by Ian Mann
October 23, 2020
A special showcase event featuring 5 rising stars, saxophonists Josh Heaton & Daniel Newberry, guitarist Alex Lockheart, vocalist Sarah Meek & trumpeter Thom Dalby playing with the Alex Goodyear Trio.
Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival 2020, Abergavenny
Event first livestreamed 15/10/2020
Available by ticket only until 28/11/2020
Alex Goodyear – drums, Ashley John Long – double bass, Michael Blanchfield – piano
Josh Heaton – tenor & soprano saxophones, voice
Alex Lockheart – guitar
Daniel Newberry – tenor saxophones
Sarah Meek – vocals
Thom Dalby – trumpet
Black Mountain Jazz and the Wall2Wall Festival has always been highly supportive of young jazz talent and has regularly hosted emerging talents at both the regular BMJ Club Nights and at the Festival.
The Club has also fostered close links with the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff and many of this event’s performers were graduates of that course, now taking their first steps as fully professional musicians.
One such graduate is drummer Alex Goodyear, who has established himself as something of a favourite at BMJ / Wall2Wall. In 2019 Goodyear brought his own ‘Bop Septet’ to the Festival to play a well received set of Wayne Shorter tunes. Among that band’s ranks were tenor saxophonist Daniel Newberry, plus Goodyear’s partners in rhythm bassist Ashley John Long and pianist Michael Blanchfield. In a sense that performance can perhaps be seen as the precursor of this year’s online event.
Goodyear combines a skilled and energetic presence behind the kit with a likeable, animated and talkative personality, making him the ideal person to host this showcase of young talent, with many of the featured musicians being his peers from the RWCMD.
Goodyear was to be a major presence at this year’s online Festival, also playing on the “Remembering Peggy Lee” and “Remembering Charlie Parker” events, in addition to providing the narrative for the latter.
Previous live visits to BMJ / Wall2Wall have seen him featuring in bands led by bassist Nick Kacal, vocalist Becki Biggins and with Sheek Quartet, co-led by pianist Guy Shotton and today’s guest vocalist Sarah Meek.
The format for the Tomorrow’s Headliners event saw each of the five guests perform two pieces with the ‘house trio’ of Goodyear, Long and Blanchfield, with Goodyear interviewing each guest between numbers.
The first artist to appear was saxophonist Josh Heaton, originally from Chorley, Lancashire, but resident in Cardiff for several years following his graduation from the RWCMD. A busy presence on the Cardiff music scene, one of Heaton’s main creative outlets is his Mouth of Words quintet, an ensemble that combines spoken word with jazz, with Heaton writing both the poetry and the music.
Something of this found its way into the opening number, which teamed Heaton’s poem “Are You OK?” with the Thelonious Monk composition “Ask Me Now”. Heaton’s poem was an evocative paean to a loved one, possibly a grandmother, spoken rather than sung, and featuring simple, but effective, and refreshingly down to earth and wryly witty imagery. The first instrumental solo went to Blanchfield, whose lyricism at the upright acoustic piano was complemented by Long’s deep, resonant bass lines and Goodyear’s subtle brush work. Heaton, meanwhile had picked up his soprano sax, upon which he delivered a beautiful, gently keening solo.
During his subsequent chat with Goodyear Heaton revealed that this had been the first time that he had combined his words with the music of others. Performances with the Mouth of Words group had always featured his own poetry and music. Heaton expressed the opinion that the addition of his words to Monk’s composition had opened up the tune in a different way, resulting in the musicians playing it a different manner to what they might normally do. Heaton’s love of words and language was instilled in him by his mother, an English teacher, and his love of literature has always run parallel to his love of music. He feels that by combining the two he can extract more meaning out of each. Heaton cited Alabaster DePlume, Gil Scott Heron and Charles Mingus as examples of artists who have combined spoken word with music, three very different artists, but all significant influences.
He also spoke about the music scene in Cardiff, a very vibrant proposition until the onset of Covid. It is a scene that is both welcoming and supportive, but one that encourages a healthy element of competition. Following his performance at a well attended poetry and music event at the Tramshed venue in the city Heaton also expressed his surprise at the size and inclusivity of the spoken word and poetry scene in Cardiff, this after previously thinking of poetry as “an essentially selfish art form”
Heaton and Goodyear then returned to the stand for a more conventional jazz performance, a vibrant and up-tempo performance of the jazz standard “Like Someone In Love”, written by Jimmy Van Heusen. This saw Heaton switching to tenor sax and sharing the solos with the consistently impressive Blanchfield, another RWCMD alumnus. Goodyear was also featured with a series of colourful drum breaks.
The next artist to be welcomed to the stage was guitarist Alex Lockheart. He too decided to open with a Thelonious Monk tune, in this instance “I Mean You”. Introduced by Goodyear at the drums the piece featured Lockheart as the principal soloist as he combined lithe, slippery bebop inspired lines with an early rock twang, occasionally introducing an element of wilful dissonance. He was also involved in a series of vigorous exchanges with pianist Blanchfield.
During his conversation with Goodyear Lockheart revealed that he had come to jazz through a rock background and that both types of music were very much part of his current musical identity. Guitarists mentioned as influences ranged from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Hall, via Pat Metheny and John Scofield and with Kurt Rosenwinkel cited as a particularly significant recent inspiration. Another product of the RWCMD Lockheart mentioned the influence of both his tutors and his fellow students, plus the Cardiff music scene as a whole. He also made the observation that the electric guitar is the one instrument whose whole history has been documented on records, from Charlie Christian onwards, making it easier to absorb influences and to learn from the pioneers of the instrument.
Goodyear and Lockheart also discussed the guitarist’s involvement with the trio Arkocean, founded by drummer and composer Eddie Jones-West and featuring Blanchfield as an organist. Originally inspired by Troyka the band seeks to create music that is both rhythmically and harmonically interesting, but also accessible and danceable. With this in mind they regularly play rock venues and have recorded an EP, “Tide Shift”, with engineer Patrick Phillips, who has variously worked with Kairos 4tet, drummer Richard Spaven and guitarist Stuart McCallum. The new EP also features vocalist Olive Grinter and like its predecessor, “Surfacing”, is available from
Lockheart also chose to perform a standard for his second tune. This was Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”, which was performed in a style that sometimes reminded me of a young Pat Metheny with Lockheart sharing the solos with his Arkocean bandmate Blanchfield, here on acoustic piano.
Next we heard from tenor saxophonist Daniel Newberry, who elected to open with his own composition “Darling, So Do I”. This was very ‘straight ahead’ and ‘old school’ in feel, something that the composer was to discuss with Goodyear later. The solos here were shared between between Newberry on tenor, Blanchfield on piano and Long at the double bass, all of whom stretched out expansively. Long is a supremely inventive bass soloist but in this ‘showcase’ format we heard much less from him overall than usual.
During the interval Newberry, another RWCMD graduate, explained that he had been very much influenced by his fellow saxophonist Iain Ballamy and that in that first tune he had been attempting to combine the ‘old school’ harmony of a jazz standard with a more modern compositional framework. I was sometimes reminded of the music of Ballamy’s Anorak group, which pursues similar goals via the form of the ‘contrafact’.
Newberry explained that he felt deeply rooted in the tradition but was trying to find his own thing, striking a balance between the old and the new. Among those musicians he felt had done this successfully were saxophonists Joel Frahm and Rich Perry and pianist Brad Mehldau. Newberry, with the encouragement of tutors such as Alex Garnett, has traced the tradition way back to the likes of saxophonists Lester Young and Frank Trumbauer and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. He also maintains a fondness for the melodic ‘West Coast’ sounds of Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, and all these influences feed into his own playing. Newberry has fronted his own quartets and quintets but is also part of bYd, a ‘chamber jazz’ trio also featuring guitarist Gerard Cousins and pianist Andy Nowak. bYd’s eponymous début release can be found here;
For his second tune Newberry selected Vincent Youmans’ “Tea For Two”, which was given a contemporary style arrangement that helped to illustrate the points that he had been making. Centred around Long’s grounding bass motif the performance featured Goodyear’s hand drumming almost throughout, with extended solos from Newberry on tenor and Blanchfield on piano, with the initially deploying the right hand only. Goodyear did pick the sticks up temporarily, only to put them down for his drum feature.
Vocalist Sarah Meek has been a fairly regular visitor to BMJ, usually in the company of pianist Guy Shotton. The Cheshire born, South Wales based vocalist opened with George Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, her vocals sharing the spotlight with Blanchfield’s piano solo.
Meek was originally inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, who remains her primary influence, although Meek also mentioned the influence of Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, the other members of the ‘Holy Trinity of Jazz Singing’. Meek cited Fitzgerald’s sense of fun and playfulness and her spirit of adventure, these qualities helping her to stand out as an absolute favourite. Meek has performed in a “Ella and Louis” tribute show, with Swansea based pianist, trumpeter and vocalist Dave Cottle fulfilling the Armstrong role. “We play it cabaret style, and the audiences love it”, explained Meek.
The singer’s more adventurous and contemporary side is expressed via the Sheek Quartet, which she co-leads with Shotton and which features Goodyear and bassist Nick Kacal. Meek studied classical piano before becoming a jazz singer and this quartet combines her and Shotton’s shared love of French impressionistic composers such as Debussy and Ravel with their love of jazz. The group’s repertoire includes jazz standards, jazz arrangements of material by Debussy and Ravel and a smattering of original compositions. Concerts are structured like classical performances with ‘movements’ and all of the arrangements make maximum use of space. The group has yet to record, although a Sheek Quartet EP is planned. In 2018 Sheek Quartet gave a hugely successful performance at a Black Mountain Jazz club night. Review here;
For her second item Meek dipped into the Sheek Quartet repertoire and her own composition “Waves”, which again featured Goodyear’s hand drumming, allied to Long’s melodic bass lines. Meek’s wistful vocals and lyrics, the latter informed by her love of the sea and the great outdoors, sometimes reminded me of Norma Winstone, while Blanchfield’s lyrical piano solo constituted another highlight.
Finally we heard from trumpeter Thom Dalby, another RWCMD graduate who has previously appeared at BMJ / Wall2Wall under the name Thom Voyce.
Dalby was the only one of the Tomorrow’s Headliners musicians to concentrate wholly on original material. He commenced with a segue of two contrasting compositions, with “Grow Up” followed by “Eris’ Hymn”.
The clipped, cerebrally funky rhythms of “Grow Up” fuelled solos from Dalby on trumpet and Blanchfield on acoustic piano, the latter producing the kind of lines that might normally be played on a Fender Rhodes. A squalling free jazz episode then led into the gentle abstract balladry of “Eris’ Hymn”, which commenced with a dialogue between Dalby and Blanchfield.
Dalby explained that he had written “Grow Up” some time ago, at the end of his second year at college. Describing himself as an “angry young man” at the time, the message of the tune was partially self directed with Dalby describing the music as “angular” and “jumpy” and expressing “a sense of chaos”. “Eris’ Hymn” depicts “the calm at the end of the storm”. Dalby and Goodyear have also worked together in a group called Night Market, which once included “Grow Up” in its repertoire.
Dalby is currently involved with the Monk’n’Mingus Project, which pays homage to his two chief musical influences, pianist Thelonious Monk and bassist Charles Mingus. Following on from “Grow Up” he cited both musicians as striking “a balance between beauty and chaos”, a quality that Dalby himself is clearly striving for. He cited works such as Mingus’ “Pithecanthropus Erectus” and recalled that Monk and Mingus once played in a jazz ‘supergroup’ with saxophonist Charlie Parker and drummer Roy Haynes, a stellar quartet that sadly went unrecorded.
Dalby concluded this Tomorrow’s Leaders livestream with a performance of “Elizabeth”, a composition that he described as a “love song” and as a “soft and slow ballad”. He also explained that he had written it quickly at the keyboard, but that it had then taken several months to perfect it.
True to Dalby’s description this was indeed a beautiful ballad that featured Goodyear on brushes and included delicately lyrical solos from the composer on trumpet and Blanchfield at the piano. The mood of fragile melancholy sometimes reminded me of the music of the late, great Kenny Wheeler, which I’m sure Dalby will take as a compliment.
Similar qualities also informed Meek’s “Waves”, which provided the background music for the credits.
This was an enjoyable and informative event that included some excellent singing and playing from all five guests, with the resident trio supplying flexible and consistently assured support, with Blanchfield also emerging with much credit.
The conversations were consistently informative, if occasionally a little bit too ‘matey’ and self indulgent, although this can be easily forgiven allowing for the fact that Goodyear was at the RWCMD with most of these guys.
With the exception of Lockheart I’d seen all these musicians perform before and enjoyed their playing, and writing where appropriate. With their student days behind them these are young musicians now standing at the threshold of the next stages of their careers. All of them have the will, skill and potential to succeed and it is to be hoped that they will all be able to record full length albums in the near future. I’d be very keen to hear a recording from any of these artists.
But, of course, times are tough and far from normal, and this livestream concert was no ordinary gig. Let’s hope that Covid-19 doesn’t prevent these talented young musicians from taking up their rightful mantle as “Tomorrow’s Headliners”.
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