by Ian Mann
September 07, 2017
Ian Mann enjoys a day of wall to music including performances by three of the great entertainers of British jazz, vocalist Ian Shaw, saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and electric bass specialist Shez Raja.
Photograph of Shez Raja Collective courtesy of Abergavenny Camera Club
SATURDAY AT WALL2WALL FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 02/09/2017.
The third day of the wall2wall Jazz Festival was centred exclusively at the Melville Centre, a former grammar school now converted into a community centre with a particularly strong focus on the performing arts.
Five concert performances were scheduled for the main stage in the Theatre with a series of more intimate duo performances taking place in the more informal bar area. With the duo performances commencing immediately after the concert events had finished this literally was the wall to wall jazz promised by the title of the Festival.
OLLIE WEST BAND + STRING QUARTET, MELVILLE THEATRE
The wall2wall Festival has always prided itself on supporting and encouraged young musicians and 2017 was to be no exception. The first concert performance of the day featured twenty year old pianist, vocalist and songwriter Ollie West, currently a student at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
West’s influences include songwriters Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Dean Friedman, Sting and Prince, Snarky Puppy keyboard player Bill Laurance, and the band Elbow. Although not exactly jazz the music created by him and his band was well received by the lunchtime audience at wall2wall, an impressive feat considering that the ensemble performed a virtually all original programme with just the one cover – of which, more later.
Joining West were his regular band consisting of George Nicola (guitar), Ashley Garrod (electric bass) and Pete Leaver (drums), plus a string section led by violinist Jody Smith and also featuring Raye Harvey (violin), Matt Chadbond (violin) and Elliot Bailey (cello), the last named making his début with the band. The majority of the string players had also been part of the twenty four piece ensemble that recorded the album “Live From The RNCM Theatre” in June 2017.
Most of today’s material was sourced from the album and today’s performance kicked off with the lively, up-tempo “Say No More” which featured funky electric bass, choppy guitar and the staccato patterns and harmonic swells of the strings. West delivered a confident vocal and Garrod was the featured soloist on electric bass.
“Summer Rain”, the B side of the 2016 single “So Far Away”, saw the strings combining with West’s piano on the intro and generally fulfilling a greater role on a more reflective song that also featured Nicola’s melodic guitar work.
“Portraits” features on the live recording and is also due to be recorded for a forthcoming EP at the Blueprint Studios in Manchester. Paced by West’s piano and with the strings adding colour and texture this was the most distinctive offering thus far, a mature and evocative song with something of Coldplay’s plaintive but anthemic lilt about it.
The breezy pop of “So Far Away” itself saw West doubling on synth and soloing briefly on the instrument as the rhythm section laid down a relaxed, subtly funky groove.
The set’s only cover was the Jimmy Webb song “Wichita Lineman” which West dedicated to the memory of the recently departed Glen Campbell. This proved to be surprisingly effective, the song proved to be particularly well suited to West’s voice and the presence of the string players added greatly to an arrangement that also included the sound of Garrod’s languid electric bass.
“Let Me Be”, the song that opens the live album, proved to be something a feature for the string quartet who brought a majestic sweep to the music as they combined effectively with the electric instruments.
The song “Only Love Can Keep Us Together” was written when was only sixteen but is a remarkably mature work that still remains relevant to its composer. The arrangement included the twin violins of Smith and Harvey plus a guitar solo from Nicola.
West readily admitted the influence of Elbow on the song “In Your Eyes” stating that he’d love to hear Guy Garvey sing it. Paced by the composer’s own piano and vocals the arrangement included a violin solo from Smith and the subtle drum colourations of Leaver.
Appropriately the set concluded with West’s “Thank You, And Goodbye”, a gentle valediction featuring just voice, piano and strings.
Although all a little bit too “poppy” for my personal tastes I generally enjoyed this performance from the Ollie West Ensemble which combined youthful enthusiasm with a commendable songwriting maturity and a high standard of musicianship from everybody concerned.
On occasions there seemed to be almost too much going on with West’s voice almost being drowned out at times and it was difficult to derive too much meaning from the lyrics. Ironically the most effective moments were often the quietest ones, featuring just voice and piano and perhaps a little colouration from the strings.
However personal misgivings aside the Ollie West Band + Strings were very well received by the wall2wall audience with a number of copies of the live album being sold. These are talented young musicians who will hopefully have a bright future within the industry. It may well be that we will get to hear a lot more from Ollie West and his friends in the coming years, albeit probably not in a jazz context.
I hear that the band’s transport broke down on the way back to Manchester sparking an impromptu string quartet performance in a picnic area on the A5 while waiting for the RAC came to the rescue. Tough luck guys, but glad you got back safely in the end. Such are the joys and perils of the touring life.
EIRA/SNOW, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
Eira/Snow is a duo featuring the Monmouth based musicians Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes.
Initially inspired by the music of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, particularly those classic ECM recordings on which Garbarek fused jazz with various folk and world music elements Owen and Downes took their band name from the Welsh word for snow, thereby acknowledging both their own roots and that original Scandinavian inspiration. The band has been in existence for a number of years now and has extended its sphere of influence to encompass the music of Wales, the Mediterranean and the Middle East with Owen playing a variety of reed instruments while Downes lays down the groove on double bass.
In January 2017 Eira/Snow played in the Melville Theatre as part of a double bill with the young Birmingham based organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir and that rather truncated set, enjoyable as it was, represented something of a taster for today.
The January show saw Eira/Snow going back to basics with Downes sticking to double bass throughout and Owen limiting himself to tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. Ordinarily he brings along more exotic instruments as well, such as the Hungarian taragato and the Armenian duduk, while Downes will also pick up his baritone to end the concert with a double sax barrage.
I’ve witnessed Eira/Snow perform at a variety of locations and the duo have established an impressive reputation for their appearances in sacred buildings and have appeared in many churches, often in remote locations, throughout the Welsh Marches. Eira/Snow’s music is particularly suited to church acoustics and the fact that some of these performances have been held by candlelight has also added to the atmosphere. Prior to today’s appearance they had recently enjoyed a successful performance in the church at nearby Grosmont.
We didn’t get the church ambience today but we did enjoy a complete Eira/Snow performance with Owen performing on his full coterie of reed instruments and also adding a little judicious electronica and percussion.
The duo had already commenced their first tune when we got in from the theatre. As I recall it was the Welsh folk tune “Brodyr pob cerddorion” a title translating as “All Musicians Are Brothers”. An electronically generated tanpura like drone provided the backdrop for Owen’s dancing tenor sax melodies and Downes’ deep, propulsive bass grooves.
The supremely catchy “Astrakhan Café” featured Owen on soprano saxophone. In general Eira/Snow’s pieces are primarily folk tunes with infectious melodies and strong grooves and an essential simplicity that ensures that they remain accessible, no matter how far the band may push them.
The next piece, translated from Farsi as “New Year” featured Owen on the distinctive Armenian duduk, a notoriously difficult instrument to play effectively - “always a hard blow” as Owen puts it.
An arrangement of the Welsh folk tune “Pontypridd” found Owen back on the more familiar tenor sax , but treated with a dash of echo to simulate something of the church acoustic so loved by the duo.
The next piece featured Owen playing Arabic music on the Hungarian taragato, an instrument with a particularly distinctive sound and one also played by one of Owen’s great musical heroes, the highly respected German free jazz saxophonist Peter Brotzmann.
An Eira/Snow gig always represents something of a musical ‘world tour’ and “Manteca Araba” saw the duo relocating to Spain, albeit a Spain still under the influence of the Moors as Owen moved back to soprano saxophone.
As is usual with an Eira/Snow performance not all the titles were announced. The next piece found Owen treating his clarinet with live looping techniques before improvising over the melodic patterns he had generated.
The following item began with a passage of solo bass from Downes with Owen adding percussive effects by means of a rain stick and other devices, live looping these before probing deeply on tenor sax.
“Thalij”, the Arabic word for “Snow” found Owen playing his alto sax as Downes used the body of his bass to provide percussive accompaniment. Of the alto Owen informed us “she’s an old lady of 1928, but she barks like a dog”. The “old lady” is due to emerge again in 2018 as part of an Ornette Coleman inspired project that Owen is putting together.
“In Praise Of Dreams”, the Jan Garbarek piece that initially inspired the Eira/Snow project found Owen moving back to tenor for a convincing performance of this much loved ECM classic.
One suspected that this was scheduled to be the end of the performance but the duo found time for one final tune, a clarinet item that again included the use of live looping techniques, the electronics enhancing the sound of an instrument that Owen had “bought for ten quid in a charity shop” adding “it’s a good clarinet though”.
Although I’ve seen Eira/Snow perform this music on a number of occasions I don’t find myself tiring of their distinctive blend of world jazz and I found today’s show as absorbing as ever. In general audiences are always appreciative of their music and today was no exception.
Some of today’’s pieces can be heard on the duo’s website http://www.eirasnow.co.uk but they’ve been around as a band for a long time and it really is time that they committed their music to disc. I’d certainly appreciate having a permanent record of this music and I’m sure that any CD release would sell well at gigs.
BMJ ENSEMBLE, MELVILLE THEATRE
The mysterious non appearance of the South African accapella quintet Africa Entsha created something of a crisis for the Festival organisers. Apparently the group had cancelled other shows earlier in the week, including one in Edinburgh but no official communication had been received explaining their absence.
The trio quickly dubbed ‘The BMJ Ensemble’ was comprised of the only three musicians present on the premises, Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes of Eira Snow and bassist Erica Lyons who was scheduled to play a duo set later in the bar with keyboard player John paul Gard.
The unusual configuration of reeds plus two double basses assembled in the Theatre to play an impromptu gig comprised mainly of jazz standards. Despite being so hastily convened the three musicians performed a consistently interesting set that saw an intriguing tension develop between Owen’s avant garde leanings and Lyon’s more straight ahead inclinations. The discussions between tunes were an entertainment in themselves and the interplay between the two basses was a consistent source of fascination with Lyons often making effective use of the bow.
Owen largely stuck to tenor sax throughout, the constant instrument swappage of Eira/Snow would not have been appropriate in this context. Nevertheless he probed extremely deeply, taking the music right out there in a programme that included Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and the ballad “Weaver Of Dreams”, in a version inspired by Dexter Gordon. Suitably emboldened they even tackled the Eira/Snow tune “Mutiny In Elsinor”. Some of the interplay between Owen’s tenor, Downes’ pizzicato bass and Lyon’s bowed bass was reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s groups featuring arco specialist David Izenzon, a direction that Owen, in particular, was keen to explore.
In this impromptu setting few of the tunes were actually announced and much of what was played was wholly improvised. Owen picked up his alto for one number, which also included another of those absorbing bass duets. The sound of two double basses working together is something that is rarely heard and it made a refreshing change.
Another item saw Downes finally picking up his baritone for a blues infused double sax workout that featured Lyons on arco bass and a solo from Downes on the big horn.
Despite its looseness I rather enjoyed this set which skirted lightly around the boundaries of straight ahead and free jazz and included some excellent interactive playing between all three musicians. The fact that such an interesting and engaging performance could be put together ‘on the fly’ was a good illustration of what jazz is all about.
It was all very different from the advertised event but I suspect that I probably enjoyed this absorbing session rather more than I would the more obviously theatrical Africa Entsha. Hats off to Lyndon, Crac and Erica for stepping into the breach so brilliantly.
ERICA LYONS / JOHN PAUL GARD DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
If Saturday was turning out to be an unexpectedly busy day for Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes the same applied to Erica Lyons. Following her impromptu set with the BMJ Ensemble she carted her bass into the bar to perform her scheduled duo set with the Bristol based keyboard player John paul Gard.
Best known as a highly talented organist today’s set represented a rare outing from Gard on electric piano, a Roland RD 64. “Erica’s my left leg” explained Gard, “I usually play the organ and play the bass lines on the pedals”.
As an organist Gard is a highly popular artist with jazz audiences and has previously visited wall2wall in this context when he led his trio in a concert performance at the inaugural Festival back in 2013.
Today’s set was comprised of a selection of familiar jazz standards and Lyons seemed happier in this more straightforward context, although she admitted to enjoying the challenge of playing that earlier, less structured set with Downes and Owen.
In the less formal setting of the bar she delighted in a series of playful instrumental exchanges with Gard on a series of standards including such well known tunes as “A Night In Tunisia”, “Take The A Train” and “Take Five”, all tunes that received more than one airing over the course of the Festival weekend.
Lyons has always been a highly accomplished bass player and a consistently engaging soloist and prior to her move to the Welsh Borders was a professional musician on the London scene. She also spent some time in New York studying bass with the great Ray Brown. I’ve seen her perform many times and have always enjoyed her playing.
I was also impressed with Gard as a pianist after witnessing several shows featuring him in his more familiar guise as an organist.
This short, but hugely enjoyable, set from two highly popular musicians was warmly appreciated by the Festival audience.
IAN SHAW / BARRY GREEN DUO, MELVILLE THEATRE
Ian Shaw is one of Britain’s most respected jazz vocalists, but his talent doesn’t stop there, he is also an accomplished pianist and songwriter and a raconteur with a ready, and often salty wit. In other words Ian Shaw is an entertainer – but having said that he’s emphatically not “show business”.
I recall enjoying a solo performance by Shaw at the Lichfield Real Ale Jazz & Blues Festival back in 2011 and being impressed by both his singing and his dazzling repartee. As a vocalist Shaw has a stunning technical facility allied to a jazz improviser’s sensibility, it’s an undeniably impressive combination, but ironically one that may have prevented him from coming to the attention of a broader, non specialist audience. “Of course if I owned some suits and was thin I’d be hugely famous” he has been known to remark, with more than a little justification.
For today’s performance Shaw was joined by the excellent pianist Barry Green, a supremely versatile player who remains somewhat underrated in the UK despite having recorded with a number of leading American musicians. The pianist had previously visited BMJ back in 2009 as a member of saxophonist Martin Speake’s ‘Generations’ quartet.
A superb accompanist Green works frequently with singers, including another one time BMJ visitor, Georgia Mancio. Technically gifted and supremely adaptable Green was the perfect foil for Shaw and also helped to keep a check on the singer’s verbal ramblings during this relatively short Festival set.
Like many jazz artists Shaw has a love of the music of Joni Mitchell and the performance began with a rendition of her “In France They Kiss On Main Street” which demonstrated Shaw’s awesome technique, but with the vocal gymnastics never obscuring the brilliant imagery of Mitchell’s lyrics. The faithful Green also impressed with his solo at the piano.
Shaw demonstrated his supremely flexible phrasing on the hipster lyrics of “Small Today Tomorrow” Bob Dorough’s paean to laziness and hedonism. The piece also featured an excellent solo from the impressive Green.
Shaw’s new album, to be released in November 2017 will be called “Shine, Sister, Shine” and will be dedicated to the women who have influenced his life and career. It will include “All The Days” by the Welsh born singer-songwriter Judith Owen, with whom Shaw, himself a native of North Wales, has performed.
“Dance Me To The End Of Love” came from the pen of another, more famous, songwriter the late, great Leonard Cohen. The song had also been tackled, in a rather different manner, by the band Moscow Drug Club at the Festival Dinner at the Angel Hotel on Thursday evening.
We were also to hear “Wichita Lineman” again, but in an innovative, slowed down arrangement that was very different to the version performed earlier in the day by the Ollie West Ensemble. It’s been surprising to find just how big an influence Glen Campbell has been on jazz artists with Shaw praising him as a vocalist and singling out the clarity of his diction.
Shaw is an artist who looks forward as well as backwards. Acknowledging the influence of Mel Torme “Born To Be Blue” included an example of Shaw’s superior scatting technique as he exchanged phrases with Green at the piano.
Meanwhile his cover of Alicia Keys’ “New York (Empire State of Mind)” showed how up to date he can be. The latter song is to be included on the forthcoming “Shine, Sister, Shine” album.
Humour and tenderness then combined on Shaw’s interpretation of Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?”.
“Carry On World” included a cast of colourful characters and a world weary black humour, plus a dazzling solo from the excellent Barry Green.
Politically active Shaw is an active fund raiser for the charity Side By Side With Refugees and has been a volunteer worker at the detention camps in Calais. After today’s show a bucket collection was held in support of the charity while Shaw’s emotive, self penned song “Keep Walking” addressed the subject with music, the lyrics telling the tale of Sara, an Eritrean refugee currently stranded in Calais. The song will be included on the forthcoming album.
“The Beautiful Life” ended the show on a more optimistic note and the warmth of the audience reaction saw the duo returning for a brief encore of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”.
In between the songs Shaw charmed the audience with his relaxed but streetwise banter, including details of his Welsh Presbyterian upbringing, the differences in the Welsh language between the North and South of the country – and the time he was employed to play piano in an Amsterdam brothel.
This was an excellent performance from two highly talented musicians and the standard of the singing and playing was exceptional. And like all Ian Shaw shows it was also highly entertaining as well as being musically satisfying. Shaw doesn’t pander to a mass audience but nevertheless he deserves to be far better known to the wider public than he actually is.
After the show I treated myself to two albums recorded by Barry Green in Brooklyn on a visit to New York in January 2014. Recorded with two separate trios “Great News” features Green with saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver while “Almost There” features a more conventional piano trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey. Both sets feature a combination of Green originals and a mix of inspired covers ranging from jazz and bebop standards to pop tunes. All are given innovative, sometimes quirky arrangements and a wry musical wit is inherent throughout both recordings with the spirit of Thelonious Monk never too far away. As one would expect from musicians of this quality the playing is excellent throughout and Green more than holds his own in such illustrious company. Both releases are highly recommended and appear on Green’s own Moletone record label.
SARAH MEEK / GUY SHOTTON DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
The duo of vocalist Sarah Meek and pianist Guy Shotton played a successful club date at BMJ in March 2017 when the pair opened for Shotton’s own instrumental trio featuring bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Bob Richards.
That evening came about as the result of a duo performance by Shotton and vocalist Debs Hancock in the Melville Theatre Bar at the 2016 wall2wall Jazz Festival.
Today’s enjoyable standards set included classy interpretations of “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” plus the Duke Ellington tunes “Take The A Train” and “In A Mellow Tone”.
Arguably the most impressive item was the duo’s adaptation of a tune by Ravel, with lyrics presumably added by Meek.
The qualities that made the duo’s first BMJ performance such a success were evident again with Meek demonstrating an impressive technical facility and a real talent for jazz phrasing. Like her musical partner the singer is a graduate of the RWCMD Jazz Course.
Shotton again impressed as a highly capable piano soloist and as an inventive and imaginative arranger.
This good natured set from a pair of very personable performers was again very well received by the audience in the Melville Centre’s bar area.
To read more about Sarah Meek and Guy Shotton and their previous BMJ visit please go to;
GILAD ATZMON & THE ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE, MELVILLE THEATRE
A regular visitor to BMJ Gilad Atzmon drew the largest concert audience of the Festival for this performance featuring his regular working band the Orient House Ensemble comprised of pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Enzo Zirilli.
The quartet were presenting music from their forthcoming album “The Spirit Of Trane”, a celebration of the music and spirit of John Coltrane, the great saxophonist, composer and improviser who died in 1967 but remains a towering influence on contemporary jazz musicians.
The band played next to a panel dedicated to John Coltrane that had been moved into the Theatre from the informative exhibition curated by the National Jazz Archive that had been set up in the foyer for the duration of the Festival.
The album repertoire includes outside material played by Coltrane as well as music actually composed by him. In a neat twist of musical fate Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone”, which concluded the set by Sarah Meek and Guy Shotton was followed by the same composer’s “In A Sentimental Mood”, which opened the proceedings here. It was introduced by the duo of Harrison on piano and Atzmon on soprano sax but the first real solo of the piece featured Stavi’s melodic and resonant double bass. The recorded version also features the Sigamos String Quartet led by violinist Ros Stephen but in the absence of the additional instrumentation Atzmon was able to stretch out on the soprano, sounding authentically ‘Trane-like’ and inserting a quote from “Resolution” (from Coltrane’s most famous recording “A Love Supreme”) into his solo.
“Invitation”, written by Bronislaw Kaper but indelibly associated with Coltrane, followed. Given a kind of tango arrangement the piece saw Atzmon switching to tenor sax, an instrument not normally associated with him. But as Atzmon explains in his notes to the forthcoming album the tenor was his first horn and it was Coltrane who inspired him to play it. It was the difficulty of transporting the instrument on budget airlines that led to him abandoning the tenor and taking up the smaller alto sax, the instrument with which he is now most commonly associated. It was this recording that saw the saxophonist getting his tenor “out of the closet” but his playing here as he shared the solos with pianist Harrison sounded as if he’d been playing the instrument all his life.
This was even more pronounced on the Atzmon original “Minor Thing”, a tune written in a Coltrane-esque idiom that included a marathon tenor solo that sounded for all the world like prime time, “sheets of sound” era Coltrane, such was the flawless intensity of the playing, with drummer Zirilli responding in a manner that was reminiscent of the great Elvin Jones.
When Atzmon had finally blown himself out Harrison responded with a slow burning piano solo , gradually ramping up the intensity with the aid of Stavi’s omnipresent bass growl and Zirilli’s colourful and increasingly forceful snare and cymbal decorations.
The ballad “Central Park West” presented the gentler side of Coltrane’s spirit with Atzmon adopting a softer tone on tenor, Harrison providing a lyrical piano solo and Zirilli turning in some suitably sensitive and sympathetic brush work.
Solo soprano sax introduced the next item which was unannounced, but which proved to be “Blue Train” if memory serves. After progressing through a brief duo dialogue with Harrison Atzmon launched into an intense, powerful solo, often with the group in sax trio mode as Harrison sat back before delivering his own sparkling solo.
Introduced by Atzmon as “John Coltrane’s take on Brexit” the OHE’s modal, Coltrane-esque version of the folk tune “Scarborough Fair” originally appeared on the 2013 OHE album “Songs of the Metropolis” . Tonight’s version commenced with Atzmon blowing his soprano directly into the strings of the piano to create a kind of echo effect, the atmospherics enhanced by Zirilli’s cymbal scrapes. Harrison took the first solo, his expansive wanderings gradually gathering intensity , powered along by Zirilli’s increasingly dynamic drumming. Atzmon then switched to tenor, soloing with a simmering intensity.
All too soon we had come to the final number, another delightful ballad performance that featured the warm, soulful sound of Atzmon’s tenor. The tune was unannounced but was probably Jimmy McHugh’s “Say It (Over And Over Again” which closes the “Spirit of Trane” album.
Rewarded with shouts for “more!” from a highly appreciative audience the quartet returned for a blistering, free-wheeling, quote stuffed, bop inspired work out briskly ushered in by Zirilli’s drums and featuring some robust tenor and drum exchanges, more dazzling pianistics from Harrison and a final series of volcanic drum breaks from Zirilli.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to see the tunes from the “Spirit of Trane” album performed by the core of the Orient House Ensemble. The album itself sounds very different thanks to Ros Stephen’s magnificent string arrangements. Today’s performance was much more raw and direct and, arguably, closer to the true spirit of Coltrane himself.
Atzmon’s dynamic performances and extraordinary musicianship have made him a hugely popular figure with BMJ audiences and his three band mates in a long running and highly cohesive ensemble are also supremely accomplished musicians and consistently exciting and entertaining performers. In this relatively brief festival slot Atzmon kept the verbals to a minimum, something of a first for him, and let the music do the talking. It spoke with eloquence and conviction, channelling the “Spirit of Trane” to a 21st century audience.
GETHIN LIDDINGTON / DAVE JONES DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
The final duo performance of the Festival featured two more of South Wales’ finest musicians, Gethin Liddington on trumpet and flugelhorn and Dave Jones at the piano. Both are highly accomplished soloists and both have featured regularly on the Jazzmann web pages.
I didn’t get to see as much of this set as I would have liked after being whisked away in the middle to be interviewed about my thoughts on the Festival by Mike Skilton for the wall2wall live-stream broadcast. Frankly I found it a highly discomforting experience, as a journalist I’d far rather be behind a typewriter than in front of a camera!
Getting back to the bar and in severe need of a drink I managed to catch the end of Dave and Geth’s standards based set and remember enjoying their interpretation of “All The Things You Are”, which featured Liddington’s distinctive four valve flugel.
As one would expect from these two vastly experienced musicians this was a very classy set that was correspondingly well received. I just wish I’d managed to hear a bit more of it.
SHEZ RAJA COLLECTIVE with DENNIS ROLLINS, MELVILLE THEATRE
Trombonist Dennis Rollins appeared at the 2016 wall2wall Festival with his own Velocity Trio and enjoyed the experience so much that he wanted to be involved again.
This year he was back as a guest soloist with the Collective, the band led by electric bass specialist Shez Raja. The line up of the Collective has always been fluid and Raja positively encourages the involvement of prominent guest soloists, Indeed Gilad Atzmon has collaborated with the group in the past, both live and on record. Meanwhile Raja’s most recent album, “Gurutopia” features contributions from big name Americans Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Mike Stern (guitar).
Raja is a British-Asian bass player and composer, originally from the Wirral but now based in London. He formed his Collective in 2007 and subsequently released three studio albums, “Magica” (2007) “Ten Of Wands” (2008) and Mystic Radikal” (2010). In 2014 the album “Soho Live” captured something of the energy of a Collective live performance and this was followed by the studio set “Gurutopia” in 2016.
For today’s performance Raja and Rollins were joined by two of the Collective’s core members, New Zealand born Pascal Roggen on electric violin and Alex Stanford on keyboards. The drum stool was occupied by Sophie Alloway, perhaps best known as the drummer with the trio Wild Card, led by guitarist Clement Regert.
Raja lists his key influences on electric bass as being Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke and Weather Report era Jaco Pastorius so it’s perhaps not too surprising to discover that much of his music is full of strong, funky grooves that pack a mighty rhythmic punch. But there’s also a degree of subtlety about Raja’s music and an increasingly important element reflecting his Asian heritage.
Like his hero Miller the bassist is a great showman and his live shows are energetic, entertaining affairs with the instrumental virtuosity of the group members balanced by an underlying good humour and sense of fun.
Described by its composer as “a trip to the Punjab” the opening segue of “Shambala”, “Epiphany” and “Get Cosmic” incorporated funky electric bass, and hard driving drumming but also included imaginative solos from Rollins and Roggen plus the leader on his five string bass. In this electric setting the sounds of the instruments were often heavily treated, particularly Roggen’s violin and the leader’s bass. Raja’s second solo of this sequence featured the distinctive sound of the wah wah pedal, just one of Raja’s range of electronic effects. These new tunes are likely to be featured on Raja’s next recording.
From the “Gurutopia” album the frenetic “Maharajah” kept the pot bubbling with its infectious mix of funk grooves and Indian timbres and melodies. Introduced by Raja’s heavily distorted electric bass the piece included solos from the always inventive Rollins and from Stanford on his rack of keyboards (a Prophet synth and a Nord Electro 2), sounding more than a little like the great Bernie Worrall.
From the same album “Song For John” added a folkish lilt via Roggen’s violin solo which floated above the leader’s languorous electric bass groove. Meanwhile Rollins adopted a warm, rounded sound for his trombone solo.
Inspired by Raja’s love of the films of Guy Ritchie “RocknRolla” raised the energy levels once more. Ushered in by Alloway at the drums the piece found Stanford adopting a Hammond organ sound while Raja’s wah wah inflected bass solo and Stanford’s subsequent synth excursion attempted to capture something of the essence of Stern’s high octane guitar work on the recorded version.
Still focussing on the “Gurutopia” material “Sketches Of Space” (great title!) was a feature for the versatile Roggen, a musician capable of playing all styles of music from classical to folk, on either electric or acoustic violin. He clearly relishes playing in this band and was a good humoured, energetic presence throughout, the perfect foil for his similarly inclined leader.
The dynamic variations of “Rabbits”, the opening track on “Gurutopia” offered Rollins the opportunity to express himself on trombone before Raja, ever the showman, encouraged the audience to clap along to the funky grooves generated by himself and Alloway. With the crowd fully on board the Collective unleashed further solos from Stanford on electric piano, Raja and his ‘mutant thumb’ on virtuosic electric bass, and finally the excellent Alloway at the drums. She had played with power and precision all night – on the evening of her birthday. Her contribution was rewarded by the presentation of a cake from Raja and the rest of the band and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” from both band and audience – she still had to provide her own drum accompaniment though!
Alloway was to feature again on the encore “Freedom”, a tune sourced from the “Magika” album and tonight given a Township Jazz feel as Rollins, Roggen and Raja ventured into the crowd to deliver their solos. The audience loved and this was a great way to bring the curtain down on an excellent days music that had seen wall2wall hosting three of the great entertainers of the British jazz scene, Ian Shaw, Gilad Atzmon and Shez Raja.
Entertainers they may be but they are musicians first and foremost and it was the excellence of their singing and playing that stood out most of all – the rest was just a bonus. For me Atzmon took the award for gig of the day by a very short head, partially because it was such a novelty to see him playing tenor with such brilliance. The only disappointment was that he didn’t get up to jam with the Raja Collective.
Elsewhere the Ollie West Band offered plenty of youthful promise in a set that was eminently enjoyable, if a little outside my current listening zone. The duos in the bar all contributed worthwhile performances that included some first class playing and singing.
Lyndon Owen and Crac Downes emerged as the unexpected heroes of the day, playing a hugely successful Eira/Snow show in the bar before stepping into the breach (together with Erica Lyons) to provide a much needed rescue act following the non appearance of Africa Entsha.
And Lyndon was to save the day again on Sunday – but more of that in that day’s coverage.
blog comments powered by Disqus