. He shows he still has a great blues voice, and he mixes classic blues, “Baby Please Don’t Go”, and classic Van “Moondance”, throwing in an occasional burst of his jazz influenced sax. He starts with ”Somebody said I was dangerous..”, but while the 1.5 hour flows there wasn’t much hint of danger with the 77 year old understandably pacing himself until the finale, a splendid full-throated version of “Gloria”.

Pianist TIGRAN HAMASYAN’s technique is astounding and it is fully employed in presenting his latest project, his deconstruction and re-imagining of tunes from the Great American Songbook. If you shut your eyes you might think there are two pianos on stage. While full of admiration for his technical ability, somehow it is too many notes for me, a case of getting lost among the trees and not seeing the wood (maybe my problem).  I prefer a more meditative Tigran as when playing music inspired by his Armenian homeland.

Tigran is paired with one of his biggest fans, HERBIE HANCOCK. Hancock says that playing Juan, which he has done several times, is as special as “the first time in Europe when I came right here” (with Miles Davis in 1963).  His stellar band are Terence Blanchard’s life affirming trumpet and also keys (and busy on the tour bus writing another film score ), Lionel Loueke  guitars and scat singing including in Xhosa, James Gaines anchoring on bass along with Justin Tyson’s subtle drums. They’re totally at home in giving pieces from Hancock’s vast body of work a contemporary make-over, (he says he’s working on new material but “it’s not ready yet”). Hancock himself swivels rapidly between keys and piano throughout.

The long opener “Overture”, an amalgam of extracts of several Hancock tunes, begins eerily with the man himself conjuring keyboard sounds that seem to come from outer space. In contrast the conclusion is the instantly recognisable “Watermelon Man” with Hancock and Lionel Loueke imperious. A pity though that he loves the vocoder so much. After the inevitable standing ovation, the encore is “Chameleon” with Hancock now playing keytar striding about the stage finishing with a rock star’s leap, and not leaving till he’s waved and blown kisses to all parts of the arena.

On French National Day or Bastille Day, 14th July, sandwiched between the famous names but not outshone by them are two French bands new to me led by Sébastian Farge and by Thomas de Pourquery.  You could see water-skiers carrying the French flag and the concert is followed by a spectacular firework display over the bay.

It is particularly appropriate for Bastille Day that the Sébastian Farge Quartet is on the bill for Farge plays that most Gallic of jazz instruments, the accordion. He’s surrounded himself with terrific players. Pianist Amaury Faye is inventive and with a lovely touch and Farge wisely gives him plenty of space, and drummer Jean-Marc Robin’s work with the brushes which including sticking with them for his solo impressed along with double bassist Gautier Laurent. They work as a team listening closely to one another playing high quality mainstream jazz that’s given a twist by Farge’s expressive accordion. A highlight is the ominous “Waltz-Non Waltz” reminiscent of the atmosphere of Ravel’s “La Valse,” which they follow with an uplifting finale more typical of their very enjoyable set.

Thomas de Pourquery and Supersonic were formed about ten years ago by alto and soprano saxophonist and singer de Pourquery as a French jazz super group to play the music of Sun Ra and music influenced by his spirit.  De Pourquery is involved in genres from rock, beats, electronic, to free jazz and he pulls elements of these genres into Supersonic’s glorious mash-up. The mash- up is underpinned by solid jazz roots with the relationship between the leader and the drummer being the touchstone for the rest of the band. It’s topped off by Du Pourquery’s high pitched vocals that are in a similar range as those of Rufus Wainwright. The big bushy bearded De Pourquery is a charismatic figure on stage who persuades the audience to do what he calls “a gym session” to one of the numbers. For the finale he brings on the 20 plus members of Brass Band Méditerranée including 4 tubas to join his band. If there had been a roof they’d have blown it off. It’s exhilarating and fantastic Bastille Day fun, and they’d be a great band for the UK summer festival season (promoters please note).

This concert is free courtesy of Antibes/Juan-les-Pins as are Jammin’ Summer Sessions next to the main arena featuring up and coming bands. Most have earned their place through a two-stage selection process, first by gaining a slot for the previous autumn’s Jammin’ Juan Jazz market place and from there being chosen for a Summer Session. Certainly the three very different bands I see are a great advert for the Jammin’ Juan project.

The Nathan Mollet Trio is the most conventional playing tunes which are contemporary mainstream jazz written by talented pianist Nathan. The double bassist is his father, which perhaps is one reason for their fine ensemble playing. 

The Gabriel Gosse Trio straddles the boundaries between pop, rock, and jazz. The leader who plays an electric guitar throughout mixes powerful jazz rock with more nuanced jazz. He has presence and talent but I am not sure about his singing.

The trio Akagera are the most original of the three with an atypical line-up of bass trombone, marimba/vibraphone and drums and that creates unusual sounds and textures both when performing jazz classics such as  Mingus’ “ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” or tunes from Columbia or from East

So should you be going to a Jazz A Juan concert, I’d suggest taking in that evening’s Summer Jammin’ session as well.

As for the 61st Jazz A Juan, this review might give the misleading impression that it’s dominated by veteran jazz legends. But the programme also had Céline McLorin Salvant,  Snarky Puppy, Roberto Fonseca and the Joey Alexander Trio, it was just that for one reason and another I didn’t see them.

With more pure jazz being programmed, it may be that this year marks the start of a period of
careful incremental change for the historic festival under its new directorship. Only time will tell.  Whatever happens the setting, the history and the big names make it a must visit at least once if possible for the jazzophile.


by Ian Mann

August 21, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys the last day of the main Festival weekend and performances from Bella Collins / Gareth Griffiths, Charlotte Glasson Band, Bryan Corbett , Joan Chamorro Sextet and Dionne Bennett,

Photograph of Bryan Corbett sourced from




In my summing up of Saturday’s events at the main weekend of the 2022 BJF I commented that the diversity of the Festival’s programming was one of its major strengths.

This was encapsulated by Sunday’s opening performance at The Muse by the Cardiff based duo of Bella Collins and Gareth Griffiths. The pair are no strangers to Brecon Jazz having played a Club night at the old Brecon Jazz Club Bar at Theatr Brycheiniog in 2015.

Collins is best known as a blues artist and performs in formats ranging from solo to full band. She has played at many of the country’s leading blues festivals including Upton and Tenby and maintains a busy gigging schedule, primarily in South Wales. Collins writes her own material as well as performing an interesting selection of cover material sourced from a variety of musical genres, among them blues, soul, rock and jazz.

She describes her partnership with Evans as an ‘acoustic duo’ and both members play guitar and sing. Collins handles the majority of the lead vocals and has a powerful voice that is well suited to blues, soul and roots material. Meanwhile Evans is an ace guitar picker who is well known for his series of online guitar tutorials. He was to deliver the majority of the instrumental solos and impressed with his skill and virtuosity.

The duo opened with a segue of blues songs, one slow, the other more up-tempo but these went unannounced. Nevertheless they set the mood for the set with Collins’ confident vocals complemented by Evans’ dazzling soloing.

Acknowledging that this was a jazz festival the duo then put their own stamp on the jazz standard “All Of Me” with Evans adding harmony vocals to his impressive fretboard skills.

Evans then took over the lead vocal for “Every Day I Have The Blues” with Collins now providing the harmonies. Evans’ singing expressed an appealing vulnerability and his guitar solo saw him doubling up with a wordless vocal.

Collins returned to lead vocal duties on “Golden Days”, an original co-written by the duo. This proved to be sad song reminiscing about lost love that had something of a jazz flavour with regard to the singing and playing. At the 2015 performance I seem to recall Collins acknowledging the influence of Billie Holiday on this particular song.

A cover of the Ruth Brown song “Ten, Fifteen Hours” marked an emphatic return to blues territory with a powerful Collins vocal and an authentically bluesy Evans guitar solo.

The duo even managed to bring something new to the Doors song “Light My Fire”, combining jazz and blues elements with a sultry Collins vocal and Evans’ harmonies and incisive guitar soloing.

From Collins’ album “Love and Blues” came her original song “Who Are You Loving?”, a slow blues featuring her emotive vocals and Evans’ virtuoso guitar soloing.

“Talking About Moving On” introduced a funk element to the proceedings with Collins’ lead vocals underpinned by Evans’ harmonies. The piece also featured the duo trading guitar phrases and cheekily squeezing in a quote from Chic’s “Le Freak”.

The duo closed with the Collins original “Part Time Lover”, a song that featured in that 2015 show. This combined blues vocals with gypsy jazz style guitar and one suspects that Evans would easily fit into a ‘Hot Club’ style band. His virtuosity as a guitar soloist is seriously impressive.

Collins’ role is primarily that of lead vocalist but she is also a highly competent guitarist and she represents a good instrumental foil for Evans. Their combined strengths make for an excellent blend as a duo and their singing and playing was very well received by a listening audience at The Muse.

This is a duo that is well worth seeing. Catch them if you can.


Before the next ticketed event there was time to catch the closing stages of this free Fringe event at Found Gallery.

The line up featured another duo, this time all instrumental with Ben Creighton-Griffiths on harp and Ashley John Long on double bass. As regular readers will know both musicians are long time Jazzmann favourites and each has featured many times on these web pages.

As ever the pair impressed with their instrumental virtuosity, even if it was a little understated in this intimate duo format.

Among the material that I managed to hear were Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” and the Miles Davis’ classic “So What”. It’s always a pleasure to see these two play and I was pleased that I could drop in and hear something of this.


Charlotte Glasson – tenor & soprano saxes, flute, whistles, melodica, violin, saw, voice, Chris Spedding – guitar, Sam Dorrell – trombone, Lloyd Coote – electric bass, sousaphone, Sam Glasson – drums

It’s good to see Theatr Brycheiniog being used as a Festival venue again and today it played host to a quintet led by the remarkable multi-instrumentalist and composer Charlotte Glasson.

Primarily a saxophonist Glasson leads her own band and has released a total of eleven albums as a leader or co-leader with a new one, “Bonito” in the offing. As a session musician she has appeared with a veritable who’s who of artists across an extraordinarily wide range of music. I’m not even going to try to list them all here but I do remember that the first time I ever saw Glasson play was at Cheltenham Jazz Festival when she was a member of a band led by the award winning jazz vocalist Claire Martin.

The addition of Glasson and her band to the bill represented a considerable coup for the BJF organisers and this was one of the most keenly anticipated gigs of the Festival.

The show began with Glasson solo playing the tune “Sparky” and deploying a loop station (“as used by Ed Sheeran”, she informed us) to loop and layer the sounds she generated via the use vocal percussion (or beat-boxing if you will), hand claps and more conventional musical instruments such as flute and tenor sax. The latter was looped and layered several times over as Glasson came across like a one woman sax section.

She introduced her band for the next number, a quintet featuring the venerable guitarist Chris Spedding, an ace session veteran and a musician of near legendary status. Glasson’s younger brother Sam was at the drum kit, Sam Dorrell replaced the advertised Mark Bassey on trombone and Lloyd Coote doubled on electric bass and sousaphone.

Coote was featured on the latter on the New Orleans inspired “Gumbo Blues Walk” which saw solos from Spedding on guitar, Charlotte Glasson on tenor sax and Dorrell on trombone. It almost seems as if being a multi-instrumentalist is a qualification for being in this band, Dorrell plays sousaphone on the new “Bonito” album while Coote focusses on double bass.

“Robots”, the title track of Glasson’s 2018 album, is named for the South African word for traffic lights. This saw Coote moving to electric bass and combining with Sam Glasson’s mallets to create a rolling groove that provided the vehicle for solos from Charlotte on soprano sax, Dorrell on trombone and Spedding on guitar.

The Glasson band has toured extensively in South Africa and “Sunbird”, which also appears on the “Robots” album, was inspired by the kwela music of that country. This featured Charlotte on penny whistles, sometimes two and once, and was powered by Coote’s electric bass groove. Dorrell’s trombone solo helped to give the piece something of a ‘Township jazz’ atmosphere while Coote’s electric bass solo recalled Bakithi Kumalo’s virtuoso playing on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album.
As if all that wasn’t enough we also enjoyed a guitar solo from Spedding and a drum feature from Sam Glasson.

“Early Bird Tango” widened the musical net still further with Glasson drawing upon the influence of yet another continent. This saw Coote reverting to sousaphone and Charlotte to tenor sax and later to melodica, with Dorrell and Spedding the featured soloists.

An arrangement of Jimmy Guiffre’s “The Train and The River” saw the band temporarily slimmed down to a trio with Charlotte on tenor alongside Dorrell and Spedding. The counterpoint between tenor and trombone was particularly arresting as was the distinctive twang of Spedding’s guitar sound, always present in his playing but particularly noticeable here.

Spedding’s own tune “Gunfight” placed an even greater emphasis on his playing on a composition that was sometimes reminiscent of a movie theme. Spedding’s own jazz flavoured soloing was augmented by Sam Glasson’s martial style rhythms, Coote’s electric bass grooves and Charlotte’s tenor sax.

Next came a selection of tunes from the new “Bonito” album, beginning with “Babou”, named for Salvador Dali’s pet ocelot. This was appropriately upbeat and whimsical with Charlotte Glasson featuring on vocalised flute, much in the style of Roland Kirk or Ian Anderson, a kind of blend of prog rock and Ennio Morricone. Further solos were to come from Spedding on guitar and Dorrell on muted trombone.

Title track “Bonito” is named for Frida Kahlo’s parrot with her soprano sax designed to sound like the said parrot “swooping everywhere”. At the other end of the sonic scale was Coote on underpinning sousaphone and Dorrell on trombone, who shared further solos with Spedding’s guitar and Sam Glasson’s drums.

“Stellata” is named for a type of Magnolia tree and was dedicated to the memory of the Glassons’ late aunt. This piece saw Coote switching back to electric bass and featured more of a song like construction with solos coming from Glasson on tenor, Dorrell on trombone and Spedding on guitar.

Older readers will remember that Chris Spedding had a one off hit single in 1975 with “Motorbikin’”. Some may also recall that Spedding has serious jazz credentials having worked with vibraphonist Frank Ricotti’s quartet and with Ian Carr’s Nucleus. When Charlotte announced that Chris would be singing a song some hoped for “Motorbikin’”, but let’s face it that was never going to happen. Instead we heard “Louisiana” with Spedding on guitar and vocals sharing the solos with Charlotte’s earthy tenor sax before handing over to “Trombone Sam” to take it away.

A hugely entertaining set concluded with “Belly Up” which emerged from a jungle of drum and sousaphone rhythms and tricky unison soprano sax and trombone melody lines. This was music that seemed to have something of an Arabic influence, particularly with regard to Charlotte’s soprano sax soloing. Further solos came from Dorrell and Spedding, but wait we still hadn’t heard all of Charlotte’s instruments yet, so next was a solo from her that featured the eerie sounds of the musical saw. Sam Glasson then rounded things off with a closing drum feature.

With their eclectic but essentially joyous music the Glasson band were very warmly received by the Theatr Brycheiniog audience. The inevitable encore was “The Fun Starts Here” which allowed Charlotte to demonstrate her skills on violin, beginning with an opening dialogue with Spedding’s guitar. The rest of the piece was a klezmer style romp featuring sousaphone, violin, trombone, guitar and drums. Further solos came from Charlotte on violin, Dorrell on trombone and Spedding on guitar.

Charlotte Glasson is something of a polymath and her music doesn’t fit neatly into any recognisable jazz category. Nevertheless she’s clearly a huge talent and the range of her abilities suggests that she’s never likely to be short of work as she juggles the demands of the music industry with those of family life. I suspect that a few jazz purists may be a bit sniffy about Glasson’s work but I thoroughly enjoyed today’s show and afterwards treated myself to a copy of the new “Bonito” album, which stands up very well in the home listening environment.


Bryan Corbett – trumpet, flugelhorn, Dave Jones – piano, Paula Gardiner – double bass, Liz Exell – drums

If Charlotte Glasson represented something of a new discovery for me I was already well familiar with the talents of Birmingham based trumpeter and composer Bryan Corbett.

Corbett was born in Bromyard in my native county of Herefordshire and in his early days as a musician used to play regularly at the tiny Blue Note Café Bar in my home town of Leominster.

After moving to Birmingham he quickly established himself on the wider Midlands jazz scene and has also released several albums under his own name. In addition he has also found work as a respected session and touring musician.

The young Corbett used to come to Brecon Jazz Festival to busk and later became a popular figure on the Fringe programme, frequently playing in the courtyard at The George Hotel, now a Wetherspoons.

Corbett was one of the hits of the 2020 online Brecon Jazz Festival and it was almost inevitable that he would be invited back to play live on the official concert programme. Recalling his days busking on the streets and at The George he jested “I’ve been waiting twenty six years for this!”.

For this special Festival performance organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon had teamed Corbett with a quartet of South Wales’ finest, including pianist Dave Jones, bassist Paula Gardiner and drummer Liz Exell. The trumpeter had never met his colleagues before today’s gig but the grouping proved to be yet another inspired choice from Lynne & Roger and thanks to the shared language of jazz the quartet quickly established an impressive rapport.

A solo trumpet introduction ushered in the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” which was treated to a modal style arrangement and incorporated solos from Corbett, Jones and Gardiner plus a series of drum breaks from the impressive Exell.

Next up was “Wheel Within A Wheel”, a composition by the American alto saxophonist Bobby Watson and a tune that Corbett had performed at the 2020 ‘Virtual Festival’. The piece was written by Watson during his tenure with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Today the tune began in piano trio format with Corbett later stating the theme on trumpet and embarking on the first solo. He was followed by Jones at the piano prior to a passage featuring trumpet, piano and bass only as Exell temporarily set out. This passage included some dramatic high register trumpeting from the leader but Exell was not to be outdone and returned with a closing drum feature. The Watson piece is also a personal favourite of mine and this was a reminder of Watson’s own visits to BJF in the 1990s.

The title track of Corbett’s début album “Funk In The Deep Freeze” represented a real stroll down memory lane for me and it was good to hear it again with inventive and melodic solos coming from Corbett, Jones and Gardiner, followed by a series of drum breaks from Exell. Interestingly Ludlow based saxophonist Jim Hunt who had played on the album was present in today’s audience. He and Corbett obviously remain good friends.

The Corbett original “Crystal Waters” was sourced from the album “Green”, his 2013 collaboration with bassist Chris Dodd. The composer mentioned that it was based on “some Chick Corea chords”, presumably those of Chick’s famous composition “Crystal Silence”. Corbett’s tune saw the composer switching to flugel and was a ballad featuring his velvety playing alongside Jones’ lyrical piano solo.

As a player Corbett is capable of a Chet Baker like fragility on ballads while on more up-tempo material he models himself on his trumpet hero Freddie Hubbard. It was almost inevitable that a Hubbard tune would be played this evening and this proved to be “Little Sunflower”, a tune that has been in Corbett’s repertoire for a long time and which was even recorded on “Funk In The Deep Freeze”, an album that Corbett now seems to think of as a mere “demo”. I still like it though.
“Sunflower” is one of Hubbard’s most melodic and memorable themes and today’s version saw Corbett continuing on flugel and sharing the solos with Jones at the piano and Gardiner on double bass. Exell’s subtly Latin inflected rhythms were at the heart of a performance that incorporated a carefully constructed and inherently musical drum feature. Corbett then returned to restate the theme and perform a series of further variations. The rapport between Corbett and Exell was essential to the success of today’s performance and several observers commented on the quality of the drummer’s contribution.

The quartet concluded their set with a version of Clark Terry’s “Snatch It Back”, described by Corbett as “a blast of a tune”. This featured the leader’s astonishingly agile flugel playing, at one point accompanied by Gardiner’s bass only, with Jones also featuring as a soloist. At the end of the tune Corbett entered into a series of effervescent exchanges with Gardiner and Exell as the performance ended on an energetic note, exciting the crowd at a sweltering Muse.

The quartet then cooled things down again with a deserved encore, an arrangement of the Miles Davis classic “Flamenco Sketches” with Corbett back on trumpet and sharing solos with Jones and Gardiner as Exell played with brushes throughout. Again this was a tune that Corbett had performed online in 2020 and its appearance here brought a pleasing symmetry to today’s set.

This had been an excellent performance from this ‘one off’ quartet and marked a triumphant return to Brecon for Corbett. One suspects that he will now begin to be seen more often at Brecon Jazz performing with other line ups.

It was my first genuinely live sighting of him for over three years and it was good to renew our acquaintance.

Excellent stuff.


Joan Chamorro (double bass),  Èlia Bastida (violin, tenor sax, vocals), Alba Esteban, (baritone & soprano sax, vocals), Koldo Munné, (alto sax, vocals), Josep Traver (guitar), Arnau Julià, (drums).

Barcelona based bassist Joan Chamorro has performed with some of the biggest names in jazz and appeared on more than 100 recordings. He is also an acclaimed jazz educator who has hosted master-classes all over the world.

In 2006 he founded the Sant Andreu Jazz Band, a creative outlet for young jazz musicians from the age of eight to twenty one. Former members include trumpeter Andrea Motis and trombonist / vocalist Rita Payes.

For this visit to Brecon Chamorro brought along a front line featuring three of SAJB’s current crop of rising stars Elia Bastida, Alba Esteban and Koldo Munne, all of whom sang in addition to playing various types of saxophone and in Bastida’s case doubling on violin.
Chamorro himself was part of a more experienced rhythm section that also included drummer Arnau Julia and guitarist Josep Traver, the latter also to feature as a soloist.

With Chamorro himself maintaining a low profile at the back of the stage the focus was very much on the multi-talented youngsters. Today’s performance kicked off with an instrumental version of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” which featured the alto saxophone of Munne, who functioned as the main soloist and also combined effectively with Bastida on tenor and Esteban on baritone.

Munne was again featured on the next song, the title of which was unannounced. This found him singing in English as well as soloing on alto sax. Traver was also featured with a blues tinged guitar solo.

“Corazon” featured the vocals and tenor saxophone of Bastida, this time singing in Spanish, plus Traver’s guitar once more.

In a neatly structured show Esteban’s singing was to feature next on another unannounced song with an English lyric, but again one I didn’t recognise. The main instrumental solo featured Munne’s alto.

Esteban’s baritone sax was to feature more prominently on an unidentified Duke Ellington tune as she shared the soloing with Traver’s guitar.

The group was reduced to a trio as Bastida demonstrated her talents on violin, accompanied by Chamorro on double bass and Traver on guitar. This combined classical and Hot Club influences with Chamorro anchoring the solos of Bastida and Traver.

The next edition of the group was a quartet as Bastida sat out and Chamorro and Julia accompanied the alto sax of Munne and the baritone of Esteban. The two youngsters were also to share a vocal duet.

The full sextet were re-united for a first foray into the world of Brazilian music with Munne handling the vocals and sharing the instrumental solos with Bastida on tenor and Traver on guitar.

Sidney Bechet’s “September Song” was a feature for Esteban on curved soprano with guitarist Traver proving to be a skilled foil.

A second Brazilian excursion featured Bastida as the lead singer with Esteban and Munne adding vocal harmonies. This piece saw Esteban continuing on soprano and blending effectively with Bastida’s tenor and Munne’s alto. The performance also included a solo from guitarist Traver.

For me the quartet performance of an Argentinian tango featuring Bastida on violin alongside guitar, bass and drums was a real highlight. The interplay between violin, guitar and bass was exquisite with Julia sitting out for a long time, his drums only entering towards the close as the piece ended with a bout of surprisingly powerful riffing. Perhaps the darkest item of the set this piece benefited enormously from its balance of light and shade and effective use of dynamic contrasts.

“For Sentimental Reasons” featured a quintet of guitar, bass and drums plus tenor and baritone sax as Bastida and Esteban exchanged solos. This piece was also notable for Chamorro’s only solo of the night, but his huge tone was always at the heart of the music throughout.

With the group back at full strength Munne handled the lead vocal on a joyous rendition of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and also shared the instrumental soloing with Traver.

Esteban’s curved soprano was to feature again on a second Sidney Bechet tune Petite Fleur”, performed by a quartet also featuring guitar, bass and drums.

“Ain’t She Sweet” featured the full sextet with an instrumental front line comprised on violin, soprano and alto and with three singers doing a syncopated vocal routine reminiscent of acts like the Andrews Sisters. Guitar and violin were also to feature in a Hot Club style instrumental section. In a performance that included features for all members of the band we also enjoyed an alto solo from Munne and a closing bass and drum dialogue.

This drew a highly enthusiastic reaction from the Brecon crowd and the sextet returned for a deserved encore, introduced by Julia at the drums and featuring the unison singing of the three vocalists, this time I think in Portuguese, for this was another Brazilian style number. Bastida was featured on violin and Traver on guitar and there was also a three-way scat vocal episode.

The Sant Andreu Sextet proved to be hugely popular with the Brecon audience, many of whom gave them a standing ovation. There was no doubt that the young front liners were all hugely talented and I was also highly impressed with the contribution of the understated but versatile Traver. However there were too many vocal items for my personal tastes and some of the performances veered a bit too close to ‘showbiz’ for my liking. I suspect that I was probably in a minority in this regard.

I have to confess that I found it difficult to decode Chamorro’s announcements, which were delivered in heavily accented English, so apologies for the missing tune titles.


Dionne Bennett – vocals, Mark Sambel – keyboards, Simon Kingman – guitar, Jon Goode – electric bass, Elliot Bennett – drums with guest Paula Gardiner – double bass

Dionne Bennett first came to my attention as the vocalist and lyricist of Slowly Rolling Camera, pianist Dave Stapleton’s highly successful jazz / soul / trip hop outfit. She appeared on the band’s first two albums “Slowly Rolling Camera” (2014) and “All Things” (2016) before leaving the group, at which point SRC became an all instrumental outfit once more.

I had the pleasure of seeing Bennett perform twice with SRC at Wolverhampton in 2014 and at London Jazz Festival in 2016. The latter, at the Rich Mix venue, was a particularly exciting performance, the club like atmosphere at a standing venue a perfect setting for the band’s mix of jazz, soul and trip hop. There was a real ‘rock gig’ atmosphere about it with the tall, charismatic Bennett proving to be an excellent focal point.

Based in Cardiff Bennett appeared at the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival as part of 6.0, an all female sextet led by bassist / guitarist Paul Gardiner.

Tonight Bennett returned the compliment, inviting Gardiner to play double bass on the first three numbers as part of a quartet that also featured keyboard player Mark Sambel and drummer Elliott Bennett. The choice of material also acknowledged that fact that this was a jazz festival and included Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”, inspired by recordings by Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin respectively.

These performances helped to establish Bennett’s credentials as a jazz singer but also suggested wider influences, particularly the Porter tune which packed a real soul power. Sambel impressed at the keyboard, here favouring an acoustic piano sound, and “Mood Indigo” also included a feature for Gardiner on double bass.

When Gardiner left the stand she was replaced by Jon Goode on electric bass with Simon Kingman also joining the group on guitar and backing vocals.

Since leaving SRC Bennett has released her début solo album “Sugar Hip Ya Ya” and I assume that some of tonight’s material was sourced from that – unfortunately it wasn’t available for purchase after the show.

With Goode and Kingman now in the band and with Sambel now adopting an electric keyboard sound the style of the music became very different, closer to soul and modern r’n’b but with a strong Latin element flavouring some of the numbers. Very few song titles were announced so this review will give an overall impression rather than a blow by blow account.

What I can tell you is that this was a highly energetic performance and that the statuesque Bennett, resplendent in a long blue dress and similarly coloured hair was a striking stage presence. Her vocals were passionate and soulful and she was well supported by a well drilled and experienced band of instrumentalists, all of whom impressed with their individual solos.

Of course some songs were familiar, such as the joyous take on Milton Nascimento’s Latin classic “Cravo e Canela” and a sultry, laid back, subtly funky take on Gershwin’s “Summertime”. The fact that Bennett didn’t know the Portuguese lyrics to “Cravo” didn’t matter, her wordless delivery of the familiar melody was still splendidly exuberant and uplifting. An aside – I first remember hearing “Cravo” some time back in the early 1980s in a version by the British latin band Paz, led by vibraphonist Dick Crouch.

The ballad “Where Were You When I Needed You Last Winter” offered a good representation of the depth and soulfulness of Bennett’s vocals.

Funk was also an important component of the quintet’s music as epitomised by the electric bass led arrangement of “Sunny” and the ‘does what it says on the tin’ encore “Make It Funky”.

This exciting, high energy performance from Bennett and her excellent band was the perfect way to round off another day of excellent music. Even on the most sweltering of nights a number of dancers were tempted onto the floor at The Muse, including one intrepid individual who was on her feet for the whole set, a fact acknowledged by Bennett from the stage.

The charismatic Bennett has the ability to appeal to listeners across a wide range of musical genres and possesses genuine star potential. We were very lucky to see her leading her own band at Brecon and it will be interesting to see how her career progresses. Those present tonight will be able to say “we saw her first!”.


by Ian Mann

August 18, 2022

The second day of the Main Festival Weekend and performances from Freshly Cut Grass, The Monmouth Big Band, Black Voices, Gerard Cousins, Gareth Roberts / Dave Jones and Simon Spillett.

Photograph of Gareth Roberts sourced from



The second day of Brecon Jazz Festival’s main weekend found me enjoying five very different concert performances at various venues around the town.

I set the scene for the main Festival weekend as part of my Friday coverage so rather than repeating that here I’ll just get straight on with the music.


Lee Nathaniel (lead vocals), Owain Hughes (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Hicks (keyboards), Joe Carpentier (tenor sax) Cat Eden (trombone), Josh Sharp (electric bass),  Tom Williams (drums), Joe Bentley (trumpet)

The day got off to an excellent start at The Muse with a lively performance from the young Cardiff based octet Freshly Cut Grass. Comprised of students and alumni from the Royal Welsh College of Music (RWCMD) the band presented an energetic performance of material at the funk and soul end of the jazz spectrum. The sounds of the core quintet of voice, guitar, keyboards, bass and drums were augmented by the punchy sounds of a three piece horn section featuring trumpet, trombone and tenor sax, the latter played by French born Joe Carpentier.

The band was led by guitarist Owain Hughes and behind the youthful energy and on stage in joking there was a considerable degree of sophistication in the arrangements, particularly for the horns. I believe Hughes is responsible for the group’s original songs and for the imaginative arrangements of a selection of eclectic outside material. If so he deserves great credit.

With Lee Nathaniel confidently handling the lead vocals the programme was inevitably song based, but the arrangements still left plenty of room for some dazzling instrumental soloing. As a unit the band was commendably tight, whether functioning as the core quintet or as the full on octet.

FCG was originally formed to play Hughes’ compositions for his final recital at RWCMD and continued to play together, building a considerable following in South Wales. Their début album “Topiary” was recorded remotely by the band members during the 2020 Covid pandemic and released in February 2021.  Hughes has cited his influences as including Frank Zappa, Snarky Puppy, Steely Dan, Grateful Dead and The Band. An eclectic mix to say the least.

Today’s set included many of the original songs from that album and included the album tracks “Work To Be Done”, “Life I’m Working On” “Funk Enigma” and “London In His Eyes”.

The group slimmed down to a quintet for the Jon Cleary songs “Cheatin’ On You” and “Bringing Back The Home”, suggesting that they could readily perform gigs in this format if necessary.

Nevertheless they sound best when that horn section is brought into play with Hughes’ arrangements combining the punchiness and directness of Earth, Wind & Fire with the soulful slickness and sophistication of Steely Dan.

The set also included an intriguing funk style arrangement of the Derek & The Dominoes song “Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad?” and the band took a deserved encore with the infectious “Hoppin’”, which introduced a hint of South African Township sounds to the mix.

I was highly impressed with Freshly Cut Grass, and judging by the audience reaction I wasn’t the only one. The band’s youthful exuberance masked a real musical discipline as they delivered a set featuring deep grooves, soulful vocals and a high level of instrumental virtuosity, these qualities enhanced by the colourful and sophisticated arrangements. They won themselves a lot of new fans today and their reputation as an exciting live act should continue to grow.

“Topiary” is available via FCG’s Bandcamp page.


The nineteen piece Monmouth Big Band features many of South Wales’ leading jazz musicians and is conducted by trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts, a musician with a number of impressive small group recordings to his credit.

I was particularly looking forward to seeing this set after having to reluctantly turn down the opportunity of covering a couple of the Band’s previous live performances at the Savoy Theatre in Monmouth.

Roberts acts as the Band’s musical director and has also been commissioned to write and arrange for the band. His compositions for the MBB include “The Monmouthshire Suite” and we were to enjoy a number of movements from this work this afternoon.

The MBB features seven reeds, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, double bass and drums, plus Roberts himself on a further trombone. During the course of today’s concert they were also joined by guest soloists Tamasin Reardon (alto sax) and Dominic Norcross (tenor sax).

Things kicked off with an arrangement of “Basically Blues”, written by Phil Wilson for the Buddy Rich Big Band. This gave a glimpse of the MBB’s innate power and included individual features for Roberts on trombone, Tom Hennessey on tenor sax and Richard West on piano, the latter a late dep, but rising to the challenge magnificently.

“The Monmouthshire Suite” is inspired by the landscape and history of the county and the first piece from this work to be performed here was “Afon Gwy” (or “River Wye”). This was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from West, his rippling arpeggios representing the flow of the river. As the rest of the Band was gradually integrated West embarked on a more conventional piano solo, sharing the features with Roberts’ trombone.

Guest soloist Tamasin Reardon joined the Band for another movement from the suite, “Descending the Blorenge”, named for the mountain separating the towns of Abergavenny and Blaenavon. The cadences of the music were designed to mimic those of the steep descent while the melody was based on a traditional Welsh folk tune collected by Augusta Hall, Baroness Llanover.

Reardon also featured on another movement from the suite, the ballad “After The Battle”, a piece inspired by Monmouthshire’s war torn history and again based upon an old folk melody.

This was the last piece to be sourced from the suite but I was very impressed by the quality of Roberts’ writing and I would welcome the opportunity of hearing the work in its entirety, should that ever become possible.

Once Reardon had left the stage the MBB turned again to the conventional big band repertoire with an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone”, written by Oliver Nelson for the band of Buddy Rich.

A Maynard Ferguson arrangement of the theme from “Sesame Street” included some suitably high register playing from the members of the trumpet section, plus a feature for drummer Louis Barfe.

Second guest soloist Dominic Norcross joined the band for the Roberts composition “The Crocodile’s Yawn”, a tune written during lockdown. This was a witty and irreverent composition that saw Roberts deploying a plunger mute to create a New Orleans style sound. Following a cameo from the Band’s two baritone saxophonists Norcross cut loose on tenor before a swinging final section that featured cameos from members of both the saxophone and trumpet sections. The full personnel of the band is not listed on the Festival website and it was again difficult to pick up the on stage announcements, so apologies to any soloists whose names I have omitted.

Another quirky Roberts original followed. “Mop Dancing” first appeared on the trombonist’s debut album “Attack of the Killer Penguins” back in 2006 and it has been part of his repertoire ever since. The piece is dedicated to the long-suffering souls who mop up spilt beer at jazz clubs. This big band arrangement saw an already rollicking tune becoming even more boisterous with solos coming from West on piano and guest tenor man Norcross, plus a series of drum breaks from Barfe.

A ballad arrangement of Errol Garner’s “Misty” represented a feature for the fluent trumpet soloist Alan Holder, one of the Band’s star instrumentalists.

Following this comparative pause for breath the MBB stormed home with an arrangement of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, composed by the late, great Joe Zawinul for Cannonball Adderley.  Naturally this featured the Band’s two alto players, alongside Roberts himself.

This was an excellent performance that featured some great playing from Roberts, the two guest soloists and all the members of the band, whose ranks included Cat Eden of Freshly Cut Grass who had stepped into the trombone section as a late ‘dep’. The MBB is a well drilled outfit and more than did justice to Roberts’ compositions and arrangements.

The show was presented by Roberts with his usual Welsh wit and charm and it was greatly enjoyed by an audience that included members of the leader’s family. And Roberts wasn’t done yet, but more on that later.


The second Guildhall gig of the day featured Black Voices, an acappella vocal quintet from Birmingham, founded in 1988 by its musical director Carol Pemberton, MBE.

The group has toured the world, sharing stages with their musical and political heroes and is regarded as one of the best acts in its field. They were recently involved in the Opening Ceremony at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

The quintet’s current line up is Carol Pemberton MBE (Managing Director), Shereece Storrod (Artistic Director), Sandra Francis, Beverley Robinson and Cecelia Wickam-Anderson.

The music of Black Voices is rooted in gospel but embraces a broad range of other musical genres. Perhaps the most obvious, or at least best known, comparisons to their sound would be Sweet Honey In The Rock or Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

All five members of Black Voices take turns in singing the lead and the only musical accompaniment apart from their stunning vocal harmonies is the occasional use of small percussion such as shakers or a small frame drum, but these are used very sparingly. On a stage emptied of all musical equipment other than microphones Black Voices generated a veritable wall of sound with their larynxes alone.

The diversity of their repertoire was demonstrated by their choice of opening number, a version of Sting’s song “Fragile” that demonstrated the range and blend of their voices.

A folk song from Zambia was a further example of the breadth of their influences and was rapturously received by one of their friends in the audience.

Spirituals still remain a key part of the quintet’s repertoire as a segue of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” and a celebratory rendition of “The Deliverer” demonstrated, the latter exuded pure joyousness and was rapturously received by the audience.

“Street Suite” was introduced as an “instrumental” and was a stunning performance that saw the voices of the five women variously imitating the sounds of double bass, clarinet, flute, recorder and trumpet. The piece did include some English lyrics and even a ‘double bass’ solo. In a swelteringly hot Guildhall fan carrying audience members were encouraged to wave their fans along to the music to create a ‘fan orchestra’.

A powerful version of the gospel tune “Over Jordan” was followed by a South African song with a title translating as “What Have We Done To Deserve This”. It’s a song that Black Voices perform at ALL their concerts and is a reminder of the quintet’s strong political commitment. The song mixes Zulu and English lyrics and today incorporated a spoken section from leader Pemberton that referenced current issues such as the Ukraine War and the recent attack on Salman Rushdie. The group has toured extensively in South Africa and has met with such influential figures as Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba.

A touchstone for BV is the American musician and political activist Nina Simone and the familiar Simone anthem “My Baby Just Cares For Me” was the first piece to be chosen from her repertoire. It was followed by “Stay With Him”, another song more concerned with affairs of the heart rather than matters political.

But the group’s fierce political commitment found expression once more in their choice of their closing number, a vocal arrangement of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, written by Dr. Billy Taylor and recorded by Nina Simone. With Pemberton handling the lead vocal this was an emotive performance that also honoured black female role models, including Simone, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou and more, even incorporating the members of Black Voices themselves. It was a powerful and truly moving performance.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to make of this but I was hugely impressed by Black Voices, who were rewarded with a terrific reception from the largest audience of the day at a near sold out Guildhall. The array of sounds that they produced from the female human voice was little sort of astonishing, ranging from Francis’ soprano to Wickam-Anderson’s bass to create music that was almost orchestral in its scope. One didn’t find oneself missing the sounds of conventional musical instruments AT ALL.

Besides their sheer musicality what also impressed was the group’s political commitment to the civil rights concerns that continue to be an issue in the UK and beyond. With their wide sonic range this was a group of female singers who were searching for more than mere prettiness. Yes, their music was beautiful, but it was also powerful and carried a strong sense of political commitment and a very important message. This was a brilliant performance that for many listeners must have been their ‘gig of the day’.


Before the next concert set there was the welcome opportunity of catching the closing moments of a solo performance by guitarist Gerard Cousins in St. Mary’s Church.

The locally based Cousins is primarily a classical guitarist but has made frequent forays into jazz and has appeared regularly at BJF. In 2019 he teamed up with fellow guitarist Maciek Pysz and double bassist Paula Gardiner as part of a one off trio.

The previous year saw him presenting a trio Project that took a selection of Welsh folk tunes and explored them in a jazz context. 2017 had seen a larger Project  undertaking an intriguing re-imagining of the classic 1969 Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”.

Today’s solo guitar performance saw Cousins again exploring the Welsh folk repertoire in addition to the John McLaughlin composition “Blue Skies, White Cloud” and Villa Lobos’ “Prelude No. 4”.

The acoustics at St. Mary’s were perfect for such an intimate performance, the beauty of which perhaps disguised the high level of technical skill.

I was later informed that the first part of the set included some of Cousin’s solo guitar transpositions of the music of Philip Glass. Approved by Glass himself the Cousins album “Escape”, released in 2020 offers seven solo guitar interpretations of the composer’s music.


Gareth Roberts – trombone, Dave Jones – piano, Ashley John Long – double bass, Mark O’Connor- drums

Following his successful performance with the Monmouth Big Band trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts was back for his second gig of the day, this time in a more familiar small group context.

He was co-leading an all star Welsh quartet with pianist and composer Dave Jones, the line up completed by two more stalwarts of the Welsh jazz scene, bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Mark O’Connor.

This same quartet had played a storming gig back in 2019 at the Wellington Hotel where they appeared under Roberts’ leadership to perform the trombonist’s arrangements of a set of Duke Ellington tunes.

Today the focus was to be on the writing of the co-leaders with the set divided pretty much equally between the compositions of Roberts and Jones, both highly accomplished composers.

Things commenced with Jones’ piece “Metro”, introduced by his long time collaborator Long at the bass. Roberts then stated the theme on trombone, this followed by the first solo from Jones at the piano. Roberts succeeded him on trombone, followed by Long at the bass. We also enjoyed a drum feature from the irrepressible O’Connor as we familiarised ourselves with the instrumental voices of the band.

The Roberts’ composition “The Crocodile’ Yawn” made its second appearance of the day, this time in a small group arrangement that lost none of its sometimes grotesque good humour, embodied by the gut-bucket sounds of the leader’s plunger muted trombone. Further solos came from Jones on piano and Roberts on trombone, this time with an open bell.

The compositional reins were handed back to Jones for “Five To Three On Friday”, a dedication to all jazz composers frantically writing a new tune on the way to a gig. This featured the writer alongside Roberts and Long.

Jones explained that his composition “Peaceful Places” had been used on Japanese TV, perhaps not so surprising considering that he is also a prolific writer of ‘library music’. This was ushered in in the ‘piano trio’ format before Roberts finally joined in, now using the mute to soften rather than coarsen his sound, a total contrast to “Crocodile”. Long’s virtuoso double bass solo included some audacious flamenco style strumming that evoked a rousing audience reaction, with Roberts leading the applause. Jones followed at the piano, followed by Roberts on trombone, who deployed a combination of various mutes.

“Escape” represented Roberts’ second lockdown tune and was based around Long’s buoyant bass groove, an uplifting tune that included solos from Roberts and Jones and a thrilling series of exchanges between Jones and O’Connor with Roberts directing their responses.

The next Roberts original was the two part composition “My Personal Penguin”, a dedication by the composer to his wife, who was seated in the audience with other members of the Roberts family. The first half was a ballad, featuring the sounds of gently rounded trombone, lyrical piano, languidly plucked bass and delicately brushed drums. Roberts then established a rousing trombone vamp that signalled the second half of the tune, playing in conjunction with O’Connor’s drums to create a riotous sound that a New Orleans brass band would be proud of. This second section pokes fun at Roberts’ wife’s alleged stubbornness and it was the vehicle for barnstorming solos from Jones, Roberts and finally O’Connor as this hugely enjoyable set drew towards an energetic close.

This quartet of South Wales’ finest is something of a Welsh ‘supergroup’ whose members are worthy of wider UK recognition. Their show at a refreshingly cool Northhouse was a welcome reminder of their talents.


Simon Spillett – tenor saxophone, Liam Dunachie – piano, Alec Dankworth – double bass, Pete Cater - drums

The third Guildhall show of the day featured the Tubby Hayes inspired saxophonist Simon Spillett, a musician who was acquired a considerable following on the British jazz scene.

In July of this year I enjoyed a performance by Spillett at Kidderminster Jazz Club where he performed in the company of KJC’s very accomplished ‘house band’. Tonight Spillett was accompanied by his regular quartet featuring the experienced rhythm team of bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Pete Cater, plus the highly talented young pianist Liam Dunachie. This was a group who know each other’s playing well and with all due respect to the guys at Kiddie this helped to take the performance to a whole other level.

Even in a swelteringly hot Guildhall this was a highly charged performance, the energy generated by the quartet was palpable, it wasn’t just the weather that was scorching.

The primary source of the power was Cater’s drumming, his relentlessly inventive flow combining with Dankworth’s solid but propulsive bass lines to provide the ideal platform for the virtuoso soloing of Spillett and Dunachie. Cater leads his own big band and also occupies the drum chair for Spillett’s own big band. He’s adept driving far larger ensembles, no wonder his playing was so powerful here, with the rest of the quartet responding in kind.

First up was “Mini Minor”, written by the late trumpeter and composer Ian Hamer (1932-2006) and introduced here by the trio of Dunachie, Dankworth and Cater. Once Spillett entered the proceedings he embarked on one of his trademark marathon tenor sax solos, playing with a power that really pinned the audience’s ears back. He was followed by Dunachie and Dankworth with, Cater adding a series of dynamic drum breaks. This set the template for the evening as a whole.

An Art Farmer arrangement of the tune “By Myself” followed a similar trajectory with a piano trio intro followed by solos from Spillett, Dunachie and Dankworth, these followed by a series of vigorous tenor sax and drum exchanges.

Spillett had played the Leroy Anderson composition “I Never Know When To Say When” at Kidderminster and gave much the same introduction, including dedicating it to Boris Johnson, which raised a laugh all round. Musically the piece represented something of a pause for breath, a lyrical ballad featuring a gentler side of Spillett’s playing and revealing his skill as a ballad player. Dunachie displayed a similar lyricism at the piano, accompanied by languid double bass and brushed drums, as powerhouse Cater also revealed his sensitive side.

The Tubby Hayes composition “Grits, Beans and Greens” soon ramped up the energy levels again, a powerful blues that revealed the influence upon Tubby of Joe Henderson. Dunachie was particularly impressive on this tune, including an audacious passage that saw him soloing with his right hand only. Dunachie hails from the small Shropshire town of Ludlow, just up the road from me, so I feel rather proprietorial about his success on the London jazz scene. Earlier this year he brought his own young quartet back to town to play in Ludlow’s parish church as part of the annual Fringe Festival. This was a hugely impressive performance from a ‘state of the art’ young band that also featured the talents of bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado. However, I digress, “Grits, Beans and Greens” also featured the soloing of leader Spillett and a volcanic drum feature from the excellent Cater.

Although we had only heard four pieces thus far suddenly we were at the final number. Spillett and his colleagues had stretched out at length with their fiery and passionate soloing so nobody was really complaining.

I was pleased that Spillett and the quartet decided to sign off with “Don’t Fall Off The Bridge”, one of my favourite Tubby Hayes tunes and a great vehicle for some more dynamic soloing from the members of the quartet. Spillett’s buccaneering tenor excursions were followed by similarly dazzling features from Dunachie and Cater before the leader returned for more.

The ecstatic audience reaction revealed just how much the onlookers had enjoyed this band, a quartet that combined instrumental virtuosity with a remarkable energy in such challenging conditions. Frankly I felt exhausted just watching them. How they managed to play with such passion, power and precision in this heat wearing suits I just don’t know.

Meanwhile Spillett’s wryly witty presenting style represented the icing on the cake. During the course of the evening he revealed that this was his first gig at Brecon Jazz Festival since 2009. Let’s hope it won’t be so long until the next one. I’m sure the BJF audience would particularly relish the prospect of seeing the Spillett Big Band in action, or Pete Cater’s come to that. Just a thought for 2023.

So ended another excellent day of music that featured up and coming talent alongside seasoned jazz musicians and embraced a wide variety of music ranging from acapella quintet to full on big band. The breadth of Brecon’s programming is one of its strengths. Long may it continue to be so.





by Ian Mann

August 16, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys the first full day of the Festival and performances from James Chadwick, Chris Hodgkins, Uskulele Jazz Orchestra Debs Hancock, Baraka, Tamasin Reardon, Panoply Trio and K'Chevere.

Photograph of Terence Collie sourced from


FRIDAY 12/08/2022

2022 saw Brecon Jazz Festival return at full capacity and then some. Covid caused the 2020 Festival to be an entirely on line affair, but one that was an enormous success. Naturally the numerous livestream events are covered comprehensively elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

2021 was more of a ‘hybrid’ with a number of live events, predominately at the Castle Hotel, spread out across a number of weekends across the whole month of August. Having become used to seeing the Festival concentrated over a single weekend The Jazzmann was unable to cover everything, but once again I was impressed by the performances that I saw.

2022 continued the trend of hosting events across multiple weekends. A review of the successful Family Jazz & Dance Day held in a marquee at Brecon County Showground on August 7th can be found here;

The second weekend of August has traditionally been the ‘Festival Weekend’ and this year saw that return with a vengeance with multiple jazz events in multiple venues spread across the 12th, 13th and 14th August. With free music returning in the streets and with the popular Fringe Festival, which didn’t happen at all in 2020 or 2021, once more taking place in pubs and clubs around the town that much missed ‘Brecon Buzz’ was definitely back.


The first gig of a very full Friday featured a lunchtime performance from Cardiff based guitarist James Chadwick and his trio, featuring virtuoso double bassist Ashley John Long and West Country based drummer Mark Whitlam.

The event took place at The Northhouse, a recently established ‘creative hub’ featuring a café, bar, live music space and even its own recording studio. Its schedule embraces music of all types and most of the time it probably serves as a rock venue, but on a swelteringly hot day it represented a friendly and refreshingly cool space to watch some high quality jazz.

Chadwick and the trio played an engaging set featuring the guitarist’s intelligent and intriguing arrangements of a number of classic jazz and rock tunes, plus a Welsh hymn. It’s probably fair to say that Chadwick’s intelligent, refreshingly cliché free arrangements take even the most familiar of tunes in directions that you don’t really expect them to go in. It’s a good quality to have.

For some pieces the core trio were joined by tenor saxophonist Deborah Glenister but it was the threesome of Chadwick, Long and Whitlam that kicked things off with a highly contemporary take on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”,  with the polyrhythmic flow of Whitlam’s drumming fuelling solos from Chadwick and Long. Chadwick is not a flashy player, but his understated style is consistently intriguing and is distinguished by some interesting chord choices. The classically trained Long is a true bass virtuoso, whose dazzlingly dexterous solos always maintain the attention of the audience.

Chadwick’s own composition “No Politics” (of the office variety) featured a waltz time signature plus further solos from guitar and bass and a brushed drum feature from the excellent Whitlam.

Next we heard a brilliant arrangement of The Beatles classic “Strawberry Fields Forever”, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, with Long later joining in to double up on the melody lines. With Whitlam again deploying brushes in sympathetic support we were to enjoy subsequent solos from both Chadwick and Long.

Interestingly Chadwick recently recorded a whole album of Beatles tunes as a member of the band J4, a quartet that he co-leads with Cardiff based pianist Julian Martin. The line up also features bassist Don Sweeney and drummer Ian Williams and the album features arrangements by Chadwick, Martin and one collective effort.  Unfortunately it doesn’t include “Strawberry Fields”, but there are plenty of other interesting interpretations of Beatles tunes to enjoy. J4 will play the second Brecon Jazz Festival weekend when they appear at The Muse at 6.00 pm on Sunday 21st August 2022.

Deborah Glenister joined the band for the Charlie Parker blues “Now’s The Time”, a slightly more conventional reading of the tune powered by Whitlam’s propulsive drumming and featuring solos from Glenister, Chadwick and Long, plus a closing drum feature.

An arrangement of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” featured a rolling, slyly funky groove and featured further fluent tenor sax soloing from Glenister, alongside features for Chadwick, Long and Whitlam.

Chadwick’s arrangement of the Welsh hymn tune “Calon Lan” was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, later joined by double bass and brushed drums. I’m used to hearing this well loved hymn sung by male voice choirs, but this was more like hearing it played by Bill Frisell.

This short but consistently interesting set concluded with the jazz standard “Have You Met Miss Jones”, announced with the now traditional “Rising Damp” jokes.  This was ushered in by bass and drums and later incorporated solos for guitar and bass, plus some feisty interplay between Chadwick’s guitar and Whitlam’s drums.

An excellent start to the day.


The official Festival opening took place in St. Mary’s Church in the centre of town, with the mayor, Councillor David Meredith, and the priest Father Mark both saying a few words of welcome.

What followed was an afternoon of short musical performances, all free of charge and open to the public. The programme was sponsored by Specsavers of Brecon, so thank you to them. It’s good to see such a large public company engaging with local events.

The first performance featured Deborah Glenister, who had also come up from the Northhouse and was here featured leading her trio from the piano. I had no idea she was such a talented multi-instrumentalist. Long was again featured on double bass with Dewi Davies at the drums.

The trio’s guest soloist was the Cardiff born, London based trumpeter Chris Hodgkins, an excellent musician but also an admired jazz administrator who has headed the Jazz Services organisation and chaired the Parliamentary Jazz Awards committee.

Hodgkins and the trio opened here with “It’s Only A Paper Moon” with the trumpeter playing with a Harmon mute and soloing twice, either side of features for Glenister and Long. Hodgkins later informed us that the arrangement had been inspired by a 1941 Nat King Cole version of the tune that had featured trumpeter Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison.

Hodgkins continued with the Harmon mute on a Louis Armstrong inspired version of “Basin Street Blues”, with solos also coming from Glenister on piano (a Yamaha electric) and Long at the bass.

Glenister moved to tenor sax to create a piano-less quartet for an arrangement of Count Basie’s “Jive at Five”. Here she shared the solos with Hodgkins, who had switched from Harmon to cup mute. This was arguably the most interesting number of this short set.

Hodgkins continued with the cup mute on an Armstrong inspired “Pennies from Heaven”, sharing the solos with Glenister, now back on piano, and Long.

Hodgkins runs his own Bell record label and recently released the album “Salute to Humph”, his tribute to the late, great Humphrey Lyttleton. The Jazzmann intends to take a look at this, plus two further Hodgkins releases shortly. Today’s set closed with a Lyttleton inspired arrangement of the jazz standard “September In The Rain” with solos from Hodgkins on bluesy, muted trumpet, Glenister on piano and Long on bass. Drummer Davies also featured in a series of exchanges with the other instrumentalists.

With Hodgkins in fluent form on the trumpet and with his wryly witty tune announcements this was a highly enjoyable set that got the afternoon’s events off to a great start. He was well supported by the multi-talented Glenister and her trio.

St. Mary’s proved to be a lovely place to spend the afternoon, one of the coolest spaces in town and with the Tower Café serving coffee and cake. Suitably fortified by products from the café one could just sit back and enjoy the music in this most inclusive of sacred places.


The Uskulele Jazz Orchestra is a community band featuring musicians from the area of the Usk Valley led by musician Ian Cooper, best known as a player of double and electric bass, who has performed at numerous Brecon Jazz Club and Festival events.

The UJO has appeared at previous Brecon Festivals and its performances provide its members with the experience of performing to a supportive and appreciative public. The band currently numbers nineteen musicians (I think – it was nearly as difficult as trying to count the members of Loose Tubes back in the day) and under the guidance of Cooper they presented their arrangements of ten well known songs from across the musical spectrum.

“Fly Me To The Moon” featured the choral vocals of the members of the ensemble, all playing various types of uke, with the venerable bass ukulele a particular stand out.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” featured more vocals, plus some members of the ensemble doubling on kazoo.

“Mack The Knife” was played as an instrumental before Hodgkins joined the band on muted trumpet for “Summertime”.

Cooper featured on banjo on The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”, with the leader encouraging the audience to sing along and the kazoos making a re-appearance.

“Sway” saw the UJO taking a musical diversion to Brazil before the set concluded with “When You’re Smiling” and “Singing The Blues”, the latter featuring one of the gentlemen of the orchestra on harmonica.

This might not have been the most profound music of the weekend but the performance was a fun experience for musicians and audience alike.


Next up was a short but highly enjoyable set from Usk based vocalist Debs Hancock who appeared in the company of a trio featuring pianist Dave Jones, bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Dewi Davies.

As well as being a highly accomplished jazz vocalist Hancock is also a great organiser and is part of the team that runs Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny.

In the company of a trio featuring some of Wales’ finest jazz musicians she began with the Bob Dorough / Fran Landesman hipster anthem “Small Day Tomorrow”, introduced by Long at the bass and featuring an instrumental solo from Jones.

There was another excursion to Brazil for the Sergio Mendes composed “So Many Stars”, with Hancock delivering the English lyric above the bossa rhythms and with instrumental solos from Long on bass and Jones at the piano.

“On Green Dolphin Street” saw Hancock singing the rarely heard lyrics.  Like myself many jazz listeners must be more used to hearing the song as an instrumental,  so it was good to hear the words for once. Hancock also delivered a scat vocal episode and she and Jones also entered into a series of exchanges with drummer Davies.

Hancock recalled the time that Burt Bacharach appeared at Brecon Jazz Festival before performing the perennially popular “Alfie” This was introduced by a voice and piano passage, with Hancock singing with great feeling and sensitivity. Bass and brushed drums were subsequently added to this beautiful interpretation of a song that Bacharach himself described as being one of his favourites from an extensive and very impressive catalogue.

An all too brief set ended with the Benny Goodman song “Don’t Be That Way”, which incorporated a scat vocal episode and Hancock’s own improvised lyrics about Brecon and its Festival. Instrumental solos came from Jones and Long.

This was a set that was over all too quickly, although Hancock was scheduled to play another set on the Sunday afternoon with another group at the Wellington Hotel.


Based in Bristol Baraka is a mixed race ‘world music’ band that performs in a variety of musical styles stemming from the African diaspora. The band is fronted by Ghanaian percussionist and vocalist Ben Baddoo and the group also features his countryman Chris Cobbson on guitar. The Caribbean is represented by bassist/vocalist Royston Gage from Dominica who is joined in the rhythm section by Trinidadian drummer Tony Bailey. Today’s edition also included an unidentified (at least by me) trumpeter.

I recall enjoying and reviewing Baraka’s performance at the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny, from which some of the above biographical details have been extracted.

Today I was only able to catch part of their set as I was scheduled to cover another event on the concert programme. But once again I thoroughly enjoyed their colourful, high energy performance with its emphasis on African and Caribbean rhythms as Baddoo and Gage supplied the vocals,  with searing solos coming from guitar and trumpet and with Bailey nailing it all down from the drum kit. Cobbson’s mastery of a variety of guitar styles was particularly impressive.

From the enthusiastic reaction of my fellow audience members it was apparent that they were enjoying it too, and all in all this was a great way to round of an excellent afternoon of free music at St. Mary’s, with many more high quality free music events to come at the same venue over the course of the weekend. The church had really bought in to the spirit of the Festival, so many thanks to them for that.


With events slightly over-running at St. Mary’s I was only able to catch part of this concert set from alto saxophonist Tamasin Reardon and her quartet.

South Wales based Reardon has also performed in Abergavenny, having visited Black Mountain Jazz for a club date with her Ad-Lib Quartet in 2015. Review here;

Today’s performance featured a different instrumental line up that included John Clayton on guitar, Aeddan Williams on double bass and Greg Evans at the drums.

Reardon possesses a pure tone on alto that recalls that of the great Paul Desmond, her primary influence on the instrument. Indeed the earlier Ad-Lib show had something of a Desmond theme.

There was no over-riding concept about tonight’s standards based set, which began for me with the concluding moments of “When Sunny Gets Blue”.

Next we enjoyed an elegant reading of the ballad “Angel Eyes” with solos from Reardon on alto, Clayton on guitar and Williams on melodic double bass, all gently pushed along by Evans’ sympathetic brush work.

A version of Luiz Bonfa’s “Samba d’ Orfeo” reflected Reardon’s love of Brazilian music and incorporated some authentic sounding rhythms from Evans alongside solos from Reardon and Clayton.

The Paul Desmond ballad “Wendy” was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Clayton and featured a further solo from him alongside the leader’s alto, with Evans’ delicate brush work again a feature.

“Alone Together” was notable for the exchanges between Reardon and Clayton, in addition to their individual solos.

The set concluded on an upbeat note with “Out Of Nowhere” with solos from Clayton, Reardon and Williams plus a series of drum breaks from Evans as he traded ideas with Reardon and Clayton.

This was an enjoyable set that was generally well received by the audience at The Muse. If there’s a criticism it can be that Reardon’s Desmond influenced style can sometimes appear a little too polite and diffident, a characteristic that also informs her presenting style. Both as a musician and a personality she should maybe project herself a little more – although this is a bit rich coming from somebody who would be terrified of changing places and is only too happy to be on the audience side of the footlights. It’s intended as a constructive criticism.

Musically there was much to enjoy, particularly the purity of Reardon’s alto tone and the fluency of Clayton’s guitar soloing, straight out of the classic jazz guitar tradition.


Terence Collie – piano, Marianne Windham – double bass, Caroline Boaden – drums

London based pianist and composer Terence Collie is also a respected promoter,
co-ordinating the Mood Indigo Events programme in conjunction with vocalist Janet McCunn and organising the TW12 Jazz Festival in Twickenham, South West London.

McCunn’s family connections in Brecon have led to frequent co-operative projects between Brecon Jazz and MIE including successful online events in both 2020 and 2021.

One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic has been the possibility of staging a live performance event at one location and then streaming it to a whole different audience at another venue elsewhere in the country. The second of this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival weekends will see MIE promoted live performances from the Atsuko Shimada / Alan Barnes Quartet and the Juan Galliardo Trio at the Riverside Theatre in Sunbury-on-Thames streamed to The Muse in Brecon.

Given their recent collaborations it was fitting that BJF should invite Collie to the town to play live. Working under the collective name Panoply Trio he was teamed with an all female rhythm section of Marianne Windham (double bass) and Caroline Boaden (drums). Windham is also a promoter, organising the live music programme for Guildford Jazz and frequently playing bass behind the visiting soloists. During lockdown Guildford Jazz presented a series of livestream performances that were syndicated to a number of other jazz clubs in the South East. A number of these were reviewed for The Jazzmann by guest contributor Trevor Bannister of Jazz in Reading.

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 meet Terence at last and to see him play live for the first time. It was also good to meet with Marianne and to enjoy her playing in the wake of our previous email contact.

It had become apparent from Collie’s livestream appearances that he is a very talented pianist and I was very much looking forward to this performance. Trevor’s reviews had commented favourably on Windham’s bass playing so I was looking forward to hearing her too. Likewise Caroline Boaden, a musician I had seen playing live before, but it was a very long time ago, pre-dating my reviewing career.

Collie and Boaden had worked together before, but in one of those much loved BJF ‘one offs’ this was the first on stage meeting between Collie and Windham. As ever BJF organiser Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon demonstrated their uncanny ability to assemble a ‘scratch group’ and make it work. They just seem to know which musicians will hit it off and discover an instant rapport.

That was certainly the case with Panoply Trio who opened the proceedings with a Collie re-harmonisation of a Jimmy Van Heusen tune, changing it from a major to a minor key. Unfortunately he forgot to mention the title and I neglected to ask him afterwards. In any event this was state of the art contemporary piano trio jazz with Collie coaxing an excellent acoustic piano sound from his electric keyboard as he shared the solos with the impressive Windham. Boaden’s propulsive, sharply detailed drumming represented the icing on a very tasty cake.

The trio’s set also included a smattering of Collie originals, among them “Brecon Blues” which was written for a previous online collaboration between BJF and MIE.
A genuine blues this featured exuberant soloing from Collie and Windham plus an effervescent drum feature from the impressive Boaden.

The trio slowed things down with the Anthony Newley composed “Who Can I Turn To” with lyrical solos from Collie and Windham and a series of brushed drum breaks from Boaden. Collie rounded things off neatly with an unaccompanied piano cadenza at the close.

A second Collie original, “August”, had also been written the 2021 BJF / MIE collaboration. The title celebrates the month in which Brecon Jazz Festival has always been held and also references Collie’s own birth date of August 22nd. This fast moving, Latin inflected tune was suitably celebratory in mood and included a further drum feature for the excellent Boaden.

One of Collie’s favourite pieces is the Herbie Hancock composition “Butterfly”, the tune being the subject of a popular online video featuring Collie with Mark Rose – bass, Sophie Alloway – drums, Matt Hodge – percussion, Agata Kubiak - violin, viola, Shirley Smart – cello.
Today’s trio version was obviously different, but no less lovely, with the solos shared between Collie and Windham.

The Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol composition “Caravan” is the tune that just keeps giving, it’s been approached in so many different ways but always ends up sounding fresh and exciting. Collie’s arrangement treated it to a New Orleans style twist with Boaden introducing the tune at the drums and laying down a suitable marching rhythm that provided the foundation for the probing soloing of Collie and Windham.

Collie described the Kenny Barron composition “Voyage” as a “modern jazz classic” and Panoply’s hard driving version revealed just how interactive a unit the trio was becoming even at this stage of its existence. Solos from Collie and Windham were followed by a series of crisp drum breaks from Boaden.

Guest vocalist Janet McCunn joined the trio for a version of the Jerome Kern song “I’m Old Fashioned”, singing two verses before handing over to Collie and Windham for the instrumental solos.

An excellent set concluded with Collie’s own “Hubble 30”, a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the famous telescope. The idea for the piece initially came from the composer’s sister. This proved to a suitably atmospheric and highly impressive piece of work, introduced by a passage of solo piano punctuated by Boaden’s dramatic cymbal crashes. The drummer continued to shadow the pianist throughout this anthemic piece, the rapport between the two being particularly impressive.

A large crowd at the Castle Hotel Ballroom gave the Panoply Trio an excellent reception and rightly so. For me this was definitely the ‘gig of the day’ and an overall Festival highlight. It is to be hoped that the collaboration between Brecon Jazz and Mood Indigo Events will continue with other London based musicians coming to visit Brecon in future years.


Fernando Acosta (electric guitar/Puerto Rican tres, vocals), Jim Blomfield (electric piano, keyboards), Lisa Cherian (congas, percussion, backing vocals), Michel Padron (trumpet, vocals),  Jon Clark (drums, percussion), Sol Ahmed (bass)

The Castle Hotel also hosted K’Chevere, a Latin band based in Bristol. The band name comes from the Spanish phrase “Que Chevere”, approximate translation “Good Times”, or something similar.

The band’s name is reflected in their music, a non-stop energetic blend of music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and other parts of Latin America. It’s loud, brassy and highly rhythmic with Clark and Cherian combining to give the music an unstoppable momentum. Acosta and Padron bring an authentic Latin presence to the band while Blomfield, a much admired pianist in more conventional jazz contexts, clearly exhibits a thorough understanding of Latin American music. It was Blomfield who handled the announcements and I suspect that he may also have been responsible for many of the arrangements.

This was the Friday night ‘party slot’ but on a baking summer evening it was almost too hot for dancing with many audience members opting to remain seated and just enjoy the music. The band seemed to have brought along a couple of their own dancers and one or two intrepid souls were tempted up to join them. You won’t be surprised to learn that I went for the sit down option.

Most tunes were unannounced so this won’t be a song by song account, plus the song titles were mostly in Spanish anyway. The high energy performance began with the Tito Puente tune “Picadillo” which featured Afro-Cuban rhythms, solos from Padron on trumpet and Acosta on guitar and a drum / percussion ‘battle’ between Clark and Cherian.

The next piece was introduced by Blomfield at the keyboard and featured Acosta on the eight stringed Puerto Rican instrument the Tres, a variation on the acoustic guitar. Acosta and Padron, both native Spanish speakers handled the majority of the vocals, often singing in unison. This second piece also featured the first of several dazzling keyboard solos from Blomfield.

Bassist Ahmed, percussionist Cherian and drummer Clark were to feature on the next piece before Blomfield’s unaccompanied piano introduced a cha cha cha that also featured the guitar soloing of Acosta.

“Carne” incorporated a second drum / percussion episode plus solos for guitar and keyboards.

“Brecon Descargia” was the Latin equivalent of a ‘jam tune’ and included features for guitar, trumpet and keyboards plus a closing salvo from Clark at the drum kit.

A deserved encore saw Acosta returning to the tres, his virtuosity on the instrument matching that of Blomfield at the keyboard.

K’Chevre impressed with their instrumental prowess and their sheer energy but the heat of the music was topped by that of the weather, which meant that the band’s performance wasn’t quite as enjoyable as it might have been. In more normal temperatures even I might have been tempted to my feet (I remember dancing to the Birmingham based salsa band Como No back in the day) – but not in these conditions.

All in all this was a bit of a shame as I suspect that K’Chevere usually manage to get everybody in the room on their feet.

It had been a long day and even I couldn’t take any more, deciding to pass on John Paul Gard at the Northhouse, which was no reflection on him, I was just plain knackered.

Nevertheless it had been a great day of music with some excellent performances all round and with the Panoply Trio taking the award for ‘gig of the day’.







by Ian Mann

August 09, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys a hugely successful start to the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival and performances by the Jane Williams Band, the Will Barnes Quartet and The Numbers Racket.

Photograph of the Will Barnes Quartet sourced from



The first full day of the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival was a collaboration between the organisers of the Jazz Festival and those of Brecon County Show.

The County Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in Mid Wales, not quite as big as the Royal Welsh which is held in July in nearby Builth Wells, but pretty close. Brecon County Show attracts literally thousands of visitors to the town and traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in August, which for many years was the weekend immediately prior to Brecon Jazz Festival.

The Covid inspired decision to schedule Brecon Jazz Festival across multiple weekends in August offered Brecon Jazz organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon to realise a long harboured ambition to work on an event in conjunction with their counterparts at the County Show.

With this in mind the Members’ Marquee at the County Show was kept up for an extra day to facilitate a ‘Family Jazz & Dance Day’ designed to attract new listeners to the music, with the emphasis very much on families and children.

On a beautifully warm and sunny summer day in a glorious location the joint organisers were rewarded with a bumper crowd with every table in the marquee occupied as three different bands performed on a temporary stage that bore a distinct resemblance to a bouncy castle. With both audience and performers protected from the sun a narrow strip of uncovered, sunlit ground between the marquee and the stage was to eventually serve as the dancefloor. With food concessions and a bar in place the scene was set for a relaxing afternoon and evening of jazz of various genres.

The performances featured a standards based set from vocalist Jane Williams and her band, the bebop inspired instrumentals of guitarist Will Barnes and his new quartet and in the evening the six piece swing / jump jive outfit The Numbers Racket. Both the Jane Williams Band and The Numbers Racket were to benefit from guest appearances by the versatile Midlands based saxophonist Alex Clarke, a former finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. Clarke had earlier conducted a morning jazz workshop elsewhere in the town.


Jane Williams – vocals, ukulele, Pete Mathison – guitar, vocals, Andy Leggett – tenor, alto & soprano saxophones, clarinet, vocals, Donnie Joe Sweeney – double bass, vocals, Greg Evans – drums, Alex Clarke – alto & tenor saxophones

Originally from Cardigan in West Wales Jane Williams is now based in Cardiff and has combined a singing and acting career. On a blazing hot day the set of familiar standards delivered with good humour by her excellent band represented a great way to start the day as the audience settled back to relax and enjoy the music.

Accompanying herself on ukulele Williams proved to be a highly competent vocalist and she was well supported by a similarly accomplished band sourced from South Wales and from England’s West Country. There was also the bonus of the presence of Clarke, a highly fluent saxophone soloist who brought much to the proceedings and combined well with Leggett, the combination of the various reeds adding depth and colour to the group sound.

On such a glorious day it was totally appropriate that the band should open with “Blue Skies”, with Williams’ confident vocals augmented by the blend of horns with Leggett on soprano and Clarke on tenor. These two shared the instrumental soloing with guitarist Mathison.

A bluesy “Black Coffee”, a song associated with Peggy Lee, saw Williams temporarily putting down the uke. Her soulful vocal delivery was this time supplemented by solos from Clarke on tenor and Leggett on alto.

Williams encouraged the audience to sing along on “Bye Bye Blackbird”, which also incorporated soloing opportunities for Clarke on alto, Leggett on soprano, Mathison on guitar and Sweeney at the bass.

Bassist Sweeney, an ex-pat American now based in Cardiff is also an aspiring vocalist and runs his own combo Donnie Joe’s American Swing, a group that features both his singing and his bass playing. Today “Pennies From Heaven” allowed him to showcase both aspects of his talent with Williams providing vocal harmonies. Instrumental solos came from Clarke on tenor, Leggett on alto, Mathison on guitar and Sweeney himself on double bass.

Williams then calmed things down, resuming on lead vocals and ukulele to deliver a beautiful version of “Autumn Leaves”, accompanied only by Mathison as the rest of the band took a well earned breather in the stifling heat.

The band returned to full strength for a lively version of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with Clarke opening on tenor before moving to alto for her solo, this followed by further instrumental excursions from Leggett on soprano, Mathison on guitar and Sweeney on bass.

After negotiating a couple of false starts Leggett took the lead vocal on the wryly humorous “Everything But The Blues” with Williams again providing vocal backing and Clarke weighing in with an authoritative tenor solo. Williams and Leggett wrote a number of original songs during lockdown and I suspect that this may have been of these.

A well performed and equally well received version of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” marked a return to the standards canon and included solos from Clarke on alto and Leggett on tenor. This proved to be one of the most popular numbers of the set.

“September In The Rain” featured the twin tenor combination of Clarke and Leggett, plus solos from each alongside Mathison’s guitar.

Performed as a slow blues “The Man I Love” incorporated an extended instrumental introduction featuring Clarke’s alto followed by an emotive vocal from Williams plus further instrumental solos from Clarke on alto and Leggett on tenor.

A Nat King Cole inspired version of “Route 66” allowed Mathison the opportunity to flex his vocal cords with Williams again providing backing.  This also saw Clarke and Leggett doubling up on tenors again and sharing the solo with Mathison’s guitar.

Finally we heard the first version of the day of Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, which was delivered in lively fashion with Leggett featuring on clarinet for the only time alongside Clarke on tenor, Sweeney on bass and Mathison on guitar. A word too for Greg Evans, who didn’t get to solo but who formed an excellent rhythmic partnership with Sweeney and kept things moving in subtle but propulsive fashion from the back.

Presented by Williams with a breezy charm this was an enjoyable but undemanding set that delivered just what was required at two in the afternoon on a very hot day. I enjoyed it rather more than I though I might and this set of mostly well known tunes was very well received and filled its remit of appealing to what was not necessarily a purist jazz audience.

The presence of the excellent Alex Clarke in the band’s ranks was a considerable bonus, particularly with regard to the quality of her soloing. She’s quite unusual in being equally proficient on tenor and alto saxes and her BBC Young Jazz Musician nomination has increased her profile considerably.

I’m grateful to her for speaking with me afterwards and for providing me with a review copy of her début album “Only A Year”, which was released earlier in 2022 and which features her playing on both alto and tenor alongside a heavyweight line up of Dave Newton (piano), Dave Green (double bass) and Clark Tracey (drums). I intend to undertake a full review of this in due course.


Will Barnes – guitar, vocals, Jack Gonsalez – keyboard, Clovis Phillips – double bass, Jack Batten - drums

Based in the Newtown area of Mid Wales the versatile guitarist and composer Will Barnes is an old friend of Brecon Jazz having performed at both the Festival and at regular club nights on numerous occasions.

I first heard Barnes’ playing in a gypsy jazz context and for a while he was a member of the popular crossover group Gypsy Fire. He’s played in function bands and even turned his hand to reggae and to heavy metal but Barnes’ first love is jazz and particularly the bebop inspired music of jazz guitar greats such as Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, Grant Green, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny and more. Barnes also acknowledges pianist Oscar Peterson as a significant influence.

After a while off the scene concentrating on his ‘day job’ as an agronomist Barnes has returned to the scene with an exciting new quartet featuring four talented twenty somethings based in his own Mid Wales neighbourhood. Pianist Jack Gonsalez and bassist Clovis Phillips are music graduates while self taught drummer James Batten has learnt his trade playing across a variety of musical genres. Introducing the band Lynne Gornall referred to the group as “Will Barnes’ New Young Quartet”.

The quartet’s repertoire features a mix of jazz and bebop standards interspersed by Barnes originals written in the same general style, often with titles that tip the hat in acknowledgement of their primary influences.

The band kicked off with an arrangement of the standard “Stompin’ At The Savoy” with Barnes taking the first solo on his solid bodied ‘arch top’ electric guitar. He was followed by Gonsalez at his Nord Grand keyboard, which remained on an acoustic piano setting throughout the set, and by Phillips on double bass. Barnes remarked that with regard to the quartet’s treatment of standards “we do our best to make sure you don’t recognise them” - that was certainly the case here.

A Barnes original, the cunningly titled “Where’s Montgomery?”, introduced a funk / latin feel and again incorporated solos from Barnes, Gonsalez and Phillips. Despite its obvious influences the piece revealed Barnes to be an intelligent and imaginative composer within his chosen idiom.

“Step Aside Oscar” acknowledged another of Barnes’ musical heroes and was a showcase for the talented Gonsalez, at just twenty two the youngest member of the quartet. The piece also included solos from Phillips and Barnes.

Gonsalez was also featured on a long solo piano introduction that Barnes promised “will take you on a journey before we all end up on Green Dolphin Street”. This indeed proved to be the case, with Gonsalez’s solo excursion also leading us through “All The Things You Are”. Re-united as a quartet on “Dolphin Street” we also heard from the leader’s guitar before Gonsalez returned for a more conventional piano solo.

A blistering version of Ray Noble’s bebop standard “Cherokee” incorporated latin rhythmic flourishes and some astonishingly fleet fingered guitar soloing from Barnes. Gonsalez also sparkled at the piano while Batten stepped out of the shadows to enjoy a spirited drum feature.

Barnes’ compositions are jointly inspired by his jazz and bebop heroes and by more personal influences such as the Welsh landscape and friends and family. Introducing bassist Clovis Phillips he explained that Phillips’ bass had been made in the 1850s and had been passed down to Clovis by his grandmother. The tune “Katherine’s Bass” was a feature for Phillips that also included solos from Barnes and Gonsalez and which saw Batten trading fours with the other instrumentalists.

Barnes and Phillips then introduced “My Little Suede Shoes”, which incorporated solos from Barnes, Gonsalez and Phillips plus a stunning scat vocal episode from Barnes with his high pitched wordless singing doubling his complex guitar melody lines.

An extended solo guitar introduction ushered in the bebop stylings of “Passing Time”, the title a tip of the hat in the direction of the great Joe Pass, with further solo coming from Gonsalez and Barnes.

Barnes wrote “The Mad March Hare” in March 2020 during the first Covid lockdown. Its bebop inspired complexities today provided soloing opportunities for Barnes, Gonsalez and Phillips before Batten rounded things off with a closing drum feature.

The deserved encore featured the relaxed, tuneful funkiness of an instrumental arrangement of the Bill Withers song “Just The Two Of Us”, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano and incorporating further solos from Barnes, Gonsalez and Phillips. This was a perfect way to round off an excellent set that had featured some seriously impressive musicianship from all involved.

This excellent performance from the Barnes quartet represented the ‘serious jazz’ performance of the day but it was rapturously received by what was not necessarily a regular jazz crowd, with several audience members getting to their feet to give the band a standing ovation. Children even danced to this often complex music, proof that rhythms don’t need to be simple to be effective, just ask Dave Brubeck.

Although the quartet is still relatively new its members have already built an impressive rapport and Barnes hopes that the band will be able to document some of its original music on disc at some point in the near future. In the meantime performances such as this will continue to enhance their reputation on the live gig circuit.

My thanks to Will Barnes for speaking with me afterwards and for providing me with a copy of the set list, which has helped enormously in the writing of this review.


Elaina Hoss – vocals, Dominic Norcross – tenor sax, backing vocals Jason Osborne – trumpet, backing vocals Sam May – guitar, Graham Bachelor – electric bass, Nino Consolo – drums with guest Alex Clarke – tenor sax, backing vocals

Billed as a ‘jump jive and swing band’ the long running Numbers Racket band has performed at previous Brecon Jazz Festivals and features two BJF regulars in the shapes of vocalist Elaina Hoss and saxophonist Dominic Norcross.

Unashamedly a ‘party band’ The Numbers Racket mines the territory linking jazz with early rock’n’roll with its horn enlivened arrangements of familiar and still hugely popular songs from the 1940s and 50s and beyond. Tonight these arrangements were given extra heft by the presence in the band’s ranks of guest saxophonist Alex Clarke, who combined with Norcross in a twin tenor attack augmented by Osborne’s punchy trumpet.

The three horn players were to feature on a rousing opening instrumental that also incorporated clangorous rock influenced guitar and the driving rhythms of drums and electric bass.

Vocalist Elaina Hoss joined the band for an arrangement of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up” with instrumental solos coming from Osborne on trumpet and Clarke on tenor.

Norcross was to feature alongside vocalist Hoss on Jackie Wilson’s enduringly popular “Reet Petite”, while Osborne shone on growling muted trumpet on a bluesy arrangement of “My Big Bad Handsome Man”, which also featured Clarke on tenor.

“Flip Flop Fly” featured Hoss’ sassy vocals alongside a string of instrumental cameos with Bachelor and May exchanging ideas on bass and guitar while the twin tenors also traded phrases. Osborne put down the mute to solo with an open bell.

Clarke left the stage at this point as the core sextet delivered a sequence of numbers including a slowed down and very effective arrangement of Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. It was the second version of this song that we’d heard today and it was refreshing to hear The Numbers Racket taking a fresh approach to it, with the blend of Osborne’s trumpet and Norcross’ tenor a particular highlight.

Next up was “Oh Little Bitty Pretty One” followed by an arrangement of the Michael Jackson hit “The Way You Make Me Feel”, which was positively up to date compared to the rest of the material thus far.

“Looking For My Baby” featured Norcross on backing vocals and included a feature for Sam May on guitar. He also soloed alongside Norcross on “Good Rocking Daddy”.

Consolo’s tribal drumming powered “Mr Zoot Suit”, which also saw the return of that growling muted trumpet sound.

“Inside Out” brought an energetic first set to a close. The band had managed to encourage a number of dancers to their feet by this stage and it almost seemed perverse for them to be taking a break at this point, although it can’t be denied that the band had earned it.

It didn’t matter as the crowd were in the mood by now and as Clarke rejoined the band for the second set an arrangement of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” quickly saw the dancers back on the floor.

“Juice Head Blues” re-introduced the earthier sound of the band’s blues based leanings and included barnstorming instrumental solos from Osborne on trumpet and both of the twin tenors.

There was little let up in the energy levels of either the musicians or the dancers, which included several children, as the band raced through “Love That Man” and “Till The Well Runs Dry”, the latter another feature for that two pronged sax attack.

“I Want To Hear That Mellow Saxophone” belied its title with further features for Norcross and Clarke plus hard hitting drummer Consolo.

The guitar driven “I want You” saw Hoss eliciting a little call and response routine with the audience before Clarke and Norcross exchanged solos.

Hoss invited Maurice May, father of guitarist Sam and former lead singer of The Numbers Racket onto the stage to sing a couple of numbers. ‘Big Mo’ proved to have a powerful, bluesy voice which was heard to good effect on “Rock Me Jellyroll” as Hoss danced with members of the audience and Osborne walked around the crowd to deliver his trumpet solo. Further instrumental features came from Sam May on guitar and Clarke on tenor.

Hoss returned to vocal duties for “Let’s Shout”, which again featured Sam May on guitar and the closing “Jump, Jive and Wail”, which included features for the whole band. The inevitable encore was “Liquor Store Blues”, which sent the crowd home feeling very happy.

I’ll admit that the whole jump jive thing is a bit outside my usual listening zone but The Numbers Racket are very good at what they do and like the earlier Jane Williams band I enjoyed them a lot more than I thought I would. The numerous dancers loved them and their performance could be considered a definite success on a day where the intention was to introduce non-jazz listeners to the music and give them a positive experience. Hopefully many of today’s audience members will return to enjoy other events at the main Festival, which takes place over the weekend of 12 / 13 / 14 August (the main weekend) with further events scheduled for the 20th and 21st. See for further details.

For me the musical highlight of the day had to be the Will Barnes Quartet but the other two acts were equally successful in their own way and will doubtless have many champions. The presence of guest saxophonist Alex Clarke added greatly to the success of both the groups that she appeared with and brought something extra and special to their performances.

A great curtain raiser for the main Festival Weekend. Well done to all concerned.


by Ian Mann

July 07, 2022

Ian Mann is saddened by the passing of David Masters, organiser of the much missed Titley Jazz Festival.

R.I.P. David Masters of Titley Jazz Festival

I was saddened to hear the news of the recent death of David Masters, organiser of the Titley Jazz Festival, which ran for five very successful years from 2010 to 2014.

David had been a devotee of the long running Appleby Jazz Festival and in 2010 undertook a huge leap of faith by resurrecting this much missed event in rural Herefordshire under the new name of Titley Jazz.

Titley was David’s home village following his move to Herefordshire and I first knew him through a shared love of good beer. We were both members of the local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), with David already demonstrating his organisational skills by taking over the role of branch treasurer.

When David first told me of his plans to revive Appleby (which had run successfully for fifteen years in Westmorland before falling victim to funding cuts) in a new location and to fund the new festival himself I thought he was mad. Beautiful but sparsely populated Herefordshire is hardly a jazz hotbed (despite my best efforts) and I was worried that the whole venture was an enormous risk and could spell financial disaster for the intrepid David.

However I had reckoned without David’s organisational skills and the incredible loyalty of the Appleby fanbase, many of whom made the long trip to Herefordshire every year for the new Titley Jazz Festival. David had contacted the entire “Friends Of Appleby” mailing list and they turned out in force from all over the country to support his bold venture.

The inaugural Festival was held at Titley Junction, a long disused railway station owned by steam enthusiasts Robert and Lesley Hunt who owned not just the old station buildings but also a working steam locomotive and a mile of operative track.

A 500 seater marquee was set up in the grounds adjoining the station, the train offered free rides to festival goers (most people went more than once) and David’s old friends from Herefordshire CAMRA set up a bar dispensing real ale and cider. There was a hog roast and other food in an idyllic setting surrounding by rolling Herefordshire farmland.

The first Festival was a huge success but access and health and safety issues engendered a move to  the nearby Rodd Farm Estate, owned by the Sidney Nolan Trust. The new site provided a flatter, safer location, more adjacent car parking and camping and much more room to move around. The Rodd was to be the Festival’s home for the next four years.

The move to The Rodd saw a larger marquee and the addition of an extra day to the Festival, which now saw performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  CAMRA continued to provide the beer and The Rodd was to prove just as popular as Titley Junction had been.

It wasn’t just the audiences that came every year. The musicians loved coming to Titley to perform, playing in front of large and appreciative audiences and enjoying a weekend away from London in such a beautiful location.

Among the regular performers at Titley were pianist Stan Tracey, saxophonists Alan Barnes, Peter King, Art Themen and Don Weller, trumpeters Guy Barker, Bruce Adams and Martin Shaw, trombonist Mark Nightingale and a rotating cast of rhythm players that included pianists Dave Newton and Steve Melling, bassists Andrew Cleyndert, Dave Green and Geoff Gascoyne and drummers Clark Tracey, Steve Brown and Dave Barry.

Although centred around a certain style of jazz and with performances mainly taking place in the ‘head-solos-head’ format the Festival did become increasingly musically diverse as it developed. Vocal headliners included Liane Carroll and Anita Wardell while guitarists Jim Mullen and Colin Oxley became increasingly regular visitors.

Big Bands were also added to the line up, including NYJO the Don Weller Big Band and Robert Fowler’s Gerry Mulligan Concert Big Band.

There was a sense of the musicians and their audience bonding together to create a ‘Titley Family’ that loved coming together every year for a weekend of jazz, real ale and beautiful countryside. And for me it was even more ideal because it was practically on my doorstep.

Titley Jazz developed into a much loved institution, as popular with its faithful followers as Appleby once was.

Unfortunately 2014 was to be the last ever Titley Jazz Festival. David Masters was suffering with ill health by this time and was unable to continue in his role as Festival organiser. Nevertheless the five festivals that he staged were a triumph and continue to be fondly remembered by musicians and audiences alike.

Of course some of the musicians who graced the Titley stage are also no longer with us, among them Stan Tracey, Peter King, Don Weller and drummer Tony Levin.

I learned of David’s passing from jazz broadcaster John Hellings, but by this time it was too late for me to attend the funeral, which I regret. John very kindly represented me at the service, which took place at Hereford Crematorium.

I hadn’t seen David since 2014 but I was grateful to him for allowing me the opportunity to cover the Festival and all five Titley Jazz events are comprehensively reviewed on the Jazzmann web pages – I didn’t miss a single day.

Titley Jazz Festival is much missed by its many fans and during the years of its existence it was also a great boost to the Herefordshire economy. Its five hugely successful and enjoyable years were the result of David Masters’ vision and represent a very impressive cultural legacy.

Rest in Peace, David.



by Ian Mann

May 10, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys a varied programme of music on the final day of the Festival with performances by Moses Boyd, Gabrielle, Brian Jackson and Myra Melford's Fire And Water Quintet.

Photograph of Myra Melford sourced from the Cheltenham Festival website

Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 02/05/2022


Drummer, composer and bandleader Moses Boyd is one of the rising stars of British jazz, a point emphasised by the large turn out at the Jazz Arena for this performance by the young tyro as he led his band through a selection of material sourced from his latest album, the Mercury Music Prize nominated “Dark Matter” (2020).

Boyd is probably best known for his free-wheeling and increasingly ambitious duo collaboration with saxophonist Binker Golding but he is also a bandleader in his right, first with the Group Exodus and later with the new “Dark Matter” line up. A prolific sideman who came up via the ranks of the Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation he has also worked with pianists Peter Edwards and Andrew McCormack, vocalist Zara McFarlane, bassist Gary Crosby, tuba player Theon Cross, and more.

“Dark Matter” represents Boyd’s first full length album release under his own name and features a list of stellar contributors, among them saxophonists Golding and Nubya Garcia.

A major player on the “Dark Matter” album is guitarist Artie Zaitz who was part of the quintet that Boyd brought to Cheltenham. The band also included Renato Paris on keyboards, whose mighty synthesised bass lines were a key component in the quintet’s sound. The band was fronted by alto saxophonist Tyrone Isaac Stuart, who had apparently been drafted in at short notice but who did an absolutely terrific job in this challenging role. This was a highly rhythmic ensemble with Boyd joined by a Venezuelan born percussionist whose name nobody seemed to catch. In any event he made an impressive contribution to the overall success of the performance.

Tune announcements were rare and I suspect that several pieces may have been segued together, particularly during an extended opening sequence that began with an atmospheric introduction that commenced with Boyd playing his kit with bare hands. The spacey sounds of keys and guitar, plus the shimmer and rustle of percussion added to the increasingly dark and sinister feel of the music. As Boyd finally picked up his sticks and Stuart’s sax eventually pierced the textured darkness the effect was genuinely dramatic.

Boyd eventually established a groove, aided by increasingly funky synthesised bass lines as both Stuart and the impressive Zaitz cut loose with incisive solos, Zaitz helping to bring a blues and rock element to the music.

Boyd’s music touches many bases, ranging from the spiritual jazz that inspires many of the current crop of young players on the London jazz scene to more contemporary urban developments such as grime and dubstep. The music of electric era Miles Davis also represents a discernible influence on Boyd’s current sound.

During this opening sequence the rhythms became increasingly complex as Boyd and his percussionist combined forces, meshing and interlocking. Boyd’s polyrhytmic flow was astonishing; relentlessly inventive and technically dazzling, this guy has technique to burn. His high energy approach transmitted itself to his colleagues with Stuart delivering another powerful alto solo and the Venezuelan an exuberant conga feature. Paris’  monstrously fat and squelchy synth bass lines helped to give the music something of a club atmosphere and this aspect of his playing was also afforded its own feature, with Paris’ keyboard solo also featuring a more conventional electric piano sound.

A brief pause to allow the crowd to show its appreciation and the band to draw its breath was followed by another blistering collective excursion, ushered in once more by Boyd at the drums, an introductory unaccompanied passage featuring the sounds of foot operated bass drum and the patter of hands on skins. Boyd’s picking up of the sticks then triggered searing solos from Stuart on alto from Zaitz on guitar.

“Too Far Gone” featured a solo introduction from Paris, later joined by Stuart, the sweetness of his alto sax melodies contrasting effectively with the murky rumble of the synth bass. Paris later soloed in more conventional fashion, his playing featuring the combined sounds of electric piano, organ and synth.

The next piece was initially gentler, almost ballad like at first with Zaitz providing an unaccompanied guitar introduction. This was to prove a real slow burner of a piece with the band throwing in a little wilful dissonance as the music developed via the soaring solos of Stuart and Zaitz. If jazz can be said to have ‘lighter wavers’, this was surely one of them.

The final item, “BTB”,  celebrated the influence of West Indian music – soca, dancehall etc. - and incorporated more fluent solos from Stuart and Zaitz plus an extended drum and percussion battle that brought a very visual aspect to the performance.

With a less congested programme on the final day of the Festival bands were allowed to perform for longer. At around ninety minutes this was a long set by Festival standards and Boyd and his colleagues certainly relished the opportunity to stretch out. Some of the soloing, particularly by Zaitz and Stuart, was truly epic. Meanwhile the rhythmic interplay of drums, percussion and synth bass provided a high octane fuel for the soloists and was hypnotic, compelling and captivating in its own right. This was a hugely impressive performance that got the final day of the Festival off to a great start and represented one of the overall Festival highlights. Well done to Moses Boyd and to everybody concerned.


One of the benefits of attending the Festival as a journalist is the opportunity to attend events that you would never have considered buying a ticket for out of pure curiosity.

Thus with no ‘serious jazz’ alternative on offer I found myself in The Big Top for this performance by the highly successful pop singer and songwriter Gabrielle. I lost interest in mainstream pop when still in my teens, which is a very long time ago, and thus the career of Gabrielle has largely passed me by, despite her many top forty hits, dating back to the 1990s.

Gabrielle still has an enormous following. The Big Top was absolutely rammed with fans, the majority, as far as I could tell clearly here to see her on what was the first date of her summer tour.

Fellow scribe AJ Dehany and I seemed to be about the only people there who hadn’t totally bought in to the Gabrielle experience. A guy in front of us had seen her more than thirty times, seated next me were a group of ladies who sang along ecstatically throughout. My only real knowledge of Gabrielle’s repertoire was the song “Out Of Reach”, which was on heavy radio rotation when I worked briefly in a local sports shop in 2002. It also appeared on the soundtrack of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” apparently. It was one of the better songs around at the time and certainly piqued my interest in today’s event.

In the presence of such uber fans I found myself getting caught up in the excitement of it all. I found that I actually recognised many of the songs, having heard them on the radio or the pub jukebox, although I couldn’t hang a title on most of them. She’s produced a lot of “bangers”, as AJ put it.

At first I was less than convinced and well out of my comfort zone. The sound was that of mainstream pop with all the rough edges smoothed off and the music had the generally antiseptic, synthesised feel, offset by faux emotion, that characterises modern pop production values.

Gabrielle’s band featured guitar, electric bass, keyboards and two sassy female backing vocalists. There was a good rapport between the band members, and particularly between Gabrielle and her backing singers.

Gabrielle chatted warmly to her fans and ensured that she worked every section of the tiered Big Top. I’m indebted to an excellent review of the event on the Building Our Nashville website for supplying me with some of the tune titles.

Opener “Thank You” was followed by the hit singles “When A Woman” and “Give Me A Little More Time”. It’s important to note that Gabrielle writes her own material, unlike some pop stars she is a genuinely creative artist – and she’s written a hell of a lot of hits.

One such is “Sunshine”, written for her then infant son, who, as she informed us, is now twenty seven! A huge hit in 1999 this was a piece that drew a rapturous sing along reaction from the crowd.

In addition to the singles the show also included much loved album tracks such as “Falling”, “Under My Skin”, “Tell Me What You Dream” and the rocky “Put Up A Fight”. These were clearly recognised by most of the fans and exhibited no discernible drop in songwriting quality.

A generous employer Gabrielle allowed her backing singers their moment in the spotlight, an opportunity that the duo grabbed with gusto as they romped their way through Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and Sister Sledge’s “I’m Thinking of You”.

There’s more than a hint of Motown and American soul music in general throughout London born Gabrielle’s work and she was to sing her own choice of cover with a version of Womack and Womack’s “Teardrops”.

Returning to her original material she offered “Don’t Need The Sun To Shine”, “Young and Crazy” and “Shine” and closed the set with a version of her chart topping single from 2000 “Rise”, which saw the audience singing along and her guitarist cutting loose with a rare solo towards the close.

The inevitable encores were “Out Of Reach” and “Dreams”, her first number one from way back in 1993.

This was an event that was certainly something of an experience. Most members of the audience spent the entire gig on their feet, many singing along joyously. It was all very different to the average jazz gig and there will doubtless be some who would question the validity of Gabrielle’s appearance at one of the UK’s major jazz festivals.

I was certainly out of my personal music comfort zone, but after putting my musical snobberies aside I actually found it quite enjoyable once I’d taken my cue from my fellow audience members and just decided to ‘go with the flow’.

And if the presence of Gabrielle and some of the other pop performers on the programme helps to pay for visits by heavy duty international jazz acts such as Shake Stew and the Myra Melford Quintet (about whom more later) to appear on the Parabola programme then that’s just fine by me.



And so to another artist that I didn’t really know that much about. I was aware that keyboard player, vocalist and songwriter Brian Jackson had been a regular collaborator with the late, great Gil Scott- Heron (1949-2011) but that was about as far as it went.

As Scott-Heron’s co-writer, keyboard player and flautist Jackson was an integral part of Gil’s band and appeared with him on a total of nine albums, the first two credited to Scott-Heron, the rest to Scott-Heron and Jackson.

The pair split in 1980 but Jackson has remained active, an in demand session player who has played with the likes Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and Stevie Wonder.

Now aged sixty nine Jackson’s current band explores the legacy of his work with Scott-Heron, a politically aware music that has yet to date with the passing of the years. The themes that their music addressed, notably racial and economic inequality remain depressingly salient in 2022.

Jackson’s band at the Jazz Arena featured himself on piano, electric keyboards and vocals, Lex Cameron on guitar and keyboards, Steve Walters on electric bass and Paul Jones at the drums.

Their set ranged through the GSH / Jackson back catalogue with the leader doing a superb impression of his late collaborator’s vocal style. Jackson’s vocals were warm and soulful, almost laid back, but expressed the simmering anger behind those still pertinent political messages. Gil and Brian didn’t shout, but they got their point across with elegance and eloquence, these gentlemen have always exuded class. Scott-Heron was something of a poet and has been cited as an influence on the future rap and hip hop movement, but although his own delivery was rather less splenetic his anger was no less righteous.

Jackson talked at length as well as playing, the verbiage encouraged by the ninety minute running time. But the spoken words were not a distraction as the erudite Jackson spoke warmly of his time with Scott-Heron and the group they dubbed The Midnight Band.

In addition to his warm vocal style Jackson also proved to be an excellent keyboard soloist, whether on electric piano or the venue’s own acoustic grand.  His band also proved to be highly competent musicians with Cameron moving between guitar and his own rack of keyboards. Walters was a propulsive bassist and Jones a crisp and forceful drummer. All the instrumentalists were to enjoy substantial features during the course of the performance, this wasn’t just a one man show.

Going into this gig I had more knowledge of the GSH / Jackson back catalogue than I did of Gabrielle’s, but my knowledge was far from extensive. Among the songs performed were the warm and soulful “Peace Go With You Brother” and the funky homage to the jazz greats “Lady Day and John Coltrane”.

“We Almost Lost Detroit” referenced 1970s race relations and was a song expressing a fierce political commitment. “Pieces of a Man”, the title track of GSH’s début album from 1971 addressed the problems in an American steel town where the entire work force of nine thousand was laid off at a stroke at the local plant, all of them informed by a letter in the mail. Jackson pondered about how Scott-Heron, who was just twenty one when the song was written, could have penned a work of such maturity, empathy and insight. Similar musings applied to “Home Is Where The Heartbreak Is”, a song written from the point of view of a heroin addict and “Your Daddy Loves You”, written from the viewpoint of an adoring parent for his daughter, the child that GSH didn’t actually have at the time. Even the seemingly silly audience sing-along “Guerilla” carried a serious social message.

I had to leave at this point for the Myra Melford show at the PAC. This meant that I didn’t get to hear GSH’s greatest ‘hit’ “The Bottle” and possibly “Johannesburg” too. Jackson may even have played some flute, which hadn’t happened prior to my departure. It was unfortunate that these two events overlapped, although no paying customers followed me to the PAC as far as I am aware.

I very much enjoyed my time in the company of Brian Jackson and his band and was sorry to miss the end of their set. This may have been nostalgia, but it was nostalgia that still carries a pertinent message for today. “When we wrote these songs we didn’t expect the same things to be happening in 2022”, explained Jackson ruefully.

In addition to the quality of the songs the singing and playing were first rate, albeit marred by occasional sound glitches. A rewarding experience nevertheless.

The Jazz Views website offers a more comprehensive overview of the Brian Jackson gig, written by AJ Dehany.



When the Festival line up was first announced this was one of the first gigs that immediately caught my eye. I remember enjoying pianist Myra Melford’s dazzling playing with the Anglo-American quintet Big Air (Melford, piano, Chris Batchelor, trumpet, Steve Buckley, reeds, Oren Marshall, tuba, Jim Black, drums) at the 2011 CJF and have waited more than a decade to see her perform again.

Melford’s latest project is a stellar all female quintet featuring Mary Halvorson (guitar), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor & soprano sax), Tomeka Reid (cello) and Susie Ibarra (drums).

For me the novelty of ‘all woman’ groups has long worn off, I was drawn to this gig not because of the gender of the participants but because the line up features five superb improvising musicians, the majority of them bandleaders in their own right.

The music of the Fire And Water Quintet represents Melford’s musical responses to a collection of drawings by the American artist Cy Twombly. Twombly’s series is called “Gaeta (For The Love of Fire and Water)”, which in turn gives Melford her title. Twombly’s works were drawn in the Italian coastal town of Gaeta and concentrate on the relationship between light and water. Melford later visited the town herself to gain inspiration for her musical project.

The project began in 2019 when what was supposed to be a one off quintet performed the music at The Stone in New York City, the now defunct club run by John Zorn. Such was the reaction to the performance that the quintet were asked to record the music and to perform it more widely.

Covid caused an inevitable hiatus in the proceedings and the quintet finally recorded the album “For The Love Of Fire And Water”  at The Firehouse in New Haven, Connecticut in July 2021 for release on the artist owned Rogue Art imprint.

Today’s date was part of an extensive European tour that had also included a London date at Ronnie Scott’s, a venue not commonly known as a bastion of the avant garde these days.

The album features ten Melford compositions numbered from “1” to “X”, so tune announcements were rendered pretty much redundant. “It would get pretty boring” explained Melford. She has explained that the pieces comprise of an “amalgamation of composed ideas, text directions for interaction and collective improvisation”. For me this represented a pretty perfect balance between the free and the structured, the composed and the improvised.

I acquired a copy of the album after the show, as did many other audience members, and Myra was kind enough to sign it for me. After listening to the recording I’m fairly certain that the quintet probably played the album in sequence, sometimes seguing some of the movements together. Given the open nature of the compositions the performances must surely be subtly different every time, totally in keeping with the true spirit of jazz and improvised music.

As he introduced the performance Tony Dudley-Evans referenced the fact that Ingrid Laubrock had played at CJF before, most notably as part of the Jerwood Foundations’s ‘Rising Stars’ series in the early 2000s. Since those days the German born saxophonist, who lived and worked in London for many years, has established herself as one of the leading figures on the experimental jazz scene in New York City.

The performance was introduced by Melford with a passage of unaccompanied piano, later joined in dialogue by the sound of Ibarra’s drums. The addition of Laubrock’s tenor sax and Reid’s cello, both bowed and plucked, led to an intricate, pointillist ensemble passage, subsequently punctuated by solo features from both Halvorson and Laubrock. Guitarist Halvorson was to make remarkable use of her range of effects pedals and of live looping techniques to create an extraordinary guitar sound, often possessed on a shimmering, translucent beauty that evoked the interplay between light and water in Twombly’s images.

The next section was ushered in by Reid at the cello, her subsequent dialogue with Melford at the piano generating an air of fragile beauty. As a drummer Ibarra was often deployed as a colourist, utilising a range of sticks, mallets and brushes and augmenting her kit with items of small percussion.

For all the beautiful and delicate moments there were also moments of no holds barred free improvisation, such as the loosely structured episode that introduced the third sequence, which incorporated an element of wilful dissonance and the use of extended techniques. The quintet would regularly devolve into smaller units, with this section including trio episodes (Halvorson, Reid, Ibarra) and a pared down dialogue between the leader’s piano and Laubrock’s tenor sax. Ibarra’s impressionistic passage of unaccompanied hand drumming became more forceful as she picked up her sticks to join in dialogue with Halvorson’s guitar. Reid was the next to feature with a solo passage distinguished by vigorously plucked cello, this morphing into a dialogue with Ibarra’s drums as Laubrock moved to soprano saxophone for a surprisingly lyrical final passage.

The next section was introduced by a passage of scene setting solo piano. Laubrock, still on soprano was then joined in dialogue by Reid on plucked cello before moving to tenor for a further series of exchanges with Halvorson.

At this juncture Melford introduced the band and thanked the audience, informing us that we were now entering the final section with movement “VIII”. Instead of the hand-clapped rhythms of the recording we heard dense, interlocking staccato lines played first on piano and guitar, subsequently joined by tenor, cello and drums. Melford played ‘under the lid’ during a spiky series of exchanges with Reid, who utilised the bow of her cello as a form of percussion. Laubrock again moved to soprano for a similarly fractious dialogue with Ibarra’s drums. Listening to the album as I write this vigorous, almost violent passage clearly represented both the eighth and ninth movements. This then segued into the final “X”, a delicately lyrical episode that evoked a ghostly, shimmering beauty, with Halvorson’s guitar effects helping to generate a woozy feeling of general other worldliness. Just stunning.

This was a work that was simultaneously challenging and beautiful. Melford’s furious Cecil Taylor like pianistics were less in evidence than they had been at the Big Air performance all those years ago but her playing was still wonderful, a perfect balance of precision and abandonment with technique to burn. Her colleagues in this well balanced ensemble represented the perfect foils, also adept at blending musical discipline with musical freedom.

This was a superb way to round off an excellent Festival. As the last gig of the entire event the audience wasn’t the biggest, with many Festival goers having already headed for home. But the enthusiasm from those that were there was palpable and post gig CD sales very healthy. Such are the reputations of the members of this band that some people had travelled long distances to see them (Sheffield, Cardiff), they were not to be disappointed.



It was such a joy to be back at Cheltenham for musicians and audiences alike. Almost every band I saw remarked about how great it was to be back on stage and performing to live audiences again, and Amen to that. I was worried that lingering Covid anxiety might mean that audience numbers would be down this year, but not a bit of it, the fans were out in force and determined to enjoy themselves, and with no Covid restrictions currently in place they did just that.

In addition to the ticketed concert events there were also large audiences at the Freestage in Montpellier Gardens and a real carnival atmosphere around the ‘Festival Village’, particularly on the Saturday, the warmest and sunniest day of the Festival.

I managed to catch a couple of performances on the Freestage, notably the Cotswold based gypsy jazz quartet Swing From Paris and the Birmingham based folk/world sextet Bonfire Radicals.

Swing From Paris (Andy Bowen & Sam Hughes, guitars, Tom Williams, double bass and Fenner Curtis, violin) play the Freestage most years and gig in Cheltenham on a regular basis. Their programme included tunes by Django Reinhardt, George Gershwin, Fats Waller, Astor Piazzolla and John Lewis (MJQ), an eclectic mix of material played in an overall ‘Hot Club’ style but with other influences thrown in. They’re very good at what they do and would be a good fit for the annual Oldham Foundation showcase.

Bonfire Radicals, fronted by the relentlessly energetic pint sized recorder virtuoso Michelle Holloway, are a high energy sextet playing folk tunes from England, the Balkans and more. They also feature Katie Sevens (clarinet), Sarah Farmer (viola), Emma Reading (guitar), Pete Churchill (bass) and Ilias Lintzos (drums). With the exception of Reading and Lintzos they all sing. Their shows are vibrant, high energy affairs, wilfully eclectic and often just plain silly. This is a band that is unashamedly about entertaining the audience, which they did here in spades, but which has a more serious side too. All are highly skilled musicians who are capable of operating across a variety of musical genres. They play traditional tunes as well as compositions written by members of the band, notably Stevens and Farmer. I’d seen these two performing at the Surge Festival in Birmingham a couple of weeks previously and this had whetted my desire to catch something of their set here before moving on to watch Moses Boyd. I certainly enjoyed what I saw, as did the rest of a large and appreciative audience.

I also dipped into the “Invisible Real” installation at a vacant retail unit on the Promenade. This was a collaboration between musician Faye MacCalman, visual artist Rhian Cooke and sound artist Nikki Sheth  that explored the stigmas associated with mental illness. I had enjoyed MacCalman’s solo performances for sax, voice and electronics as part of the 2021 Cheltenham Jazz Stream and therefore wanted to check this out.  I’d also seen her performing with bassist John Pope’s quintet in Birmingham in November 2021. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch one of Faye’s live appearances at the installation due to my concert commitments, but I did manage to get an overall feel for this very worthy project.

So overall a triumphant return for Cheltenham Jazz Festival, which again offered something for everyone, from the pop of Gabrielle to the experimental jazz of Myra Melford and so much more in between. I saw some brilliant performances across a wide range of jazz genres over the course of the Festival weekend and much more besides. It was so good to be back, to catch up with old friends and to celebrate Cheltenham Jazz Festival’s 25th anniversary.



by Ian Mann

May 07, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys a varied day of music and performances by Geogia Cecile, Elles Bailey, Penguin Cafe, Electric Lady Big Band, Laura Jurd Ensemble, Gary Bartz & Maisha and Robert Plant & Saving Grace.

Photograph of Laura Jurd by Tim Dickeson

Sunday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2022


The annual Showcase event sponsored by the Oldham Foundation has become something of a Cheltenham Jazz Festival institution. Historically this has been presented in the Jazz Arena on the Bank Holiday Monday, but this year saw the event moving to Sunday lunchtime.

The Showcase is always a double bill and has hitherto featured artists who had impressed with their performances on the Freestage at the previous year’s Festival. Among those who have appeared in the Showcase slot and gone on to bigger things are gypsy jazz guitarist Remi Harris and singer/songwriters Hattie Briggs and George Montague.

Following the Covid hiatus this year’s acts had been selected via the BBC’s “Introducing” scheme and included Scottish jazz vocalist and songwriter Georgia Cecile and Bristol based singer and songwriter Elles Bailey, whose music combined elements of blues, rock and country. Bailey’s presence on the bill was proof of the Oldham Foundation’s commitment to nurturing emerging local talent.

Georgia Cecile was the first to take to the stage. Something of a rising star she had appeared at the Gala Concert celebrating the Festival’s 25th anniversary on the Thursday evening alongside Gregory Porter, Paloma Faith and others. A regular winner at the Scottish Jazz Awards Cecile she has performed with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO) and has received considerable critical acclaim for her début album “Only The Lover Sings”.

What sets Cecile apart from other aspiring jazz vocalists is the fact that she co-writes her own material, forming part of an impressive songwriting team alongside pianist Euan Stevenson. “Only The Lover Sings” features ten original songs by the pair and was named ‘Best Album’ at the 2021 Scottish Jazz Awards. By jazz standards the album has also been a considerable commercial success.

The band that Cecile brought to Cheltenham included Stevenson on piano alongside SNJO members Ryan Quigley (trumpet, flugel), Andrew Robb (double bass) and Matt Clark (drums), a pretty formidable line up.

Set opener “Always Be Right” introduced the quintet’s bright sassy sound with Cecile singing with confidence, assurance and great technical skill. As a jazz singer she’s the real deal, highly adept at jazz phrasing and an excellent interpreter of her own lyrics.

With “Ever Burning Flame” the instrumentalists were also encouraged to express themselves, with both Stevenson on piano and Quigley on trumpet delivering fluent and inventive solos.

The ballad “Come Summertime” was introduced by a duet between Cecile and Stevenson with both musicians impressing in this exposed setting. Robb’s bass and Clark’s brushed drums subsequently provided sympathetic support while Quigley moved to flugelhorn. As songwriters Cecile and Stevenson are strongly influenced by Duke Ellington and in common with the rest of today’s original material this was a song that very much had the feel of a jazz standard.

Cecile actually chose to sing a standard next, “Don’t Go To Strangers”, her version inspired by recordings of the song by Etta Jones and Nancy Wilson. Today’s performance included a piano solo from Stevenson and some remarkable high register playing on Quigley’s trumpet feature.

The new single “Blue Is Only A Colour” introduced something of a jazz / soul feel with its soulful vocals, shuffling beat, exuberant piano soloing and blazing trumpet.

The ballad “Bittersweet” was ushered in by the intimate combination of voice and piano and also featured Clark’s mallet rumbles and Quigley’s lush,  velvety flugelhorn, such a contrast to his fiery trumpeting on the previous number.

An all too short set concluded with the world première of the new Cecile / Stevenson song “This Is Love”, with Quigley again impressing, this time on trumpet.

Given my general antipathy towards jazz singers I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this performance. Cecile was both a commanding and confident stage presence and a flexible, intelligent, soulful and adventurous vocalist, unmistakably the focal point of the performance but still very much a part of the band as she bounced ideas off the instrumentalists. Of course, it helped that she was surrounded by such an outstanding group of musicians, and particularly her songwriting partner Stevenson.

Cecile is scheduled to play several other major jazz festivals this summer, notably Glasgow, Edinburgh and Love Supreme, plus a London date at Ronnie Scott’s. Perhaps more than anyone who has appeared at this Showcase we were witnessing a star in the making. Like I said, Cecile is the Real Deal.

Following the quality of Cecile’s performance I was surprised that she was featured first. How was anybody going to follow that? In the event Elles Bailey was more than equal to the task.

There was a guy seated a few rows in front of me wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt. I’m partial to a bit of the mighty Skynyrd myself, but you don’t usually see their shirts at jazz festivals. As Bailey and her band launched into their set with “The Game”, it was immediately apparent that he was here to see her.

Bailey describes her music as incorporating “blues, rock and roots” and she has released three albums to date “Wildfire” (2017), “Road I Call Home” (2019) and the recent pandemic inspired “Shining In The Half Light”.

Like Cecile Bailey had also brought a terrific band with her, including Joe Wilkins on guitar, Matthew Waer on electric bass, Matthew Jones on drums, Andrusilla Mosely on backing vocals and Jonny Henderson on organ, actually playing a genuine Hammond. The presence of Henderson was a real bonus, I’d previously seen him performing with guitarist / vocalist Matt Schofield some years ago and it was great to see him playing again, particularly on that ‘big beast’  of a Hammond.

“Stones” introduced a dirty, swampy feel to the music and featured Wilkins’ bottleneck style guitar soloing.

There were a number of other Bailey fans in the crowd and they were quick to join in when Bailey encouraged a little audience participation on the anthemic and defiant “Riding Out The Storm”.

The slow blues “Different Kind Of Love” introduced a country tinge to the music and also featured an impressive Hammond solo from the excellent Henderson.

Like Cecile Bailey is also an accomplished songwriter but in her case she co-operates with a variety of writing partners. Much of today’s material was original but the set did include a convincing cover of Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You”.

From Bailey’s second album came fan favourite “Help Somebody” and the set closed with a high energy rendition of “Sunshine City” with its lyrical references to Tom Petty and more searing slide guitar from Wilkins.

I got rather absorbed in this set and ended up not making as many notes as usual, hence the comparative brevity of this review. But make no mistake, Elles Bailey is also the real deal and an increasingly big name in her chosen musical field. She too was a commanding and confident stage presence with a powerful, husky blues voice with a hint of a country twang. Her original blues material is convincing and intelligent – I’d have loved to have heard a song called “Cheats and Liar” that lambasts our current government and their lack of support for musicians and other creatives during the pandemic.

It also helped that she too had a terrific band, with both Henderson and Wilkins making outstanding contributions. Given that she’s based fairly locally Bailey is an artist that I’d definitely like to see again, particularly if she’s going to be delivering a full length show.

Bailey is another rising star and her gigging schedule for 2022 is a busy one, including several Festival appearances and a support slot on Walter Trout’s UK tour in June, which will do her profile no harm at all.

With two superb performances from two very different artists this was probably the best all round Showcase event yet and featured two acts with genuine star potential. Congratulations to John Oldham and the Oldham Foundation for presenting such an excellent event.


During my prog rock youth composer Simon Jeffes and his Penguin Café Orchestra were somewhat marginal figures with their folk, world and classical influences and world music instrumentation. I don’t remember their albums selling particularly well in the 70’s but throughout the 80’s and 90’s a cult began to grow with the PCO becoming a much loved institution. The death of Simon Jeffes from a brain tumour in 1997 seemed to mark the end of the road but the affection with which Jeffes and the PCO had come to be regarded led to a number of 21st century tributes and revivals by the massed ranks of former PCO members.

The current edition of the band, with the name truncated to Penguin Café, is led by Simon’s son, composer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist Arthur Jeffes. Arthur likes to describe himself as the “new proprietor of the Penguin Café” and he grew up surrounded by his father’s music and is clearly Simon’s biggest fan.

However Jeffes Jr. has distanced himself from his father’s legacy by recruiting an entirely new band of his own choosing rather than selecting from the ranks of former PCO personnel. The new band has also recorded its own material, written by Arthur Jeffes, and has released four albums under the current group name, “A Matter Of Life” (2011), “The Red Book” (2014), “The Imperfect Sea” (2017) and “Handfuls of Night” (2019).  A re-mastered edition of “A Matter of Life” was re-issued in 2021 and pieces from this featured liberally in the programme.

In 2011 I saw a nine piece Penguin Café line up share the bill with Portico Quartet at Warwick Arts Centre, a highly enjoyable performance that is reviewed here;

Today featured a scaled down sextet version of the group with Jeffes leading the proceedings from the piano. The band also featured cello, two violins, double bass and percussion.

Things commenced with “Adelie”, one of several compositions named after species of penguin. The quirky “Detective Penguin” followed, introduced by Jeffes’ piano arpeggios. Like many of the band’s pieces this revealed the influence of minimalism via the interlocking arpeggiated lines and rhythms of the piano and strings.

“Landau” appears on both versions of the “A Matter of Life” album and again displayed something of that minimalist influence. From the same album came “That, Not That”, which placed the focus on the group’s string players, among them cellist Rebecca Waterworth and violinist / violist Oliver Langford.

Next we heard two pieces named after penguin species. These compositions came about after the band were involved with a Greenpeace project investigating the role of factory trawling in the Antarctic with regard to the decline in the penguin population. The insistent, minimalist inspired “Chinstrap” with its mix of piano, strings and percussion sometimes reminded me of the music of the Mammal Hands trio. Meanwhile “Gentoo” expressed a melancholy wholly in keeping with Greenpeace’s grim findings, that sadness conveyed by the bowed sounds of cello and double bass. These ‘penguin’ compositions appear on the “Handfuls of Night” album.

“Solaris” represented a feature for bassist Andy Waterworth while an arrangement of electronic act Simian Mobile Disco’s “Wheels Within Wheels” represented the only cover of the set, excluding the Penguin Café Orchestra material that we were to hear later.

From the “A Matter of Life” album Arthur Jeffe’s “From a Blue Temple”, a tune based on the Fibonacci number sequence incorporated the eerie reverberations of a large suspended piece of structural glass alongside the more conventional sounds of piano, strings and percussion. Initially slow, doomy and crepescular the piece developed to embrace an epic grandeur by the close.

The first Simon Jeffes piece was “Nothing Really Blue”  and this was followed by Arthur’s “Ricercar” and “Protection”, both from the “Imperfect Sea” album and both seeing Jeffes making effective use of the sound of dampened piano strings.

By now we were coming to the ‘greatest hits’ part of the programme, inevitably including tunes by Simon Jeffes from the Penguin Café Orchestra era, among them “Perpetuum Mobile”, which saw the group’s percussionist stepping forward to play harmonium.

Arthur’s piece “Rescue” featured the eerie sound of bowed bass before building momentum with a riff whose hypnotic rhythms were suggestive of modern electronic dance music.

The solo piano piece “Harry Piers” (Simon Jeffes’ middle names) was written by Arthur in response to his father’s passing and was played by Arthur at Simon’s memorial service in 2008. It remains a key part of the Penguin Café repertoire and was performed by Arthur with appropriate reverence.

The final piece was inevitably Simon’s “Music for a Found Harmonium”, with Arthur playing the instrument in question and eliciting a bagpipe like skirl from its bellows as he encouraged the audience to clap along.

Penguin Café got an excellent reception from the Town Hall audience. This is a band with a healthy cult following and many of the faithful were obviously out in force. The ‘chamber’ nature of the group,  with its lack of a conventional drum kit, ensured that the sound problems that had marred some of the performances the previous day were less evident.

I have to admit that I found it all a little soporific at times and sometimes felt that Jeffes and the band were sometimes ‘going through the motions’.  There wasn’t as much vitality or sonic variety as there had been at Warwick where the larger line up also deployed ‘world music’ instruments such as the cuatro plus ukeleles, whistles and extra percussion. Also the music is through composed and doesn’t allow for improvisation.  As such it doesn’t really qualify as jazz, despite the band’s frequent appearances at jazz festivals (they’ve been to Cheltenham before). Nevertheless I guess a jazz festival is still perhaps the best home for all this unclassifiable, all instrumental, original music.


This looked to be a pretty intriguing prospect, a sixteen piece big band playing jazz arrangements of Jimi Hendrix tunes.

The Electric Lady Big Band is the brainchild of Bristol based guitarist and vocalist Denny Ilett and was first assembled in 2017 as a Festival commission for Bristol Jazz Festival to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic Jimi Hendrix album “Electric Ladyland”.

The band had such a blast playing Ilett’s arrangements of Hendrix related material that they decided to keep going and they documented their Hendrix interpretations on disc in 2018.

In 2020 the band were scheduled to appear at the 2020 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, but we all know what happened next. Now in 2022 they were finally here and absolutely raring to go. This was to be an effervescent performance full of power and energy and very much in the spirit of Hendrix himself.

The ELBB line up features the cream of Bristol’s jazz musicians and has also included a few London based players in its ranks. Today’s edition of the band lined up as;

Denny Ilett – guitar, vocals

Ben Waghorn – alto sax

Iain Ballamy, Ruth Hammond – tenor saxes

Kevin Figes – baritone sax

Mark Armstrong, Jonny Bruce, Simon Gardner, Tom Gardner – trumpets

Ian Bateman, Dan Higham, Pat Hartley, Richard Henry - trombones

Dan Moore – keyboards

Laurence Cottle – electric bass

Daisy Palmer – drums

The band hit the ground running as they stormed into suitably frenetic arrangement of “Crosstown Traffic” with blistering solos from Waghorn on alto and Moore on keys.

“Long Hot Summer Night” featured some powerful section playing all around plus a collective feature for the four trombones. Mark Armstrong delivered the first of several excellent trumpet solos and the effervescent Daisy Palmer, who played the whole set with a massive grin on her face, was to enjoy a dynamic drum feature towards the close.

Ilett promised us that “1983… A Merman I Should Turn To Be” would be “slightly more mellow”, but there was little real let up in the energy levels with Moore and Ilett the featured soloists alongside the trumpet dialogue of Armstrong and one of the Gardners – it was easy to get them confused.

“Fire” dipped into the “Are You Experienced?” repertoire and included Ilett on vocals – he is a highly accomplished singer who also tackles the repertoire of Frank Sinatra. Instrumental solos came from Waghorn on alto, a Gardner on trumpet and Bateman on trombone. Finally we heard from Cottle on electric bass - “he’s a monster” opined Ilett, and rightly so.

Hendrix’s “Axis; Bold As Love” album was referenced with “Up From The Skies”, which added a funk element to the music with Moore adopting an electric piano sound at the keys. Armstrong deployed a plunger mute to give his trumpet solo a vocalised sound. Ilett then cut loose on guitar, wailing and soaring in the manner of Hendrix himself.

“Come On”, written by the blues guitarist Earl King was one of the few covers on “Electric Ladyland”. This was raw blues with the sound of Bruce’s growling, vocalised trumpet on the intro followed by Ballamy’s tenor sax solo.

The ballad “Angel”, later a hit for Rod Stewart, was a showcase for Ilett’s vocals.

Ilett posited that Hendrix’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” was the best cover version ever – and it would be hard to disagree with him. His own band’s take on the piece was also pretty damn fine with solos from Moore, Gardner and Ilett himself.

Inevitably this all too brief set ended with “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, featuring blistering solos from Ilett, Bateman and one of the Gardners.

The performance of the ELBB elicited a suitably thunderous reception at the Jazz Arena with many onlookers naming this as the gig of the Festival. It certainly exceeded my expectations and I can also confirm that Ilett’s interpretations of Hendrix’s music also stand up very well on disc.

This was a superb collective performance that also included many individual highlights. For many the star of the show was Palmer, whose non-stop, energetic playing fuelled the whole band. An irrepressible whirlwind behind the kit her enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of the music was infectious and her technical skill exceptional. It may have been Ilett’s project but she was the heartbeat of the band. The (hard) driving Miss Daisy, indeed.


Ilett had informed us that trumpeter Laura Jurd often guests with the ELBB but was unable to do so today as she was preparing for her own Festival gig at the PAC.

This was another performance that been postponed from 2020 and featured Jurd playing music from her exceptional album “Stepping Back, Jumping In”, released in 2019 on Edition Records.

Jurd has been a regular performer at CJF and appeared there with her regular working quartet, collectively known as Dinosaur, at the 2018 Festival, a performance reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Today all the members of Dinosaur, Jurd, pianist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick were present as members of an eleven piece ensemble that also included Rob Luft on guitar, Raphael Clarkson on trombone and Martin Lee Thomson on euphonium. These musicians, primarily jazz players were supplemented by members of the Ligeti String Quartet with Christiana Mavron and Patrick Dawkins on violins, Richard Jones on viola and Cecilia Wyld (nee Bignall) on cello. In an interesting development Jurd played cornet exclusively throughout today’s performance.

“Stepping Back, Jumping In” is an album that places a considerable influence on composition and which includes commissioned works by Jurd, Galvin, Soosan Loavar and Anja Lauvdal / Heida K. Johannesdottir.

The project was initially commissioned by Kings Place, London as part of their “Venus Unwrapped” series, with St. George’s, Bristol and The Sage, Gateshead also commissioning new works. The Sage also provided the recording space for the album and the music was documented over the course of two days in March 2019 by the much lauded recording engineer Sonny Johns. The Jazzmann published a very favourable review of the album in August 2019 which can be found here;

Today’s performance was largely sourced from the album, beginning with the opening track, Jurd’s “Jumping In”. This was complex, densely written music that expertly straddled the jazz / classical divide and incorporated the percussive bowing of the Ligeti String Quartet and the intricate brass interplay of Jurd, Clarkson and Thomson. Galvin’s piano arpeggios suggested a minimalist influence while Luft’s guitar brought a hint of Americana to the music. The featured soloist was Jurd who engaged in spirited dialogue with both Luft and Dick. A dazzling and undeniably impressive start.

Following the album track listing the next track that we enjoyed was Galvin’s “Ishtar”, This was ushered in by a dialogue between piano and drums, before Dick sat out to allow Galvin to play an unaccompanied piano passage. This eventually morphed into a piano / cornet duet, this followed by a feature for Thomson on euphonium. Today’s performance differed substantially from the recorded version which features the sounds of Soosan Loavar’s santoor and Anja Lauvdal’s electronics.

The next piece proved to be Lauvdal’s composition “Companion Species”. Lauvdal is from Oslo and is a member of the trio Moskus. Her tune proved to be more conventionally ‘jazzy’ than anything we had heard thus far and included solos from Jurd on cornet and Luft on guitar, the pair also combining in duet, their lithe, slippery melody lines intertwining in beguiling fashion.

From the most recent Dinosaur album, 2020’s “To the Earth”, came “Mosking”, ushered in by piano and drums and with Jurd and bassist Conor Chaplin the featured soloists.

As she introduced the band and thanked the audience Jurd promised us that she hoped to produce more new music later in 2022. The Ensemble left us with “Stepping Back”, appropriately the final track of the album. This was to feature Jurd and Galvin as the principal soloists.

I’m conscious of the fact that in writing this I have name-checked the individual soloists, much as one would do with a conventional jazz performance. However today’s set was a genuine team effort, the intricacies of the writing ensured that every member of the ensemble had a part to play in the creation of a music that was rich in terms of light and shade, colour, texture and dynamics and which skilfully criss-crossed genre boundaries. Again the music benefited from the high quality sound at the Parabola. Not jazz in any conventional sense, but still one of the outstanding performances of the Festival.


One of the less likely success stories of recent years has been the collaboration between the octogenarian US sax veteran Gary Bartz and the young British band Maisha, led by drummer Jake Long.

I recall seeing Maisha supporting Christian Scott at a gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. Their line up at that time included Nubya Garcia on tenor and Sarah Tandy on keyboards, but the personnel has changed quite a bit since then.

The band released its début album “There Is A Place” on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label in 2018. Their sound is strongly influenced by the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John and Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, with Sun Ra another key source of inspiration.

All this makes them a good fit for Bartz (born 1940), a pioneer of that movement who has released many albums under his own name as well as working with Sanders,  Miles Davis, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner and many others.

I also recall seeing Bartz perform on the Stroller Programme at Brecon Jazz Festival back in the day. My memories of that event are now a little hazy but I did enjoy it and remember purchasing a copy of his 1994 album “Red and Orange Poems”, so I guess it must have been the ‘94 or ‘95 Festival.

The alliance between Bartz and Maisha has created quite a buzz on the London jazz scene and on the evidence of today’s performance it was easy to see why. With a line up featuring trumpet, keyboards, double bass, drums and percussion Maisha provided terrific support for Bartz’s still incisive playing on alto and soprano saxophones, plus his occasional vocals.

Bartz began by singing “No Mo’ - The Magic Song”, a litany of protests about the evils of the world to “clear the air”, the performance also including instrumental solos from trumpet and alto sax.

Latin rhythms dominated on the first wholly instrumental piece which included solos from Bartz on curved soprano, plus trumpet and piano, an excellent feature from Maisha’s keyboard player. The piece also included a percussion feature towards the close.

Bartz returned to alto for the next piece, another high energy offering that also included solos for piano and trumpet plus an extended feature for double bass. Given the nature of Maisha’s line up it was not surprising that their music was highly rhythmic and their infectious, heavy duty spiritual jazz grooves enthused both Bartz and the Cheltenham audience.

The music segued into the song “I’ve Known Rivers”, something of a ‘hit’ for Bartz and a piece that featured his naive but effective vocalising and his intense alto sax soloing. Bartz’s voice is a frail but affecting instrument, a little akin to the singing of Chet Baker. Instrumentally he still plays with a power and fluency that belies his years. This piece was also to include features for piano and trumpet.

Double bass introduced Bartz’s vocalised homage to John Coltrane and “A Love Supreme”. His subsequent alto soloing also matched Coltrane for power and passion, his declamatory sax wailing urged on by the propulsive drum and percussion grooves emanating from Maisha’s ‘engine room’.
Further solos came from trumpet and piano before a passage of unaccompanied alto from Bartz led into the song “Mother Nature”, which featured further vocals from the saxophonist, plus solos from piano and trumpet.

As the set concluded with the song “Restless Energy” Bartz encouraged the crowd to sing along. It wasn’t the simplest of choruses, but the audience quickly mastered it.

This was an excellent set from Bartz and his young British protégés that featured some exceptional playing from all the musicians involved. Bartz’s singing also worked surprisingly well and he proved to be a charismatic and engaging stage presence. His playing was quite remarkable for a man of his age and he proved himself to be very much in tune with contemporary jazz developments.

The partnership between Bartz and Maisha has been a highly productive one for both parties and this Anglo-American sextet were rewarded with a rapturous reception from the knowledgeable Cheltenham crowd. Unfortunately there was no formal introduction of the band members, so Bartz and Long are the only ones to get a namecheck.

This was certainly a set that exceeded my personal expectations and was definitely one of the hits of the Festival.


I couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing rock legend Robert Plant performing live for the first time. I never got the chance to see Led Zeppelin back in the day and although I once saw Plant make a cameo appearance as a backing vocalist with singer / songwriter Deborah Rose back in 2015, but that hardly counts.

This was another show that had been re-scheduled from 2020 and featured Plant fronting the still relatively new band Saving Grace, comprised of musicians from Plant’s Worcestershire locale. The personnel included singer Suzi Dian, who joined Plant to create an irresistible vocal front line, She also played accordion and a little bass guitar. The line up also featured percussionist Oli Jefferson and the duo of Matt Worley and Tony Kelsey who combined to play a huge variety of stringed instruments – guitars, banjo, cuatro, mandolin etc.)

The Saving Grace project continues Plant’s explorations of Americana kick-started by his award winning collaboration with the bluegrass artist Alison Krauss. Vocal harmonies and folk instrumentation are an integral part of an intimate music that nevertheless communicated itself very well to a capacity audience in the enormous Big Top.

Tonight’s performance was the last date of a national tour and the members of the band had clearly honed their performances and all played and sung with an admirable assurance given that all had been plucked from relative obscurity by Plant. I suspect that for most of them the audiences on this tour were the largest they’d ever played in front of. Worley, who had previously worked with Deborah Rose was the only one I’d previously heard of. At one time Worley was running a guitar shop and music venue in Stourport, I’m not sure whether he’s still doing that in the light of his new found fame.

The set commenced with “Angel Dance”, which featured Dian on accordion. Her vocal rapport with Plant was immediately apparent and the pair formed a terrific team all night.

The bluegrass staples “The Cuckoo” (the second time I’d heard this song this weekend following Sam Amidon’s rendition as a guest of Kansas Smitty’s) and “Keep Your Hand on the Plough” featured Worley on banjo. I’ve seen local musicians play these two songs down the pub and was hoping that the rest of the programme would offer something less familiar. I was not to be disappointed.

“If I Ever Get Lucky I’ll Win My Train Fare Home” featured exquisite vocal harmonies, with Worley harmonising with the two front liners. Dian also featured on accordion.

Worley then took the lead vocal on “Gospel Train” and it quickly became apparent that he is a highly accomplished singer as well as a talented and versatile instrumentalist.

A gracious and supportive bandleader Plant again remained in the shadows as Dian took the lead vocal on “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”.

Blind Willie Johnson’s “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” featured a blistering slide guitar solo from Kelsey while the apocalyptic lyrical imagery afforded Plant the opportunity to flex his vocal muscles and to sing with something approaching a Zeppelin-esque power.

Even better was cover of the Duluth based band Low’s vengeful “Everybody’s Song”, which featured another vocal tour de force from the leader. The set also included “Monkey”, another song from the Low catalogue.

The intriguing cover material kept coming. Moby Grape’s blissed out “It’s A Beautiful Day Today” was a reminder of Plant’s hippie past and a surprisingly simple and lovely song from the psychedelic era.

Dian took the lead vocal on the Sarah Siskin song “Lost Again” and also impressed on Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”.

The set closed with a powerful, heavy rendition of Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards”, which offered another glimpse of the raw power of Plant’s voice.

The deserved encore saw the five members of Saving Grace advancing to the front of the stage to deliver the acapella finale “Bid You Goodnight”, with Worley’s voice a key element alongside Plant and Dian.

I was highly impressed with Plant and Saving Grace. The standard of the playing was exceptional throughout and the singing sublime. The chemistry between Plant and Dian was at the heart of the show, particularly on those songs where they harmonised together. I’m aware that I haven’t listed every song that was played, but making notes in the darkness of the Big Top proved to be somewhat difficult.

It is to be hoped that following the success of this tour that a Saving Grace album will be recorded in the near future.

Plant’s status as a British music legend is assured but on the evidence of this performance Dian is also a star in the making and a solo career surely beckons. The reputations of Worley, Kelsey and Jefferson will also have been enhanced and it will also be interesting to see what they do next.

Plant presented the show with a self deprecating humour that referenced his Black Country roots and made the occasional irreverent dig at his old band - “We come from the land of the ice and snow – well, Worcestershire”.
















by Ian Mann

May 05, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys performances by the Birmingham / Siena Jazz Exchange, Lady Blackbird, Kansas Smitty's, Shake Stew, Graham Costello's STRATA, Dave Douglas / Joey Baron Duo & the Nubya Garcia Quartet.

Photograph of Shake Stew by Peter van Breukelen sourced from the Cheltenham Festival website

Saturday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30/04/2022


The annual Exchange event featuring students from the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and their counterparts from a similar leading institution in a European country have become a Cheltenham Jazz Festival tradition.

The event has also become a tradition for many jazz fans, with several naming it as their favourite Festival event.

For many years the event was billed as the Trondheim Jazz Exchange as the Birmingham students linked up with their contemporaries from Norway. In 2019 there was a break with tradition with the first Paris and Birmingham Jazz Exchange.

Following the inevitable Covid hiatus there was another change in 2022 as the Birmingham students linked up with their counterparts from the Siena Jazz-Accademia Nazionale Del Jazz in Italy. As he introduced the show Tony Dudley-Evans was quick to praise the Faculty Heads, Jeremy Price from Birmingham and Francesco Martinelli from Siena.

Despite the different institutions involved the format of the Exchange event remains unchanged. The European students fly to England and link up with their British colleagues to workshop tunes for live performance. It’s an intense process and the finished pieces are usually performed at the free ‘commuter jazz’ event at Symphony Hall in Birmingham early on Friday evening before being showcased at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on Saturday morning. The Exchange event has become the traditional ‘curtain raiser’ for the Festival’s Saturday programme over the years.

The format remained constant with Dudley-Evans presenting three different groups comprised of a mix of Birmingham and Siena students, all of whom performed a short set consisting of three tunes.

Group One featured four Birmingham students, Dan Lockheart (tenor sax), Torin Davies (guitar), Joe Kessel (double bass), Dom Johnson (drums) and just one Italian, trumpeter Iacopo Teolia.

With no group member handling the announcements the three tunes played, presumably originals by the band’s members went untitled.

The first piece began atmospherically with the sound of Teolia’s trumpet and the shimmer of Johnson’s cymbals. The addition of bass and tenor sax led to some delicately intertwining horn melody lines before Lockheart’s tenor burst through like the sun piercing a clouded sky as he took the first solo. With the music now adopting a more straight-ahead direction we also heard from Teolia who played with a pinched intensity. Davies followed on guitar, his solo combining sophisticated chording with sparkling single note runs.

The group’s second piece was a contemporary ballad gently ushered in by tenor sax, guitar, double bass and brushed drums. It included a delightfully melodic bass solo from Kessel and a further outing on guitar from Davies as the horn men took something of a back seat.

Lockheart and Teolia were back with an unaccompanied tenor / trumpet introduction to this group’s final piece, doubling up on the theme as they were joined by bass, drums and guitar. Lockheart took the first solo before handing over to Teolia. The horns were followed by Davies, who delivered a wonderfully lissom but unhurried solo. The full band then coalesced as the music gathered intensity, Teolia pointing the bell of his trumpet skywards as the quintet built towards a rousing finish. The rapturous reception from the audience was proof of just how much they had enjoyed this first band.

Tony Dudley-Evans mentioned that Group One had been mentored by the leading British trumpeter Steve Fishwick. The members of the second had been tutored by saxophonist Jean Toussaint, another hugely influential figure on the UK jazz scene.

Group Two featured two musicians from Siena, alto saxophonist Laurenzo Simoni and pianist Guillermo Santimone, plus three from Birmingham, trumpeter Zac Demou, bassist Ben Love and drummer Aidan Amann. I later found out that Amann is the son of that fine Midlands based pianist and composer Tim Amann – so something of a jazz dynasty there.

Again there were no announcements and the three pieces played by the quintet remained unidentified, at least by me.

The first began with an unaccompanied piano passage from the impressive Santimone, with bass and drum colourations subsequently added. Demou and Simoni subsequently joined their colleagues to provide the unison melody lines that eventually formed the jumping off point for the individual soloing of Santimone and Simoni. The saxophonist’s neatly constructed solo was cool, fluent and elegant at first, before becoming more strident and incisive as the momentum of the music increased. The piece concluded with a colourful drum feature from Amann.

The second tune was a genuine ballad introduced by Simoni’s alto with sympathetic support from piano, double bass and brushed drums. Demou’s muted trumpet added intriguing counter melody lines and the whole piece exhibited a smoky, after hours feel despite the earliness of the day. Simoni’s alto solo demonstrated both his ballad skills and his overall versatility. Demou followed on trumpet, now unmuted, and his solo featured clean lines combined with a subtle but emotive blues tinge. Love was to feature on melodic double bass before alto sax and muted trumpet combined again towards the close.

An impressive solo sax cadenza from Simoni then provided the link into the final tune, a piece with a more obvious bebop flavour that featured blazing unison horn lines and a blistering Simoni alto solo, the saxophonist driven on by Love’s rapid bass walk and Amann’s crisp drumming. The horns coalesced before Demou followed on trumpet and Santimone on piano,  both delivering sparkling solos that helped to bring this set to a storming conclusion.

This second group attracted an even more enthusiastic audience reaction than the first. It has to be said that the Italians, although once again outnumbered, more than held their own in this collaboration. In fact it’s probably fair to say that Simoni and Santimone were the most outstanding soloists of the whole event.

Group Three was to feature the Birmingham based musicians Oscar Lawrence (alto sax), Dave Bustos (tenor sax) and Andrew Duncan (drums) with bassist Francesco Timo representing Siena. Completing the Group was guitarist Lucas Echeverria, a Brazilian born student now based in Hamburg.

This set had the benefit of some announcements with drummer Andrew Duncan handling the formalities. First up was an arrangement of the Charles Mingus composition “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”, played in homage to the 100th anniversary of its composer’s birth. I assume that it’s this piece that has also inspired the name of the Peggy’s Skylight jazz club in Nottingham.

However, I digress. The Group’s performance of this piece was notable for the unison melody lines and subsequent interplay of the two saxes, plus the impressive soloing of Lawrence, Bustos and Timo, a gifted double bass soloist.

Timo switched to electric bass for “De-construct”, a piece written by guitarist Echeverria. Appropriately this was introduced by a passage of solo guitar, to which bass and drums were added before the two horns combined to state the theme. Bustos later delivered a powerful tenor sax solo and he was followed by the leader on guitar, whose neatly constructed solo made judicious use of an array of effects pedals as the music continued to gather momentum.

Finally we heard Duncan’s composition “King’s Cave”, introduced by his own martial drumming and Timo’s grounding electric bass pulse. Lawrence stated the melody on alto before the two saxes combined. Subsequent solos came from Lawrence on alto and Timo on electric bass. Composer Duncan was to enjoy something of a drum feature before Bustos’ muscular tenor took things storming out.

As ever the Exchange event delivered some terrific music with all three groups acquitting themselves well, with Group Two just about shading the honours. Several of the players at these annual events have gone on to become fully professional jazz musicians and I’m sure that many of today’s performers will follow suit.

My only quibble would be the lack of announcements, something perhaps enforced on the students due to time constraints, but to have heard something about the stories behind the tunes, or at least their titles, would have been nice. The music however was excellent, well up to the high standards we have come to expect from this event. I’m already looking forward to the 2023 event, whether the visitors come from Trondheim, Paris, Siena or somewhere new.


With the Jazz Exchange event severely over-running my decision to request a press ticket for Lady Blackbird’s performance at the Jazz Arena was looking overly ambitious.

I did manage to catch the last couple of numbers of her set, arriving in the middle of the ballad “Fix It”, a song drawn from her acclaimed début album “Black Acid Soul”.

The Los Angeles artist formerly known as Marley Munroe was performing with a band featuring Kenneth Crouch (keyboards), Chris Seefried (guitar), Jonny Flaugher (electric bass) and Rich Pagano (drums), who all performed admirably in support of the charismatic vocalist. Flamboyant jazz style solos weren’t their thing, although Crouch was afforded a couple of opportunities to stretch out on electric piano.

Blending soul with gospel and blues Blackbird’s voice exhibited a genuine soulfulness inspired by influences including Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight and more. At her raunchiest there were hints of Chaka Khan, Tina Turner and even Janis Joplin. With her peroxided afro she is a striking and commanding stage presence who had clearly drawn the Cheltenham audience into her orbit.

Blackbird has a knack of bringing a fresh, contemporary insight to old and often relatively obscure material. She concluded her set her with an imaginative cover of folk singer Tim Hardin’s “It’ll Never Happen Again”, which also appears on the “Black Acid Soul” album.

Arriving late and standing at the back I found it difficult to immerse myself in Blackbird’s performance but those that had been there throughout clearly loved it. Blackbird’s approach is probably a bit too mainstream for my tastes and I wouldn’t have wished to leave the Exchange event early. Nevertheless I wish I’d seen a little more of this.



Kansas Smitty’s is a bar and music venue in Broadway Market, Hackney, East London.

Both the venue and the band of the same name are the brainchild of the Italian/American saxophonist and clarinettist Giacomo Smith.

Born in Italy, raised in upstate New York and now a fully professional jazz musician in the UK Smith is an interesting character with degrees in classical clarinet performance from the North American Universities of Boston and McGill (Montreal). He first moved to the UK in 2011 to work in Boston University’s London Programmes administrative office, but spent his evenings absorbing himself in the London jazz scene, playing with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians before eventually turning pro in 2013 and concentrating on music full time.

It was then that he formed the band that was to become Kansas Smitty’s, a group of young musicians with an interest in a broad range of jazz styles. A couple of years later the basement venue itself was opened and has since played host to many of the emerging stars of the young and vibrant London jazz scene including saxophonist Nubya Garcia, keyboard player Joe Armon Jones and drummer Moses Boyd, all of whom were to appear elsewhere on the programme of the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

The rise of Kansas Smitty’s has coincided with that of South London’s Steam Down venue, with much cross fertilisation occurring between the two scenes.

Kansas Smitty’s have been Cheltenham Jazz Festival regulars and this year were hosting a series of late night events at the Daffodil venue under the generic title “Kansas Smitty’s Takeover”. These events feature late night jams with the band joined by illustrious guests, among them vocalist Gregory Porter.

This afternoon event at the Town Hall presented Kansas Smitty’s in a more formal concert situation, but it did include a couple of guest appearances, about which more later.

My appetite for this gig had been whetted by a recent performance by the trio Webb City, featuring Smitty’s pianist Joe Webb and guitarist Dave Archer at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny.  Indeed some Black Mountain Jazz regulars had made the trip to Cheltenham to witness the full Kansas Smitty’s ensemble in action. Webb City review here;

Although Kansas Smitty’s are well known for their absorption of a variety of earlier jazz styles their original material also embraces more contemporary influences, as can be heard on their excellent 2020 release “Things Happened Here”. Review here;

It was to be this side of the band’s output that we were to hear today with several of the pieces performed being drawn from this album. As far as I could tell the band lined up as;
Giacomo Smith (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Alex Harper (tenor sax, flute), Daniel Higham (trombone), Joe Webb (piano), Dave Archer (guitar), Ferg Ireland (double bass) and Will Cleasby (drums).

After enjoying both the “Things Happened Here” album and the Webb City live performance I was very much looking forward to this show, but ultimately found it disappointing, although this wasn’t really the fault of the band.

The problem lay in the sound mix, which was unsatisfactory throughout. The Town Hall has never been the most sympathetic of venues acoustically and Smitty’s were to suffer particularly badly. Cleasby’s drums were loud and ‘boxy’, Webb’s piano buried so deep in the mix as to be inaudible at times and it was difficult to pick out the details in the playing of the three horn frontline in a mix that sounded fuzzy and muddy throughout. Even Smith’s tune announcements were indistinct.

Nevertheless there was no disputing the power of the horn section on an opening number that included a tenor sax solo from Harper and a guitar solo from Archer, playing in a very different style to the Abergavenny show and demonstrating his mastery of a variety of guitar styles.

From the recent album the tune “Sunnyland” embraced something of a ‘Township Jazz’ feel with Webb’s piano flourishes managing to cut through the sonic haze. The solos included a rousing trombone feature from Higham and a dynamic drum feature from Cleasby.

The third item featured a brooding, atmospheric intro with Smith featuring on crepescular bass clarinet. As the piece gathered momentum Archer cut loose on guitar with an outstanding solo that incorporated both blues and rock influences.

The piece concluded with a horn chorale, something that was also to introduce Harper’s composition “Skyline”. This moved on to feature a supple, rolling groove that formed the backdrop to Smith’s alto sax solo. Cleasby’s drums were always prominent in the arrangement and the piece concluded with a second drum feature.

During lockdown Smitty’s established KSTV which allowed the band together online and also gave them the opportunity of collaborating remotely with other musicians. Among these was trumpeter Laura Jurd who joined the band on stage for the rest of the performance, beginning with the Toulouse Lautrec inspired “Cha-U-Kao”. Introduced by Webb’s piano arpeggios and featuring spiralling, interlocking horn lines this piece also included solos from Jurd on trumpet and Harper on tenor sax.

We could at last appreciate Webb’s exquisite touch at the piano as he and Smith, the latter on buzzy, woody bass clarinet played a duo piece paying homage to Duke Ellington on the day after the Duke’s birthday (April 29th). “Happy Birthday, Duke Ellington” announced Smith as the last notes faded away, but unfortunately he omitted to announce the title of the tune – I’m assuming that it was one of Ellington’s. Perhaps somebody can enlighten me.

The band’s second lockdown guest was to be Vermont singer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Amidon, best known as an ‘Americana’ artist but one who works regularly with jazz musicians.
The bluegrass staple “The Cuckoo” featured Amidon’s banjo and vocals alongside flute, clarinet, trombone and trumpet and featured instrumental solos from Harper on flute and Archer on guitar.

“Face In The Crowd” was an original co-written by Amidon and Smith that saw Amidon switching to violin and sharing the instrumental solos with with Smith on clarinet and Ireland on double bass. The piece was also notable for a series of instrumental exchanges between Amidon and Smith.

Following Amidon’s guest appearance the band played their new single “Sunday Davison” with Smith informing us that the band intends to record a new album later in the year. Introduced by Cleasby at the drums this featured some powerful collective blowing from the horn section as a whole, plus incisive sax solos from Harper on tenor and Smith on alto.

Amidon returned for the final number, an arrangement of “Judgement”, the final track from the “Things Happened Here” album, which saw the band adopting a bluesy, New Orleans feel with Jurd the featured soloist on trumpet.

Overall I enjoyed this set from Kansas Smitty’s and their friends, but it could have been so much better if it had been staged in a more sympathetic venue such as the PAC or even the tented Jazz Arena, where the sound was largely very good throughout the weekend. The acoustics definitely detracted from what was otherwise a good performance, I cast no aspersions on the musicianship.

The introduction of Jurd and later Amidon certainly gave the set a lift. Jurd is always a highly imaginative soloist and Amidon’s voice, banjo and violin temporarily steered the music in another direction and injected a welcome element of variety. Most observers seemed to be very impressed with the contributions of both the guest performers.


From the comparative disappointment of the Smitty’s show to what proved to be one of the best gigs of the Festival.

In 2018 I reviewed the album “Rise and Rise Again” by the Austrian septet Shake Stew, a recording that featured a guest appearance on tenor sax by the UK’s own Shabaka Hutchings. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard, as can be read in my review here;

Under the leadership of bassist and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder the prolific Shake Stew have since released a further two albums, the double set “Gris Gris” (2019) and the current album “Heat”  (2022).

With its two bass line up (is Shake Stew jazz’s answer to Ned’’s Atomic Dustbin?) and with twin drummers it comes as no surprise to find that Shake Stew’s music is highly rhythmic. Elements of jazz, rock, funk, Ethio-jazz and Afro-beat inform their music and the group’s sound also owes something to the spiritual jazz of the 1960s (John and Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders etc.) and the futuristic Pan-African space jazz of Sun Ra.

Stylistically it’s not a million miles away from some of the groups that Hutchings has been involved with in recent years including The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Melt Yourself Down, and of course Sons of Kemet, another band with a twin drums line up. 

The Shake Stew line up has evolved since the 2018 line up and today’s edition of the band featured Kranzelbinder on double bass, electric bass and guimbri,  Oliver Potratz on double bass, electric bass and guitar, Astrid Wiesinger on alto sax, Johannes Schleiermacher on tenor sax, Mario Rom on trumpet, Niki Dolp on drum kit and percussion and Christian Eberle on drum kit, the last named depping for Heat’s Herbert Pirker.

After enjoying the “Rise and Rise Again” album I had been keenly anticipating this performance, as had the band, for this was a show that had originally been scheduled to take place at the 2020 Festival.

Even before the band took to the boards the stage lay out raised expectations, a visually striking array of instruments including a plethora of basses plus two large drum kits, behind which was a strung a huge gong – shades of the ‘Golden Age of Prog’!

Shake Stew are the winners of the German Jazz Prize for Best International Act but despite the Hutchings connection this was their first ever show in the UK, so today’s gig represented a big deal for them. This was a band that was clearly ‘up for it’.

Shake Stew are a big deal in their native Austria, and it’s easy to see why. They entered the stage to a collage of sound bites, among them “you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into” and “very unusual”. This aspect was perhaps a little overdone but the group are also an intriguing visual proposition with their gold and black hooped band uniforms, with only Wiesinger exempt from the fashion code.

But there’s more to Shake Stew than these rock style showbiz trappings, as they were to prove over the course of the next hour.

A stunning twenty five minute opening sequence comprised of a segue of the pieces “Heat” and “So He Spoke” from the new album began with the sound of twin drums and percussion. Dolp and Eberle were soon joined by Kranzelbinder on guimbri (the Moroccan bass lute) which helped give the music a tremendous rhythmic drive and energy. Wiesinger was doubling on some kind of thumb piano (an mbira or kalimba) which helped to impart the music with even more of an African flavour. Trumpeter Rom and tenor man Schleiermacher sported long hair and beards that made them look like refugees from the Edgar Broughton Band circa 1970. But these gentlemen could play jazz, as Schleiermacher’s garrulous tenor solo attested. Potratz played guitar on this opening sequence and made good use of his range of FX during a quieter, dreamlike passage. Shake Stew’s music is in a constant state of flux, ever evolving and making good use of dynamic contrasts. Kranzelbinder moved to double bass and delivered a melodic solo above Potratz’s eerie guitar soundwashes. Potratz then moved to double bass, playing arco in contrast to Kranzelbinder’s pizzicato. Rom’s stentorian trumpet soloing then raised the energy levels again before this opening sequence concluded with a chorale of horns above the sound of mallet rumbles and those twin double basses. Astonishing.

From the “Gris Gris” album (a title borrowed from Dr. John) came “No More Silence”, introduced by a bout of furious double bass bowing from Potratz. Kranzelbinder then established a pizzicato motif, combining with Potratz, Dolp and Eberle to create a mighty double drums and bass groove which provided the backdrop for the horn section’s unison melodies and the incisive solo statements of Wiesinger, Schleiermacher and Rom. Shake Stew’s music may be intense but there was also an element of humour in the band’s approach that helped to endear them to the Cheltenham audience.

From the band’s début album “The Golden Fang” (2017) came “Shake The Dust”, introduced by twin drums, these later joined by twin electric basses. Wiesinger’s alto sax melodies added a North African element and the music progressed via a trumpet solo from Rom and squalls of belligerent tenor from Schleiermacher.

An ‘encore’ (the stage was too crowded for the band to leave) featured uplifting melodies, driving, trance like rhythms and a dramatic twin drum feature, plus a solo from Portatz on electric bass that recalled the playing of Peter Hook.

Shake Stew’s music was vibrant, rhythmic, colourful and exciting but there was also an edge and a subtlety about their sound that set them apart from being mere ‘entertainers’. This was music with depth and gravitas.

It was of course also hugely exciting and highly entertaining and the capacity crowd at the Parabola rose as one to give them a spontaneous standing ovation. Audiences at the PAC are always discerning, knowledgeable and supportive but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reaction quite like this at this venue.

After the show business was brisk at the ‘meet and greet’ with CDs and vinyls selling in considerable numbers. Lukas, Johannes and Niki came out to meet their public and I’m grateful to Lukas for providing me with a review copy of the new album “Heat”, which I intend to take a look at in due course – I’d already purchased my own copy of “Gris Gris”.

A notable factor in the success of Shake Stew’s performance was the quality of the sound. The sound at the PAC is always excellent anyway but the band had also brought along their own sound engineer, which improved things even further. It’s a smart move for bands to do this if they can afford to,  as artists such as pianist Tord Gustavsen and the bass playing Avishai Cohen will attest. All the rhythmic nuances of the drums and basses plus the intricacies of the horn interplay could be discerned in fine detail. It was all so different to the boomy, muddy, indistinct mix at the Town Hall.

Shake Stew’s first ever UK gig represented a total triumph for the band with many of the audience naming it as the ‘gig of the Festival’. There’s nothing like word of mouth for spreading the news about an exciting new musical discovery, even in the age of the internet. Despite the problems imposed on musicians by the disaster that is Brexit I suspect that this will not be the last time the Shake Stew visit the UK. Everybody who witnessed today’s show will be looking forward to their return.


My third visit of the day to the PAC featured a performance by STRATA, a sextet led by Glasgow based drummer and composer Graham Costello. I was largely drawn to this event due to the presence in the band’s ranks of the award winning young pianist Fergus McCreadie, a musician who has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on numerous occasions.

First formed by Costello in 2016 today’s edition of STRATA also featured guitarist Kevin Cahill and electric bass specialist Mark Hendry plus horn players Harry Weir (tenor sax) and Liam Shortall (trombone). Guitarist Joe Williamson, leader of the band Animal Society, appears on STRATA’s latest release for Gearbox Records “Second Lives” but Costello has also worked extensively with Cahill, whose playing was an integral part of today’s performance.

“I write music inspired by minimalism, noisy stuff and jazz” Costello has stated and the ‘m’ word appears to have alarmed some listeners. The odd bits of STRATA I’d seen online suggested something closer to old fashioned fusion than minimalism, there was certainly a strong rock influence, but ultimately it’s Costello who describes his own music best.

“Second Lives” features eleven individual tracks but today the sextet performed their set as a single unbroken entity, suggesting that improvisation plays a vital role in their music making. Guitar and electric bass introduced the performance, with both Cahill and Hendry deploying an array of FX pedals to create an eerie, ambient soundwash embellished by the shimmer of the leader’s cymbals. McCreadie joined in, playing sparse atmospheric acoustic piano.

After an extended opening passage in this vein the band suddenly shifted gear, kicking in in fusion-esque, almost metalloid fashion with Costello adding hip hop inspired rhythms to an already heady and powerful mix.

Contrast is obviously a central component of Costello’s writing and following this bombardment we were treated to a passage of gently rippling piano lyricism from McCreadie that recalled the pianist’s solo work. But soon the pianist found himself engaged in a vigorous dialogue with the leader’s drums, their vigorous conversation underpinned by the drone of Cahill’s guitar.

STRATA is perhaps the perfect name for this band as the music continued to develop via a series of contrasting layers. A passage of liquidly melodic electric bass from Hendry was followed by a more powerful group section featuring the powerful, burly sound of Weir’s tenor sax, culminating in a series of gargantuan collective riffs.

The relationship between Costello and McCreadie is central to the sextet’s music and we were to hear something of that minimalist influence as McCreadie’s solo arpeggios eventually drew a response from Costello at the kit and the subsequent extended dialogue featured McCreadie utilising the piano’s innards.

The pianist and drummer were then joined by guitar and electric bass for a lengthy quartet passage with Costello leading from the kit. Set up sideways to the audience and facing his colleagues the drummer was a busy and visually compelling presence, often playing with an explosive power.

Shortall, hereto relatively underused,  was next to come to the fore with a passage of mellifluous trombone, before being superseded by another bout of ferocious riffing with Weir’s baleful tenor sax coming to the fore.

McCreadie was to feature again with a lyrical and flowing piano solo before the jagged, staccato, math rock riffing returned, with Shortall delivering some guttural trombone sounds that metamorphosed into a full on trombone feature.

Costello and Mccreadie were to feature in another extended drum and piano dialogue. This was a brilliant, sparkling musical conversation that was reminiscent of the partnership between drummer Bill Bruford and keyboard player Michael Borstlap.

More metalloid riffing was followed by a more reflective ambient style passage featuring guitar and electric bass before the set built to a climax with some more dynamic collective riffing distinguished by Costello’s dynamic drumming.

Overall I was very impressed with STRATA and thoroughly enjoyed the group’s music. As well as being a great technician behind the kit Costello is also an intelligent and imaginative composer who has absorbed a broad range of influences. He was well supported by an excellent band, although one felt that the two horns might have been deployed a little more fully.

In closing Costello thanked the group members, gave a plug for the Gearbox album and mentioned that STRATA would be playing at the 2022 Love Supreme Festival in Sussex later in the year.

The only real disappointment was that the album wasn’t available for sale in the lobby after the show, otherwise I’d have treated myself to a copy. What more can I say?


A clash of scheduling found STRATA and the duo of trumpeter Dave Douglas and Joey Baron were playing at the same time in different venues. The clash seemed to split the ‘serious jazz’ vote and neither the PAC nor the Jazz Arena were full to capacity.

I couldn’t come to Cheltenham and not see Dave Douglas so as the overlap was only partial I requested a ticket for this event also and was very glad that I did.

I arrived at the Jazz Arena at the mid point of the duo’s set as Douglas was explaining what the pair had played in the first half, a mix of jazz standards, Thelonious Monk compositions and off the cuff collective improvisations.

I quietly found myself a seat towards the back of the auditorium and settled down to enjoy the final part of the duo’s performance. The quiet and intimacy of this performance represented quite a contrast to the sound and fury of much of STRATA’s set, but I quickly attuned to the duo’s wavelength.

I wasn’t sure how such an intimate collaboration would work in the environs of the Jazz Arena but it succeeded brilliantly as Douglas and Baron drew the audience into their soundworld. Even the sounds that leached in from the other stages failed to upset their equilibrium - “they play that shit so we don’t have to” quipped Baron to the amusement of the crowd.

Douglas and Baron go back a long way and have often played together in a variety of contexts, but rarely as a duo. They seemed to relish the exposed nature of the situation. This was like sitting in on a conversation between two old friends. This was highly sophisticated music making but the duo’s approach seemed almost casual with Douglas playing off mic and the pair bantering between numbers.

The first tune I saw was Baron’s “Boss Hogg”, a composition drawn from the repertoire of his Barondown trio featuring saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and trombonist Steve Swell.

This was followed by a Douglas original from his album “Other Worlds”, a recording featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Linda May Han Oh and pianist Laurence Fields.

Standard material included a remarkable version of “I’ve Got The World On A String” while Monk was represented by “Well You Needn’t”. They closed with “Lady Be Good”, which included a riveting series of trumpet and drum exchanges.

This was a thoroughly absorbing duo performance with the Douglas / Baron alliance right up there with Gary Burton and Chick Corea or Dave Holland and Kenny Barron (no relation).

Douglas played with an almost casual insouciance, his inventiveness seemingly effortless. Meanwhile Baron must be the most musical drummer around, subtly coaxing a broad array of sounds and colours from his kit via sticks, mallets, brushes and his bare hands. He’s more than capable of playing melodies on the drums and this was very much a partnership of equals.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Douglas performing live on a number of occasions at the Cheltenham and London jazz festivals but this was my first sighting of Baron since 2008 when I saw him with an Anglo-American trio led by the British saxophonist Julian Siegel. Tonight was a welcome reminder of just what a phenomenal musician Baron is. I’m so glad that I managed to catch something of this show, if only the second half.


The rise and rise of tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia has been one of THE success stories of British jazz in recent years. I first saw her play as a member of Tomorrow’s Warriors back in 2013 and have since championed her work with the all female ensemble Nerija, a band that I enjoyed seeing at The Green Note in Camden in 2015.

She’s come along way since those days and is now capable of filling a venue the size of Cheltenham Town Hall.

I last saw Garcia perform at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when she appeared with her quartet in the ‘club space’ of the House of Fraser basement. This was a high energy and hugely entertaining show with a real ‘club’ atmosphere.

Tonight in the more formal setting of the Town Hall Garcia was leading exactly the same quartet with Joe Armon-Jones on piano and keyboard, Daniel Casimir on acoustic and electric bass and Sam Jones at the drums.

The sound difficulties that had blighted the Kansas Smitty’s set earlier in the day hadn’t entirely gone away but as this was a smaller line up the problems were less intrusive. Nevertheless the drums were still too loud, despite a brilliant performance from Sam Jones, and the piano and keyboards too quiet.

Like the basement show this was another high energy affair that began with the sounds of the trio, allowing Garcia to make the ‘grand entrance’. In my review of her previous Cheltenham appearance I described her music as;
“an updating of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of Pharaoh Sanders and John Coltrane blended with Afro-Caribbean influences from 21st century London”, which still pretty much holds true, particularly as the band struck up a jazz-reggae groove as Garcia delivered the first of many fluent and powerful tenor sax solos. Armon-Jones first keyboard solo featured an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound generated from his Nord keyboard. But this more formal setting also allowed him to make use of the venue’s grand piano. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t have heard it a little more clearly. Nevertheless his playing was exciting, exuberant and imaginative with Garcia dancing at the side of the stage as the group went into piano trio mode.

Garcia continued to channel the spirit of Coltrane, bringing it to London via the filter of the Caribbean. An increasingly confident performer she was very much at home on stage, conversing matily with the crowd, although very few tune titles were actually announced. Nevertheless one could still absorb oneself in the music and the high quality playing of all the group members, with both Casimir and Jones enjoying solo features along the way.

Garcia’s début album “Source” was released in 2020 following a series of EPs. From that recording came a segue of the tunes “Stand With Each Other” and “Before Us in Demerara & Caura”, a homage to the Camden born Garcia’s Guyanan and Trinidadian roots. The announcement of this second piece evoked loud cheers from members of her family seated in the audience.

The segue was introduced by Jones at the drums, who was subsequently joined in dialogue by Garcia’s tenor, a homage perhaps to John Coltrane’s duo recordings with Rashied Ali. The introduction of the full band saw Garcia’s sax cutting through the rhythmic backing like a spear before she handed over to Armon-Jones who delivered a feverishly inventive acoustic piano solo. The segue closed with a feature for Sam Jones at the drums.

An as yet untitled tune received its world première, its syncopated grooves providing the backdrop for solos from Garcia and Armon-Jones, plus another drum feature for Sam.

Casimir’s bass introduced “Inner Game”, another tune from the “Source” album and one which featured powerful solos from Garcia on tenor and Armon-Jones on acoustic piano.

Also from the album came the final tune, “Pace”, again introduced by Casimir who enjoyed a more extended bass solo. He and Jones then set up a groove that allowed Garcia to deliver a towering sax solo, her tenor wailing and screaming as she reached Coltrane like levels of intensity. Armon-Jones followed, switching between electric and acoustic keys.

This was another impressive performance from Garcia and her quartet and it was easy to see why this quartet has become such a popular festival attraction and a band with an international reputation.

The energy of the performance and the quality of the playing carried the day, overcoming any quibbles about the actual sound quality. Garcia has recently enjoyed considerable media exposure and this, combined with live performances of this quality, should ensure that her star will continue to rise.











by Ian Mann

May 03, 2022

Ian Mann is thrilled to return to Cheltenham Jazz Festival to enjoy performances by Nitin Sawhney's band and Zoe Rahman's new quintet.

Photograph of Zoe Rahman by Tim Dickeson

Friday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29/04/2022

After a three year gap Cheltenham Jazz Festival returned in triumph in 2022.

The 2020 edition was cancelled at short notice due to the first Covid lockdown, with little time available for the Festival organisers to arrange a viable online replacement.

2021’s “Cheltenham Jazz Stream” was a highly successful ‘Virtual Festival’ with a diverse array of streamed performances across a variety of jazz genres that very much captured the spirit of the ‘real thing’. The Jazzmann offered comprehensive coverage of this hugely enjoyable online event which took place in early May 2021. Links to reviews here;

As good as the 2021 Jazz Stream was nothing can quite compare with the thrill of watching real live music and the return of Cheltenham Jazz Festival, with no Covid restrictions whatsoever, was an absolute joy. Thousands of people came out to enjoy both the ticketed concert events and the performances on the Freestage in Montpelier Gardens and there was a real sense of celebration about finally being back, a ‘carnival atmosphere’ if you will, particularly on the Saturday of the Festival, which was a gloriously warm and sunny spring day.

The Festival actually began on the evening of Wednesday April 27th but I waited until the Friday evening before making my return, the principal attraction for me being the performance by a brand new quintet assembled by the brilliant pianist and composer Zoe Rahman, but more on that later.

I then attended for three full days on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and will give full coverage to events on these days in due course. My thanks are due to Bairbre Lloyd of Cheltenham Festivals for generously arranging press tickets for my wife and I as we enjoyed a typically broad range of events, beginning with;


Nitin Sawhney (born 1964) is a British Asian musician and composer whose music embraces a wide variety of genres, including jazz, rock, electronica, contemporary classical and the Indian classical music that he inherited from his parents. A true ‘renaissance man’ he has written for orchestras and has composed film, dance and theatre scores, collaborating with a broad range of artists across a wide variety of artistic disciplines.

I recall enjoying Sawhney’s performance on the Stroller Programme at Brecon Jazz Festival in the late 1990s, around the time of the launch of his breakthrough release “Beyond Skin” (1998), still arguably his best known album and the first of many award winning recordings.

The band that Sawhney brought to Cheltenham featured the leader on piano, keyboards, laptop and guitar alongside vocalists YVA and Shapla Salique, violinist Eos Counsell and tabla master Aref Durvesh. The music was drawn from across his now near thirty year career and included pieces from the landmark “Beyond Skin” as well as his latest release, 2021’s “Immigrants”, which explores similar themes of race and identity.

Taking to the stage with the minimum of fuss Sawhney and his band commenced proceedings with “Down The Road” from the “Immigrants” album,  which saw the leader playing guitar as well as making use of pre-recorded sounds generated via his keyboard/laptop set-up. Sawhney was backed by the soaring vocal harmonies of the two singers and the percussive drive of Durvesh as the music explored a variety of European and Asian influences.

“Sunset”, from Sawhney’s 2001 album “Prophesy”, featured the leader on acoustic guitar as Salique and YVA exchanged verses in Hindi and English respectively, thus establishing a pattern for the rest of the set.

YVA was the featured singer on “Dark Day”, a song from Sawhney’s 2013 album “Dystopian Dream”. Given the album title this was a piece that featured suitably apocalyptic lyrical imagery (It’s a Dark Day in Heaven”), while introducing a subtle blues element to the music courtesy of Sawhney’s acoustic guitar.

The first piece from the “Beyond Skin” album was “Broken Skin”, which featured sampled sounds and introduced a soul and hip hop influence as Sawhney moved back to his bank of keyboards, adding a convincing electric piano solo.

From the same album “Let Him Go” combined sampled sounds with acoustic guitar. The audience reaction to these two songs from a key recording in the artist’s catalogue was proof that Sawhney is a musician with a large and loyal following.

Two songs from the “Immigrants” album followed, and from these it was immediately clear that there has been no reduction in the quality of Sawnhey’s output in the intervening years. “You Are” was based on a poem written by Sawhney pre-pandemic in response to the immigrant crisis on the US / Mexico border. Featuring YVA’s vocals and Sawhney’s acoustic guitar this was a haunting piece with each line commencing with the couplet “You Are… (shades here of Peter Hammill’s “A Way Out”). The poignancy of Sawhney’s poetic lyrics was heightened by Counsell’s emotive violin solo.

The “Immigrants” album features contributions from a number of guest performers, among them cellist /vocalist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. “Movement Variation 1” is a collaboration with violinist Anna Phoebe.  The piece was played here as a duet by Sawhney on acoustic grand piano and Counsell on violin in a beautiful performance that could perhaps be best described as ‘semi-classical’. Two versions of this piece, one featuring Phoebe and the other featuring Witter-Johnson were recorded live for the album at London’s Wigmore Hall.

The dramatic “Homelands” featured Counsell’s violin soaring above a pre-recorded wash of synthesised sounds prior to the addition of voices, tabla and Sawhney’s acoustic guitar. He and Counsell exchanged solos and the piece also included Salique’s incantatory Hindi vocals plus a cameo from Durvesh on tabla.

The next piece also featured Sawhney on acoustic guitar, his flamboyant flamenco style flourishes augmented by further Hindi vocalising and a further series of exchanges between Sawhney and Counsell as each demonstrated their virtuosity on their respective instruments.

From the “Immigrants” album “Box” saw a continuation of the flamenco theme but also included a mix of Hindi and English language vocalising, with Salique making a particularly powerful contribution.

Sawhney explained that one of his primary influences has been the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-97), a Pakistani born singer of Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music. The Qawwali tradition was explored in the song “Differences”, which featured a powerful performance from Salique and which saw her singing in both Hindi and English. Sawhney featured on grand piano but the piece was also given a contemporary twist via the use of pre-programmed beats.

Sawhney recalled his 2001 meeting with Nelson Mandela as he introduced the Mandela inspired “Breathing Light”, essentially an instrumental piece despite Durvesh’s deployment of konnakol, an Indian form of ‘vocal percussion’. Featuring the leader on grand piano and sampled beats this uplifting piece also featured a soaring violin solo from the increasingly impressive Counsell.

A key set piece in Sawhney’s sets is his dazzling series of konnakol exchanges with Durvesh, an episode that also allows the percussionist to demonstrate his equally spectacular tabla skills.

From the “Beyond Skin” album “For Nadia” is one of Sawhney’s most enduringly popular pieces. Featuring sampled voices and beats this also included Salique’s lead vocal and the leader’s acoustic guitar.

The deserved encore was the title track of “Prophesy”, a song about the connectedness of the planet written during Sawhney’s world travels back in 2001. Featuring some terrific interplay between Sawhney’s sitar like acoustic guitar and Durvesh’s tablas this piece eventually accelerated to a furious pace with Sawhney encouraging the audience to clap along. This represented an energetic and highly enjoyable conclusion to a diverse and often thought provoking evening of music making.

I’ll admit to not having followed Sawhney’s career too closely since the “Beyond Skin” days but he’s still clearly a hugely creative and highly principled artist. Musically he casts his net wide and his skilful way of bringing together different musical strands across a range of cultures sometimes reminded me of Jah Wobble, another boundary crossing musician with a loyal and substantial following.

Overall I was very impressed with Sawhney and all the members of his band. I don’t think I’d realised just how accomplished a guitarist he is until now. The material from “Immigrants” suggests that his creative impulses are just as sharp as ever. His music may stretch the definition of ‘jazz’, but its spirit of inclusiveness makes it a good fit for this most broad ranging of jazz festivals. An excellent start to the Festival weekend.


My decision to see two British artists of Asian heritage on the same evening was wholly coincidental. Pianist and composer Zoe Rahman is far more deeply rooted in the Jazz tradition, despite her musical explorations of her Bengali heritage in the company of her brother Idris Rahman (saxophones, clarinet).

Rahman has often recorded in the classic piano trio format, most notably with the characterful drummer Gene Calderazzo, but this evening saw her introducing a brand new quintet playing a programme largely consisting of recently written music. A ‘world première’ in effect.

Introducing the show Tony Dudley-Evans recalled previous Cheltenham Festival appearances by Rahman, including a show with the trio at the Pillar Room in the Town Hall back in the day and the two piano showcase with Nikki Yeoh at the PAC as recently as the last ‘real’ Festival in 2019.

The new line up features an unusual front line featuring Rowland Sutherland (flute, alto flute) and Byron Wallen (trumpet), plus an all female rhythm section comprised of Flo Moore (double bass) and Cheryl Alleyne (drums).

The performance actually opened with a new arrangement of an old Rahman favourite, the appropriately lively “Red Squirrel”, which was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano from the leader. Sutherland and Warren initially doubled up on the melody line before entering into a bout of inventive interplay as they began to diverge, their explorations encouraged by Moore’s supportive bass and Alleyne’s crisp, neatly detailed drumming. The principal soloists were Wallen with a powerful trumpet feature and Rahman with an inventive and typically audacious piano solo.

“Go With The Flow” originated when fellow pianist and composer Nikki Iles requested Rahman to write a Grade 8 piano piece. Whether the title is a reference to the quintet’s bass player remains a matter of conjecture. With Sutherland now featuring on alto flute the front line delivered some complex unison melody lines before progressing to another example of imaginative interplay. Rahman’s piano solo was simultaneously precise and percussive and she was followed by both Sutherland and Wallen.

“Sweet Jasmine” was written for Rahman’s young daughter and was appropriately playful. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Rahman perform many times over the years and she always brings a welcome sense of playfulness and vivacity to her music, encouraging those same qualities in her bandmates.
This piece was no exception as Rahman shared the solos with Wallen, whose trumpeting was truly incendiary, and Alleyne at the drums. The way in which Rahman and Alleyne bounced ideas off each other throughout the evening suggests that she has found another kindred spirit to replace Calderazzo.

Wallen featured on muted trumpet and Sutherland on flute on the introduction to “Louise”, which promised to develop into a ballad until Wallen discarded his mute as the music began to gather momentum. Solos came from Sutherland on flute and Rahman on piano, an extended and exhilarating excursion in classic piano trio mode.

The next piece was a genuine ballad as Rahman dipped into her back catalogue for “Maya”, a tune written for her young niece and sourced from the “Kindred Spirits” album. Introduced by a combination of piano, flute and muted trumpet, plus Alleyne’s atmospheric cymbal shimmers the piece developed into a feature for the delightfully melodic bass playing of Moore, who stepped out of the shadows to a warmly appreciative round of applause from the appreciative audience.

Rahman paid verbal tribute to the late, great Czech born bassist and composer George Mraz (1944-2021). In 2013 the pair recorded a duo album at Greville Lodge near Cheltenham, which was released on the Cube-Metier label under the title of “Unison”. With Paul Vicek of Greville Lodge present in the audience Rahman then paid musical homage to Mraz with her composition “Bass in Your Smiling Face”, the title suggested by daughter Jasmine. This wasn’t actually another bass feature, but it did include excellent solos from Wallen on trumpet and Sutherland on flute.

Not every new piece had been titled and the quintet concluded with one such item. This was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied piano from Rahman, a virtuoso tour de force of sometimes highly percussive playing that was a reminder of her love for such artists as McCoy Tyner and her one time mentor JoAnne Brackeen. Sutherland on flute and Wallen on muted trumpet then doubled up on the complex melody prior to solos from Sutherland, Rahman and a closing feature from Alleyne at the drums.

The new quintet enjoyed a great reception from the knowledgeable crowd at the PAC and returned for a well deserved encore. This was to be a brief rendition of “Conversation With Nellie”, a tune written by Rahman for her Irish born grandmother which appears on the “Kindred Spirits” album.

It’s always a pleasure to see Zoe Rahman play and I was particularly impressed with this new quintet on their inaugural performance. As one would expect from musicians of this calibre the standard of playing was uniformly high throughout. At this stage of the proceedings all of the band members were still reading music but as the project develops I expect them to stretch out further on these tunes as an already impressive group rapport continues to grow to full fruition. But even at this early stage in its evolution this is an absolutely terrific new quintet that can only get better and better.

Hopefully they will eventually get the chance to document this music on disc. In the meantime audiences can catch them again on July 23rd 2022 at the Guiting Festival in the nearby village of Guiting Power in the Cotswolds. Details can be found in the Jazzmann news story here;

Thus ended a superb evening of music to kick-start my visit to the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

More reviews to follow.



by Ian Mann

April 27, 2022

Ian Mann welcomes the return of the Surge in Spring Festival to Birmingham as Sid Peacock and Surge present a programme of "Exceptional Music From Around The Globe".

Saturday at Surge in Spring V, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, 23/04/2022.

The Surge in Spring Festival is the brainchild of Sid Peacock, the Northern Ireland born, Birmingham based musician, composer, poet, bandleader and educator Sid Peacock.

The Festival was first established in 2017 and the first and third editions of this annual event have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Despite the title Surge in Spring V was actually the fourth Festival in the series. Surge in Spring IV had been ready and waiting to go in April 2020, the flyers all printed, but we all know what happened. The 2021 event never even got to the drawing board, but in 2022 Surge in Spring was back and even bigger than before.

Traditionally Surge in Spring has been an all day event with a variety of performances across a wide range of musical genres taking place in the numerous performance spaces around the mac. This time round the Festival had been expanded to two days with a concert having been held in the Main Theatre on Friday night (April 22nd) featuring composer, accordionist, multi-instrumentalist and sound artist Mario Batkovic, supported by Hyelim Kim, a virtuoso of the taegum, or Korean flute. Unfortunately I was only able to attend on the Saturday and therefore missed this event, although by all accounts it was pretty amazing. I did console myself by remembering that I had enjoyed seeing Kim performing on the taegum at the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival when she was part of the ‘house band’ at one of the Expect the Unexpected events at Club Inegales at Euston.

Surge in Spring V promised us “exceptional music from around the globe” and this was exactly what the Festival delivered, a kind of mini-WOMAD rather than a conventional jazz festival.

Surge In Spring is named after one of Peacock’s primary creative outlets, his unique jazz/folk large ensemble Surge Orchestra. Two of the Orchestra’s albums “La Fête” (2011) and “Valley of Angels” (2019) have been reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann with the excellent “La Fête” remaining something of a personal favourite. There are also reviews of a number of Surge Orchestra live performances including a memorable 2011 show at the mac that featured Django Bates, one of Peacock’s primary compositional influences, as a guest soloist.

A particularly open minded musician Peacock is dismissive of musical genre boundaries and this was reflected in the Festival’s eclectic programming. Saturday’s events included two ticketed shows in the Main Theatre by Krar Collective and Surge Orchestra plus nine other free to view performances in the mac’s other performance spaces, the Hexagon Theatre, Foyle Studio and Main Foyer. In the main these ran concurrently and it was impossible for me to cover everything fully. However I was able to dip into all of them, albeit briefly in some cases, in order to be able to provide an overview of the Festival as a whole. Several of the musicians who appeared as solo artists during the day were later to appear as guest soloists among the ranks of Surge Orchestra as Peacock’s band closed the Festival in the evening.

The Surge organisation works closely with the Birmingham based charity Celebrating Sanctuary which describes its mission thus;


Promote and empower local artists in exile
Seek to raise awareness of the refugee experience
Celebrate and support refugee talent in the city
Build connections with local communities
Facilitate artistic development and community outreach projects.

Several of the artists that appeared today are associated with Celebrating Sanctuary and the organisation is to be praised for the contribution it makes to the cultural life of Birmingham.


Turning now to today’s musical performances which began in the Hexagon Theatre with Syrian born, London based oud player Rihab Azar. In recent years I have grown to love the sound of the oud, a lute like instrument that is played throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Players such as the Tunisian Anouar Brahem, the Greek Stefanos Tsourelis and the Algerian Yazid Fentazi have encouraged my appreciation of the instrument and I was therefore very much looking forward to seeing and hearing Azar.

For her short half hour set Azar promised a programme of oud music from Syria and the wider Middle East and once she had negotiated a feedback problem stemming from the mic attached to her oud her performance was genuinely beautiful.

Azar has been playing the instrument since the age of seven and her technique involved the shape of a distinctive pencil shaped pick, a device that I don’t recall Tsourelis or Fentazi using when I saw them play live.

Azar’s programme of solo oud pieces included pieces from Syria and Iraq, some of them written by senior musicians generally considered to be masters of the oud. Others were based on traditional vocal melodies, here played entirely instrumentally.
It wasn’t easy for an English speaker to catch either the titles of the tunes or the names of the composers, and given the ‘wall to wall’ nature of the Festival there was no chance of making any enquiries afterwards. It was perhaps best to forget about the details and just concentrate on the beauty of the music and the skill of the playing.

For the last two numbers Azar was joined by clarinettist Katie Stevens as they performed two pieces by the Syrian oudist Mohamad Osman, one of Azar’s mentors,  thrilling the audience with their dazzling unison melody lines.  Stevens helped to bring additional depth and colour to the music and her introduction also infused the music with an energy that helped to generate a highly enthusiastic reaction from the audience.

Both musicians were to appear again later in the day, Stevens as part of a duo with multi-instrumentalist Aaron Olwell and Azar as a guest with the Surge Orchestra, but more on that later.


Out in the Foyer the performance by the Congolese duo of Niwel Tsumbu and Didier Kisala was already under way.

Tsumbu is a virtuoso guitarist who migrated to Ireland in 2004. Also a vocalist, composer and educator he too was to appear with Surge Orchestra later in the day.

Kisala is a singer and songwriter who fronts the Birmingham based Congolese band The Redeemed.

As the Foyer does not represent the best environment for serious listening I only saw a little of this performance. Nevertheless there was time enough for me to appreciate Tsumbu’s virtuosity on the six string guitar and the power and soulfulness of Kisala’s vocals as he accompanied himself on twelve string acoustic guitar in the manner of a Congolese Leadbelly.

I was to hear much more from Tsumbu later on, but I would also welcome the opportunity of hearing more from Kisala or from The Redeemed should the opportunity ever present itself.


The comfortable Foyle Studio played host to Switch Ensemble, a group of young musicians, some of them with disabilities, whose creativity has been nurtured by the Midlands Arts Centre’s ‘Mac Makes Music”  scheme.

The group’s members, some of them very young, write their own music and I was to enjoy three songs from the band, “Road Trip”, “Love Is Great” and the pandemic inspired “Feelings”.

Clad in rather cool band uniform T-Shirts they played with great enthusiasm and an impressive level of musical skill. Their lyrics combined political and social awareness with humour and a real sense of fun.

Switch Ensemble is described as “an inclusive band for ages 9 to 25” and meets weekly at mac, effectively making it the ‘mac house band’. The line up varies but today included Nashita (vocals, drums, keyboard), Stephen (bass, harmonica, guitar) and young James (I-pad, vocals) plus music leader Alex Lowe (drums).  There was also an unnamed wheelchair using guitarist who played a key role in the music, playing guitar with great skill and also seeming to function in the role of a music leader.

Switch Ensemble has been functioning for seven years and has made numerous concert appearances in Birmingham and London as well as releasing two albums.
I thoroughly enjoyed their performance. More power to their collective elbows.


The second performance at the Hexagon presented the duo of Cheng Yu (pipa) and Liu Qing (erhu), two Chinese musicians now based in the UK.

As well as performing Cheng Yu teaches pipa and qin at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.  Liu Qing is a professional erhu player. Both musicians are members of the UK Chinese Ensemble.

Today’s programme of traditional Chinese music featured the pipa, a four stringed Chinese lute with thirty frets and the erhu, a two stringed bowed instrument sometimes known as the Chinese violin.

Cheng Yu helpfully translated the tune titles into English which made things easier to understand and certainly aided this reviewer!

First up was the energetic and aptly titled “Full of Joy” which quickly established the duo as virtuosi of their respective instruments. Written as a celebration of the Chinese New Year the combination of the bowed erhu and the plucked pipa plus the sheer energy of the piece sometimes reminded me of traditional Irish music as played on fiddle on guitar.

The slower, more gentle pieces such as the 17th century “Flute and Drum at Sunset” sounded more obviously ‘Chinese’ as Cheng Yu and Liu Qing exchanged beguiling melody lines. This piece also featured Cheng Yu as a soloist.

Written in the early 20th century “Peaceful Evening” was a feature for Liu Qing on unaccompanied erhu and was a haunting and beautiful solo performance.

Dating from the Ming Dynasty “White Snow In Sunny Spring” was a solo performance from Cheng Yu on the pipa. I remember thinking at the time that pipa players must have incredibly strong finger nails. I later read that they sometimes wear false nails, specifically designed for playing the instrument.

“Three Variations” saw a return to duo performance and featured Cheng Yu’s vocals alongside her pipa playing. She later admitted that this was the first time she had sung in public performance. A very creditable vocal début I’d say.

“Jasmine Flower” combined two different melodies from southern Chinese provinces and was as delightful as its title suggests.

The closing item was a short Cantonese piece which translated, I think, as “Warming Up”. In any event it marked a return to more energetic performance as the duo took things blazing out, again reminding me of Irish music.

The largest Hexagon audience of the day gave the duo a terrific reception, and rightly so. This was music that was often beautiful and compelling, but at other times was joyful and invigorating. This combination enabled this event to be considered as one of the best performances of the day.

Both Cheng Yu and Liu Qing were to return later as guests of the Surge Orchestra.


I’ll admit to hearing little of the performance by the Birmingham Schools Recorder Ensemble in the main foyer.

Presented in association with the Services for Education Music Service this featured the Ensemble under the baton of Michelle Holloway. The Ensemble’s repertoire ranges from the 16th century to the contemporary avant garde and includes specially commissioned works. The Ensemble has performed as part of the Youth Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London and at the Music For Youth National Festival.

I really only caught this in passing, but my eyes couldn’t help being drawn to the presence of the enormous bass recorders in the back row. We certainly didn’t have those when I was in school!


In search of something more conventionally jazz-like I found my way to the Foyle Studio where the young members of the Jazzlines ensemble were being put through their paces by their tutor, baritone saxophonist Alicia Gardener-Trejo.

The ensemble takes its name from Birmingham Town Hall / Symphony Hall’s jazz arm Jazzlines, now re-christened B: Music. It supports young musicians between eleven and nineteen years and encourages them to develop their jazz and improvisation skills.

Today’s ensemble featured tenor sax, alto sax, trumpet,  electric bass, drums and keyboards with Gardener-Trejo leading on baritone sax. Dubbing themselves ‘Channel Vibe’ I caught the ensemble playing two numbers, an arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Jean-Pierre” and their own “Anxious”, aka “Ozzy’s Groove”, a piece inspired by the riff from Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” - well we were in Birmingham after all. It was just a shame that the group’s guitarist was unavailable to fill the Tony Iommi role.

Gardener-Trejo was highly supportive of her young charges, encouraging them to demonstrate their soloing skills. Her enthusiasm was infectious and she is obviously a highly accomplished teacher.

The names I managed to catch were Georgia (tenor sax), Niall (alto), Noah (trumpet), Amy (bass), Phil and Tilly (both drums). Well done everybody.


The first ticketed event of the day featured Krar Collective, a London based quintet of Ethiopian musicians who present music synonymous with the various tribes of Ethiopia. This was another show that had been postponed from 2020 and the Collective were clearly ready to make up for lost time.

The band takes its name from the traditional instrument the krar lyre, the instrument played by group leader Temesgen Zeleke, a former student of Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke.

The Collective also features the singing and dancing of Genet Assefa and the playing of Baby Masinko on the single string Ethiopian masinko fiddle. A powerful and flexible rhythm section features Dawit Seyoum on the four stringed bass krar and Amare Mulugeta on traditional kebero drums, his kit eschewing such familiar elements as cymbals and bass drum but still more than capable of generating an extraordinary range of sounds and rhythms. Krar Collective presented a vibrant, energetic and colourful show with Assefa making a number of costume changes during the course of the set, but as often as not I found my eyes and ears drawn to the remarkable playing of Mulugeta at his distinctive and colourful drum kit.

Zeleke’s amplified six string krar variously sounded like an electric guitar or even an electric keyboard as the Collective opened the show in a quartet format, delivering a powerful instrument featuring the beguiling melodic blend of krar and masinko fiddle powered by the propulsive, energetic rhythms of bass krar and kebero drums.

Assefa’s powerful vocals were added on the second tune as she made a grand entrance, also bewitching the crowd with her dancing skills as the pace of the music accelerated.

The third number found Zeleke sharing the vocals with Assefa as Seyoum doubled on percussion. The combination of bass krar and kebero drums also imparted the music with a uniquely Ethiopian funkiness. Audience participation was actively encouraged with Zeleke and Assefa inviting members of the audience on to the stage to dance alongside Assefa. A few brave souls gamely took up the challenge with the encouragement of a highly supportive crowd.

A more reflective song with a title translating as “A Memory” was essentially a Zeleke solo performance, his lead krar and emotive vocal subtly underscored by the drone of the masinko fiddle and the soft patter of Mulugeta’s hands on the kebero drums.

This interlude provided Assefa with the opportunity to make a costume change and her return saw the Collective upping the energy levels again as Assefa and Zeleke traded call and response vocal lines over the driving rhythms laid down by Seyoum and Mulugeta. The drummer was also to enjoy his own feature, a flamboyant solo that demonstrated the full range of the kebero kit’s sonic possibilities.

Mulugeta’s extended percussive excursion allowed Assefa to make her final costume change and with the crowd now wholly on their side the Collective had no difficulty in getting the entire audience on its feet for the frenetic and celebratory final number. Some audience members joined Assefa on stage again and the singer was also joined by her young daughter, who charmed the crowd with her own dance moves.

Krar Collective represent a highly exciting live music experience, even at four o’ clock in the afternoon in Birmingham. One suspects that their natural home is the late night ‘party slot’ at WOMAD and similar festivals, where they could whip up the crowd even further. I’m not sure whether their music would transmit quite as well to the home listening environment, although more concentrated listening might well reveal hidden depths, particularly in the rhythmic department. I doubt if most of today’s ecstatic audience were asking themselves such questions. They were just enjoying listening and dancing to the music of this energetic, vibrant and colourful band.


The Foyle Studio was hosting a performance by Nifeco Costa, a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from Guinea-Bissau, a Portuguese speaking country in West Africa.

For this appearance he was working alongside a new trio featuring the Birmingham based musicians David Austin-Grey (keyboards) and Johnno Gaze (drums).

I managed to catch a couple of songs featuring Costa’s gentle but soulful vocals, his lyrics delivered in Portuguese. Austin-Grey and Gaze provided subtle, understated support with the drummer mainly deploying brushes.

At times I was reminded a little of the Cameroonian artist Muntu Valdo. It’s unfortunate that my time in Costa’s company had to be so brief. On the evidence of this fleeting exposure to his music he’s certainly an artist I’d welcome hearing again.


Back out in the Foyer Katie Stevens, previously seen with Rihab Azar, and her duo partner Aaron Olwell had drawn a large and appreciative crowd.

“Prepare to hear Appalachian fiddling, Irish fluting, Balkan clarinetting and melodies from around the world in between” promised the Festival programme and from the little I saw this is precisely what Stevens and multi-instrumentalist Olwell (fiddle, banjo, flute and more) served up.

I couldn’t get close enough to catch much detail but a crowd already energised by the Krar Collective was giving them enthusiastic support and dancing was once again in evidence. A highly successful performance from this energetic and versatile duo.


In the Hexagon Theatre trombonist Richard Foote was leading a quintet in a performance co-promoted by Tony Dudley-Evans of TDE Promotions.

This has originally been billed as a ‘double trombone quintet’, but as Tony explained Foote’s partner in slide, Kieran McLeod, had been forced to withdraw due to illness.

Into the breach stepped saxophonist Paul Dunmall for a set of wholly improvised music performed as a single piece. Completing the quintet were Andrew Woodhead on an upright acoustic piano, Olie Brice on double bass and Andrew Bain at the drums.

Anybody who had been expecting a J.J. Johnson / Kai Winding style twin trombone performance was probably left feeling disaffected by fifty minutes on no holds barred improv.

Of course The Hexagon is well suited to this type of performance and as this is a style of music that I have learned to appreciate more and more in recent years I found myself rather enjoying this set. However it was all a little intense for some and there was a considerable amount of audience coming and going – that said this is the nature of the Surge in Spring Festival.

An introductory bout of full on improvising featuring trombone, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums set the bar in terms of intensity with the interplay between the horns of Foote and Dunmall a particularly engrossing component of this opening passage.

A more reflective interlude featured a thoughtful dialogue between Foote and trombone and Woodhead at the piano, the pair later joined by Brice on double bass.

A passage of unaccompanied double bass, later joined by brushed drums ushered in the next section as Woodhead utilised the piano’s innards and Foote deployed a plunger mute to create a vocalised trombone sound. With the addition of Dunmall on tenor the music gathered momentum, the squalls of trombone and tenor sax now backed by some suitably forceful and vigorous playing from the rhythm section.

It’s the sense of ebb and flow that makes fully improvised music so compelling as musicians step in and out of the stream. Woodhead and Dunmall sat out as the ensemble briefly became a ‘trombone trio’. Later we were to enjoy a similar ‘tenor sax’ trio episode. Elsewhere Woodhead was to deploy prepared piano techniques to dampen the sound of the strings while Dunmall was to make a brief sortie on soprano sax, wailing like a muezzin.

A further ‘trio episode’ was led by Woodhead at the piano and at one point the group devolved to just trombone and double bass. Dunmall eventually returned to the tenor and was to feature strongly in the closing stages of this improvisation as the quintet returned to full strength in the powerful final section.

This was a challenging but rewarding set, and while the intensity of much fully improvised music isn’t for everybody I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dunmall and Brice are acknowledged masters of the art and Woodhead is also establishing a reputation in this sphere of music. It’s not a strand of jazz that I’ve previously associated with Foote or Bain but both acquitted themselves admirably, particularly the trombonist in his role as leader.


The second ticketed event and the final performance of the day came from Peacock’s own ensemble, the mighty Surge Orchestra.

The band entered the stage to the strains of Stiff Little Fingers’ “Alternative Ulster”, a reference to Peacock’s origins in Bangor, Northern Ireland.

Surge had commissioned a number of today’s performers to write for the Orchestra and many of the musicians that we had seen earlier in the day were to join the band on stage to perform their own pieces. The repertoire also included a number of Peacock’s compositions from the Orchestra’s previous albums.

With Peacock handling the announcements and conducting the Orchestra in his own unique and energetic way things kicked off with “Pixel Carnage”, the opening track from the “La Fête” album. Tonight’s version included a vocal from the Birmingham based rapper Juice Aleem, a regular guest with the band.  Guitarist Niwel Tsumbu was on stage with the band throughout and added an instrumental solo, as did the excellent Steve Tromans at the keyboards.

Tsumbu was one of the artists who had been commissioned to write for the Orchestra and his own “New Well” featured an introduction from guest flautist Eimear McGeown plus the composer’s own unaccompanied guitar solo. Tromans, an essential part of the Orchestra’s sound was featured on keyboards once more.

Irish flautist McGeown worked with Peacock in 2019 on “When Traditions Meet”,  a project based around traditional Irish music. She was the featured soloist in two infectiously energetic arrangements of the traditional Irish tunes “The New Policeman” and “Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel”, which were performed as a medley. First we were to enjoy McGeown’s virtuoso playing on the penny whistle and then on the flute as the audience clapped along joyously. Tymek Jozwiak’s drums approximated the sound of the bodhran and David Sears was also to feature as a soloist on trombone.

Peacock has described his piece “The Contemporary Craic” as “Henry Mancini meets Schoenberg”, which I’ve always considered to be a pretty fair summation of Surge Orchestra as a whole. Peacock also cites the influence of such mavericks as Frank Zappa, Carla Bley and, of course, Django Bates.
Tonight’s arrangement of “Contemporary Craic” featured a propulsive electric bass groove courtesy of Chris Mapp, ‘cop show theme’ style string and horn arrangements and a flute solo from McGeown. There was also an exciting percussion feature with Jozwiak on kit drums duelling with the versatile Tsumbu on djembe.

Aleem returned for “Sit The Vampire In The Sun”, the opening piece from the “Valley of Angels” album and a track upon which Aleem originally appeared. The lyrics express a righteous anger as they tackle social injustice and inner city racism, taking aim at various ‘vampires’. Aleem’s furious rap was balanced by Ruth Angell’s ethereal, soaring wordless vocals. The instrumental honours went to rising sax star Xhosa Cole who added a succinct tenor solo.

Oudist Rihab Azar, who had kick-started the day at The Hexagon returned to play her commissioned piece, the beautiful and highly melodic “Indulgence”. This teamed her delightful oud playing with the sounds of the Orchestra’s string quartet, led by Angell on violin. Guitar, bass, drums and bass clarinet were eventually added as the majority of the horn section took a break.

Arguably the centre-piece of tonight’s concert was the Orchestra’s collaboration with the Chinese musicians Cheng Yu and Liu Qing as part of a commission postponed from 2020. A performance of the pieces “Chinese Flowers” and “Open Little Door” concluded tonight’s performance with Cheng Yu playing pipa and Liu Qing erhu with Surge’s own Max Gittings playing various types of Chinese flute, including the dizi. Segued together to create a kind of mini-suite the pieces featured the beguiling sounds of the pipa and erhu alongside Gittings’ flutes plus Angell’s wordless vocals, Tsumbu’s guitar and Cole’s tenor sax. Lush ensemble writing contrasted with earthy baritone sax (Gardener-Trejo),  electric bass and drum grooves as both the concert and the day as a whole ended on a memorable note.

After a three year hiatus it was great to have Surge in Spring back on the calendar and kicking off my Festival year. All the performances were interesting and enjoyable but it was the final show by Surge Orchestra and their guests that must rank as the ultimate highlight.

The full Surge Orchestra line up was;

Conductor - Sid Peacock

flute & whistle Eimear McGeown
vln and vocal Ruth Angell
vln Sarah Farmer
vla - Anna Barsegjana
cllo Emma Capp

tpt Alex Astbury
tbn David Sears
ten sax Xhosa Cole
bari sax, bass clarinet Alicia Gardener-Trejo

guitar Niwel Tsumbu
keys Steve Tromans
bass Chris Mapp
drums Tymek Jozwiak

pipa Cheng Yu
erhu Liu Qing
dizi Max Gittings
oud Rihab Azar

mc Juice Aleem

Sid Peacock, assisted by life partner Ruth Angell and Surge’s administrator Becky Woodcock continue to do great work and to make a great contribution to the musical and cultural life of Birmingham. Hopefully Surge in Spring VI will be able to happen in 2023.


Sid Peacock









by Ian Mann

April 04, 2022

Ian Mann pays personal tribute to the great jazz vocalist Tina May, who left us far too early on March 26th 2022.

Photograph of Tina May by Bob Meyrick

Memories of Tina May (1961 – 2022)

I was deeply shocked to hear of the death of the great jazz vocalist and lyricist Tina May, who has passed away far too early at the age of just sixty.

I’ve been listening to Tina’s singing for more than thirty years and have enjoyed seeing her performing live on numerous occasions, the most recent of these being at Kidderminster Jazz Club just seven months ago on August 5th 2021. Here she gave a brilliant performance in the company of the ‘house band’, bringing the best out of her fellow musicians and both charming and enthralling the audience.

Here’s a paragraph taken from my account of that event, which I like to think sums up Tina’s approach to music making in a nutshell;
“An excellent evening of music that was a cut above the average ‘guest vocalist plus house band’ provincial jazz club session. Much of this was down to Tina May herself, a technically gifted vocalist, a skilled interpreter of a lyric and a confident and engaging stage presence. A consummate professional May was also able to bring out the best in her band, all of whom performed admirably”.

The full review can be found here;

Tina was in terrific form at Kidderminster, which makes the news of her untimely death so saddening. Even now I can hardly believe it, I haven’t been so distressed by a ‘celebrity’ death for a very long time.

This isn’t intended to be an ‘official’ obituary or a comprehensive overview of Tina’s career, instead it’s just a few personal memories of a jazz singer that I have always regarded as being one of Britain’s best. I’ve also been fortunate enough to speak with Tina on a couple of occasions and found her to be a warm and gracious personality with a genuine passion for jazz and for the arts in general. The sincerity of the tributes paid to her by fellow musicians, industry professionals, local jazz club promoters and jazz fans is testament to that.

I first became aware of Tina back in 1988 at that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival. Among the gigs we saw was a storming performance at Christ College by Stan Tracey’s Hexad group, featuring Clark Tracey at the drums. As we walked through the streets my mate Glyn nudged me and said “Isn’t that Clark Tracey over there?”. I was too busy gawping at Clark’s beautiful blonde companion to notice.
This was my first sighting of Tina May.

Fast forward two years and I heard Tina sing for the first time when she appeared at the 1990 Brecon Festival as part of the eight piece ensemble Frevo, led by the Cardiff based guitarist and composer Dylan Fowler. Tina was married to Clark by this time and heavily pregnant with the couple’s first child. She performed seated but still sang like an angel. It was another terrific gig and after the show I purchased the band’s self released cassette, a real DIY job with no art work to speak of other than song titles and credits. It’s remained a personal favourite for all these years and is playing as I write these words. Tina contributes wordless vocals in addition to providing the lyrics for some of the songs. In 1993 a different version of Frevo released an official, all instrumental album for Danny Thompson’s The Jazz Label, but although it’s a good enough record I missed Tina’s voice and still prefer that battered old cassette.

Tina had left Frevo to pursue a solo career and in 1992 released her début solo album “Never Let Me Go”, an album that began her long association with 33 Records. Label founder Paul Jolly has already paid tribute to Tina in a moving article published on London Jazz News. Link here;

For me, “Never Let Me Go” remains a favourite recording and in the early 1990s I enjoyed seeing her perform music from that album at a gig at Shrewsbury’s Buttermarket venue. I was able to talk with her afterwards and she readily signed my copies of “Never Let Me Go” and of, of course, that old Frevo cassette. She remembered that memorable Festival gig with Frevo with great affection.

In 1999 I enjoyed Tina’s “Music and Mischief” show at Huntingdon Hall in Worcester, which teamed her with pianist Mike Hatchard and bassist Herbie Flowers.

May had studied both music and acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff, and although English by birth her links with Wales, and Brecon Jazz Festival in particular, were strong. In 2016 she returned to Brecon to sing “The Music of Brazil” in the company of a one off octet, convened specifically for the Festival. This was an excellent show, performed in front of a full house at Brecon Guildhall and my account of the performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;

It’s significant to note that Brecon Jazz Club / Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon were among the first to pay tribute to Tina in the comments section on LJN’s obituary page. This includes a statement from Tina’s son, Ben Tracey. Link here;

In 2020 The Jazzmann gave a favourable review to what I believe was Tina’s final album recording, “52nd Street and Other Tales”. The album was itself a tribute as Tina sang the songs of the recently deceased Scottish saxophonist, composer and songwriter Duncan Lamont (1931 – 2019).  This was an excellent recording that came as a welcome reminder of Lamont’s talent as a writer, while also highlighting May’s expertise as a jazz vocalist and interpreter of songs. “Classy and accomplished” was my brief summary, although the full review can be read here;

The “52nd Street” recording whetted my appetite for seeing Tina perform live again and in August 2021 she came to Kidderminster Jazz Club, as alluded to previously. KJC founder and organiser Annette Gregory, herself a highly accomplished jazz vocalist, had seen Tina singing at the Brazil themed show in Brecon and had been determined to bring her to Kidderminster. The date was originally scheduled for 2020 but was delayed for over a year by the pandemic. Nevertheless the wait was worth it as Tina turned in a sparkling performance, as previously alluded to. I’m sure Annette must also have been devastated too when she heard the sad news and I note that KJC have paid tribute to Tina on their Facebook page.

After the show I spoke to Tina again,  for the first time since the 1990s. She was warm, charming and full of enthusiasm, and indeed full of life itself. Even now I can’t believe she’s gone just eight months later. We laughed again about that Frevo gig and my old cassette and Tina was very appreciative of my “52nd Street” review, gifting me a copy of her “Musica Paradiso” album, a 2013 collaboration with the Argentinian vocalist Guillermo Rozenthuler that explored the “Songs and Stories From The Silver Screen”. It was a typically generous gesture from a beautiful person.

My wife often accompanies me to gigs and is frequently seen knitting as she listens to the music. Tina had spotted this from the stage and the pair were soon deep in conversation. It was probably nice for Tina to talk about something other than music with over earnest fans (guilty as charged m’lud) and the two women quickly struck up a rapport. Wendy Kirkland has also talked to Pam about knitting, again at a Kidderminster gig, while Ian Shaw (who else?) even made reference to it from the stage!

So my final memories of Tina, from August 2021, are fond ones. Like so many musicians she was a genuinely lovely person and her untimely death is a devastating blow, especially for those closer to her than I. My sympathies are extended to her children Ben and Gemma and to her partner, saxophonist Simon Spillett. Simon is due to bring his own quartet to Kidderminster Jazz Club in July 2022, which will no doubt be an emotional occasion.

Tina May passed away on March 26th 2022,  just days before her 61st birthday and shortly after watching online a fund raising Gala Concert given in her honour at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. This featured many of her musical friends and colleagues, all of whom paid warm tribute to her. At least she passed knowing that she was much loved by the UK jazz community as a whole.

I first heard the news two days later on March 28th at a performance by Matt Ridley’s Antidote group at Cheltenham Jazz Club. It was perhaps appropriate that I heard about it here. Tina was born in Frampton on Severn in Gloucestershire, had attended Stroud Grammar School and Cheltenham Ladies College and previously performed at Cheltenham Jazz Club.

RIP, Tina.


by Ian Mann

March 16, 2022

Insightful, intelligent and thought provoking. Freeman makes a compelling and convincing case for the ongoing importance and vitality of jazz in the 21st century.

Book Review

Phil Freeman “Ugly Beauty – Jazz in the 21st Century”

(zer0 books)

Phil Freeman is a music journalist specialising in jazz and metal. Among the publications and other outlets he was written for are The Wire, Stereogum,  Bandcamp, Red Bull Music Academy, Jazziz, Alternative Press, The Village Voice, Signal To Noise and Relix. He was the founder of MSN Entertainment’s heavy metal blog Headbang and a former editor of the magazines Global Rhythm and Metal Edge. Freeman is also the co-creator of Burning Ambulance, a “media empire” (his words) that encompasses a website, a podcast, and a record label.

Freeman is the author of three previous books “Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis” (2005),   “Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs” (2007),  “Sound Levels: Profiles in American Music 2002-2009” (published in 2010).

I know Freeman’s work best from The Wire, where he writes the monthly column reviewing jazz and improvised music, as well as conducting interviews with artists such as guitarist Mary Halvorson.

Freeman’s latest book takes its title from the monthly jazz column “Ugly Beauty” that he writes for Stereogum, the column itself presumably taking its title from Thelonious Monk’s composition of the same name.

As Freeman explains in his introduction the book partly a product of lockdown. Denied the opportunity of attending live performances Freeman began to question the role of jazz in the 21st century. The music’s past has been well documented, perhaps too much, and jazz, like rock, has become rather too absorbed in its own history. Books about contemporary jazz musicians are few and far between, which is why this work is so welcome, whereas the giants of the past (Parker, Davis, Monk, Coltrane and more) still continue to dominate the jazz market place, both in print, on disc and on the airwaves.

That said the profile of contemporary jazz has risen considerably in recent years, with Freeman attributing much of this to the commercial success of saxophonist Kamasi Washington with albums like 2014’s “The Epic”. Freeman makes the point that Washington spoke to a generation “raised on indie rock and hip hop” and that a generation of jazz musicians steeped in those same things has emerged in his wake. Many of these are profiled in this book.

Freeman welcomes the democratisation of the music that has occurred in recent years, thanks in part to the culture of streaming and of social media. He is positively enthused by the energy, variety and political commitment of the current scene and in this book he speaks with many of its leading practitioners, from both sides of the Atlantic.

The book is divided into five parts, each examining a sub scene within the larger contemporary jazz firmament. Each section features an introductory essay from Freeman, presumably written during 2020/21, followed by interviews with, or articles about, individual musicians culled from Freeman’s writings for various publications. I distinctly remember reading his interview with Mary Halvorson when it was first published in The Wire. Each interview / article is followed by a list of “Essential Listening”, typically consisting of half a dozen recommended album recordings by the artist(s) concerned.

Part One features six artists whose work can be clearly linked to the jazz tradition, many of whom still wear suits on the bandstand. Freeman’s introductory essay explores the role of traditionalism and its place in the modern world of contemporary jazz. It’s an intelligent and thought provoking piece of writing that examines its subject from a variety of angles.

The artists interviewed in this first section are saxophonist JD Allen, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and pianists Victor Gould, Ethan Iverson, Orrin Evans and Jason Moran.

The article about Gould also features his work with singer Jazzmeia Horn, while Iverson and Evans feature in the same piece, Evans having succeeded Iverson as the pianist with The Bad Plus. Freeman’s piece ranges beyond that band to provide an overview of the individual careers of both musicians.

I don’t intend to dive into detail regarding the individual articles / interviews. I wouldn’t want to steal Freeman’s thunder and in any event the perspicacity of the writing and the wealth of detail contained in the pieces demands that they be read in full.

Part Two looks at musicians who are perceived as being jazz performers but whose work embraces other strands of music ranging from contemporary classical to Indian to hip hop. Freeman’s introductory essay looks at the word ‘jazz’ as a signifier and as a marketing tool. Again it’s a perceptive piece of writing that makes many salient points and does so with an admirable turn of phrase and economy of language.

The musicians examined often have close links with Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, two pioneers who have habitually stretched the definition of jazz to the limit. Those featured are pianist Vijay Iyer, cornet player Taylor Ho Bynum, cellist Tomeka Reid, flautist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Linda may Han Oh and drummer / composer Tyshawn Sorey.

Reid and Mitchell are addressed in the same piece, in part due to the fact that the pair have worked together, in part because of their links to the Chicago based organisation the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mitchell having been its first female chair.

Part 3 brings Freeman to London to speak with a number of British jazz musicians as he explores contemporary ‘spiritual jazz’. The introductory essay examines the relationship between music making and spiritual or religious faith, another incisive piece of writing that raises as many questions as it answers.

Jazz listeners will have their own idea as to what ‘spiritual jazz’ sounds like, the overall template having been established in the 1960s by musicians such as John and Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. Something of that legacy has been carried on into the 21st century in the work of the artists Freeman covers here, beginning with the British musicians Shabaka Hutchings (reeds), Yazz Ahmed (trumpet), Nubya Garcia (tenor sax) and Shirley Tetteh (guitar). These last two are addressed in the same piece, having been founder members of all the female band Nerija. That group’s alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi is also referenced, specifically her work with her own band SEED Ensemble.

In the next section Freeman focusses on the work of the Chicago based drummer, producer and bandleader Makaya McCraven, who has collaborated with a number of the British musicians,  among them Garcia, Hutchings, Soweto Kinch, Theon Cross, Joe Armon-Jones and Kamaal Williams. McCraven has also worked closely with harpist Brandee Younger, the second figure to be addressed in this article and the heir to the jazz harp tradition established by Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby.

The chapter subtitled “Recovering Indigenous Knowledge” examines the legacy of a number of South African born musicians, notably pianist/ composer Nduduzo Makhathini, trombonist / vocalist Siya Makuzeni, pianist / vocalist Thandi Ntuli, saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane and trumpeter Ndabo Zulu. The thorny subject of apartheid is addressed, as is the musical legacy of musicians with whom UK readers might be more familiar, pianists Abdullah Ibrahim and Bheki Mseleku, trumpeter Hugh Masakela and the work of The Blue Notes, led by pianist and composer Chris McGregor.

The next section tackles the work of Los Angeles based saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his circle, among them bassists Miles Mosley and Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves and vocalist Dwight Trible. Washington’s phenomenal success has led to many of his sidemen establishing solo careers, although the ‘tight knit crew’ dynamic of the Washington band remains.

The final piece in the ‘Spiritual Jazz’ section examines the work of the American alto saxophonist Darius Jones, a musician about whom I have to admit I know very little. But after having read Freeman’s words I’d love to learn more about the man and his music.

Part 4 addresses the work of five musicians who all play the same instrument, the trumpet. Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott, Keyon Harrold, Theo Croker and Marquis Hill are all masters of their chosen instrument, but what really concerns Freeman is not they all play the same horn but their relationship with hip hop.

All five were born in the 1980s and were raised at a time when hip hop was permeating the mainstream. All incorporate elements of it into their music, albeit in different ways. Freeman’s introductory essay addresses the relationship between jazz and hip hop and emphasises the importance of the late Roy Hargrove, who perhaps did the most to build bridges between the two genres, who combined a career playing hard bop and latin jazz with his work with his own funk band the RH Factor and his collaborations with the pool of musicians and vocalists known as the Soulquarians. Akinmusire, in particular, is quick to acknowledge Hargrove’s legacy.
Freeman compares the role of the trumpeter / bandleader with that of the hi hop MC, a valid analogy.

I’ve been lucky enough to see all five of these musicians perform live at UK jazz festivals in London and Cheltenham and have been hugely impressed by all of them. Nevertheless I felt that in most of these performances their sets were tailored towards a jazz audience, their recordings exhibit a much stronger hip hop component. That said I’m certain that all have the skill to adapt their live shows according to context and can target a younger crowd in a club environment by placing a greater emphasis on the hip hop elements in their music.

The final part sees Freeman addressing musicians who “have ideas that can’t be contained by traditional notions of what is and isn’t jazz”. In this respect there are similarities between these musicians and the likes of Iyer, Halvorson and Sorey in Part 2, but in the main this collection of musicians create music that is less academic and is “a little darker, a little angrier, a little more punk”.

In a sense they are more closely aligned with the five trumpeters of Part 4, all of whom are politically engaged and express their anger through a blend of jazz and hip hop. This last group add elements of rock and electronica to the jazz, hip hop and political components. As Freeman points out they are too confrontational to be comfortably housed in conventional jazz clubs and are more likely to found playing rock venues or other alternative performance spaces.

In this final section Freeman addresses the work of trumpeter / vocalist Jaimie Branch, saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Matana Roberts and drummer / producer / vocalist Kassa Overall.  The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the poet and musician Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) and the restlessly busy bassist Luke Stewart, a member of Moor Mother’s band but who plays with half a dozen other groups, including James Brandon Lewis’ band. Indeed these kind of connections are common to all the musicians featured in this book, jazz is just as tight knit a community as it has always been, with modern technology actually encouraging wider collaboration.

In his articles Freeman brings a lot of himself to the writing, describing the places at which he meets his interviewees and the venues and the circumstances in which he sees them play. This kind of autobiographical detail doesn’t detract from the work, Freeman isn’t saying “look at me”, instead he’s providing a context and building an atmosphere, you can imagine being in that New York jazz club with him.

Throughout the book Freeman’s knowledge of, and love for, the music is palpable. He writes with passion and intelligence, allowing the musicians to speak for themselves but putting their work into context, both in terms of current musical and socio-political culture and the jazz tradition as a whole. He makes a compelling and convincing case for the ongoing importance and vitality of jazz in the 21st century.

As a champion of contemporary jazz myself I’ve heard most of the musicians featured in this book on record and have been lucky enough to witness many of them performing live. Many have been the subject of favourable CD and live performance reviews elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

I can count myself a fan of almost every musician featured in this book so the interviews and articles have been insightful and informative. Readers can pick out their own individual favourites and read about them, so in this sense “Ugly Beauty” is a book that can be picked up and browsed again and again, as opposed to a work that readers are likely to read cover to cover.

That said there is an overall structure and Freeman’s introductory essays featuring his musings about the nature of jazz and its role in the 21st century represent some of the most insightful, intelligent and thought provoking passages of the entire book.

Anybody with an interest in any of the artists featured in this book, and of contemporary jazz as a whole, will find much to enjoy in this excellent and well written book.

“Ugly Beauty” is available via

by Ian Mann

March 02, 2022

Ian Mann enjoys the autobiography of multi-reeds player Jim Philip, co-written with regular Jazzmann contributor Trevor Bannister.


Jim Philip with Trevor Bannister

“It Won’t Sound The Same Again…Great Jazz Never Does”

(Springdale Publishing)

“It Won’t Sound The Same Again…” is the autobiography of the Scottish born multi-reed player Jim Philip (born 1941).

Philip is arguably not as well known to British jazz audiences as he might be, but this is partly due to the fact that the man is a polymath,  he has been a talented sportsman, a successful businessman and an IT pioneer – in addition to being a highly accomplished jazz musician. Also he spent more than two decades away from the music scene as he pursued his business interests.

This recently published book will be of particular interest to Jazzmann readers as Philip’s co-writer is Trevor Bannister, the Reading based author who has been a regular contributor to the Jazzmann web pages since 2010. Trevor regularly covers jazz events at the town’s Progress Theatre and has also reviewed shows at other Berkshire locations plus the occasional gig in London. He has also covered a number of online events during the Covid pandemic, notably from the Boileroom venue in Guildford, and also authored a number of more general jazz related features, including a three part interview with Soft Machine drummer John Marshall. I am very grateful for his many contributions over the years.

With this book, issued via his own Springdale Publishing imprint, Trevor teams up with Jim Philip to tell the Scotsman’s remarkable life story. The seeds for the project were sown in July 2019 when Philip was part of the Remix Jazz Orchestra, who performed at Reading Minster as part of the town’s Fringe Festival. On that occasion Philip was playing baritone sax and bass clarinet but Trevor remembered having seen him play at Keele University many years earlier, during Philip’s tenure with pianist Michael Garrick’s Sextet. At that time Philip was playing tenor sax, flute, clarinet.

Trevor’s review of that 2019 Remix Jazz Orchestra show can be found here;

Trevor subsequently saw Philip with the Remix Jazz Orchestra again at a Christmas concert at Finchampstead and as the two men continued to develop their friendship the idea for this book was mooted.  Bannister had previously co-authored the late Michael Garrick’s book “Dusk Fire - Jazz in English Hands”, which was published in 2010, hence the strong connection between him and Philip.
The story in this latest book is told by Philip in the first person, so I’d guess that Trevor’s role was primarily that of an editor, although he does provide the book’s introduction.

Turning now to Philip’s life story, which is told via a prologue and fourteen full chapters. An only child James Alexander Philip was born in Aberdeen and the prologue gives brief summations of the life stories of his father Herbert (Bert) and Bert’s three brothers Alec, Richard and Sydney, collectively known as the “Four Brothers”, which, as Philip delights in telling us, is the also the title of a famous Jimmy Guiffre tune. 

Having survived the war and the stock market crash of 1929 Bert set up a household stores / drapery shop in Aberdeen. The success of the business allowed him to pay for the young Jim to attend Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen where Philip excelled as an outstanding track and field athlete, the holder of many school records, and as a rugby player.

However his interest in competitive sport eventually became sidelined by a new found passion for music, and particularly jazz. It was 1956, Philip was fifteen and was introduced to the music by school mates Stuart Miller and Willie Gauld. Suitably enthused he expressed an interest in playing the clarinet and received a Boosey & Hawkes model for his birthday, his passion fuelled by the films “The Benny Goodman Story” and “The Glenn Miller Story”. Inspired by Goodman in particular he later formed his first trio with brothers Norman and Neil Simpson, who played piano and drums respectively.

Philip took formal clarinet lessons with Bill Spittle and joined the Aberdeen Schools Military Band.  Inspired by his tutor Philip also acquired a tenor sax and began playing with other ensembles, notably the Jim Moir Band, at local dances.

On leaving school Philip became a trainee accountant whilst also playing in the pit band at Aberdeen’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, backing the singing stars of the time such as Andy Stuart Kenneth McKellar and Moira Anderson.

The young Philip continued to immerse himself in jazz, spending a large chunk of his wages on records and getting into Chris Barber, Alex Welsh and Sandy Brown as well as American artists such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton and particularly Maynard Ferguson. The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra followed, as did Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Quincy Jones, Gil Evans and Miles Davis – although Jim was later to draw the line when Miles ‘went electric’.

Philip agreed with his father that he would complete his accountancy qualifications before considering a full time musical career. At this time he continued to play with small groups, notably the Ian Stephen Sextet as well as with dance bands. Gordon Hardie opened a jazz club at Abergeldie Hall and the visits of artists such as Don Rendell, Graham Bond, Tubby Hayes and John Dankworth helped to steer Philip towards a more modern strain of jazz.

Philip joined pianist Munce Angus’ big band and also formed his own octet, the Big 8. This band featured original works by James Grant Kellas, who had returned to Scotland after studying in London, where he had played with Michael Garrick.

Meanwhile weekend sessions at the County Hotel in Perth found Philip rubbing shoulders with musicians who were subsequently to become famous,  notably saxophonists Malcolm Duncan and Roger Ball (later of the Average White Band) and bassist Jim Mullen, who was subsequently to become better known as a guitarist.

On becoming a Chartered Accountant Philip looked for a way to combine work or study with playing music and applied to Brighton College of Technology to join a course titled ‘ Numerical Methods’, effectively a ‘Computer Science’ course. Philip was attracted by the regular rail services between Brighton and London, hoping to gain a foothold on the London jazz scene. His father felt that any qualification in this then new field of study would be a useful adjunct to his accountancy diploma. Philip made the long journey south in December 1964.

On arriving in Brighton Philip wasted no time in immersing himself on the London scene, travelling to ‘Town’ on the Brighton Belle and playing in the rehearsal bands of Graham Collier, Barry Forgie Pat Evans, Gordon Rose and ex Stan Kenton sideman Bill Russo. Many years later one of Collier’s rehearsal bands was to famously mutate into the now legendary Loose Tubes.

Philip’s hectic lifestyle, which combined academic study with music making and frequent travelling began to take its toll on his health and he decided to move to London, working in the computer / accounts departments of a variety of companies whilst pursuing his passion for music. Accessing the London jazz scene was now far easier and he established friendships with saxophonist / flautist Barbara Thompson, blues singer Bobby Breen and drummer John Marshall, among others. It was also at this time that Philip met his Swedish born wife Nina when he was playing a gig at the Gatehouse pub in Highgate.

The meeting with Marshall was particularly auspicious as the pair established a quintet featuring trumpeter Dave Holdsworth, pianist Mike McNaught and the prodigious sixteen year old bassist Chris Laurence. The group played at the Little Theatre Club, founded by free jazz drummer John Stevens, and at Ronnie Scott’s ‘Old Place’ in Gerrard Street.

When Ronnie’s moved to larger premises in Frith Street the ‘Old Place’ stayed open for a while, playing host to the rising stars of the day, among them pianist Mike Westbrook and saxophonists John Surman and Mike Osborne. The Jim Philip Five played there regularly and Marshall also played there with organist Bob Stuckey’s quartet, which featured South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana. Famous American musicians such as saxophonist Ernie Watts would pop into the ‘Old Place’ for a blow after completing their engagements in Frith Street. Philip recalls that saxophonist Dave Liebman sat in with his quintet. These Trans-Atlantic alliances proved to be life changing for some British musicians, particularly bassist Dave Holland and guitarist John McLaughlin who both decamped to the states to work with Miles Davis.

The ‘Old Place’ also featured ‘Big Band Monday’, which featured the music of such composers and arrangers as Mike Westbrook, Mike Gibbs, John Warren, Graham Collier and Chris McGregor. Philip played with Collier and McGregor, the latter’s band a mix of South African and British players that eventually evolved into the Brotherhood of Breath. But it was Collier that first gave Philip his break as a big band soloist on a chart titled “Aberdeen Angus”, written with Philip and his tenor in mind.

Jim and Nina married in 1967, with John Marshall serving as Best Man.

Meanwhile Philip’s music career continued. He recalls a ‘cutting contest’ with fellow tenor man Stan Robinson in Cambridge, this followed two years later by the pair of them sharing a stage at the London Palladium as part of the band backing American singer Johnny Mathis.

Of more significance was Philip’s involvement with the New Jazz Orchestra, led by composer and arranger Neil Ardley. Barbara Thomson was already in the band and suggested Philip as the replacement for multi-reed player Don Rendell, who had left to concentrate on the quintet that he co-led with trumpeter Ian Carr.  The reed section featured Thomson, Philip, Dave Gelly and Dick Heckstall-Smith, all of whom doubled on a variety of instruments. Carr remained with the band on trumpet & flugel and the line up also included trumpeters Derek Watkins and Henry Lowther, trombonists John Mumford, Derek Wadsworth and Mike Gibbs.  George Smith was on tuba, Frank Ricotti on vibes, Michael Garrick at the piano and behind the drum kit was Jon Hiseman, Barbara Thompson’s future husband. Completing the line up was bassist Jack Bruce, later to find fame and fortune with the rock group Cream. Looking back now it reads like an A-Z of British jazz.

This line up recorded the album “Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe”, released in 1969. Although strongly influenced by Miles Davis, Gil Evans and John Coltrane the recording is now considered a classic of British jazz and Philip’s contributions on pieces such as Garrick’s “Dusk Fire” and Coltrane’s “Naima” earned him a nomination for “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition” in that year’s Downbeat poll. The NJO toured the UK supporting pop and rock artists and recording broadcasts for the BBC.

One of these was released in 2008 as “Camden 70”, a BBC Jazz Club performance recorded at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre as part of Camden Jazz Festival. The ‘Dejeuner’ material appears alongside some later compositions. Many of the players remain the same, but notable additions include Harry Beckett (trumpet), Dave Greenslade (keyboards), Clem Clempson (guitar) and Tony Reeves (electric bass).

Philip ends this section by paying tribute to Thomson and Hiseman, the latter having left us too soon in 2018.

One time NJO pianist Michael Garrick invited Philip to join his sextet, a group that also included Henry Lowther (trumpet), Art Themen (reeds), Coleridge Goode (bass) and John Marshall (drums). This line up released the live album “Jazz Praises”, a jazz / choral work written by Garrick that was recorded at a concert in St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1968. Philip’s tenor was featured on the composition “Rustat’s Grave Song”, his horn replicating the sound of the Highland pipes. It was a performance of this piece at a Garrick Sextet gig at Keele University that first alerted Trevor Bannister to Philip’s talent.

Philip continued to work with the Garrick Sextet, with Garrick often playing the resident pipe organ at suitable venues such as the Central Hall, Westminster and the Royal Festival Hall, the first time the organ there had ever been played at a jazz concert. The band also played opposite vibraphonists Gary Burton and Red Norvo and the Ronnie Scott Nonet at George Wein’s ‘Jazz Expo ‘68’ at Hammersmith Odeon.

They also recorded several BBC broadcasts, including one from 1969 that was eventually issued as the LP /  CD “Prelude to Heart Is A Lotus” by Gearbox Records in 2014. This features a different line up of the band with Ian Carr on trumpet, Don Rendell and Philip on reeds, Goode on bass and Trevor Tomkins at the drums. Philip primarily features on soprano sax, flute and clarinet with Rendell handling the majority of the tenor parts.

For the studio album “Heart Of The Lotus”, recorded in 1970, the Garrick, Carr, Philip, Themen, Goode, Tomkins line up was augmented by vocalist Norma Winstone, who was later to become a full member of the group, effectively replacing Philip.

Philip was beginning to find Garrick’s music too much of a technical challenge and instead elected to concentrate on the London Jazz Four, a group with which he was already involved. Nevertheless he and Garrick remained friends and Philip recounts that when he attended Garrick’s funeral in 2011 a piece from “Jazz Praises”, featuring Philip’s tenor, was played at the service.

In 1970 Philip achieved a lifetime ambition when he performed as part of Maynard Ferguson’s band at gigs in Swansea and London. This proved to be a frightening but thrilling experience and the book contains a couple of juicy Ferguson anecdotes.

Philip subsequently joined the jazz orchestra co-led by trombonists Bobby Lamb and Ray Premru, where he joined Duncan Lamont in the sax section. This line up recorded the album “Live At Ronnie Scott’s” for BBC Records in 1971. Later that year a second live set from the Queen Elizabeth Hall was released under the title “Conversations”. This performance was remarkable for featuring three drummers, the Orchestra’s own Kenny Clare plus star names Louie Bellson and Buddy Rich. This must have been a pretty incendiary performance, as was Philip’s later tenor ‘joust’ with a then ailing Tubby Hayes. Suffering from heart problems Hayes died shortly afterwards, aged just thirty eight. Philip mourns his passing.

In 1972 Philip left the Lamb – Premru Orchestra, again fearing that the technical challenges of the band’s music were beyond him.

The book’s next chapter looks at Philip’s time with the London Jazz Four. Philip’s own quintet, The Jim Philip Five was eventually forced apart by the demands made on the group’s members for participation in other projects, particularly Dave Holdsworth, Chris Laurence and John Marshall, the latter joining Ian Carr’s Nucleus and later Eberhard Weber’s Colours and Soft Machine.

Pianist Mike McNaught led his own London Jazz Four group, a line up with a piano/vibes/bass/drums configuration reminiscent of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). They had supported the Dave Brubeck Quartet, attracting the praise of Brubeck bassist Eugene Wright, and had recorded an album of Beatles tunes arranged in a jazz style by McNaught. “Take Another Look at The Beatles” had sold well, but the group’s vibes player, Ron Forbes was following a parallel career in the army and was posted to Germany.

Instead of replacing Forbes with another vibraphonist McNaught drafted in Philip on flute and Mike Travis at the drums, with Brian Moore remaining on bass.  Following his success with the ‘Beatles’ album McNaught’s next project was “An Elizabethan Song Book”, a set of jazz arrangements of tunes from Tudor times that was released by major label CBS and actually did quite well.

Moore was replaced by Daryl Runswick and the quartet continued to play jazz arrangements of current pop tunes, building a substantial reputation at venues in London and the Home Counties, although hard core jazz audiences could sometimes be a bit ‘sniffy’.

The phrase “It Won’t Sound The Same Way Again, Great Jazz Never Does” first appeared as an advertising slogan for the London Jazz Four. The group played opposite Thelonious Monk and Rahsaan Roland Kirk at Ronnie Scott’s, but endured a salutary experience when playing to a nearly empty hall when supporting the Moody Blues. They added electric piano, sax and electric bass to their instrumental armoury and McNaught even experimented with an expanded line up featuring Henry Lowther (trumpet), Chris Taylor (alto flute), Frank Ricotti (marimba) plus a string section. One piece by the LJ4+ even found its way onto Youtube in 2012.

In the search for ‘crossover’ success the LJ4 changed their name to Atlantic Bridge and after a series of managerial misadventures, colourfully chronicled by Philip, they eventually recorded the album “Atlantic Bridge” for Dawn Records, Pye’s ‘progressive’ imprint. The recording was partly financed by the unexpected success of label mates Mungo Jerry and their enormous hit “In the Summertime”.

The album was made over the course of three days (a long time for what was notionally still a jazz act) and made effective use of the latest recording technology. The material featured two Beatles tunes, three Jimmy Webb tunes and one McNaught original. Reviews were mixed and the album, lavishly recorded and packaged, rather fell between two stools, too pop to be jazz, too jazz to be pop. It was also difficult to reproduce the sound of the album on the road, something which led to the eventual demise of the band, especially as McNaught, Runswick and Travis were also in demand for other projects. As the band’s business manager Philip felt that his commitment to the group wasn’t always matched by that of the other members and hence Atlantic Bridge came to the end of the road, but without ever officially disbanding.

At this juncture Philip packed his instruments away and returned to the ‘day job’. Even during a musical career that had seen him involved with some of the seminal albums of British jazz he had continued to work for Management Dynamics in West London and in 1972 Philip took up a post as Project Manager at Management Dynamics Software Services. He later worked for Data Logic and for ICL.

The next few chapters discuss Philip’s career in business and IT. As this is a music website and this review is nearly three thousand words long already and anybody reading it is likely to be a jazz buff I’m going to gloss over this aspect of the book. I appreciate that it’s been a vital part of Philip’s life, but as a music fan these tales from the boardroom hold little appeal for me. However technophiles may enjoy reading about how modern IT was developed, both in the UK and the US.

You may recall that the young Philip was a keen and accomplished sportsman, and although these interests were partly eclipsed by his greater enthusiasm for jazz he has always remained an avid sports fan.

One chapter of the book deals with his love for motor racing, and particularly Formula 1. Family holidays have been based around Grand Prix meetings and Philip once competed briefly in Formula Ford.

The motor racing chapter also includes a couple of nuggets for jazz fans. A visit to the US saw Philip checking out the Lighthouse Jazz Club at Hermosa Beach in California, which once hosted Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Shelley Manne, Lee Morgan and others. He also toured the US headquarters of the Paris based Selmer Music Instrument company, visiting the day after Benny Goodman!

Philip has retained his love of rugby and is a fervent supporter of both the Scottish national side and the London Scottish Rugby Club. The chapter headed “Tales of the Funny Shaped Ball” features Philip’s reports of international and club matches involving his two favourite sides and his musings on the future of the game in the professional era. I’ll admit to a preference for soccer, but I’m also a follower of the ‘oval ball’ so I rather enjoyed this section.

The chapter headed “The Youth of Today” concerns Philip’s two daughters Jen and Tina and his grandchildren Luke and Phoebe and their own sporting and musical endeavours. Philip’s love for his family is obvious, but overall these are very personal reminiscences.

The final chapters of the book find Philip returning to active musical service. Philip’s retirement from the world of business and IT saw him unpacking his instruments after a lull of over two decades. Jim and Nina were now living in Gerrard’s Cross and Jim’s first engagement as he embarked on a second musical career was playing clarinet in the local wind band, very much a return to roots.

Although a little rusty Philip acquired a new alto sax, had his tenor restored and returned to jazz as a member of the BBO (Berks, Bucks and Oxon) Big Band, founded in 1986 by Roy Hole BEM. The BBO is renowned for playing charity events and has raised some £400,000 to date. He also played some gentle teatime jazz with small groups led by Pru Sharp and John Snow.

Philip returned briefly to the business world on the Isle of Wight before settling in Gerrard’s Cross. He took on a job with Dawkes Music shop in Maidenhead, the very place where he had had his tenor restored. Founded by saxophonist Jack Dawkes the shop specialised in reed instruments and customers included Art Themen, Karen Sharp and Simon Spillett. The company also had a dealership with Yamaha and Philip trained with the company and is now “the proud holder of a Yamaha brass and woodwind certificate”. The Dawkes business had strong links with local schools and Philip also enjoyed doing some teaching work for the company.

As Philip’s ‘chops’ began to return he sought more challenging musical situations than the BBO and the teatime bands. He joined the Chosen Few Big Band, led by the formidable Bill Castle, initially on tenor but later taking over the baritone chair when a vacancy came up. This occasioned the purchase of a Yanagisawa baritone sax at ‘trade’ courtesy of Dawkes music.

Although Philip was new to the baritone he quickly adjusted and also found work on the instrument with the Surrey Jazz Orchestra, led by Mike Wilcox, and the Blake’s Heaven Big Band run by ex-pat Australian Nick Blake and his vocalist wife Linda.

Philip had retained contact with his old friend Dave Holdsworth and the pair of them joined Brighton based trombonist Tim Wade’s nonet, an ensemble dedicated to recreating Miles Davis’ classic “Birth of The Cool” album.

In time the Chosen Few Big Band mutated into the Remix Jazz Orchestra as Bill Castle retired and bassist John Deemer took over the running of the band, with trumpeter Stuart Henderson appointed as MD.  It was this line up that Trevor saw, and indeed helped to promote, at Reading Fringe Festival in 2019.

Now aged eighty one Philip continues to play with the BBO Big Band, Surrey Jazz Orchestra and the Remix Jazz Orchestra. The Covid pandemic engendered a period of reflection and the writing of this book. Assisted by John Snow Philip has also compiled two CDs of material sourced from old tapes and broadcasts,  titled “A Younger Man’s Jazz” and “More from the Music of Jim Philip”. The latter also uses the “It Won’t Sound The Same Again…” slogan. These album features music by the Jim Philip Five, The London Jazz Four and the New Jazz Orchestra. These albums are not commercially available but are targeted towards family and friends. Similar arrangements exist for three Remix Jazz Orchestra CDs.

In 2017 the Atlantic Bridge album was reissued and remastered by Esoteric Records with the addition of two previously unheard bonus tracks. The reissue also included a comprehensive booklet and the release garnered a much more positive critical response second time round. Philip regrets the passing of Mike McNaught.

The final chapter tells the story of the two pianos that have been part of Philip’s life, the Challen upright from the family home in Aberdeen that belonged to his father and was later transported south to Jim’s home in Osterley Park, West London. It was the instrument on which Jim’s daughters learnt to play but was eventually replaced by a Klingmann grand piano, which remained with the family until 2006. Philip recalls one memorable occasion when the instrument was played by Liane Carroll, then pianist and vocalist with a band led by Dave Holdsworth. And it was the faithful Holdsworth who took on the instrument when the Philips downsized in 2006 after Nina suffered a heart attack, followed by a stroke. The Klingmann now lives in Holdsworth’s barn conversion in Devon. Philip sees the stories of these two instruments as representing “an allegory of life”.

The final section includes a comprehensive discography including Philip’s recordings with The London Jazz Four, Michael Garrick Sextet, New Jazz Orchestra, Atlantic Bridge and the Booby Lamb-Ray Premru Orchestra. The later compilations under his own name plus the Remix Jazz Orchestra are also listed. There are also extensive listings, including personnel, of numerous radio broadcasts.

Jim Philip has led a remarkable life. I was only really aware of him thanks to Trevor’s reviews of the Remix Jazz Orchestra but as this book reveals he rubbed shoulders with the very finest UK jazz musicians during the late 60s and early 70s, a time that can now be defined as a ‘Golden Era’ of British jazz. The New Jazz Orchestra albums and the Michael Garrick recordings with which he was involved can be considered truly ground breaking and his work with the London Jazz Four / Atlantic Bridge has now been re-evaluated and could be said to fall into the same category.

Philip has also achieved commendable success as a businessman and retains his passion for sport and music, and is still playing the latter in his early eighties.

As a jazz fan I found the music related chapters fascinating. Philip has worked with the best and the book features may interesting and entertaining anecdotes, far more than I can hint at here.

I couldn’t get into the business related chapters in quite the same way whilst the family reminiscences are essentially personal. I did find the motor racing and rugby sections interesting though.

This is one man’s life story, but as a book it’s uneven, as people’s life stories always are. There are so many aspects to Jim Philip that it’s difficult to maintain a coherent narrative throughout the book. But for jazz fans it’s an essential read for the music chapters alone.

Philip has enjoyed a musical career that he can look back on with pride – but who knows what else he might have gone on to achieve in this sphere had he had carried on in the 70s, which admittedly was a pretty bleak period for jazz, particularly economically.

“It Won’t Sound The Same Again…Great Jazz Never Does” is available from Trevor Bannister at;
Springdale Publishing, 34 Springdale, Earley, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 5PR. Price £15.00

Email; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)












by Ian Mann

February 19, 2022

Guest contributor Tom Brumpton interviews California based jazz vocalist, and former trapeze artist, Kari Kirkland on the release of her new album "Wild Is The Wind".


Current Album: Wild Is The Wind


1.You were a trapeze artist! How and why did you make the transition to music?

Yes! My husband and I owned a circus arts school and event venue in Seattle. I was actually able to combine music and circus for many years. Performing on the flying trapeze and singing were a part of almost every show I produced! It started to become overwhelming, though. With more and more students, and larger events for major clients, it meant that I had to spend more time and energy on the management and administrative side of the business than the performing side. I began to feel that element slipping away from my life, and really wanted to pursue creating and performing full time. When the opportunity arose to sell the circus in 2019, we made the difficult (but ultimately the right) decision to leave the Big Top that would allow me to focus on music as a career.

2. ‘Wild Is The Wind’ is a wonderful collection of covers made into your own Jazz versions. Is there an album theme and why did you choose those songs in particular?

Thank you!! The album theme is ‘unrequited or forbidden love’, and I wanted to include as wide a range of styles and original genres as possible. I’ve always been drawn to songs that have a strong narrative, and the pop tunes like “Do It Again”, “Jealous”, and “Secret” tell such a strong story to the listener. Choosing standards and songs from the Great American Songbook was tougher, because there are just so many amazing possibilities! I wanted to feature at least 3 standards in different tempos, and “It’s Alright With Me”, “Too Close For Comfort”, and “I’ll Be Around” really fit that for me.

3. Which is your favourite song off the album and why?

Hands down “Wild is the Wind”. It’s the song that inspired the entire album… a song rooted in deep pain and sadness, but so lush in imagery and arrangement. When I met Shelly Berg for the very first time, I sang through this song with him at the piano. It was magical and I knew it would be the anchor for the album. The instrument bed and the vocal were both done in one take, and it all just felt so perfect to me. The musicians and I all felt something very special in this song.

4. Who are your favourite artists and how do they inspire you?

I’ve loved Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush since I was very young. Both of them painted such an indelible mark on me musically. They used their unique voices and song styling to define their sound, but weren’t limited or pigeon-holed into one specific genre. I’m also a huge fan of Brian Ferry, Peter Gabriel, Brian Wilson, and Eva Cassidy. Their ability to write and perform songs that were not only musically intricate, but emotionally evocative is a huge inspiration.

5. Do you miss being a trapeze artist? We are sure you have a ton of fun stories about your experiences, will you share one with us?

I miss the thrill and the fear-inducing moments, but my body is very grateful that I stopped when I did! Sooooo many stories about the circus, but one that was definitely unforgettable was my wedding. My husband and I were married on a reality TV show, and in addition to us performing on the flying trapeze together just before our ceremony, my entrance was a surprise to everyone there! We had friends and bridesmaids walk down the aisle, unrolling a long piece of fabric, dropping flower petals… all to make everyone think that I’d be making a traditional entrance from the back of the room, but the surprise was in the air! I was suspended by one wrist over the ceremony stage, and at the cue, spiralled down in my full wedding dress from 40 feet above! It was very unexpected, and all our guests loved it!

6. What are your musical plans for 2022 and beyond?

I was able to record 15 new songs in October, 2021. Right now, I’m in the final stages of tracking and beginning to mix and master one at a time. I’ll have a new single out in April, and am still finalizing a release date for the full album. My hope is to be able to tour as soon as it’s safer to do so, and I’m really looking forward to singing these songs to live audiences!

7. What do you want your fans to know about you?

In late October, 2021, after recording my second album, I had surgery to donate my left kidney to a musician friend of mine. Since then, I’ve been very passionate about helping other potential donors through mentoring and telling them about my experience. I also really enjoy volunteering at my local animal shelter, and produced a music video to my song “Break Your Heart” about supporting animal shelters. I love cooking, gardening, being outdoors as much as possible, and as a former Ironman triathlete, still enjoy getting out on my bike, running, or swimming every week. You can find me on Instagram @karikirklandmusic for more facts and fun!:)
Thanks so much for interviewing me!


by Ian Mann

November 15, 2021

Ian Mann enjoys an afternoon of musical spontaneous creation featuring a collective of the Midlands' finest improvisers.

Photograph sourced from the Claptrap Facebook page.

Third Stourbridge Festival of Improvised Music, Claptrap The Venue, Stourbridge, West Midlands,14/11/2021.

It was the gods that put me here.

The fourteenth of November would normally find me in London covering the annual EFG London Jazz Festival. Understandably the relatives that normally accommodate us are reluctant to do so this year due to the Covid situation. After having exercised caution themselves for over eighteen months they are naturally wary of hosting visitors who will spend ten days dashing all over the city on the tube visiting crowded music venues. Obviously it’s disappointing for me, but I totally understand the reason behind it and fully respect their wishes.

Nevertheless a live music addict like me is bound to be looking elsewhere to get my jazz fix. I started returning to local gigs in July and have since covered a number of events in a variety of locations in Wales and the Midlands.

Initially this afternoon was due to find me in Redditch covering a performance by the American born, Barcelona based drummer and composer Robert Castelli. I first met Castelli when he performed with a London based quartet at the 2010 Brecon Jazz Festival. We have remained in e-mail contact ever since and I have subsequently reviewed a couple of his albums and publicised his regular visits to the UK. He was due to play with his trio and to host a drum clinic at the Rhett Theatre in Redditch but this was ultimately cancelled due to Covid related reasons. This was a shame as it would have been good to meet up with Robert again after all this time. He still has a number of performances and workshops scheduled in London during Festival week before returning to Barcelona. Details at

Undeterred I decided to make a visit to Stourbridge instead for another afternoon event in a Midlands town not too far from my Herefordshire base. I had heard about the Stourbridge Festival of Improvised Music the previous weekend when I had attended a double bill of the Bianco Brackenbury duo and the John Pope Quintet in Birmingham, an event promoted by the Fizzle organisation. Review here;

Until today Stourbridge and its environs is a place that I’ve always associated with the indie music of the late 80s and early 90s. Remarkably the town produced three of the leading indie acts of the day, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Just briefly the ‘Stourbridge Scene’ generated national attention, challenging ‘Madchester’ for the attention of the rock media. I still harbour an affection for all three Stourbridge bands, particularly the ‘Stuffies’ and the ‘Neds’, two terrific live acts that I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of seeing on numerous occasions. In fact prior to today I think the last time I visited Stourbridge was in 2006 for a hometown show by The Wonder Stuff at the Rock Café venue, I wonder if that’s still going. After parking up today one of the first landmarks I spotted was the famous Mitre pub, where the ‘Poppies’, the ‘Stuffies’ and the ‘Neds’  all played their first gigs.

Historically Neds and Stuffies gigs have seen me barging around in the mosh pit with a pint in my hand, although I admit I’m getting a bit old for that now. It’s certainly very different from soberly sitting and taking notes at jazz events such as today’s.

But from now on Stourbridge has taken on a second identity for me as the home of this annual festival of improvised music, featuring many of the leading jazz and improv musicians in the Midlands.

Promoter Richard Clay has organised all three editions of the Festival to date. It has its origins in a UK tour being undertaken by a band led by trombonist Sarah Gail Brand and featuring drummer Mark Sanders. Unable to secure a suitable Birmingham venue Clay put the event on at Claptrap, a fairly new Stourbridge venue that prides itself on being both “alternative” and “independent”, qualities particularly appropriate to the art of improvisation. The success of the Brand event, plus other events staged by Clay at the venue, eventually led to the first Stourbridge Festival of Improvised Music, featuring many of the musicians appearing again today.

Having seen the line up advertised on Facebook I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a single improvising large ensemble, along the lines of Keith Tippett’s Centipede, or whether it constituted a ‘pool’ of musicians that would be broken down into smaller groups. I suspected that it would almost certainly be the latter and this did indeed prove to be the case. Featuring leading improvisers from all over the Midlands, but with the emphasis inevitably on Birmingham, today’s fifteen strong pool was;

Paul Dunmall – tenor sax
Alicia Gardener-Trejo – baritone sax, flute, piccolo
Bruce Coates – soprano & tenor saxes
Lee Griffiths – alto sax
Rick Nance – trumpet
Steve Tromans – piano
Andrew Woodhead - synthesiser
Phil Gibbs – guitar
Sarah Farmer – violin
Trevor Lines – acoustic & electric bass
Amy Coates – double bass
Si Paton – electric bass
Ed Gauden, Tymek Jozwiak, Lee Allatson – drums

Pre-event publicity had hinted at doors at 2.00 pm with a 3.00 pm start. I arrived at around 2.30 pm to find that things were already under way and I missed virtually the whole of the first improvisation by a sextet featuring the talents of Paul Dunmall (tenor), Lee Griffiths (alto), Amy Coates (double bass), Phil Gibbs (guitar), Andrew Woodhead (synthesiser) and Ed Gauden (drums).

Claptrap, which functions as a multi purpose venue hosting rock, DJ nights, spoken word etc. proved to be a pleasingly friendly,  Bohemian space well suited to the staging of improvised music. An attentive and supportive audience comprised of musicians and music fans made for a relaxed atmosphere highly conducive to spontaneous creativity.

The first ensemble that I was able to enjoy in full was a saxophone quartet featuring Alicia Gardener-Trejo (baritone), Paul Dunmall (tenor), Lee Griffiths (alto) and Bruce Coates (curved soprano). I was entranced by the meshing, interlocking patterns as melodic and rhythmic lines intertwined, with the lead changing hands rapidly. Garrulous, squabbling passages contrasted neatly with quieter episodes featuring melancholic, long melody lines. Impressive playing from all concerned, both individually and collectively.

The next grouping featured Leicester based trumpeter Rick Nance together with Sarah Farmer on violin, Phil Gibbs on guitar, Trevor Lines on double bass, Tymek Jozwiak at the drum kit and Steve Tromans on the venue’s upright piano. Tromans made effective use of the instrument’s innards, plucking and scraping the strings as well as pounding the keyboard in the manner of a Cecil Taylor, Keith Tippett or Myra Melford during the more vigorous sections. Guitarist Phil Gibbs was another musician to make use of extended techniques, placing the guitar on his lap and deploying the ‘hammering on’ technique to deliver a spidery, pointillist guitar sound that combined well with the eerie drones produced by Farmer on violin and Nance on muted trumpet.

The final improvisation of the first set featured the trio of Bruce Coates on curved soprano, Si Paton on electric bass and Lee Allatson at the drums. This was an intense performance that featured squalls of Coleman-esque sax melody above the violent stabbing and vigorous strumming of Paton’s bass and the polyrhythmic rumble of Allatson’s drums. After this everybody needed a breather and there was a short interval before the start of the second set.

Set two commenced with Bruce Coates solo, playing an extraordinary looking saxophone that Clay later informed me was a “straight tenor” - I’d certainly never seen one before. Curved soprano, straight tenor, Coates is clearly a musician who likes to avoid the obvious, a quality that also finds expression in his playing. Following a passage of unaccompanied sax improvising (did I really hear a quote from “I Could Have Danced All Night” in there?) Coates was joined by Farmer on violin,  Gibbs on guitar and Allatson at the drums, plus Amy Coates on double bass, no relation Clay later informed me. The collective improvisation that followed put the emphasis on atmosphere and eeriness with Amy Coates deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques and Farmer entering into the realms of extended technique in violin.

The next combination featured Dunmall on tenor, Nance on trumpet, Gardener-Trejo on flute and piccolo, Tromans at the piano, Paton on electric bass and Jozwiak at the drums.  This commenced with the soft, breathy sounds of the three wind instruments above the gentle rumble of piano, bass and drums. Dunmall is arguably the best known of the musicians in the fifteen strong pool, and as the music gathered momentum and intensity he was prominently featured here with a powerful tenor sax ‘solo’. He was swiftly followed by the resurgent Tromans at the piano.

The final permutation of the second set featured the quartet of Lee Griffiths on alto,  Andrew Woodhead on synthesiser, Trevor Lines on double bass and Ed Gauden at the drums. Griffiths’ melodic sax meditations floated above the drone of arco bass, with Lines occasionally using the body of the instrument as a form of auxiliary percussion. Woodhead’s synth provided additional colour and texture. Lines was to play a particularly prominent role, duetting first with Gauden and later picking up the bow again to combine with Woodhead’s spacey synth sounds. Griffiths subsequently came to the fore once more to solo more incisively above the sounds of bubbling synth and bustling bass and drums.

The beginning of the third set saw the largest ensemble yet, Griffiths remaining on stage as part of an octet featuring Gibbs on guitar, Bruce Coates on curved soprano, Amy Coates on double bass, Nance on trumpet, Tromans on piano and the twin drums of Jozwiak and Gauden. This was introduced by the atmospheric sounds of soprano sax, trumpet and bowed bass, before embracing an almost ‘big band’ sound featuring the carousing of the horns above the powerful, interlocking rhythms of the two drummers. Tromans’ piano feature was appropriately percussive, while Gibbs delivered a series of guitar lines that were alternately slippery and jagged. Gibbs has played at the Queens Head in Monmouth, one of my regular free jazz haunts, but somehow I have always contrived to miss him. Indeed he there last Wednesday (10/11/21) but on that evening I didn’t have access to a vehicle. I had heard about his extraordinary guitar technique, so today provided a welcome opportunity for me to finally witness his playing.

In the hometown of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin it was only appropriate that the final ensemble of the day should feature two electric basses, Paton on four string and Lines on six string. They combined with Dunmall on tenor, Farmer on violin, Woodhead on synthesiser and Allatson at the drums. An atmospheric intro featuring just synth, violin and tenor sax led to a more complex, rhythmic passage featuring the distinctive interplay of the two basses, this leading to a powerful tenor sax feature from Dunmall, who maintained the lead as he motioned to all the other musicians to join him on stage for the grand finale.  With Jozwiak and Gauden sharing one of the two drum kits this proved to be a joyous,  humungous collective mash up, that seemed to be based around a variation of the Kinks’ famous “You Really Got Me” riff.

This represented a terrific way to round off a stimulating afternoon of music making conducted in a convivial atmosphere and with the spirit of mutual co-operation very much in evidence throughout. The sheer variety of the instrumental permutations ensured that the listener’s attention remained engaged throughout and no single improvisation was allowed to outstay its welcome. No tune titles of course, in improvised music these only get attached after the performance, and that’s only if the gig has been recorded for album release. I suspect that didn’t happen today, although it would be nice if it had been. All of the musicians performed well and this very much a collective enterprise, which is exactly as this music should be.

My thanks to Richard Clay for speaking with me at length and for providing much valuable information, and also to musicians Andrew Woodhead, Steve Tromans and Ed Gauden, with whom I also talked.

Richard informs me that he plans to present other Sunday afternoon jazz events at Claptrap.  Having now discovered the venue I hope to return for these as Stourbridge now begins to become synonymous in my mind with a very different brand of music to the indie of my (comparative) youth.

by Ian Mann

August 24, 2021

Ian Mann enjoys the music of two projects assembled specifically for the Festival, Paula Gardiner's 6.0 and Swing Strings Trio.

“Wherever You Are”, Brecon Jazz Festival 2021, The Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/08/2021.

Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon, organisers of both Brecon Jazz Club and Brecon Jazz Festival, have an enviable record of bringing musicians together in unique collaborations, instinctively sensing which combinations will work, to the obvious delight of both musicians and audiences alike.

Today’s two live performances in the ballroom at the Castle Hotel represented the perfect embodiment of this. The afternoon set saw the début of a new sextet, simply named 6.0, led by the multi-instrumentalist and composer Paula Gardiner, while the evening show featured the newly convened Swing Strings Trio, assembled by violinist Xenia Porteous and featuring harpist Ben Creighton-Griffiths and bassist Ashley John Long.


Paula Gardiner – guitar,  Dionne Bennett – vocals, Simran Singh – violin, Rebecca Nash – keyboard, Ursula Harrison – double bass, Lizzie Exell – drums

Paula Gardiner’s name is synonymous with Brecon Jazz and she has appeared at every Festival since 1986. She is best known as a jazz double bassist and during the 1980s and 90s was practically Brecon Jazz Festival’s ‘house bassist’.

I first recall seeing her play at the 1995 Festival when she played a memorable set on the Fringe Programme leading a quartet featuring former Loose Tube John Parricelli on guitar, plus Mark Edwards on keyboards and Ron Parry at the drums. This was the line up that made the excellent album “Tales of Inclination”, released on the Sain record label in 1995 and an album that remains something of a personal favourite.

Today’s project carried echoes of Gardiner’s next album release, simply titled “6”, which was released in 1999 and featured a new sextet line up with Gardiner joined by Lee Goodall (reeds), Gethin Liddington (trumpet), Andy Maule (guitar), Richard Roberts (keyboards) and Mark O’ Connor (drums). I remember seeing this group perform at the Festival too, which must have been in 1999 or maybe 2000.

Gardiner’s next outing as a leader didn’t come until 2008 with the release of “Hot Lament” on Dave Stapleton’s then fledgling Edition label. This featured a pared down trio line up with Gardiner joined by Goodall and O’Connor and was another excellent recording, one that brought her talents as a musician and composer to a national jazz audience. Review here;

In recent years Gardiner has become better known as an educator in her role as Head of Jazz Studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. She has regularly brought student ensembles to both the Brecon Jazz and Hay festivals and many of her former charges have gone on to enjoy successful careers as professional jazz musicians, among them Dave Stapleton, pianist, keyboard player, composer, bandleader and head of the Edition record label. Gardiner was a regular member of Stapleton’s quintet (DSQ) during the early 2000s and has also worked with the Welsh Jazz Composers Orchestra and with pianists Huw Warren, Paul Jones and Jen Wilson,  trumpeter Steve Waterman and guitarist Maciek Pysz, among many others.

Gardiner has also been Honorary President of the Swansea based Women in Jazz Association and is a member of the Ivors Academy Jazz Committee. She has also been involved with the staging of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition and has been the bass accompanist in the televised finals.

Today’s performance was given a bilingual introduction by pianist Rachel Starritt, who mentioned Gardiner’s work with Women in Jazz and pointed out that the line up of Gardiner’s new group was entirely female.

I’ll level with you here – until this fact was brought to my attention it hadn’t even registered with me. My first thought when I saw the personnel of 6.0 listed in the Festival programme was “Wow!, that looks like an interesting line up”, a conclusion based upon the musical history of the performers, rather than their gender.

Apart from Gardiner herself here was Dionne Bennett, former singer with Stapleton’s jazz/trip-hop ensemble Slowly Rolling Camera, drummer Lizzie Exell of the group Nerija and keyboard player Rebecca Nash, a bandleader in her own right and a member of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s quintet Entropi. Indeed Byrne and Nash had co-led an excellent quartet at a Festival event in this very room a mere week previously. Violinist Simran (Simmy) Singh is a member of the Amika String Quartet and has regularly played in a jazz context. Amika recently appeared on “Joy in Bewilderment”, the latest album from Manchester based bassist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Cavanagh- Brierley. The only name that was new to me was that of the group’s young bassist Ursula Harrison, Gardiner’s daughter apparently.

My point here is that in the fifteen years I’ve been writing about jazz the incidence of female instrumentalists has increased markedly, it’s simply not a novelty any more. Absolute parity may not have been achieved as yet but things are very much moving in the right direction and I do wonder whether it’s time to stop commenting about ‘all female ensembles’ and to just concentrate on the players as musicians first and foremost.

For me the biggest novelty about this line up was seeing Gardiner performing exclusively on guitar, after years of regarding her as a bass specialist. Admittedly both “Tales of Inclination” and “6” feature her doubling on acoustic guitar and flute, but these are relatively brief cameos. Today’s show revealed her to be a genuine multi-instrumentalist.

6.0 had been assembled specifically for the Festival and the programme saw Gardiner revisiting her back catalogue with some fresh arrangements of old compositions. There were also some newer songs written with Bennett in mind and a surprise cover for an encore. More on that later.

Appropriately the performance commenced with an updating of “Six”, the title track from Gardiner’s 1999 album, introduced by Gardiner on her semi-acoustic guitar (it’s double bass on the recorded version),  subsequentlyjoined by violin, bowed bass and shimmering keyboards on an atmospheric opening that also featured Exell’s percussion shadings, these generated via a variety of brushes, sticks and mallets. Eventually a groove emerged, centred around Gardiner’s guitar motif, which formed the basis for solos from Gardiner on guitar, Nash on Nord keyboard, adopting a classic electric piano sound, and Singh on violin.

From 2006 the song “Mother Venus” introduced the soulful vocals of Bennett in an intimate duo performance featuring the sounds of just voice and the leader’s guitar.

The new song “Hold Your Breath” again featured Bennett’s vocals, with the lyrics addressing a topical environmental theme, the threat to the planet expressed not only via the words but also through Gardiner’s ominous guitar effects, Harrison’s deep, brooding bass lines and Exell’s fidgety brushed drum grooves. Bennett’s powerful vocals were also complemented by Nash’s keyboard solo.

Gardiner was involved in a collaboration between Welsh and South African musicians for the Cultural Olympiad of 2012. From this project came “I Will Sing You A Song”, the tale of a romantic relationship between persons from each country. Commencing with just voice and guitar the performance also included Singh’s melancholic violin melodies and the subtle textural and rhythmic shadings of keyboard, bass and drums.

One of the few pieces not written by Gardiner was a new tune composed by Ursula Harrison. “They All Have Serious Faces” featured the composer’s melodic bass soloing in addition to further solos from Singh on violin and Nash on keyboards. Following these lengthy instrumental episodes Bennett’s singing of the slightly tongue in cheek lyrics was featured towards the close.

The newness of the project was emphasised as Gardiner uttered the words “Good luck everybody!” as this unusually configured sextet launched into the challenges of “Retrograde Submersion”, a particularly complex composition from the 1999 “6” album. This new ‘vocalese’ version featured Bennett’s wordless ‘scat’ singing alongside solos from Gardiner on guitar and Nash on keys.

In 2012 Gardiner had presented an ‘RWCMD Showcase’ at that year’s BJF. Among the repertoire had been her settings of the Emily Dickinson poems “Dying, parts 1 & 2”. These were revived here with the band members humming and snapping their fingers in support of Bennett’s soulful, gospel style lead vocals. Subsequent instrumental solos came from Gardiner on guitar and Nash on keys before the piece ended as it began with Bennett singing Dickinson’s words above a backdrop of humming and finger snaps.

This was an effective and emotive way to conclude a performance that elicited a highly positive response from a pleasingly large audience at the Castle Hotel, and presumably from those watching on line too.

The deserved encore was an arrangement of the song “Colors” by the contemporary American band Black Pumas, which represented a chance for Bennett to really demonstrate the power of her soul influenced vocals, with Singh taking the instrumental honours on violin.

Gardiner’s projects are always intriguing and it will be interesting to see if today’s performance develops into something more than just a one off. There was much to enjoy here with each individual performing admirably, although it sometimes felt as if there was almost too much going on, with several of the instruments in this unusual line up, i.e. guitar, violin and keyboards, occupying a similar range. That said it sometimes felt that Bennett was being under deployed, with several of the pieces being essentially instrumental. A little bit of a ‘curate’s egg’ then, but still essentially enjoyable as an event and with considerable potential as a longer term project.

It will also be interesting to see how the career of Ursula Harrison develops, a young musician with considerable potential who is a composer in addition to being a performer. One to watch out for in the future.


Xenia Porteous – violin, Ben Creighton-Griffiths - harp, Ashley John Long – double bass

The evening concert in the Castle Hotel ballroom featured another act with an unusual, possibly unique,  instrumental line up. This ‘all string’ trio was formed by violinist Xenia Porteous at BJF’s request and also featured harpist Ben Creighton-Griffiths and double bass virtuoso Ashley John Long.

All three musicians are great friends of Brecon Jazz. Porteous was a major figure at the 2018 Festival, performing with the gypsy jazz ensemble Hot Club Gallois and also forming part of an ad hoc alliance with guitarists Trefor Owen and Andy Hulme as the hastily assembled trio entertained the audience as they awaited the arrival of a delayed Ian Shaw. She also appeared as a guest with the Czech saxophonist Pawel Zamel and with jazz french horn player Rod Paton.

2020 saw Hot Club Gallois appear as part of the ‘Virtual Festival’, their performance filmed at Ratio Studios in Merthyr Tydfil.

This year sees the launch of the Swing Strings Trio and Porteous has also been filmed and recorded as part of an online hook-up with the Tango Jazz Quartet from Argentina in an exploration of the music of the great Astor Piazzolla. This production will be premièred on August 31st at a screening at Brecon’s Muse Arts Centre.

The young jazz harpist Ben Creighton-Griffiths has made previous visits to Brecon and also to Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny, where his ‘electro-fusion’ trio Chube were involved in an exciting collaboration with trombonist Dennis Rollins as part of the 2019 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival.

Creighton-Griffiths is a versatile musician, classically trained but capable of playing across a variety of musical genres, including numerous jazz styles. In addition to working with the Chube trio he also gives solo harp performances.

Ashley John Long has been a frequent visitor to Brecon over the years at both Festivals and regular club nights and is another supremely versatile musician, capable of playing right across the jazz spectrum from trad to the avant garde. He’s played in the town literally dozens of times, too many to mention here, but always plays with immaculate timing and a truly virtuoso technique. Occasionally he has been featured performing on his ‘second’ instrument, the vibraphone, on which he is also highly accomplished.

As the group name suggests the Swing Strings Trio plays music from the swing era, in a style sometimes reminiscent of gypsy jazz, but sounding substantially different thanks to the unusual instrumental line up.

The new trio were quickly out of the blocks with a delightful version of that most familiar of jazz standards “All Of Me”, investing it with a real joie de vivre and with the rhythmic interplay and counterpoint between the harp and double bass particularly interesting. Creighton-Griffiths and Long have played together before, but this was the first time that Porteous had worked with either of them, making this trio a genuine first time collaboration. Solos here came from Creighton-Griffiths on harp, who revealed himself to be a true virtuoso on the instrument, and Porteous on violin, her bow dancing lightly and nimbly over the strings.

Porteous and Creighton-Griffiths took it in turns to handle the announcements and next up was Manha de Carnaval” aka “Black Orpheus” a bossa nova composed by the Brazilian musician Luiz Bonfa. The harpist stated the theme, with violin embellishments supplied by Porteous. The latter then took over to deliver the first solo, followed by Creighton-Griffiths and Long, the latter enjoying his first opportunity to stretch out.

Dating back to 1924 the jazz standard “It Had To Be You” saw Porteous stating the theme on violin before handing over to Creighton-Griffiths for the first solo. The violinist then took over again, her explorations punctuated by a double bass solo from Long.

The trio displayed a relaxed virtuosity throughout, nowhere better expressed than on the bolero “Besame Mucho”, which saw Long and Creighton-Griffiths sharing the rhythmic duties as they backed each other solos, before combining to underpin Porteous’ flights of fancy on the violin.

Violin and harp introduced a beautiful version of Errol Garner’s “Misty”, with Porteous stating the theme and adding jazzy variations, before handing over to Creighton-Griffiths for the first solo as Long finally made his entrance. Porteous then took over the soloing on violin and we fleetingly enjoyed the spectacle of two bows being flourished with Long’s brief passage of arco bass at the close.

Porteous introduced the Bart Howard song “Fly Me To The Moon” as a “swing classic”. It is, of course, routinely associated with Frank Sinatra but this lively instrumental version was a real joy as the trio increased the tempo Porteous stating the familiar theme on violin before Creighton-Griffiths soloed on harp over Long’s rapid bass walk. Porteous then took over on violin before Long rounded things off with a typically brilliant bass solo.

“Nature Boy” is another song closely associated with a particular singer, in this case Nat King Cole. Written by Eden Ahbez the song represented an unexpected choice here but the trio delivered a particularly beautiful performance, introduced by harp and violin with Porteous at her most melodic as she eventually shared the solos with Creighton-Griffiths and Long.

Equally delightful was a version of “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”, again ushered in by harp and violin, with features for Creighton-Griffiths and Porteous followed by one of Long’s most compelling bass solos, combining a strong melodic sense with extreme virtuosity.

The trio rounded things off in rousing fashion with “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” with virtuoso soloing from all three participants.

The audience was smaller than it had been in the afternoon, but was still pleasingly substantial, and its members gave the trio a terrific response. The applause was definitely louder and more sustained than it had earlier and the question of an encore was never in doubt. The newly named Swing Strings Trio signed off with a version of “Shine”, played in a genuine ‘Hot Club’ style and with dazzling solos from all three musicians.

Swing Strings Trio went down a storm with the crowd and one suspects that this combination of musicians could become a highly popular attraction on the South Wales jazz circuit and beyond if they decide together. Xenia announced herself delighted with the way that things had gone and the three musicians appeared to enjoy themselves immensely, quickly establishing an excellent rapport on familiar material, but also bringing their own twist to it. This was ‘gypsy swing’ with a big difference.

An undeniable success as a one off collaboration Swing Strings Trio looks to be a project with many more potential miles in it.



by Ian Mann

August 18, 2021

Ian Mann enjoys the second full Sunday of music at The Castle Hotel and two very different performances from the Capital City Jazz Orchestra and the Dee Byrne / Rebecca Nash Quartet

“Wherever You Are”

Brecon Jazz Festival 2021

The Castle Hotel, Brecon, Sunday 15th August 2021

I explained the rationale behind the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival, incredibly the 38th, in my coverage of the first full Sunday of the Festival here;

This year’s Festival is a ‘hybrid’ production featuring a mix of live and online performances. Both of today’s events played to a