by Ian Mann
September 04, 2017
Ian Mann enjoys the first two days of the festival and performances by Moscow Drug Club, the Gareth Roberts / Dave Jones Duo, and the musical celebration 1917 & All That Jazz.
Photograph of Liam Dunachie sourced from http://www.liamdunachie.co.uk
THURSDAY AND FRIDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 31/08/2017 and 01/09/2017.
Now in its fifth year and established into a settled format the wall2wall Jazz Festival, organised by Black Mountain Jazz Club, continues to deliver its aims of bringing top class jazz to Abergavenny, delighting the aficionados while also bringing the music to the attention of a wider constituency and putting the town itself on the global musical map.
An innovative initiative for 2017 saw six of the headline concert performances at the Theatre in the Melville Centre being live streamed across the internet with Friday evening’s performance attracting over 1000 viewers worldwide, with one fan watching on from Adelaide, Australia.
The Festival commenced on the Thursday evening with the Festival Dinner, held for the second successive year in the ballroom of the splendidly refurbished Angel Hotel, before moving on for a series of concerts and fringe events at the Melville Centre on the Friday night and all day Saturday.
Sunday saw the third edition of the popular ‘Jazz Alley’, a free family friendly event held within the confines of Abergavenny’s impressive Market Hall. With food stalls, a licensed bar and a series of free live performances this well attended event has been successful in raising the profile of Black Mountain Jazz within the town.
On Sunday night the closing “Boogie Party”, a highly popular and successful event in 2016, saw the return of Red Stripe Band to the Market Hall with their dance floor friendly blend of jazz, boogie woogie, jump jive, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and more.
FESTIVAL DINNER feat. MOSCOW DRUG CLUB, THE ANGEL HOTEL, 31/08/2017
The Festival began on Thursday evening with the third annual Festival Dinner. This year’s sell out event saw over 100 diners enjoy a two course meal followed by musical entertainment from Moscow Drug Club, the popular Bristol based band who had previously played two successful concert performances at previous editions of wall2wall.
The Festival Dinner was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Abergavenny and has become something of a civic event, a popular occasion that has done much to increase the awareness of jazz in general, and BMJ in particular, within Abergavenny and its environs.
As I attended this event as a paying customer I don’t intend to give my usual song by song account of the performance by Moscow Drug Club. The Bristol based band describe their sound as coming from “a curious musical place where certain elements of 1930’s Berlin Cabaret, Hot Club de France, Nuevo Tango & Gypsy Campfire meet, have a few to drink and stagger arm in arm into the darkness of some eastern European cobbled street on a mission to find the bar where Django Reinhardt & Tom Waits are having an after hours jam with the local Tziganes”
which sums it all up nicely.
Fronted by singer, and occasional percussionist, Katya Gorrie the group also included accordionist Mirek Salmon, trumpeter Jonny Bruce, bassist Andy Crowdy and guitarist Will Gibbons. The band had performed at the 2014 and 2015 wall2walls at the Festival’s previous home at the Kings Arms.
Their approach remains essentially the same and tonight’s set included many songs that had featured in the group’s earlier performances with tonight’s set including such favourites as “When I Get Low I Get High”, “The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”, Strip Polka” “The Gypsy With The Fire In his Shoes”, Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love”, and an effective and evocative slowed down arrangement of “Besame Mucho”. As popular with the Abergavenny audience as ever they encored with their signature tune “Moscow Drug Club” with its cold war imagery and witty hook line “Where the Reds play the Blues”.
While Gorrie played the provocative chanteuse the instrumentalists impressed with some quality instrumental cameos with Bruce’s strident trumpet solos threatening to raise the Angel’s exquisitely decorated roof. The trumpeter was to return the following night as part of the ensemble that presented the show “1917 & All That Jazz” at the Melville Theatre.
For more on Moscow Drug Club my review of the group’s 2014 wall2wall appearance can be found in my Festival coverage for that year here;
Meanwhile guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed a more recent performance by Moscow Drug Club at the Progress Theatre, Reading on 29th January 2016. Trevor’s account can be read here;
1917 & ALL THAT JAZZ feat. LIAM DUNACHIE TRIO, JONNY BRUCE, BEN WAGHORN, DEBS HANCOCK, MEGAN THOMAS and NIGEL JARRETT, MELVILLE THEATRE, 01/09/2017
2017 has been designated as the official centenary of the birth of jazz with “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, originally released in 1917, generally considered to be the first ever jazz recording.
1917 was also the birth date of three of the giants of the music, vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Events have been taking place in jazz clubs throughout the British Isles celebrating Ella, Diz and Monk and earlier in 2017 vocalist Debs Hancock, a BMJ stalwart and one of the forces behind the wall2wall Festival, presented her own “Ella at 100” show which toured in Wales and the West Country and which included a performance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
The success of that tour, which also included a club date at BMJ, prompted Hancock to put a show together celebrating the centenary of jazz itself. The performance was based around a trio of talented young London based musicians led by Shropshire born pianist Liam Dunachie and featuring rising star bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer David Ingamells. Dunachie had made a big impression at the 2016 wall2wall when he performed on organ with trombonist Dennis Rollins’ Velocity Trio, deputising brilliantly for the regular incumbent, Ross Stanley.
The core trio were joined for tonight’s performance by two vocalists, Debs Hancock and Megan Thomas, the latter a recent graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. Thomas had previously impressed at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Festival where she had appeared as part of a quartet led by guitarist Trefor Owen.
Also present and correct were two horn soloists, trumpeter Jonny Bruce of Moscow Drug Club fame and tenor saxophonist Ben Waghorn who had previously visited BMJ in February 2017 as part of pianist Dave Jones’ quartet. Bristol based Waghorn has also played with bands led by trumpeter Andy Hague and has a long term association with pianist Geoff Eales. He and Bruce played together as part of DSQ, the quintet led by pianist, composer and record label proprietor Dave Stapleton. Waghorn has also been part of Stapleton’s more recent project, the group Slowly Rolling Camera.
Hancock later explained to me that she had structured tonight’s one off collaboration around two strong, already existing units, the Dunachie trio and the long running partnership of Waghorn and Bruce. This proved to be an inspired choice as the whole evening ran very smoothly with the musical performances linked by a narrative written and spoken by jazz journalist Nigel Jarrett.
“We are not looking to create a stuffy ‘history of jazz’ lesson, just a celebration of iconic moments, players and collaborations and the influences that they may have had” declared the BMJ website and on an evening that was both relaxed and informative, and packed with great music, this was pretty much what we got.
And before we even got to the performance there were the delights of the “Prohibition Bar” in the Melville’s hospitality area to consider. Here BMJ stalwart Patricia, splendidly and glamorously dressed in 1920’s ‘flapper’ attire dispensed gin and tonics from a teapot into china cups, something that helped to create an authentic period atmosphere and which proved to be enormously popular. There was to be no beer for me tonight as I was driving home while my other half indulged her recently discovered passion for gin!
I was quite happy just to get intoxicated on the music as Jarrett introduced an opening batch of four tunes beginning with George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” which featured the Fitzgerald inspired vocals of Hancock and the piano soloing of Dunachie on an acoustic upright hired for the Festival.
Mullov-Abbado’s bass introduced a modal style interpretation of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” which featured an adventurous and flexible vocal performance from Thomas. On a piece these days more frequently heard as an instrumental the young singer brought an emotional charge to the rarely heard lyrics while also skilfully negotiating the technical demands of the piece.
Bruce and Waghorn then came to the front of the stage to dovetail neatly on the opening of Dizzy Gillespie’s enduring “A Night In Tunisia” before getting the chance to demonstrate their impressive individual ‘chops’. Bruce’s blazing trumpet solo saw him carrying on where he’d left off with Moscow Drug Club. Waghorn, a powerful but fluent saxophonist, was no less impressive and a high energy performance also included a drum feature from Ingamells before the two horns linked up again for a restatement of the familiar theme.
Having paid homage to Diz the ensemble now tipped their collective hats towards Thelonious Monk with a performance of the pianist’s “Well You Needn’t” which offered a further demonstration of Waghorn’s abilities alongside further solos from Dunachie on the piano, and Mullov-Abbado, a successful composer and band leader in his own right, on the bass.
Jarrett then returned to introduce the next crop of tunes which commenced with the New Orleans stylings of “St. James Infirmary Blues” which began in funereal style with Ingamells’ martial style drums and the dolorous wail of Bruce’s trumpet teamed with Waghorn’s tenor. But in true New Orleans fashion the music soon turned into a celebration with Bruce’s strident, vocalised trumpet solo followed by Dunachie’s honky-tonk style piano solo, accompanied by the clatter of Ingamells’ sticks on rims. Mullov-Abbado again illustrated his virtuosity on the bass prior to another raucously vocalised passage from Bruce on trumpet.
Atmospheric low end piano and Thomas’ wordless vocals ushered in the ballad “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning”, an unscheduled delight that even took Jarrett by surprise which featured the singer’s flexible phrasing on another impressive rendition of the lyric. The tune was adventurously combined with a reading of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (the first recording to feature a Hammond organ as Jarrett informed us) that featured some adventurous scatting from Thomas and a sparkling solo from Dunachie.
Hancocks returned to sing a swinging version of “Take The A Train” in which she demonstrated her own scatting abilities alongside some lively trumpet and tenor exchanges plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Ingamells.
Unaccompanied drums then introduced a frantic version of Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Confirmation” which saw Bruce on muted trumpet and Waghorn on tenor combining effectively on the complex harmonies and slippery, darting melodic phrases. Waghorn took the first solo followed by Bruce and Dunachie before the horns wrapped up an excellent first half by trading fours with Ingamells.
Set two began with Hancock giving an assured and emotive performance of Monk’s “Round Midnight” in a pared down setting featuring just voice, piano and bass.
Jarrett then told us something of the history of jazz recording and of the racial prejudice the music’s black performers suffered during the early days before touching on the ‘Great American Songbook’ and the later attempts to break away from this by adventurous musicians such as Parker, Gillespie, Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
The next selection of tunes began with Miles Davis’ “So What” which commenced with Mullov-Abbado playing Paul Chambers’ famous bass motif and saw Bruce approximating the sound of Davis’ equally famous trumpet solo. Dunachie’s piano solo saw him singing along with his own melody lines and Mullov-Abbado’s bass feature included some stunning work up around the bridge of the instrument.
Horace Silver’s most famous composition “Song For My Father” included some muscular tenor soloing from Waghorn while Bruce adopted a cooler sound on muted trumpet, but still generating an impressive degree of nascent power. Dunachie’s piano solo offered a more reflective interlude, appropriate perhaps to the song’s title.
Dunachie teased with the infamous “Smoke On The Water” riff when introducing Jobim’s “Triste” which featured another adventurous performance from Megan Thomas who sang the English lyric and added a scat vocal passage that effectively shared the soloing with Dunachie’s piano.
Waghorn featured strongly on John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”, a tune from the classic “Blue Train” album. His opening solo was fluent and well constructed, steadily building in intensity while propelled by Mullov-Abbado’s rapid bass walk and Ingamells’ crisp, propulsive drumming. Dunachie’s expansive solo then saw the pianist responding in kind.
Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, written by saxophonist Paul Desmond and sourced from another landmark album, “Time Out” followed. This was a vehicle for Dunachie who played the famous melody on piano before stretching out and sharing the solos with Mullov-Abbado on a piece played by just the core trio.
Jarrett then returned to introduce a sequence of vocal performances, two of them sourced from the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess”.
But first we heard Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”, selected because the composer himself lived to be more than one hundred. Here Hancock and Thomas shared the vocals, singing alternate lines and stretching the fabric of the song prior to a dazzling solo from Dunachie, arguably his best of the night.
This segued directly into Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy”, this time with the singers sharing verses, and finally into “Summertime” with a jaunty but innovative arrangement featuring Thomas’s vocals and Bruce’s vocalised, plunger muted solo which saw the trumpeter really letting rip. He was followed by Waghorn on tenor sax before Hancock returned to sing the final verse.
Dunachie introduced his own tune “The Elite Pie Land”, the unusual name actually proving to be an anagram for “Help, I Need A Title!”, Played by the core trio the quirkiness of the title was undermined by the gentle lyricism of the performance with the composer’s limpid piano shadowed by Mullov-Abbado’s warm bass purr and the delicate shadings of Ingamells’ brushed drums.
Finally Jarrett returned to introduce the ensemble’s own version of “Livery Stable Blues” which saw them kicking off in the original Dixieland collective polyphonic style before stretching out with the kind of extended solos that developed later in the history of jazz. Jarrett emphasised the importance of the blues in the development of the music, and this was emphasised in the solos of Waghorn and Bruce, the trumpeter first playing with a bucket mute before removing it and emoting more powerfully through the open horn. The solos from the horn men were preceded by a spirited excursion from Dunachie himself.
This opening performance at the Melville Centre was something of a triumph and a vindication of the hard work put in by Debs Hancock and others to organise the event. Despite the familiarity of the material the arrangements and performances were fresh and adventurous and the standard of the singing and playing first rate. Nigel Jarrett did a good job as narrator with a well researched and sometimes humorous script.
GARETH ROBERTS / DAVE JONES DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR, 01/09/2017.
Wall2Wall Jazz has always lived up to its name and during the interval we were entertained by a good natured standards set in the bar area by two of South Wales’ finest jazz musicians, trombonist Gareth Roberts and pianist Dave Jones. Their set included well known tunes such as “Just Squeeze Me”, “In A Mellow Tone” and “Stella By Starlight”, but just like the main event in the theatre these benefited from the freshness and inventiveness of the playing. Both musicians are highly accomplished soloists and composers and bandleaders in their own right. It’s always a pleasure to see both of them play, whether individually or together, and in whatever musical contexts they find themselves.
Roberts regularly plays his trombone at sporting events, hired to encourage and galvanise the crowd. Torn between Glamorgan in the 20/20 cricket finals in Birmingham and the Wales v Austria World Cup qualifier in Cardiff he decided on the local option and the football. A good move as it turned out with Glamorgan bowing out in the semis but the Welsh football team triumphing with a late wonder strike from young Ben Woodburn. I’d like to think that Gareth’s playing contributed in some small way to this vital victory.
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