by Ian Mann
August 15, 2020
Ian Mann on the final day of jazz and conversation from the foot of the Brecon Beacons.
SUNDAY AT ‘VIRTUAL’ BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL, 09/08/2020
PRESERVATION JAZZ SOCIETY, CAFÉ JAZZ CARDIFF – PART TWO
The final day of the Festival commenced with a second set of performances documented by the Preservation Jazz Society at their regular events at Café Jazz in Cardiff.
The Preservation Jazz Society have hosting regular weekly ‘trad’ jazz events at Café Jazz for the last twenty five years, and have had a presence in Cardiff for thirty one years in total.
Today’s feature was again hosted by founder members Paul Dunleavy and Alun Evans and once more included footage of four different bands filmed in live performance at Café Jazz before lockdown.
The first act to appear was the duo of Mike Denham (piano) and Clarence Nugent (drums), playing a tune called “Mike’s Boogie” and presumably written by Denham. This was a rollicking piece of good old fashioned blues boogie, pounded out with great panache by Denham on the Café’s rather splendid grand piano, with Nugent manfully managing to keep up with him from the drum kit.
Next up was vocalist Jane Williams, accompanied by a line up featuring tenor sax, trumpet, double bass and drums, plus a totally hidden piano player! The sextet’s version of “September In The Rain” was actually closer to what is now described as ‘mainstream jazz’ than the usual New Orleans Trad style normally associated with the PJS. Instrumental solos here came from tenor sax, trombone and the mysterious pianist.
The Old Malt House Jazz Band featured an unusual line up of Greg Sterland on tenor sax, Joe Trudgen on guitar, Dan Somers on piano and Mike Kennady on double bass. Their rather interesting version of Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail” included solos for tenor sax, guitar and piano with Kennady’s percussive slapped bass driving the soloists. But it was guitarist Trudgen, who was to prove the most distinctive instrumentalist. Playing a solid bodied electric guitar his solo strayed into the kind of twangy guitar territory associated with rock-a-billy and early rock and roll. At other times his taut rhythmic playing performed the same function as a banjo. Interesting stuff, and he sometimes features as a vocalist too. I also found it interesting to see Sterland playing in this context, having previously seen him in far more modern settings, such as bassist Aidan Thorne’s electro-jazz quintet Duski. It all goes to demonstrate the sheer versatility and adaptability of the present day jazz musician.
Finally we were firmly back in New Orleans territory as clarinettist Emily Bacon led her band of Friends on that evergreen old warhorse “Tiger Rag”. A six piece line up also included trombone, trumpet, double bass, drums and guitar/banjo, the last almost certainly played by Sarah Thatcher. The featured soloists were Bacon on clarinet, followed by the trombonist and trumpeter, the latter deploying plunger muted growls and other vocalisations. There was also a Baby Dodds inspired feature for the group’s drummer.
Again, 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 Old Malthouse line up.
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.. Mike Denham..Piano Clarence Nugent..Drums - Mike’s Boogie
Video 4.. The Sopranos - Rubber Plant Rag
Chris Pearce…Clarinet. Andy Leggett….Clarinet. Len Thwaite…Double Bass Phil Probert…Banjo.
Video 3.. Jazz Torque - September in the Rain
John Legg…Tenor Sax, Pete Johnson..Trombone. Jane Williams…Vocals, Guy Shotton..Piano. Mike Wiltshire…Double Bass…Gary Phillips..Drums
Video 4.. The Old Malthouse Jazz Band - Cottontail
Joseph Trudgeon… Guitar Greg Sterland..Tenor Saxophone, Dan Somers..Piano. Mike Kennady ..Double Bass
Video 5 ..Emily Bacon and Friends - Tiger Rag Emily Bacon ..vocals and Piano, Liz Bacon..Clarinet..Peter Wright..Cornet Jeff Milner..Trombone. Paul Bacon..Drums. Sarah Thatcher..Banjo. Mike Kennady….Double Bass
LaVON HARDISON with the JIM BARBER TRIO
For reasons that I hope will later become clear I’m moving on to the third set of the day (although with all these performances still available on line as I write the concept of ‘real time’ becomes rather arbitrary).
This was another of the international collaborations facilitated by Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon and featured American vocalist LaVon Hardison, singing from her home in Seattle with accompaniment from the Jim Barber Trio, recorded together at Ratio Studios in Merthyr Tydfil.
Hardison had been recommended to Lynne and Roger by musician and broadcaster Rhys Phillips, a great friend of the Festival, and she had been due to perform at this year’s event. Inevitably this ended up becoming a virtual performance, but Hardison’s obvious enthusiasm and the warmth of her personality shone through, all the way from Washington State.
Winner of the Seattle-Kobe Female Jazz Vocalist of the Year Award in 2016 Hardison’s recorded output includes three albums in the company of guitarist Vince Brown. Meanwhile over in Wales the Jim Barbers trio, comprised on this occasion of bassist Bill Fletcher and drummer Greg Evans, are well experienced at accompanying vocalists. Indeed a version of Barber’s trio played the last regular Brecon Jazz club night before lockdown, when they accompanied Bristol based singer Victoria Klewin.
Today’s performance kicked off with Hardison and the trio delivering a rendition of the Peggy Lee song “I Love Being Here with You”, with Hardison’s warm, intimate vocals complemented by Barber’s skilful combining of piano and organ sounds on his keyboard and his solo in the acoustic piano setting. A word too for Evans’ deft and sensitive brushwork.
Things took more of a soulful turn with Hardison’s reading of Ray Charles’ “Unchain My Heart”, with Barber again combining piano and organ sounds, the latter particularly suited to the blues and gospel flavourings of this song. His solo though, was again delivered in the piano setting. The soulful edge that Hardison brought to her vocals suggested that she is a singer who is capable of performing across a broad range of musical styles. She also works as voice-over artist and has continued to work busily during the pandemic from her “she dungeon”, the basement of her home in Seattle.
Next we heard a slowed down, odd meter arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose”, that I have to admit to not finding totally convincing. The performance included a scat vocal episode from Hardison and a further piano solo from Barber.
The members of the trio were given their chance to shine on an instrumental version of “Bernie’s Tune”, propelled by Evans’ rapidly brushed drums and featuring solos from Barber on piano and Fletcher on bass with Evans adding a series of effervescent drum breaks.
Hardison returned for the song “Better Than”, a kind of hipster ballad with references to some of the jazz greats of the past in its lyrics and with further instrumental solos from Barber on piano and Fletcher at the bass.
Hardison was keen to stress the importance of music as a healing and unifying force in these challenging times. “The Beatles were prophets” she declared as she introduced a jazz arrangement of “Come Together”, introduced by Evans and Fletcher and with Barber again providing a mix of keyboard sounds and soloing on ‘acoustic piano’.
On the whole this was a highly successful collaboration and Hardison still hopes to visit the UK and to play at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2021. The combination of her highly accomplished vocalising and a warm and generous personality is surely guaranteed to make her a favourite with the Brecon audience.
ALINA BZHEZHINSKA / TONY KOFI DUO (pictured)
For me, the musical highlight of the day was this intimate duo performance by jazz harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and saxophonist Tony Kofi, recorded at home for the benefit of Festival audiences.
Bzhezhinska was born in the Ukraine and studied art and classical music in Poland and the USA before settling in London. She has performed internationally with many leading orchestras and opera companies and is also an acclaimed tutor of her chosen instrument with teaching posts in London and Glasgow.
The versatile Bzhezhinska has also established a successful career as a jazz harpist and has worked with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and vocalist Niki King among others. She has twice recorded with the Stan Getz inspired New Focus ensemble co-led by the Scottish musicians Konrad Wiszniewski (saxophones) and Euan Stevenson (piano).
But is was with the release of her 2018 Alice Coltrane inspired album “Inspiration” that Bzhezhinska really established herself on the jazz map as far as British jazz audiences were concerned. The album attracted enormous critical acclaim and Bzhezhinska toured the material widely.
I recall enjoying her performance at the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club in Kennington at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival, but by then Bzhezhinska was placing a greater focus on her “Afro-Harping” project, inspired by that other great Afro-American jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby.
Bzhezhinska’s quartet on “Inspiration” featured the great British saxophonist Tony Kofi and the pair have continued to work closely together. A great favourite with British jazz audiences and a musician with a truly international reputation it’s probably fair to say that the popular and affable Kofi needs no further introduction.
Bzhezhinska handled the majority of the announcements, so in a sense this was her gig, but the closeness of the musical rapport between her and Kofi, here specialising almost exclusively on tenor sax was almost telepathic.
The duo began with the Dorothy Ashby composition “Action Line”, with Kofi’s circling sax vamp underpinning Bzhezhinska’s harp melodies and subsequent variations. Kofi’s tenor later came to the fore, with the duo revealing a talent for handing over the lead in a manner so seamless that it was almost imperceptible.
The standard “My One And Only Love” has been covered by everybody from John Coltrane to Sting, but seldom as beautifully as here, with Bzhezhinska’s extended solo harp introduction followed by Kofi’s Coltrane inspired tenor soloing.
Luiz Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus” followed, with soloing opportunities for both participants, though it should be emphasised that this was refreshingly ego-free duo performance, truly a meeting of equals.
Kofi moved to soprano sax for Duke Ellington’s “African Flower”, a piece that Bzhezhinska has recorded for an album titled “Next Chapter”, the release of which has been postponed until 2021. Her unaccompanied introduction saw her producing sounds not normally associated with the concert harp as she incorporated what can only be described as ‘extended techniques’. The supremely talented and versatile Kofi is proficient on all four main members of the saxophone family and was as impressive on the straight horn as he was on the tenor.
Kofi returned to tenor for “Little Niles”, written by the late, great pianist and composer Randy Weston (1926-2018). Until Bzhezhinska informed us I wasn’t aware that the composition was dedicated to Weston’s then young son, Niles. Given Weston’s affinity with African music I’d always assumed the title to refer to the river(s).
However I digress, and the performance was yet another example of the duo’s intuitive rapport and of Kofi’s mastery and fluency on the tenor.
The last item was presented as a “surprise”. Bzhezhinska and Kofi share a love of film, and its attendant soundtracks, and their final piece proved to be theme to “Once Upon A Time In America”, written by Ennio Morricone, “who recently left us”. This immaculate tribute allowed us to enjoy the sound of Bzhezhinska on harp and Kofi on tenor for one last time.
The duo format can be a challenging one for both the performers and the audience, but I could happily have listened to Bzhezhinska and Kofi all night, and in any event this was one of the lengthier items in the programme. Undeniably a Festival highlight.
EDDIE ROBERTS QUARTET – TRIBUTE TO GRANT GREEN
The St. Louis born guitarist Grant Green (1931-79) remains a highly influential musician whose blend of jazz, blues and funk helped to inspire the Acid Jazz movement of the late 80s and early 90s and whose work has regularly been sampled by leading hip hop artists.
Green recorded frequently for Blue Note, both as a leader and as a prolific sideman with the likes of trumpeters Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan, saxophonists Hank Mobley and Lou Donaldson and organist Jimmy Smith. The full list is pretty exhaustive and overall Green must have appeared on literally hundreds of recordings.
Paying tribute to Green was Welsh born guitarist Eddie Roberts, who studied jazz at Leeds College of Music before becoming the guitarist of the British funk band The New Mastersounds, formed in the late 1990s and with whom Roberts is still associated, the group having celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2019.
In 2010 Roberts moved to San Francisco before re-locating to Denver, Colorado in 2018. Since moving to Denver Roberts has established his own Color Red studio, where today’s performance was recorded and also leads the Color Red All Stars, a seven piece horn enlivened jazz and funk band that also includes two keyboard players.
Today’s performance featured a quartet that included Chris Spies on organ, Nate Edgar on electric bass and Jeff Franca at the drums, all of whom had assembled at Color Red Studio.
Roberts has described Green as his primary guitar influence, closely followed by Wes Montgomery and George Benson.
The quartet hit the ground running with “Farid”, written by saxophonist Clarence Thomas, and an excellent example of the kind of ‘soul jazz’ that Green used to deliver for Blue Note, a music with its roots still very much steeped in the blues. Roberts took the first solo, affecting a classic ‘archtop’ jazz guitar sound characterised by fluent, blues tinged, cleanly picked melody lines, but imbued with a driving sense of rhythm. Green often played in the organ trio format and it was good to hear the hugely impressive Spies, also a member of the All Stars, soloing on a vintage Hammond B3, with the grounding presence of Edgar on electric bass giving the organist the opportunity to really swarm all over the twin manuals.
“Fancy Free”, written by Donald Byrd for his album of that title and on which Green played, upped the funk quotient with Edgar and the hard driving Franca spurring the soloists, Roberts and Spies, to fresh heights of invention. This really was a hard grooving quartet with two genuine virtuosos handling the solos.
An all too short set concluded with “Flood In Franklin Park”, which Roberts attributed to Green but which was actually written by organist Shelton Laster. It appears on Green’s 1972 album “Live At The Lighthouse”, recorded by a septet featuring Laster. The recording also features a version of “Fancy Free”, and presumably forms part of Roberts’ collection.
There was plenty more funk on offer here with Roberts delivering a solo that sometimes reminded me of the brilliant guitar playing that can be heard on a selection of Steely Dan albums. Meanwhile “Spies on the keys” was positively blazing on Hammond and the busy, hard hitting Franca enjoyed a deserved drum feature at the close.
Roberts was yet another of those artists who had been due to be in Brecon for the 2020 Jazz Festival. This breezy twenty minute set was a tantalising taster, a hugely enjoyable reminder of what we had been missing. The music that Roberts and his quartet had delivered was exciting enough on line, just imagine how it would take off in a real live situation.
For me the playing Of Roberts, and also Spies, represented an exciting discovery, and one suspects that Grant Green himself would also have approved.
At the 2015 Festival Brecon Jazz hosted the French gypsy jazz trio Major Swing, teaming them with guest British musicians Remi Harris (guitar) and Ashley John Long (double bass). Review here;
A friendship was established with the trio’s lead guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h, who returned to the town for two separate club events in 2017 and 2018. Reviews here;
Today’s performance, recorded by the group in France, introduced Alternate Cake, a more song based descendant of Major Swing. Here Guyomarc’h was joined by Phillipe Cann (rhythm guitar, vocals), Lea Ciechelski (flute, vocals) and Matthieu Torsat (double bass).
Cann had been part of the Major Swing trio and I remember him singing two or three numbers at the 2015 performance, all of these being standards.
Alternate Cake places an even greater emphasis on vocals, and also focusses exclusively on original material. Cann handles the majority of the vocals, but often shares them with Ciechelski, with both singing in English. The new group’s music borrows elements from jazz, folk and pop to create a quirky group sound, the whimsicality of their output very much reflecting their choice of band name.
Described by Cann as a “sad love song” opener “Last Chance Boat” featured his lead vocal alongside Ciechelski’s harmonies while the soloing of the fleet fingered Guyomarc’h served as a reminder of the group’s roots in gypsy jazz.
“Wake Up” was introduced by Cann on rhythm guitar as Torsat’s bass sketched the opening melody. Subsequently the twin vocals of Cann and Ciechelski took over for another slice of Gallic whimsy.
The first instrumental was the folkish “Dhalsim”, initially led by Ciechelski’s flute but later featuring Guyomarc’h with a guitar solo that borrowed from the sounds of India and the Middle East, at one point sounding almost oud like. Ciechelski subsequently took over again on the flute, on a piece that also represented something of a feature for her.
Variously described as a “sad song” and a “love song” “Ballerina” possessed a slightly macabre, after hours, cabaret style feel and an English lyric that suggested that it was actually a murder ballad.
The instrumental “Hurry Up” - “a quick swingy tune” - took the group back closer to their manouche roots, with dancing flute melodies, frenetic rhythm guitars and a typically agile Guyomarc’h solo.
The song “Far From My Home” saw Cann’s vocal and Ciechelski’s harmonies telling the tale of a mysterious cowboy like figure with instrumental solos from Ciechelski, Guyomarc’h and Torsat, the latter combining a huge tone with a keen melodic sensibility.
Ciechelski’s flute came to the fore once more as she shared the solos with Guyomarc’h on an instrumental with unwieldy title of “Valse Simple Pour Des Landemains Difficiles”. Whatever that means.
The group concluded with a final instrumental, the atmospheric “Libertalia” featuring Ciechelski’s deep, eerie flute sonorities, at one point heard with the accompaniment of Torsat’s double bass only.
Cann explained that this was the first time that Alternate Cake had played their compositions to a non French audience and that a new CD was in the offing.
It was interesting to see Alternate Cake moving on from the gypsy of their Major Swing days and presenting something different. Cann’s singing is something of an acquired taste, but is well suited to the group’s quirky musical style. The use of English lyrics suggests that they are seeking to attract an international audience, and the words of the songs were surprisingly literate and effective. Guyomarc’h’s virtuoso guitar playing ensures that the band retain links to their gypsy jazz roots while Ciechelski’s flute adds a distinctive new component to their music. The group’s wilful whimsicality reminded of Robert Wyatt and the ‘Canterbury Scene’, but obviously the musical style was very different.
The jury is still out, but Alternate Cake will be a band worth keeping an eye on.
DOMINIC NORCROSS / JOHN-PAUL GARD / ELAINA HOSS
This was billed as the ‘Closing Concert’ of the Festival but I’m going to deal with it out of sequence, for reasons that I hope will become clear.
Saxophonist Dominic Norcross, organist John-Paul Gard and vocalist Elaina Hoss are all much loved figures on the South Wales jazz scene and all have been regular visitors to previous Festivals, with Hoss best known for appearing as a guest vocalist with the various big bands that have performed at the Castle Hotel in recent years.
Norcross has fronted his own swing band The Numbers Racket while Gard has led his own organ trios as well as appearing as a sideman with other musicians and vocalists, including singing saxophonists Becki Biggins and Kim Cypher.
Today’s trio were recorded at Ratio Studios and the programme began with the two instrumentalists performing a version of “Midnight Voyage”, from the late saxophonist Michael Brecker’s excellent 1996 album “Tales from the Hudson”, recorded by an all star quintet including guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
“Midnight Voyage”, selected by Norcross, was actually written by the quintet’s pianist Joey Calderazzo, brother of Partisans drummer Gene. It’s a shame that Gene (or any other drummer for that matter) wasn’t around to play on this piece. Gard and Norcross, the latter on tenor sax, played along to a pre-recorded drum track emanating from Gard’s phone, and although the rhythmic element was necessary it sounded too mechanical and was no substitute for a human drummer. “Space restrictions” were blamed, possibly because of Covid, but with other bands recorded at Ratio having featured a drummer it was shame that somebody couldn’t have been brought in, Greg Evans, who had already appeared with the Jim Barber Trio, maybe.
Anyway, enough carping from me, there was still plenty of good things to enjoy in the playing of Norcross and Gard, the latter deploying a two manual Viscount organ plus his famous pedal-board to take care of the bass functions, Gard’s nimble footwork is always an essential element of his performances and the video director made sure that we got to see something of this. Indeed the videography from Ratio was was of an exceptionally high standard all weekend, the director always knowing the right musician to focus on. I was highly impressed with the Studio’s contribution to the overall success of the Festival.
Elaina Hoss joined the duo to handle the announcements and to sing the day’s second version of “Honeysuckle Rose”, written by Fats Waller in the 1920s and a piece selected to emphasise the timeless quality of the song nearly a century after it was written. This was a more conventional take on the song than LaVon Hardison’s had been, more straightforwardly swinging and with Norcross on tenor and Gard on organ bringing an agreeable bluesiness to the proceedings. It was interesting to hear Hoss singing in a small group context after becoming used to hearing her with big bands, and as expected she acquitted herself well.
Next came a distinctive take on “Blue Bossa”, a tune written by trumpeter Kenny Dorham, but also associated with saxophonist Joe Henderson. The piece is usually heard as an instrumental, but Norcross had unearthed the rarely heard lyrics to the song and emailed them to Hoss, who was impressed with their haunting quality.
An arrangement was subsequently put together and unveiled here for the watching ‘virtual’ audience with Hoss singing the verses and the arresting “the trueness of the blueness of our love” refrain. Instrumental solos came from Norcross on baritone and Gard on organ with a scat vocal and baritone sax exchange towards the close. I don’t think I’d heard the piece performed in this way before and was suitably impressed.
Norcross remained on baritone for the trio’s final item, an arrangement of Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”. Taylor originally wrote the song for his daughter, but as Hoss explained it really took on a life of its own when it fell into the hands of Nina Simone, becoming a Civil Rights anthem. The trio felt that it was an apt choice for them to perform in the current political climate and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Hoss certainly put her heart and soul into the song, her gospel tinged singing both powerful and authoritative. Norcross took the first instrumental solo on baritone, followed by Gard on suitably church like organ.
Overall I enjoyed this short set from the trio and was impressed by both the singing and the playing. But for me it was marred by the drum backing tracks. I’d certainly like to hear more from this group of musicians, but next time with the vital humanising presence of a real drummer.
JOSIE SINNADURAI and BRUJAS FLAMENCO TRIO
The second ‘set’ of the day had featured the Brujas flamenco trio, consisting of dancer Josie Sinnadurai, vocalist Carmen Yruela and guitarist Eri Gonzalez. For one item the trio were joined by guest Gerard Cousins, the locally born guitarist who has appeared at previous jazz Festivals, both leading his own groups and as the guest of others.
The programme also included a talk by Josie Sinnadurai. I watched the performance first and the talk later, but in retrospect I wished that I’d done it the other way round. Sinnadurai’s story is an amazing one, and I also felt that the insights gained from the talk would have benefited my understanding and enjoyment of the performance.
Sinnadurai was raised in Brecon and her talk described how she became an internationally known flamenco dancer, pretty extraordinary when you think about it, and a tribute to her enthusiasm, dedication, determination, sheer hard work and the courage and confidence to seize any opportunity that came her way. Her talk, subtitled “From Aberhonddu to Andalucia”, explained exactly how she did it.
Sinnadurai was born in London and at the age of three was taken by her parents to a flamenco show. She loved it, and demanded to be given lessons, initially going to classes in London.
When she was six the family moved to Brecon, which may have been a hotbed for jazz, but certainly not for flamenco. Eventually a place was secured at a flamenco school in Cardiff. Initially the veteran teacher, Jose Garcia, was not keen on having a six year old girl among his class of adults, but he quickly spotted her innate talent and the two have remained close, Garcia eventually becoming Sinnadurai’s godfather.
A younger, female teacher Alejandro Velasquo subsequently joined Garcia’s staff and introduced the young Sinnadurai to more contemporary aspects of Flamenco.
All the while the dance mad youngster was also studying ballet and contemporary dance and at sixteen moved back to London to attend the city’s Contemporary Dance School graduating with BA and MA honours. She then returned to Wales to work at the National Dance Theatre of Wales in Cardiff as a professional contemporary dancer.
Although Sinnadurai’s love of flamenco had been put on the ‘back burner’ she rekindled the flamenco flame by moving back to London once more, working as a maitre’d in a restaurant by day and attending three hours of flamenco classes at night.
Her lucky break came when a friend contacted her via Facebook and suggested that she reply to an ad looking for a flamenco dancer to appear in the 2017 Woody Harrelson film “Lost in London”. Sinnadurai got the role, and this well paid work helped to finance further flamenco studies in Madrid
It was here that Sinnadurai learnt to appreciate the role of the dancer as a ‘musician’ in the context of flamenco. During the course of a whirlwind couple of years she then teamed up with a gypsy jazz guitarist and went to live and work in Berlin.
This was followed by a spell in Canada touring with the flamenco troupe Flamenquines and appearing at the Festival Flamenco de Montreal.
Following her Canadian experiences Sinnadurai returned to Spain and the very heartland of flamenco, Seville, where she still lives. Flamenco students in Seville are expected to perform daily on the streets of the city and it was here that Sinnadurai met the members of her all female trio, Brujas. First she linked up with Uruguayan guitarist Eri Gonzalez, striking up an immediate rapport, “we got on like a house on fire”, explained Sinnadurai. The pair became flatmates, while looking for a singer to complete the line up of the archetypal flamenco trio. In time they found the Spanish vocalist Carmen Yruela and chose the collective name Brujas, meaning “witches”.
The decision to form an all female trio was partly economic, allowing for all the members of the group to share a single hotel room when out on tour, but there’s also a strong sense of cultural identity and an equally strong musical rapport. The trio toured extensively in 2019 and had hoped to do again in 2020, although that has obviously now been put on hold.
Within the flamenco community Sinnadurai is known as “La Galesa”, meaning “The Welsh Girl”. She describes herself as a “freelance flamenco and contemporary dancer and recently collaborated with the Welsh National Opera on their production of “Carmen”, again building bridges between the worlds of Aberhonddu and Andalucia.
Turning now to the Brujas performance, which saw the three members of the group rising to the challenge of recording their performance remotely with Yruela in Seville, Gonzalez back in Montevideo and Sinnadurai back in Wales and, as far as I could see, dancing in front of the cameras at Ratio Studios.
The dancer, the singer and the guitarist are considered to be equals in the world of flamenco with the dancer sometimes leading the musicians. The hand-claps (palmas) and the footwork of the dancer are also important rhythmic and musical elements. Sinnadurai filled the main frame of the screen with the other two performers inset, but this was to capture the all the elements and the sheer physicality of her performance, rather than an expression of leadership.
Brujas began their performance with the first part of “Alegrias” (meaning “happiness”), a form of dance that originated in Cadiz, with the singer’s words expressing a love of the region. This opening section was played at what Sinnadurai described as a “moderate tempo”, but to a flamenco novice like me there still appeared to be plenty of passion, energy and rhythm, as expressed by Sinnadurai’s palmas and footwork, Gonzalez’s highly rhythmic guitar playing and Yruelo’s passionate, Spanish language vocals.
“Sevillanas”, named after the city, was a different type of dance, one normally danced with a partner, but not possible in these days of Covid-19. Here the focus was on the dance with Sinnadurai full screen, playing castanets and dancing to Yruela’s out of shot vocal.
“Galesa”, meaning Wales, was a dance developed by Sinnadurai herself, inspired by her flamenco name. Here Welsh born guitarist Gerard Cousins was added to the line up, although I believe his parts were actually recorded in Reading! Again the focus was very much on the dancer with Sinnadurai deploying a fan as part of the visual, and even audio, performance.
The second part of “Alegrias” demonstrated the levels of interaction between the members of a flamenco trio. The performance was divided into three sections, first the “Silencio” (from ‘silence’, and the equivalent of an adagio in ballet) played by Gonzalez on acoustic guitar. The young Uruguayan is one of the few female guitarists in flamenco.
This was followed by the “Escobilla”, or footwork section, which saw a dazzling series of exchanges between Sinnadurai and Gonzalez, the guitarist responding to the dancer’s dazzling footwork and with Sinnadurai sending visual signals to Gonzalez indicating the style in which she wanted her to play – percussive and rhythmic with a capo in place, or more melodically on open strings.
With Yruela’s voice added the closing “Bulerias” section placed an even greater emphasis on the call and response process between the three performers. This was both fascinating and highly exciting to watch.
Prior to Sinnadurai’s talk and this performance I knew pretty much next to nothing about flamenco, or dance in general for that matter, but came away feeling entertained and much better informed.
HUW WARREN and PAULA GARDINER - “REFLECTIONS ON BRECON JAZZ”
As part of the “Brecon Jazz Conversations” series pianist Huw Warren and bassist Paula Gardiner, two artists who have performed regularly at the Festival got together remotely to discuss their “Reflections on Brecon Jazz”.
The feature was introduced by a brief snippet of Warren’s composition “Cowbois and Shepherds”, played by his trio featuring British drummer Martin France and Austrian bassist Peter Herbert, and sourced from his 2009 album “Hermeto +” a homage to the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal. Review here;
The pair began their discussion with recalling their first appearances at BJF, Gardiner being there almost from the beginning, making her début with the Afro Cuban band Bomb and Dagger back in 1986.
Although originally from South Wales Warren spent most of the 1980s on the London jazz scene and first played at Brecon with saxophonist Tim Garland at some time in the early 1990s.
In 1995 Gardiner made her début as a bass playing leader, performing original material from her début album “Tales Of Inclination”. I recall seeing this performance on the old “Stroller” programme and this excellent album still has a place in my collection. Paula doubles on bass and flute and the album also features John Parricelli (guitar), Mark Edwards (keyboards) and Ron Parry (drums).
In 1999 Gardiner introduced a new sextet, this line up recording the album “6”, but more on that later. I seem to remember this group playing Brecon too, and also Gardiner’s “Hot Lament” trio featuring saxophonist Lee Goodall and drummer Mark O’Connor, the latter appearing in 2008.
At one point Gardiner was practically the Festival’s ‘house bass player, appearing at an average of six gigs every Festival weekend. She recalled the logistical problems of lugging a double bass around a town centre full of drunken revellers. For his part Warren remembered a mad cross town dash from the Theatr to the Castle Hotel for the next gig, but he didn’t have to carry his instrument with him!
Gardiner has since been back in her capacity as Head of Jazz at the RWCMD, leading, conducting and performing with student ensembles.
Warren was heavily involved during the “Orchard” years when the Festival was administered by the Cardiff based Orchard Media Group. He recalled a sell out performance at Brecon Cathedral in 2014 for the première of his Dylan Thomas inspired suite “Do Not Go Gentle” (I seem to recall that there was a track of the same name on Gardiner’s “Tales of Inclination”) performed by a quartet featuring saxophonist Iain Ballamy, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Martin France. I was there and can confirm that the venue was close to capacity. Warren also recalled a performance at Theatr Brycheiniog with the Welsh Jazz Composers Orchestra.
I also recall that during the Orchard years Warren was practically an ‘artist in residence’ and was a regular part of the ‘Wales Meets’ series in which he played with a leading overseas musician. One meeting was with the Italian clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi in 2014, but the pick of these was the year before when Warren played with American drummer Jim Black at the Castle Hotel, a brilliant gig that also represented something of a ‘rite of passage’ for the hugely talented young bass player Huw V Williams.
In 2010, during the “Hay Years” both Gardiner and Warren appeared alongside the French trumpeter Eric Truffaz as part of the “Brecon Project”, a commission that teamed leading players from the Welsh jazz scene with Truffaz and Gambian kora player Sura Susso.
Both musicians recalled working with some of the real heavyweights of the music and the musical challenges these experiences represented. Gardiner found herself in the ‘engine room’ of a ‘Welsh Jazz Octet’ that also included the father and son team of Stan Tracey (piano) and Clark Tracey (drums). This proved to be a terrifying but exhilarating musical experience, and something of a learning curve.
Warren remembered an experience in Austria when he was playing with Peter Herbert and Jim Black alongside American saxophone giant George Garzone. Warren called John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and immediately regretted it as he struggled to keep pace with Garzone’s ideas. Gardiner experienced something similar as she and drummer Ian Thomas tried to keep up with virtuoso bebop guitarist Ron Affif.
The hard drinking that characterised the old BJF was also remembered, when “stepping over bodies” in the street was a common occurrence. Both musicians praised the common sense approach adopted by the local police, who ensured that the good natured drunkenness never escalated into anything more violent or serious. Warren remembered sweltering at a gig in Brecon Rugby Club alongside bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Tim Giles, watching through the windows as the Club’s players danced around outside with traffic cones on their heads.
The feature signed off with a snippet of Gardiner’s Festival inspired composition “Brecon Nights” from the “6” album, played by a band featuring Gethin Liddington (trumpet), Lee Goodall (reeds), Richard Roberts (keyboards), Andy Maule (guitar) and Mark O’ Conner (drums).
It was fun to hear Huw and Paula share their reminiscences, and I hope they don’t mind that I’ve thrown in a few of my own.
ASHLEY JOHN LONG in conversation with DAVE JONES
TALK; ERIKA LYONS on MUSIC THERAPY
WILL BARNES ; TALKING GUITARS
Sunday’s programme also included three speech based items that for various reasons I’m going to rather gloss over.
All three featured musicians who are close friends of Brecon Jazz, bassists Ashley John Long and Erika Lyons and guitarist Will Barnes, all of whom have performed many times at Club Nights and Festivals.
Long, is a virtuoso in both the jazz and classical spheres who has recently completed a Phd in various aspects of double bass performance. Congratulations, Ash, on your success.
Long was interviewed about various aspects of his studies and his approach to music in general by his friend and regular bandmate, the pianist Dave Jones.
Many of the matters discussed by Jones and Long concerned musical technicalities that, frankly, went over my head, so I don’t intend to try and summarise them here.
Of more general interest Long revealed that his Phd studies represented a major undertaking, involving three years of research and a further twelve months of writing up. Fitting this into an already busy jazz and classical performance schedule was demanding, entailing a lot of late nights and early mornings.
As an improviser he mentioned the influence upon him of Barry Guy, another bassist and composer whose work straddles the jazz and classical divide, and the late pianist and composer Keith Tippett, with whom he had worked at the RWCMD.
Besides his work as a jazz bassist Long also plays and writes for classical ensembles. Among his compositions is “Lunea”, a twelve minute piece for chamber orchestra that was premièred by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2019, alongside commissions by four other composers.
As a composer he expressed his preference for writing for specific composers, rather than writing in the abstract. For his part Jones expressed a similar preference with regard for writing for jazz players, but he is also capable of composing in the abstract for film and television, so called ‘library music’.
Long has also written for classical flute virtuoso Matthew Featherstone as well as composing a wholly electronic piece. Further details of his contemporary classical works can be found at his website http://www.ashleyjohnlong.co.uk
Of course, I know Long’s work best in a jazz context, including as a member of Jones’ quartet, where he occasionally doubles on vibraphone. He recently appeared on pianist John Law’s superb new album “Configuration” and was due to tour the music this year, the dates now having been postponed until 2021.
Review of “Configuration” here;
There was, of course, so much more to this conversation, although some of it was undeniably a little dry and academic. With all Festival footage available until August 30th 2020 interested parties may wish to listen to the entire discussion via http://www.breconjazz.org.
I’ve seen bassist Erika Lyons perform on countless occasions over the years in Brecon, Hereford, Abergavenny and beyond, but prior to this Festival I had no idea that she was also a qualified music therapist.
She decided to train for the profession in 2012 and completed her studies at the University of the West of England. Much of her work is with children who have been adopted, fostered or traumatised. She also presents and performs at workshops for trainee music therapists.
Lyons’ talk took the form of a monologue and as she dived deeper into the history and technicalities of the profession I found it difficult to maintain comprehensible notes. She did stress the importance of good communication between the parent and child in early infancy, a process that actually begins while the child is still in the womb. Readers who would like to learn more are again directed to the talk itself, which can again be accessed via http://www.breconjazz.org
Technical difficulties with my lap top’s router have prevented me from viewing the full forty eight minutes of Will Barnes’ “Talking Guitars” broadcast.
Here Barnes interviews a variety of fellow guitarists, many of whom have played at Brecon over the years. The list includes Deirdre Cartwright, who appeared alongside Barnes at the 2015 Festival as they paid tribute to Wes Montgomery and Emily Remler.
Barnes also talks with Andy MacKenzie and Remi Harris, and also links up with two international guests, the Italian Dario Napoli and the American Wayne Wilkinson.
I assume that Barnes and his friends will not just be “Talking Guitars”, but that they’ll be playing them too, possibly in a series of duets.
I’m still intending to watch this if I can, and to add an account of it to my Festival coverage. However I’m conscious that with the Festival coverage only being available for a couple more weeks at the time of writing that this feature really should be published without further delay.
This ‘Virtual’ edition of Brecon Jazz Festival was a great success, bringing a wealth of music and conversation to the Festival’s loyal fans and espousing the Festival’s spirit of international co-operation, whilst still retaining its unique Welsh flavour. The “Spirit of Brecon” shone through clearly despite the troubled state of the world at the moment.
The quality of the sound and vision was largely excellent and thanks and congratulations are due to both Vialma and Ratio Studios for their contribution to the success of the Festival. Since the beginning of lockdown back in March the jazz community has learned so much about livestreaming and the Festival events were among the best I’ve seen in terms of technical quality, with glitches very much at a minimum.
Musical highlights were many, with the duo performances by Manushan and by Alina Bzhezhinska and Tony Kofi arguably the pick of the bunch. It was also great to see Steve Lehman appearing at Breon at last, albeit from home in Los Angeles.
Thanks to Lynne and Roger for keeping the Brecon Jazz flag flying during this “Plague Year” and for curating such a successful ‘Virtual’ Festival. But having said that let’s hope we can all get back to normal in 2021.
The musical performances and conversations reviewed above can still be accessed until 30th August 2020 directly from the Vialma website. Link here;
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