by Ian Mann
August 12, 2020
Ian Mann on a day of performances featuring a beguiling mix of local heroes and international collaborations.
SATURDAY AT ‘VIRTUAL’ BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL, 08/08/2020.
The second day of the ‘Virtual’ version of Brecon Jazz Festival featured another remarkable collection of on-line musical performances, interspersed with entertaining features and conversations.
I explained the circumstances and mechanics of the Festival in my Friday coverage, so rather than repeating myself I’ll dive straight into the performances. Meanwhile my account of the first day of the Festival can be found here;
PRESERVATION JAZZ, CAFÉ JAZZ CARDIFF
Brecon Jazz has always been keen to foster relationships between themselves and other Welsh jazz clubs and Festivals.
Saturday’s coverage therefore commenced with a feature celebrating the work of the Preservation Jazz Society who have been hosting regular weekly ‘trad’ jazz events at Café Jazz in Cardiff for the last twenty five years, and who have had a presence in the city for thirty one years in total.
Today’s feature was hosted by founder members Paul Dunleavy and Alun Evans and included footage of four different bands filmed in live performance at Café Jazz before lockdown. It came as quite a shock to see and hear a live audience at a gig I can tell you!
First up were the Sandringham Six, named for the fact that Café Jazz is located within the Sandringham Hotel. The band featured a line up of trumpet, clarinet, trombone, double bass, banjo and drums playing “Canal Street Blues” in the New Orleans style, with solos from clarinet, trumpet and trombone. Individual musicians were not credited, but I think I recognised John Scantlebury on clarinet, Paul Munnery on trombone and Sarah Thatcher on banjo.
The Riverside Band Remembered then played the spiritual “Lily Of The Valley”, led by a trumpeter / vocalist and with instrumental solos coming from clarinet, trombone and trumpet. As before the line up was completed by double bass, banjo and drums, and the performance received a wildly enthusiastic response from a real live crowd!
Clarinettist John Scantlebury led his quartet the New Orleans Hot Potatoes on a number called “True” that featured solos from Scantlebury on clarinet, plus his colleagues Paul Munnery on trombone and Sarah Thatcher on guitar. The line up was completed by Roy Cansdale on double bass.
Finally we enjoyed the quartet Hot Strings Café, a gypsy jazz style group fronted by violinist Heulwen Thomas, an old friend of Brecon Jazz and a regular performer at both the regular Club nights and the Festival. Their version of “I Got Rhythm” featured all the members of the group as soloists, the line up being completed by guitar, double bass and piano. The latter, rarely heard in a gypsy jazz context, was played here (I think) by another stalwart of the South Wales jazz circuit, Gareth Hall.
Apologies for not listing the full line ups, the fact that four different bands were featured meant that individual names weren’t listed in the information that I received, although a little on line research has since revealed the full Hot Potatoes line up.
As is the nature of jazz the personnel of the Sandringham and Riverside bands seems to be fairly fluid, so I’m not going to stick my neck out here. Nevertheless it was good to recognise one or two familiar faces and to hear the recently departed Paul Munnery play again.
I’ll be honest and admit to ‘trad’ not being my favourite jazz genre, but it’s always been part of the scene at the admirable diverse Brecon Jazz Festival, and truth to tell I rather enjoyed this feature. There’s a place for all styles within the broad church of jazz, and one shouldn’t forget that these are the very roots and foundations of the music.
Congratulations to the Preservation Jazz Society for more than a quarter of a century of keeping this style of music alive in the city of Cardiff.
P.S. Since the above was written I have received information regarding the band line ups, as listed below;
Video 1..The Sandringham Six - Canal Street Blues
Steve Graham,.....Trumpet. John Scantlebury,....Clarinet. Paul Munnery, ..Trombone. Sarah Thatcher…Banjo. Pete Winterhart, ...Drums,..Mike Kennady,..Double Bass
Video 2… Riverside Remembered - Lily of the Valley
Alun Jones…Clarinet, Gwyn Lewis ...Cornet. Pete Locke…Trombone. Mike Gale..Double Bass. Vic Partridge..Banjo. Chris Pearce..Drums
Video 3 ..John Scantleburys’ New Orleans Hot Potatoes - True
John Scantlebury..Clarinet, Paul Munnery..Trombone Sarah Thatcher .. Guitar/Banjo Mike Kennady..Double Bass
Video 4.. Hot Strings Cafe - I Got Rhythm
Heulwen Thomas… Violin, Hywel Maggs Guitar.. Gareth Hall..Piano Steve Tarner..Double Bass
RUTH BOWEN QUARTET
The second item of the day continued to keep things local, with Brecon based double bassist and vocalist Ruth Bowen leading her quartet in a session recorded at Ratio Studios.
Bowen is another stalwart of the local jazz scene, and also makes the occasional foray over the border into Herefordshire. Today she was accompanied by her regular pianist Mike Chappell, but with Phill Redfox O’Sullivan taking over from Ruth’s husband Richard Bowen at the drums. The line up was completed by seventeen year old alto saxophonist Peter Bowen, presumably Ruth’s son.
The performance kicked off in trio format with Ruth leading Chappell and O’Sullivan through a lively, swinging rendition of “The Lady Is A Tramp”, written by Rogers & Hart. As this is one of Chappell’s favourite tunes it was appropriate that he took the first solo, followed by Ruth at the bass and finally O’Sullivan with a series of colourful drum breaks.
Ruth then slowed things down with one of her favourite songs, “Comes Love”, which introduced Peter on alto sax. I’m used to hearing this song performed in a jaunty gypsy jazz / cabaret style, so it was interesting to hear it done in a different, slowed down jazz ballad style with Ruth singing and playing double bass. Vocally she had never sounded better and couldn’t resist having a little fun with a scat vocal episode and an amended Covid appropriate lyric (“you can quarantine alone”).
Fluent instrumental solos came from Chappell at the piano and Peter on alto sax.
Next the quartet embarked on a gently swinging version of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” that included solos from Peter on alto and Chappell at the piano, plus a feature for O’Sullivan at the drums. Announcing the song Ruth informed us that Peter had first visited Brecon Jazz Festival as a babe in arms – by my calculations that must have been the scorching hot summer of 2003. Seventeen years later he has matured into a highly competent and fluent saxophonist. 2020 marked his Brecon début as a performer, one suspects that he will continue to return in this capacity for many years to come.
Another of Chappell’s favourites followed, the perennial jazz standard “Autumn Leaves” with solos from Chappell on piano, the Bowens on alto sax and bass respectively, and finally a series of lively drum breaks from the always excellent O’Sullivan.
Ruth and her band signed off with the leader enjoying something of a vocal romp through “Errand Girl For Rhythm”, a hipster anthem popularised by Nat King Cole and here including a scat vocal episode alongside instrumental solos for piano, alto sax and drums.
I’ve seen Ruth Bowen perform in clubs and pubs on numerous occasions but today’s show presented her and her band at their best. The studio setting ensured that everybody sounded good and allowed the quality of the musicianship to shine. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable set.
Following two items featuring a host of local favourites the Festival now spread its net wider. Brecon Jazz has always encouraged international co-operation and the next performance was a truly global offering.
The husband and wife duo of Babak Amir Mobasher (guitar) and Aida Nosrat (vocals, violin), collectively known as Manushan, hail from Iran but are currently based in Paris. Their music embraces the folk traditions of their Iranian homeland but also takes in other aspects of Middle Eastern music plus flamenco, manouche and Brazilian influences, with the Spanish flamenco tradition a particularly important element of Babak’s guitar playing.
Today’s performance was filmed at the couple’s home in Paris in conjunction with their French record label and management agency Accords Croises, so thank you to them.
Manushan’s music is probably best described as a form of ‘world jazz’ and their performance commenced with “Miraghsam Avazat Ra”, roughly translating as “Swing Me To Your Song”.
The duo’s shared love of flamenco was immediately apparent in Babak’s extended solo guitar intro, and later by the use of the body of his guitar as percussion as Aida’s voice wailed and her violin soared, the various elements of the duo’s music coming together to generate an elemental and almost trance inducing power.
“Naro”, a Turkish song translating as “Don’t Go”, was dedicated to Aida’s parents, who are still in Iran and remain isolated from their daughter due to the ongoing pandemic. Here Aida put down the violin to express her feelings via a passionate vocal, complemented by Babak’s skilled guitar accompaniment.
The duo concluded their set with their arrangement of a traditional Iranian tune translating as “Heal Me” with lyrics exploring the theme of love between the human and the divine. The piece was introduced by a typically virtuoso passage of solo guitar by Babak, with Aida then singing the verses of the song before picking up her violin to deliver a mesmerising solo that to these ears also incorporated elements of traditional Celtic folk music, another of the duo’s acknowledged influences.
Recorded in July 2020 this was an extraordinary performance that combined passion and emotion with enormous musical skill and which embraced a variety of musical traditions.
Manushan describe their unique sound as “Modern Persian Music”. I, for one, would have liked to have heard a lot more of it, and this excellent show was tantalisingly brief.
I’ve always found that jazz festivals invariably throw up at least one exciting new discovery and on this occasion Manushan was it. This is an act that could move comfortably between jazz, folk and world music events and it is to be hoped that they will be able to bring their remarkable music to the UK in a live performance environment at some point in the future.
Manushan’s album “Musique Actuelle Persane” is available on the Accords Croises label and also includes contributions from Habib Meftah Bousheri (percussion, voice) and Antonio Licusati (double bass).
DEELEE DUBE with the JUAN GALIARDO TRIO
The second international collaboration of the day teamed London based jazz vocalist Deelee Dube with a trio led by the Spanish pianist Juan Galiardo.
Galiardo is an old friend of Brecon Jazz and has played at the Club on more than one occasion. He is married to the Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada (the pair met at Berklee College of Music in the US) and the couple now live in Granada, Spain. Shimada was to feature later in the programme as part of a collaboration with saxophonist and clarinettist Alan Barnes.
Dube, of South African heritage, was the winner of the 2016 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. She has since begun to establish herself on the UK jazz scene, working with saxophonist Tony Kofi among others.
Today’s set saw Galiardo’s trio, featuring bassist Rafa Sibajas and drummer Jose Luis Gomez, recording together in a studio in Granada, with Dube’s vocals added from her home in London.
The performance began with an unusual treatment of the Ray Noble song “Cherokee”, delivered here as a jazz ballad and with Dube singing the now rarely heard lyrics. Her sensual and soulful vocals were complemented by Galiardo’s lyrical piano solo, it was so good to hear him on a ‘proper’ grand piano, and the sensitive backing of bass and drums, with Gomez’s deft brush work a notable feature. I’m so used to hearing “Cherokee” played at breakneck speed in the bebop idiom by Clifford Brown and others that it was a bit of an eye and ear opener to hear it performed like this.
Following the subdued start the quartet upped the tempo with a lightly swinging take on the Johnny Mercer song “Day In Day Out”, with Dube demonstrating a real talent for authentic jazz phrasing and with Galiardo again impressing on that grand piano.
The quartet’s version of the Frank Loesser song “Never Will I Marry” was inspired by the version that the late Nancy Wilson, one of Dube’s main vocal influences, recorded with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Dube again impressed with her well enunciated vocals, as did Galiardo at the piano.
To close the quartet treated us to a dramatic reading of the song “Angel Eyes”, with Dube delivering a sultry, blues tinged vocal alongside a flowingly lyrical piano solo and appropriately understated support from bass and drums, with Gomez again deploying brushes.
This was my first real exposure to the vocal artistry of Deelee Dube and I was suitably impressed. She’s certainly a name to look out for in the future. Galiardo, in the company of his regular trio, also made a good impression and delivered a string of excellent solos. This was another set that was over far too soon.
The American alto saxophonist Steve Lehman is one of the real heavyweights of the music. Originally from Brooklyn, New York he is now based in Los Angeles and has worked with musicians at the cutting edge of jazz, among them pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey in the trio Fieldwork.
Lehman is also a close personal friend of Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz, and although their hopes of bringing Lehman over to Brecon to perform in person are yet to be realised the enforced ‘virtual’ format of the 2020 Festival did allow for the opportunity of getting Lehman involved.
This was an event that I’d been particularly looking forward to, my appetite whetted by the superb quartet album that Lehman released in late 2019. “The People I Love” featured Lehman and his regular trio members Matt Brewer (double bass) and Damion Reid (drums) alongside guest Craig Taborn at the piano. Review here;
I had hoped against hope that Lehman’s Brecon performance might include the trio, but the largely improvised and highly interactive nature of Lehman’s music doesn’t lend itself so readily to remote recording as the more song based material of some of this year’s other Festival acts.
Instead we enjoyed a solo saxophone performance by Lehman from his home in LA, which included four musical performances and a healthy, and highly informative, element of conversation.
Originally this event had been billed as a Trans-Atlantic discussion between Lehman and the rising star British saxophonist Xhosa Cole. Sadly this never actually materialised, but on the plus side this did ensure that we got more actual music from Lehman, which was no bad thing.
Lehman opened by explaining his close links with Lynne and Roger and displaying a painting of the Brecon Beacons that they had given him as a wedding present.
But soon we were into the musical nitty-gritty as Lehman paid tribute to his inspirations and mentors, among them saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianist Bud Powell.
Lehman first played a solo saxophone set at Copenhagen Jazz Festival and went on to explain both the challenges and the rewards of the art in terms of melody, harmony and rhythm, the latter brought into sharp relief by the challenge of playing without a drummer or other timekeeper.
The challenges are offset by greater flexibility in terms of tempo, key and overall structure, and Lehman clearly relishes both the freedom and the pitfalls of the form, and all its attendant elements of musical risk.
A series of four musical illustrations began with Bud Powell’s tune “Oblivion”, originally recorded by the composer in the classic ‘piano trio’ format. As a solo alto saxophonist Lehman negotiated the boppish twists and turns of Powell’s piece with considerable aplomb, his performance a considerable feat of musical dexterity and sheer physical resourcefulness.
Next up was Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae”, a dedication to the composer’s then young daughter, and arguably McLean’s most famous composition. This found Lehman probing deeply within the structure of the tune in a deeply focussed and rigorous performance.
The next item was described by Lehman as an “untitled structured improvisation” as he sought to explore different “timbres, sonorities, textures and tone colours”. This found him pushing the instrument to its limits in a display of extended techniques that included the use of the keys and pads of the instrument for percussive and rhythmic purposes, over-blowing and multiphonics. At one point he removed the mouthpiece to usher rushes of breath directly into the horn. Fascinating stuff, and a whistle stop tour of some of the avant garde techniques and effects deployed by improvising musicians.
Finally we heard an early John Coltrane piece, played on alto rather than tenor and with Lehman changing the meter from the standard 4/4 to 9/4. This was “Moment’s Notice”, dating from 1957, still recognisable despite all the changes, and particularly when the familiar melody finally kicked in.
This was pretty challenging, cutting edge stuff and might not have appealed to everybody, but it did demonstrate just how wide ranging Brecon Jazz Festival is, and always has been.
I found it to be fascinating insight into the musical world of Steve Lehman, and will continue to look forward to the day when he brings an actual band to Brecon.
TANGO JAZZ QUARTET
Based in Buenos Aires the TJQ and their various offshoots, including the Sotavento Big Band and Orquesta de Monte, have been regular visitors to Wales in recent years, appearing regularly at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny.
For TJQ the Argentinian winter is normally spent touring extensively in Europe during the Northern Hemisphere summer. In 2020 their tour was due to include Brecon Jazz Festival, so naturally they were contacted and agreed to appear on line instead, direct from their HQ and studio in Buenos Aires.
Led by saxophonist and composer Gustavo Firmenich the quartet also features Horacio Acosta on piano, Martin Rao De Vita on five string electric bass and Mauricio Pasculli at the drums.
Inspired by the music of Astor Piazzolla TJQ blend the rhythms of tango with those of American jazz to produce their own unique sound. Fusions of jazz and tango are not uncommon, but few such mergers sound anything quite like TJQ.
The rhythms of tango can sometimes sound challenging and unfamiliar to Western European and North American ears, but I’ve become more acclimatised to TJQ’s music over the years, and consequently they sound better to me every time I hear them.
Today’s screening came with the benefit of English subtitles, so just for once I was actually able to jot down the titles of the tunes.
The quartet commenced with “Milonga De Amores”, written by Pedro Laurenz and featuring Firmenich on clarinet, who shared the solos with pianist Acosta, a musician who has always impressed on the band’s visits to Abergavenny.
Still on clarinet Firmenich stated that the next tune would be “quieter”. From the “tango song era” came “Cundo Tu No Estas”, introduced by Acosta at the piano and De Vita on bass, with drummer Pasculli wielding brushes. Truth to tell as the music gathered momentum it was only fractionally quieter, still delivering an exciting blend of tango and swing jazz that proved the inspiration for solos from Firmenich on violin and Acosta at the keyboard.
The tune “Dona Benza” was not a true tango, but instead an example of ‘Kaluyo’, a folk rhythm from the North of Argentina. Pasculli’s military style drumming introduced the piece as Firmenich moved to tenor sax, quoting from Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” during the course of his solo. Meanwhile Acosta’s solo saw the pianist playing with a McCoy Tyner like intensity.
It was inevitable that Piazzolla’s music would be represented. His “Violentango” was originally written for bandoneonist Anibal Troilo’s Orchestra and here proved to be a rhythmically complex piece that elicited a crisp, neatly detailed performance from Pasculli at the drums. Meanwhile Firmenich, still on tenor, and Acosta at the piano were featured as soloists. They were followed by De Vita, whose remarkable dexterity owed something to electric bass pioneers Jaco Pastorius and Steve Swallow, but also reminded me of the UK’s own Kevin Glasgow.
TJQ concluded an excellent performance by returning to the milonga form for “Nocturna”, written by Julian Plaza and featuring Firmenich on clarinet, the leader sharing the solos with the consistently excellent Acosta.
TJQ were another group who benefited from the opportunity of recording together in a studio and the quality of both the sound and the performances was excellent throughout.
RACHEL STARRITT TRIO
Rachel Starritt is a young pianist from Bridgend who has studied jazz at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, and is currently working towards a Masters degree.
Unsighted since birth she originally studied at the RWCMD under Alison Bowring, but has also been taught by such jazz piano greats as Nikki Iles and Huw Warren.
Today’s event saw Starritt leading her trio featuring bassist Clem Saynor, a second year student at RWCMD, and drummer Alex Goodyear, a recent graduate of the College and now a fully professional musician still based in Cardiff. An increasingly in demand sideman on the South Wales jazz scene Goodyear also lead his own groups and in 2019 took his own Bop Septet to the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny.
Today’s session was recorded remotely, with Starritt introducing the pieces in a standards based programme in both English and Welsh, directly from home.
The trio began by celebrating the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker with a performance of the saxophonist’s bebop classic “Anthropology”. This featured Starritt soloing on her Yamaha upright and trading fours with Goodyear, whose deployment of brushes brought an agreeable air of lightness to his contribution.
Goodyear changed to sticks as the trio continued to explore broadly similar musical territory with a version of a tune by another great saxophonist, Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin”.
Next an unexpected dedication to Doris Day with a version of the song “Secret Love”, written by Sammy Fain and lyricist Paul Francis Webster for the film “Calamity Jane”. An extended solo piano introduction saw Starritt treating the theme with great sensitivity prior to an uplift in mood and tempo with the introduction of bass and drums. This piece saw Saynor delivering his first solo of the set, the camera perfectly positioned for the audience to appreciate the skill and dexterity of his playing. Meanwhile Starritt’s lively solo, with its cascading right hand runs and strong left hand rhythms, the latter working in conjunction with Saynor’s bass lines, included a quote from “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” - which I think comes from the film “Oklahoma!”
Starritt’s classical influences came to the fore on a solo piano performance that she described as being “a fantasy on a theme”. That theme proved to be a dramatic and evocative interpretation of George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day In London Town”, which incorporated a number of classical style flourishes.
Until Starritt reminded us I’d forgotten that the jazz standard “Someday My Prince Will Come” was originally written for the Disney “Snow White” movie. It became a jazz standard in the hands of the great Bill Evans, and it was from this version that Starritt drew her inspiration as the trio returned, with Goodyear deploying brushes and Saynor delivering a melodic bass solo in the style of Scott LaFaro. Saynor’s bass tutors at the RWCMD have included Dudley Phillips and Yuri Goloubev, both highly melodic players.
The trio concluded with the standard “On Green Dolphin Street”, written by Wladislaw Kaper and made famous by Miles Davis. An extended solo piano introduction led to a group performance incorporating features for all three musicians, but unfortunately marred by technical problems, with the piano sound becoming distorted and Starritt’s image becoming frozen. Fortunately this was only a small hitch in the final number of a consistently absorbing and enjoyable set.
It’s possible that this locally based trio will be invited back to Brecon for a regular Club night appearance at some point in the future.
It was back to Ratio Studios for a performance by Nurdle, a trio led by saxophonist Joe Northwood and featuring the talents of Tom Burge on organ and Paolo Adamo at the drums.
Northwood, based in Cardiff, had appeared at the Festival the previous day, playing alto and featuring as a soloist in the Siglo Section Big Band. He is a busy presence on the Cardiff jazz scene, leading his own groups, including the trio Tuk Tuk, which also featured Adamo, and also functioning as a very active organiser and facilitator.
His two colleagues in Nurdle are based the other side of the Severn Bridge in the West of England. The Italian born Adamo also performs on the Bristol jazz scene, as does Burge, who I have only previously seen performing as a pianist.
The Nurdle ‘organ trio’ has been in existence for around a year, and was originally formed as a “bit of fun”. However the group seems to have taken on a life of its own and today’s performance featured Northwood’s compositions exclusively, a rare occurrence for a band of this nature.
That said Northwood’s writing is very much in the ‘organ trio’ tradition, appropriate perhaps for a band whose stated intention is to “rock out, blues out and lay down some cool grooves”.
Opener “Tiny Wines” got things off to a suitably lively start with its funky, Hammond driven grooves and powerful, fluent, r’n’b styled tenor sax. Burge was playing a modern, two manual Hammond keyboard, the SKX, and immediately impressed on the instrument as he shared the soloing with Northwood.
Written during Lockdown the Covid inspired “Fight The Infection” repeated the dose with its rootsy tenor sax, gospel flavoured Hammond and solid drum grooves. It was all worryingly contagious.
Written by Northwood in conjunction with the whole band “Peanut Butter Dreams” was introduced with a dialogue between Adamo and Burge that saw the keyboard player introducing some new electric piano sounds. This was a quirky piece with an odd meter groove that Northwood later described as “wild, weird and dream-scapey”, but which never lost its underlying sense of funkiness.
The traditional Hammond sound was back for the closing “Shrubbery”, another piece offering a “fresh take on the organ trio” and featuring powerful solos from Northwood and Burge.
I was highly impressed by Nurdle. I’ve always had a fondness for the sound of the Hammond and this new group remained true to the spirit of the ‘organ trio’ while finding something fresh and exciting to say within the format, a quality reinforced by their insistence on using original material.
The band have recorded an EP, which should hopefully be available very soon.
They’re also another act that I’d like to see invited back to Brecon Jazz for a Club night or full Festival appearance.
ATSUKO SHIMADA TRIO with ALAN BARNES
The second collaboration between musicians based in the UK and Spain saw saxophonist and clarinettist Alan Barnes performing with a trio led by the Japanese born pianist Atsuko Shimada.
Shimada, a Berklee graduate, is now based in Spain and has been a regular visitor to Brecon, appearing at two monthly club events and also at the Festival.
For this performance she appeared at the same Granada studio that her husband, fellow pianist Juan Galiardo had used for his collaboration with vocalist Deelee Dube.
Shimada also deployed the same Spanish rhythm section, with Rafa Sibajas on bass and Jose Luis Gomez at the drums. This was very much Shimada’s gig and the announcements were handled, in English, by her. I’ve never known Barnes keep such a low profile!
Things commenced in Spain, with a trio performance of Shimada’s own composition “How’s Life?”, a lightly swinging original featuring solos from the composer at the piano and Sibajas at the bass.
Barnes joined the group remotely, on clarinet, for a delightful performance of the late Kenny Wheeler’s modern day standard “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, with solos coming from Barnes and Shimada.
Unaccompanied piano introduced A C Jobim’s “How Insensitive”, arranged by Shimada in a contemporary jazz style that avoided the usual bossa clichés. The pianist was subsequently joined by bass and drums and by Barnes on alto, who shared the solos with Shimada.
Another extended solo piano introduction ushered in the final number, a Shimada arrangement of the standard “You Are Everything” that included solos from Shimada on piano, Barnes on alto, and a rare foray into the spotlight for Sibajas at the bass.
Shimada is a skilled arranger who brings a fresh interest to all the pieces she covers, and today’s performance was no exception. She also benefited from the presence of the studio’s Sauter grand piano. Another consistently interesting and worthwhile international collaboration.
TRANSATLANTIC HOT CLUB
The final musical performance of the day was an international gypsy jazz collaboration that featured jazz harp player Ben Creighton-Griffiths, recorded at his home in Cardiff, playing with four musicians recorded at their individual residencies in New York.
Transatlantic Hot Club was first formed when Creighton-Griffiths met violinist Adrien Chevalier at a harp festival in the Caribbean in 2013. The pair have continued to work together intermittently and in 2019 toured in Wales and London, often in the company of other musicians, such as bassist Ashley John Long.
For this special livestream event the duo teamed up with Philip Ambuel (double bass), Linus Wyrsch (clarinet) and Sara Labriola (guitar) to perform a series of well known tunes that have become gypsy jazz standards.
“I Found A New Baby” introduced the core trio of Creighton-Griffiths, Chevalier, Wyrsch and Ambuel, with the bassist providing a strong rhythmic backbone for the interplay and solo flights of the harpist, violinist and clarinettist. Ambuel also found his own way into the limelight during a series of exchanges with the other instrumentalists. The way that Creighton-Griffiths was filmed, side on to the camera, meant that it was possible for the viewer to fully appreciate the skill and dexterity of his remarkable harp playing.
“J’Attendrai”, written by Dino Olivieri, is most familiar to me as an instrumental played in the Django Reinhardt style. THC adopted a different approach with Chevalier singing the French lyrics and sharing the instrumental solos with Wyrsch, Creighton-Griffiths and Ambuel.
The ballad “Clair de Lune”, written by Joseph Kosmas, was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied harp. Chevalier and Wyrsch added poignant solos and there were also further features for Creighton-Griffiths and Ambuel during the course of a beautiful and delicately nuanced group performance.
Dorado Schmidt’s “Bossa Dorado” was ushered in by harp and bass and also added guitarist Sara Labriola to the group, initially in a rhythmic capacity, but later as a soloist. She shared the solos with Chevalier, Creighton-Griffiths and Ambuel as Wyrsch sat out, and also enjoyed a series of guitar and harp exchanges with Creighton-Griffiths.
The performance concluded with the full quintet and the traditional Balkan tune “Indifference”, originally written by Tony Murano. Here harp, violin and clarinet passed around the melodic lines as the tune accelerated, the solos little more than cameos, with Labriola and Ambuel both fulfilling a strictly rhythmic role. It was appropriate that the performance should end with a final violin flourish, as it was Chevalier who had edited the video, skilfully bringing things together to create an exciting and cohesive whole.
This was a highly entertaining performance that included some excellent musicianship. It was all very different from Creighton-Griffiths’ electro-fusion trio Chube, but no less satisfying.
As a violinist Chevalier was hugely impressive throughout and represents another exciting discovery. It had been hoped that Transatlantic Hot Club would tour the UK again in 2020, but inevitably those plans have had to be put on hold. Let’s hope they can get together again for real in 2021.
RICHARD MICHAEL – A HISTORY OF JAZZ PIANO IN TEN MINUTES
COMMUNITY JAZZ and UKES ORCHESTRA, with IAN COOPER
The day’s other feature was a film sandwiching two different projects together. First up was Scottish pianist and educator Richard Michael’s whistle stop tour of different jazz piano styles followed by locally based musician and educator Ian Cooper talking about his career, and particularly the use of the ukulele in relationship to jazz. Cooper runs a community based ukulele orchestra that has appeared on the outdoor stages at previous editions of the Festival.
First up was Richard Michael, recorded at his piano at his home in Kirkcaldy, Fife. Michael is also a broadcaster and hosts the programme “Jazz Nights” on BBC Radio Scotland.
For this brief history of the jazz piano demonstrated the evolution of the various styles by playing the children’s’ nursery rhyme favourite “The Wheels on the Bus” in the appropriate manner, beginning with the Ragtime style, as personified by the composer Scott Joplin.
Next Michael explained the evolution of Ragtime into the Stride Piano style, popularised first by Jelly Roll Morton and later by Fats Waller, with “The Wheels” played here in the style of Fats, who used his left hand to expand bass notes into chords.
Michael selected Count Basie to illustrate the Swing style, “Basie hardly played anything, but every note counted”, Michael explained.
Pianistically the bebop revolution was epitomised by Bud Powell, and we also heard “The Wheels” played in his style.
But Powell wasn’t the only pianist taking the music forward in the fifties, there was also Errol Garner with his unclassifiable ‘knuckles’ style and George Shearing doubling the melody with his ‘locked hands’ technique.
Dave Brubeck was famous for experimenting with unusual time signatures and enjoyed a massive hit with the tune “Take Five”, co-written with saxophonist Paul Desmond. Here Michael played “The Wheels” in the style and 5/4 signature of Brubeck’s hit.
The development of modal jazz by Miles Davis and John Coltrane freed up pianists to “float along the surface of a composition”, as epitomised by players such as Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett.
Michael continued by playing “The Wheels” in the funk style of Herbie Hancock, but by now his ten minutes was up so we never quite did get to more contemporary pioneers such as Esbjorn Svensson or avant gardists like Cecil Taylor.
Instead Michael signed off by playing “The Wheels” in the style of J.S.Bach, but with plenty of jazz elements thrown in as well.
I’ll admit that some of the ‘technical’ stuff went over my head but this was still an enjoyable and entertaining dash through the key developments in jazz piano. It reminded me of the full length concert shows that Geoff Eales used to do, charting the history of the instrument from Art Tatum through Bill Evans to Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.
Michael has also recorded an album, “The History Of The Jazz Piano” plus a double solo piano set “Contemplation”, the latter released in 2019 on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
On 14th August 2020 he is to perform a virtual concert for the Edinburgh Fringe, this event being partly financed by a GoFundMe campaign. Details here;
Turning now to Ian and Rachel Cooper and their part of the feature.
First we heard something of Ian’s musical history. Born in Liverpool he is a self taught musician who grew up playing guitar in a range of different styles and with a variety of different groups all over Merseyside. He picked up the ‘jazz bug’ when playing with a dance band in New Brighton, “Over The Water” on the Wirral.
A shortage of bass players at college saw him making the switch from six to four strings and the bass, mainly the electric variety, has been his main instrument ever since. He currently plays electric bass with Blue Haze trio, led by Presteigne based pianist and composer Simon Deeley.
A spell in London then found Cooper managing the Grand Union Orchestra, led by pianist and composer Tony Haynes.
Cooper moved to Wales thirty years ago and has been heavily involved with music education, both as a teacher and as the leader of community projects such as the Ukulele Orchestra.
His involvement with Brecon Jazz Club and Festival has found him playing bass with visiting musicians, most notably with the Irish duo Zrazy as part of Celtic jazz alliance featuring Welsh and Irish musicians. He has also undertaken soundman duties at numerous Club and Festival events and led the Ukulele Orchestra in a live performance at the canal basin outside Theatr Brycheiniog.
Cooper then went on to demonstrate how the humble ukulele can be used to play jazz and described how he sends backing tracks to his students, encouraging them to improvise or ‘noodle’ on their instruments. The three chord “C Jam Blues” is a popular vehicle for this, as Cooper demonstrated with the aid of a drum backing track.
The feature ended with Ian and Rachel playing ukuleles and Rachel singing on their version of “Summertime”, which seemed to vanish into the ether rather abruptly.
Ian Cooper has been a great friend to Brecon Jazz and it was interesting to see and hear this brief insight into his musical career.
The musical performances and conversations reviewed above can still be accessed until 30th August 2020 directly from the Vialma website. Link here;
A couple of updates: the interview ‘Xhosa Cole & Steve Lehman’ is now on the platform as an Extra / the interview ‘Rhys Phillips with Deelee Dubé’ is also up there as an Extra.
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