by Ian Mann
August 20, 2019
Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival, and performances by Ross Stanley, Karen Sharp, Stochelo Rosenberg, Rory Ingham and the Celtic Jazz Quartet. Photography by Bob Meyrick.
Photograph of Steve Brown, ‘the hardest working drummer in Brecon’ by Bob Meyrick.
SUNDAY AT BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2019
ROSS STANLEY TRIO, THE MUSE
The mid-day slot on the final day of the festival offered a choice of listening. The young RWCMD schooled pianist Frazer Nelson was leading his trio at the Ty Helyg Lounge, the quartet Ocaso were bringing the sounds of Portugal and Brazil to the Castle Hotel, while trumpeter Gethin Liddington and his Goodkatz quintet were reviving the sounds of the Dixieland and swing eras at the Wellington.
Having previously reviewed shows by both Ocasa and Goodkatz I eventually decided to opt for what promised to be an intriguing and enjoyable performance at The Muse by a one off trio led by keyboard player Ross Stanley.
The affable Stanley is arguably best known as the UK’s most in demand jazz organist but he is also a highly accomplished pianist and performs and records regularly on both instruments. Today’s performance saw him appearing on piano, in reality a Nord Stage 88 keyboard, at The Muse in the company of drummer Steve Brown and local bass heroine Erika Lyons.
Stanley and Lyons had only met for the first time forty five minutes before the gig but one would never have thought it as the newly assembled trio gelled around the shared language of jazz to deliver a hugely enjoyable set of standards that featured some excellent playing from all involved. Considering the number of options on offer the audience turnout was also pleasingly large, let’s hope things were the same at the other three venues.
The trio introduced themselves with a swinging version of “Nobody Else But Me” that included fluent solos from Stanley and Lyons plus a series of brushed drum breaks from Brown.
Next we heard two contrasting compositions from the pen of Antonio Carlos Jobim, played back to back but not segued together.
A lively “No More Blues” featured solos from Stanley and Lyons complemented by the colourful drumming of Brown, ranging from the clatter of sticks on rims to the gentle patter of hand drums during the bass solo.
The jazz waltz “Louisa” was more contemplative and lyrical, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano and featuring the sound of brushed drums. Stanley later stretched out more expansively on piano before handing over to Lyons, who briefly flourished the bow towards the close.
The jazz standard “A Time For Love” was also introduced by a passage of solo piano with more conventional jazz solos subsequently coming from Stanley and Lyons plus a series of brushed drum breaks from Brown.
Solo piano also instigated a beautiful trio performance of the ballad “For All We Know” with Stanley’s playing subsequently complemented by Brown’s exquisite cymbal touch. Lyons’ bass solo was outstanding, melodic and lyrical, but highly dexterous.
“My Shining Hour” was delivered at a much faster tempo with Brown’s rapidly brushed drum grooves propelling a barnstorming piano solo from Stanley. The drummer also got to enjoy a full length solo, his vigorous brush work supplemented by effective use of the bass drum.
“Jive Coffee” was a contrafact written by the American guitarist Peter Bernstein, who plays in a trio with Larry Goldings, one of Stanley’s Hammond heroes. I assume that the piece was originally conceived for performance by an organ trio but it worked just as well in this context with its infectious Latin-esque rhythms prompting inventive solos from Stanley and Lyons plus a further drum feature from Brown.
A hugely enjoyable set concluded with an arrangement of Percy Mayfield’s “The Danger Zone”, a song made famous by Ray Charles and played here in a style that Stanley described as “a dangerously slow blues”. Solos here came from Stanley on piano and Lyons at the bass.
The Festival brochure promised a guest appearance by the young alto saxophonist Rachel Head, another product of the RWCMD. For some reason this didn’t happen but in truth I wasn’t too disappointed, the addition of another musician might have interrupted the very special rapport that had been established so quickly by the members of this exceptional trio.
Lyons once played professionally on the London jazz scene under her maiden name of Erika Howard before escaping to the Welsh Borders, where the quality of her playing is greatly appreciated by local jazz audiences. In the meantime she’s rather dropped off the radar as far as the jazz scene at large is concerned. I rather got the impression that Stanley was very pleasantly surprised by the level of her capabilities as both an effective team player and a highly accomplished soloist. Here in the Marches we’re rather proud of Erika’s capabilities and this show was a welcome reminder of her considerable talents.
It was also a timely reminder of Stanley’s skills as a pianist and of Brown’s ability to both complement drive any band that he finds himself a part of. This was a hugely enjoyable standards set that surpassed my initial expectations.
KAREN SHARP QUARTET, GUILDHALL THEATRE
As the audience filed out of The Muse the busy Brown packed up his cymbals ready to dash over to the Guildhall for his second gig of the day as part of a quartet led by the saxophonist Karen Sharp.
Sharp endeared herself to British jazz audiences during a lengthy stint with the late Humphrey Lyttleton’s band, before embarking on a solo career.
By way of contrast to the Stanley trio this is a regular working group that also features the talents of pianist Nikki Iles and bassist Dave Green. This line up has recorded two albums, “Spirit” (2011) and “The Sun, The Moon and You” (2018). The recordings feature a mix of jazz standards and Sharp originals, but today’s performance was entirely standards based.
I had previously seen this quartet perform in March 2017 at a Shrewsbury Jazz Network event at The Hive Music & Media Centre. The billed as the Nikki Iles / Karen Sharp Quartet the group gave a very classy performance and those high standards were also apparent throughout today’s set.
The quartet hit the ground running with a version of Harry Warren’s “Summer Night” with Sharp quickly hitting her stride with a marathon tenor solo. A highly fluent soloist she was followed by the similarly masterful Iles at the piano and the peerless Green at the bass.
“The Dolphin”, a tune written by Luiz Eca and associated with Stan Getz, introduced a Brazilian flavour to the piece and included solos from Iles, at one point with only Green’s bass for company, Sharp on tenor, and Green himself.
A tenor sax / double bass duet introduced the quartet’s version of Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica” with Green taking the first conventional solo, underscored by sparse piano chording and tastefully brushed drums. Sharp and Iles later stretched out on tenor and piano respectively, prior to a closing drum feature from the ever effervescent Brown.
“Quiet Now” was an exquisite ballad from the pen of the criminally underrated American pianist and composer Denny Zeitlin, also a qualified psychiatrist. Introduced by a passage of solo piano from Iles this was a beautiful performance that featured Iles at her most lyrical and Green at his most melodic. Sharp’s warmth on tenor was a good demonstration of her versatility and her skills as a ballad player.
The Lee Konitz composition “Thingin’” was ushered in by Brown at the drums and saw Sharp switching to baritone and joining the drummer in an introductory dialogue. With the addition of Iles and Green Sharp embarked on a more orthodox jazz solo that demonstrated her fluency on the larger horn. She was followed by Iles on piano, Green at the bass, and Brown with a series of drum breaks.
Sharp moved back to tenor for the second ballad of the set, an arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein song “Some Other Time”. The piece was introduced by Iles at the piano and featured Sharp’s expressive tenor sax soloing in addition to further features for Iles and Green. The performance concluded with an impressive solo tenor sax cadenza.
An excellent set concluded with an unannounced item that I thought I recognised but couldn’t pin a title on. In any event it was great fun with Sharp delivering a rousing, rasping, baritone solo while Iles continued to shine at the piano.
Another near capacity audience thoroughly enjoyed this set which featured Sharp demonstrating great fluency on both saxophones, while Iles performance was as impeccable as ever at the piano.
Once again the always swinging Brown proved himself to be a great team member, a subtly propulsive drummer who always offered great support to his colleagues and clearly enjoyed his own moments in the spotlight. This was his second gig of the day, following immediately after the performance by the Ross Stanley trio, but the ever effusive Brown showed no signs of tiring.
I have seen Dave Green perform on many occasions but have rarely seen him afforded as much solo space as here. His time keeping was immaculate throughout, as ever, but it was his soloing that really captured the imagination, fluent, inventive and melodic, but always with that underlying sense of swing. For me, he threatened to steal the show.
My photographer friend Bob Meyrick, also the promoter of the Jazzsteps series of events in Nottinghamshire, likes to refer to Green as “The Guv’nor”, a perfect description for the quiet authority that he brings to any ensemble that he plays in. In Dave Green the Sharp quartet had the ultimate ‘safe pair of hands’, and an inspired bass soloist to boot.
STOCHELO ROSENBERG QUINTETTE, THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
From the ‘Guv’nor’ to ‘The Don’, the name that guitarist Chris Quinn gives to fellow guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg, head of the Dutch gypsy jazz dynasty and the man that many regard as the natural heir of the great Django Reinhardt.
The Rosenbergs are gypsy jazz royalty and persuading them to play at BJF represented another coup for the Festival organisers. They were assisted in this quest by the Shrewsbury based Quinn, who has forged close links with the gypsy jazz community and who helped to facilitate today’s concert as well as playing rhythm guitar in a five piece line up that featured Stochelo Rosenberg and his younger brother Mozes on lead guitars, Christiaan van Hemert on violin and Arnaud Van Den Berg on double bass.
Stochelo was born in Belgium and is now based in the Netherlands, but he and the rest of the Rosenberg clan have acquired an international reputation and have toured globally.
It was good to see Theatr Brycheiniog being used as a Festival venue once again and a pleasingly large crowd was in attendance as the five musicians took up their positions. The essence of gypsy jazz is that it can be played on portable instruments so with no piano or drum kit present the members of the Quintette initially looked very small on the huge stage. But the quality of the music quickly filled the space and the sound in the auditorium was perfectly balanced, allowing the listeners to capture every nuance of the playing.
There are a lot of groups around playing gypsy jazz or ‘manouche’ music but I think I can fairly say that I haven’t seen it played quite as well as this since witnessing Stephane Grappelli himself, with a band featuring the then rising star Martin Taylor, at Malvern Theatre sometime in the late 1970s / early 80s.
The Quintette’s repertoire drew widely on that of the Quintet du Hot Club de France and featured many Django Reinhardt compositions, beginning with “Duke and Duke”, quickly followed by “Daphne” in a dazzling opening combination. These two pieces found Stochelo and Mozes trading solos of astonishing virtuosity, their fingers flying around their fretboards in a blur, the lead changing hands seamlessly as they delighted their excited audience. The impressive van Hemert also contributed some fluent solo statements of his own as Quinn and Van Den Berg supplied the vigorous, propulsive rhythms.
The ballad “Clair De Lune”, first recorded by Reinhardt in 1947, revealed a more sensitive side of the group with van Hemert leading off the solos, followed by Mozes and Stochelo.
“Honeysuckle Rose” was taken at a fast clip as the Quintette raised the energy levels once more, with solos coming from Stochelo, Mozes and van Hemert.
The Quintette also specialise in bringing other elements to the gypsy jazz table, including swing, bebop, rumba, bossa nova and funk. Their interpretation of “Poinciana”, inspired by a recorded version by pianist Ahmad Jamal, brought a hint of bossa to the proceedings with van Hemert delivering a violin solo of such beauty that it was rewarded with whoops of delight from an adoring audience.
The temperature was raised again with a romp through “Minor Swing”, one of Reinhardt’s most famous compositions. Van Hemert took the first solo before handing over to the two lead guitarists who traded solos and also played a delightful duo passage as the rest of the band temporarily dropped out.
Written by Stochelo and named by van Hemert “Mozeology” honoured the composer’s brother and added a bebop element to the music. The tune, written on Widney Island while the group were on tour in nearby Seattle included a feature for Van Den Berg at the bass in addition to solos for the two lead guitars plus violin. The bassist was to feature again as he shared the solos with Stochelo on Reinhardt’s “Minor Blues”.
Another famous Reinhardt piece, the enduring “Nuages”, again featured the gentler side of the group with Mozes sharing the solos with van Hemert and Stochelo.
We then heard another Stochelo original, that I didn’t catch the title of, before the Quintette took things storming out with a galloping version of “Joseph Joseph” with the breakneck rhythms setting the pace for astonishingly agile solos from Stochelo, Mozes and van Hemert and with Van Den Berg weighing in for good measure.
The inevitable encore saw Stochelo and Mozes coming back on stage to play a brief, but beautiful, guitar duet. They were then joined by the rest of the group for stunning version of “the gypsy anthem”, “Dark Eyes”, with solos from van Hemert, Stochelo, Mozes and Van Den Berg and with the collective accelerating the rhythm to a mind boggling pace by the close.
Following this the Quintette received a genuine standing ovation with practically everybody in the auditorium getting to their feet. I’ve seen and heard a lot of gypsy jazz in recent years and perhaps become a little jaded about it, but this performance was a real eye opener, a welcome reminder of just how exciting this music can be. These guys really did take the genre to a whole other level.
Congratulations are due to Chris Quinn, who helped to put the whole thing together, and to North Wales Jazz, who I believe were involved as well. Quinn also played the ‘Dave Kelbie role’ to perfection, focussing on rhythm guitar throughout (no solos), his disciplined and accurate playing giving the soloists just the platform they needed to help them weave their manouche magic.
I’m also indebted to Chris for providing me with a copy of “The Way Of The Guitar”, his recent recording as part of the Paulus Schafer Trio, an album I intend to take a look at in due course. Also for the gift of a live album by the trio The Rosenbergs, a trio led by Mozes and featuring another member of the clan, Johnny, on rhythm guitar and occasional vocals.
RORY INGHAM QUINTET, ST. MARY’S CHURCH
Twenty two year old trombonist and composer Rory Ingham was named as the winner of the Rising Star category at the 2017 British Jazz Awards. A frequent award winner his profile has continued to increase thanks to his work with the quintet Jam Experiment, now renamed Bonsai. Ingham has also played with the Mike Gibbs Big Band, NYJO, the BBC Big Band and others.
My review of the recent Bonsai album, “Bonsai Club”, can be read here;
The quintet that Ingham brought to the Festival represented a new project and featured his Bonsai bandmate Jonny Mansfield on vibraphone, Julia Mills on soprano and alto saxophones, Will Harris on double bass and the German born Felix Ambach at the drums. The date was part of a short European tour that will also take in Berlin and Barcelona!
It turned out that Mills is actually Ingham’s mother. How many other bands featuring mothers and sons do you know? The Dankworths obviously, and for those of us of a certain age who grew up in the 1970s there’s always Lieutenant Pigeon!
Mills turned out to be highly capable saxophonist, making a return to the music business after several years away raising a family. It was clear where Rory and his violinist/vocalist Dominic get their musical genes from.
Today’s set mainly featured Rory’s original writing, but although some of these tunes had been featured in the repertoire of Jam Experiment / Bonsai they sounded very different in this context.
The first piece we heard was the trombonist’s “Get It On Target”, a tune with an infectious ‘head’ that reminded me of Pat Metheny’s “James” and which also forms part of the Bonsai repertoire.
This featured a trombone and soprano sax front line with mother and son combining effectively and with each subsequently taking individual solos. I was already familiar with Ingham’s abilities as a soloist after seeing him with Jam Experiment but Mills’ playing was a revelation as she probed fluently, intelligently and incisively on soprano. Mansfield, who leads his own eleven piece band Elftet, with which Ingham plays, then impressed with a vibraphone solo that saw him deploying the four mallet technique. Mansfield is also a talented drummer and fulfils this role with Bonsai.
Although now based in London Ingham hails from Wakefield and his compositions often reference his native town. One such was the ballad “Sandal Castle”, performed as a quartet with Mills sitting out. This featured the warm, rounded sound of the composer’s trombone underscored by shimmering vibes and brushed drums and with Harris delivering a richly melodic double bass solo, prior to an unaccompanied trombone cadenza at the close.
Mills returned, this time on alto, for the first ‘outside’ item of the set, an arrangement of the Charlie Parker bebop standard “Anthropology” that featured an impressive unison statement of the tricky theme by the horns, followed by solos from Mills on alto and Mansfield on vibes. Ingham’s own solo saw him accompanied by Harris’ bass only, the latter subsequently entering into a sparky dialogue with Ambach’s drums.
Ingham’s own “Theaker’s Barn” featured interlocking trombone and alto lines fuelled by brushed drum grooves. Ingham’s trombone solo featured him in a pared down setting with just bass and drums for company. Mansfield then took over at the vibes, his vivacious exchanges with Harris and Ambach sometimes reminiscent of the Cloudmakers Trio (Jim Hart, vibes, Michael Janisch, double bass and Dave Smith, drums) who visited BJF in 2018.
The next piece was an astoundingly empathic trombone and double bass duet that was unannounced, and which I thought might have been entirely improvised. Mills later informed me that it was an adaptation of the Jasper Hoiby composition “Before”, a piece originally written for the trio Phronesis.
The set concluded with Ingham’s composition “MidWest”, a piece inspired by family visits to the Scottish Highlands. Introduced by Ambach at the drums this was a lengthy, episodic work featuring a front line of trombone and soprano sax with Mills’ airy solo followed by Ingham on trombone.
Besides the solos the piece also featured complex, through composed unison passages that revealed just how tight this quintet was, even in what is still early days for this particular project. The piece then ended as it began with a feature for Ambach at the kit.
The quality of the playing and the maturity of the original writing helped to ensure that this set was extremely well received by the audience at St. Mary’s. Ingham’s humorous presenting style also helped, both he and Mansfield are refreshingly down to earth Northerners with a ready wit. The novelty of seeing a mother and son playing together, with the son in charge, may also have been a factor.
The success of the event could also be measured in album sales with the new Bonsai album selling well and with Mansfield selling out of his Elftet album.
My thanks to Rory, Julia and Jonny for speaking with me afterwards. I now hope to catch up with Bonsai when they play at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry on Sunday, September 15th 2019 as part of their ongoing tour.
CELTIC JAZZ QUARTET, WELLINGTON HOTEL
The final ticketed event of Brecon Jazz Festival 2019 saw the return of a quartet that first played the Festival in 2016 under the name Celtic Jazz Sounds.
Now re-named the Celtic Jazz Quartet this is an Irish/Welsh collaboration and saw Carole Nelson (piano, alto sax, penny whistle, vocals) and Maria Walsh (lead vocals, percussion, flute) crossing the Irish Sea once more to join forces once more with local musicians Heulwen Thomas (violin, vocals) and Ian Cooper (electric bass).
Under the group name Zrazy the duo of Walsh and Nelson have recorded a series of albums embracing both jazz and folk as well as electronica. Openly lesbian many of their songs embrace feminist and political issues but there was little proselytising at tonight’s performance which saw the Anglo-Irish duo (Nelson was born in London) combining with Thomas and Cooper to deliver an entertaining set that was well received by a sizeable and supportive audience at the Wellington.
The 2016 performance had the feel of a ‘one off’ event and was in truth, a rather ragged affair but the quartet still made enough of an impression to be invited back ‘by popular demand’.
Nelson and Walsh had come over early, on the Thursday immediately prior to the Festival in order to avoid the dire weather that had been forecast. It’s possible that this might have afforded them more rehearsal time with their Welsh colleagues as tonight’s performance was far more tight and together than last time with Thomas sticking around for the whole set – in 2016 she’d left part way through to play another gig elsewhere.
In the main the set was steered by the Zrazy duo with the songs of Nelson and Walsh forming a large part of the repertoire. The first song was introduced by Nelson on penny whistle and featured Walsh on bodhran and vocals, her lyrics evoking a real sense of place and nature. Thomas skilfully wove her violin solo into the piece and Cooper’s bass provided a solid groove throughout.
The song “Rain” was an apposite choice given the weather conditions and featured Walsh playing brushed snare drum as Nelson doubled as piano soloist and backing vocalist. Elsewhere we heard from Thomas once more and Walsh contributed a scat vocal episode in addition to her singing of the lyrics.
“Heaven Is Here” introduced more new sounds with Walsh on voice and shaker and Thomas playing the violin pizzicato.
Zrazy’s original songs were mixed with jazz standards and other set pieces. “One Note Samba” was a feature for Thomas’ violin but also included a piano solo from Nelson and another bout of scatting from Walsh.
“Dream On”, the title track of a Zrazy album, proved to be a fierce declaration of individuality with Walsh’s singing of the lyrics augmented by Nelson’s piano solo and Thomas’ gypsy jazz style excursion on violin.
A song inspired by Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains saw the group sound supplemented by the addition of a drum machine as Walsh delivered a lyric relating to childhood memory and escaping the big city life.
I recall Cole Porter’s chronicle of obsession “Night And Day” featuring at the 2016 performance, and it was to feature again here with Walsh’s delivery of the lyric bookended by instrumental solos from Nelson and Thomas.
Thomas took the vocal mic to deliver a version of “Alright OK” etc. a light-hearted dip into the rock ‘n’roll catalogue that also saw her soloing on violin, sharing the instrumental spotlight with Nelson’s piano. Rhythmic impetus came from Walsh’s brushed snare and Cooper’s underpinning electric bass growl.
After this dash of light relief came a total contrast with Nelson’s harrowing, but award winning original song “Private Wars” with Walsh’s voice chronicling the tale of a relationship breakdown. The sounds of the Zrazy duo were underpinned by Cooper’s electric bass undertow with Thomas’ violin breaking free to solo towards the close.
Walsh picked up the bodhran again for “Drive”, a piece that she described as “our Thelma and Louise song”. This tale of defiance and escape in a repressive Ireland was fuelled by Cooper’s bass groove and saw Nelson adopting an electric piano setting for a solo whose sound reminded me of The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”. Thomas also featured on violin and Cooper’s bass came to the fore very briefly, prior to a scat vocal episode from Walsh.
The set concluded with “You Make Me Happy”, a song from Zrazy’s most recent album “The Art of Happy Accidents”. Once again the piece featured the drum machine, which supplemented Cooper’s funky electric bass groove as Walsh soloed on Jethro Tull like flute and Nelson doubled on keyboards and alto sax, with Thomas delivering a final violin solo.
Once again this quartet were very well received by a supportive crowd and sales of the Zrazy duo’s CDs were correspondingly brisk. It was certainly a more accomplished and professional show than last time with the full time presence of Thomas, who soloed with flair and fluency, a substantial factor in the success of the evening.
Nelson and Walsh write intelligent, often very personal, songs with pertinent lyrics and they embrace an impressive variety of musical styles including jazz, folk and pop. They have clearly attracted a considerable following for their music and although it’s not particularly to my personal tastes the audience reaction more than justified their presence here.
Despite the weather 2019 was another highly successful year for Brecon Jazz Festival. With the exception of Maciek Pysz’s talk on the lunchtime of the opening day every concert event that I went to was very well attended and the audiences were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and supportive throughout.
The big names such as Liane Carroll, Barbara Dennerlein, Scott Hamilton and Stochelo Rosenberg all delivered the goods while Samantha Wright and Rory Ingham announced themselves as stars of the future. Gareth Roberts and the Pysz/Cousins/Gardiner trio demonstrated the strength of the South Wales jazz scene while Ross Stanley and Karen Sharp delivered classy standards based sets.
Steve Waterman’s Big Band was the most accomplished ensemble to fill the Friday night big band slot thus far. In fact every performance that I saw offered something to enjoy and everywhere audiences reacted correspondingly.
The poor weather and the tight scheduling combined to ensure that I saw little of the Street and Fringe programmes although I did enjoy the photographic and art exhibitions at The Muse, Theatr Brycheiniog and Guildhall.
Following on from 2018’s ‘Women In Jazz’ theme this year’s Festival again included an impressive roster of female led bands with Samantha Wright, Liane Carroll, Alice Leggett, Barbara Dennerlein and Karen Sharp all headlining successfully while the Celtic Jazz Quartet was 75% female.
Friday night’s big band also included a large contingent if female instrumentalists with Leggett, Charlotte Keeffe, Beverley Green and Rebecca Nash all featuring strongly as soloists. Elsewhere Alicia Gardener-Trejo, Sophia Oster, Paula Gardiner, Nikki Iles and Julia Mills all played key roles in the bands they were involved in.
Lynne Gornall, Roger Cannon and their team are to be congratulated on another successful Festival that once again brought some exceptional jazz talents and some great music to Brecon. The stewarding was as courteous and efficient as ever, the sound excellent at all venues and every event ran to time.
My only reservation regarding this year’s Festival would be the absence of the Brecon Jazz Futures programme, which delivered some excellent music from some prodigious young talents in both 2016 and 2018. It is to be hoped that the strand, co-ordinated by jazz educator Marc Edwards, can return in 2020.
That said the performances by the Alice Leggett Quartet and Rory Ingham Quintet, plus some of the RWCMD related appearances confirmed the festival’s commitment to supporting emerging jazz talent.blog comments powered by Disqus