by Ian Mann
November 23, 2022
Five concerts @ the 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival from Aaron Liddard & The Argonauts, Charlie & Jake, Marvin Muoneke w. the BMJ Collective, Julie Campiche Quartet, Debs Hancock w. the Monmouth Big Band
Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 18 -20 November 2022.
The 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival was a highly successful event that featured five very different ticketed concert performances, a series of workshops aimed at encouraging active participation in music making, particularly by youngsters, plus a Community Free-access Afternoon that included a series of free live music performances in the Melville Centre Bar.
The Melville Centre, home to the Black Mountain Jazz Club who promote the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival as well as organising regular monthly club events, was formerly the King Henry VIII Grammar School. It’s a venue that lends itself particularly well to the Wall2Wall format. One former classroom has been converted into a well appointed theatre with excellent acoustics. The Melville Theatre was the setting for the concert events with other former classrooms being utilised for some of the workshop events. The bar is also a former classroom and represented a relaxing place to relax between events with a beer or a coffee.
It was good to have Wall2Wall back in its regular format following the online festival of 2020 and the ‘hybrid’ event of 2021, both also hugely successful in their own ways.
This year’s concert programme offered a wide variety of jazz related music from an array of acts ranging from international touring bands to local musical talent. Variety has always been a hallmark of BMJ’s programming and this year’s schedule roamed freely across the jazz spectrum and its related genres.
Friday’s events began with the well attended “Jazz 4 Little ‘uns” session, an introduction to the joy of jazz for young children aged three to five years hosted by one Louby Lou. The “Jazz for Little ‘uns” event has been a popular strand at the Festival in previous years when its hosts have included saxophonist Martha Skilton and vocalist Naomi Rae.
AARON LIDDARD AND THE ARGONAUTS
Aaron Liddard – tenor sax, keyboard, piano, voice, Giulia Marelli – vocals, Issac Asumadu – piano, keyboards, Michael Searl – electric bass, Jimmy Norden – drum kit, Eric Young - percussion
The concert programme kicked off later in the evening with a performance by this quintet led by multi-instrumentalist and composer Aaron Liddard. Primarily a saxophonist Liddard has enjoyed a stellar career as a session musician working with such global stars as Amy Winehouse, Prince, Beverley Knight and the Boomtown Rats. In jazzier contexts he was worked with ex James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker , Sheila Tracey’s Big Band and with BMJ favourite Shez Raja (electric bass). Liddard has also worked extensively in the fields of Latin and gospel music and his own music embraces an astonishingly broad range of influences.
Liddard is currently touring to promote his recently released début solo album “Nylon Man”. Now aged forty nine Liddard is a late addition to the ranks of ‘solo artists’ and he describes his lavishly packaged and wide ranging début as having been “twelve years in the making”.
The album takes its titles from the three cities that have had the biggest influence on Hertfordshire born Liddard’s career, New York, London and Manchester, but the music ranges far further than that both musically and geographically, and includes pieces recorded in Brazil and Cuba. The album features the playing of an astonishing forty two musicians and was documented at a variety of recording studios over a number of years.
Liddard has dubbed his regular working band The Argonauts and tonight’s line up included three of the album personnel with Italian born singer Giulia Marelli joined by drummer Jimmy Norden and percussionist Eric Young. Tonight’s quintet was completed by Michael Searl on electric bass and the Ghanaian born Isaac Asumadu on piano and keyboards, thus creating a truly international ensemble that was reflective of the breadth of Liddard’s musical interests.
The evening commenced with album opener “Corean Castaway”, Liddard’s tribute to Chick Corea and a piece that owed something to the Flora Purim / Airto Moreira edition of Return To Forever. Indeed Liddard was to play with Airto and Flora when he visited Brazil, a unique musical experience. This was a song that began by featuring Marelli’s voice and the melodic electric bass of Searl before moving through a series of contrasting loud / soft passages, one of these featuring Liddard playing sax and keyboard simultaneously as the drums and percussion temporarily dropped out. The return of the rhythm section saw a groove being established, this forming the basis for a more expansive sax solo, with Liddard’s blistering tenor fuelled by the fiery cross rhythms of Norden and Young.
Another city to have entered Liddard’s orbit is San Francisco. The song “Frisco” is co-written by Liddard and vocalist / lyricist Carleen Anderson, who sings on the recorded version. Tonight Anderson’s role was filled superbly by Marelli on this jazz / soul offering which also featured an instrumental solo from Asumadu on the Melville’s acoustic upright. Liddard had featured on keyboard during “Frisco” but moved to tenor sax as the music segued into the joyous “Together Forever” with its “I want to live forever” refrain. This featured another impressive vocal performance from Marelli and a tenor solo from Liddard that grew to develop a Michael Brecker like power and intensity.
The song “Thru You Eyes” addressed the subject of mutual empathy and ‘agreeing to differ’ and featured Liddard on both electric keyboard and acoustic piano as Marelli delivered the lyrics. Liddard commented that this was a difficult piece to play, but that didn’t stop Searl inserting a cheeky ‘Love Supreme’ quote into his bass line.
The instrumental “Chicken Soup” was introduced by Liddard as a “slice of 7/8 Latin jazz”. The album version was recorded by Liddard with a trio of Brazilian musicians, with bassist Felipe Cortes particularly prominent. Tonight’s version was introduced by a dialogue between Liddard on acoustic piano and Young on percussion. Drums and bass were then added with Searl moving to centre stage as a soloist. Liddard later took up the tenor to deliver the catchy sax motif that distinguishes this tune before stretching out to solo more expansively. The performance closed with a fiery drum / percussion face off anchored by electric bass, a spectacular and high energy way to round off the first set.
There had been much to enjoy here but the band had arrived later than they would have liked after encountering heavy traffic on the M25 at the start of their journey. Technical problems with both sound and lights, plus a couple of false starts from the band had interrupted the flow of the first half but the second was to be much better as Liddard and the Argonauts really hit their stride. Marelli’s vocals had been too low in the mix originally but once this difficulty had been overcome one could really begin to appreciate the purity and flexibility of her voice.
Set two kicked off with the quirky “Apples and Pears”, the title a nod to Liddard’s Cockney heritage. This was another piece centred around a catchy sax hook, this time complemented by a clipped funk groove with Liddard soloing on tenor sax before moving to the keyboard as Norden and Young resumed their percussive dialogue.
Marelli returned for the charming “Snowdrops”, a song about the hope that the coming of Spring provides. This was a delightful vocal performance, augmented by instrumental solos from Asumadu on acoustic piano and Liddard on tenor sax.
“Manana” is a Spanish word used by Cuban musicians to describe music that is played with both technical excellence and from the heart, a rarity to find the two together. Liddard’s tune of the same title was written during a visit to Cuba and the recorded version features the Cuban born violinist Omar Puente as guest soloist. Tonight the song became a vehicle for audience participation with Young, playing bongos, laying down the rhythms for the audience to clap along to. Everybody entered into the spirit and the whole thing was great fun with the crowd taking their cues from Young and from the hand clapping of Norden and Marelli. Searl’s electric bass groove underpinned the leader’s sax melodies and some people were even moved to get up and dance.
The calm after the rhythmic storm was an intimate duo performance of the ballad “Beautiful”, performed by Marelli on vocals and Liddard on acoustic piano.
This allowed the audience time to recover before the final “One Million Children” with its anthemic “We are watching you” refrain. Inspired by the annual gathering of one million school children at a Thai temple to meditate for world peace this was another song of hope. Between them Marelli and the gregarious Liddard got the whole audience word perfect and the anthem rang out around the room with the whole crowd at its feet. It represented a truly unifying experience and it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to envisage this song being sung in a huge stadium. In a better world it would be.
The inevitable encore was an early Liddard tune, “My Mean Bop”, the only piece played tonight not to be sourced from the “Nylon Man” album. A kind of bebop / hip hop mash up this featured the leader’s tenor sax, Marelli’s scat vocals and a searing synth solo from Asumadu that recalled the late great Bernie Worrell (Parliament, Funkadelic, Talking Heads).
This was a great way to round off a highly memorable evening with the gremlins of the first half quickly forgiven and forgotten. Liddard has obviously learned a few tricks from the illustrious pop artists he has worked with and his friendly, slightly geeky presenting style quickly endeared him to the crowd. The way in which he involved the audience also owed something to the pop and rock worlds and the crowd responded warmly to him and really ‘went for it’ with their singing, clapping and dancing.
The two items from “Nylon Man” that we didn’t hear were the punk jazz thrash of “My Kinda” (which reveals a very different side of Marelli) and the part funk part / Afro Cuban instrumental “Catfood” (nothing to do with King Crimson).
My thanks to Aaron for speaking with me afterwards - and do please check out “Nylon Man”. For all its diversity it hangs together very nicely and listening to it represents a highly uplifting experience. Just like tonight’s concert.
CHARLIE and JAKE
Saturday’s programme began with ‘house drummer’ Alex Goodyear passing on brushed drum techniques to aspiring drummers both young and old at his Brushes Workshop.
This was followed by BMJ Jazz Katz workshop for eleven to nineteen year olds as BMJ seeks to create a new youth big band in Abergavenny. I’m informed that this was also a highly successful event and some of the attendees later joined the audience for the first ticketed event of the day, a theatre performance from the young Bristol based duo Charlie and Jake (no surnames given).
The pair were billed as a ”live looping duo” and I wasn’t quite certain what to expect. Initially I’d been inclined to think that they would be primarily instrumental and would perform some kind of mix of jazz and techno but instead they proved to be songwriters who happen to deploy technology to bring their songs to life. So, not a million miles away from Ed Sheeran in this regard.
They were also billed as ‘multi-instrumentalists’, and again, in a sense they are. Jake plays keyboard, electric bass and percussion, Charlie keyboards and percussion and she also handles most of the vocals. But the emphasis isn’t on instrumental virtuosity or on technology, instead it’s on the songs themselves, which feature intelligent, evocative lyrics, many of them with a focus on mental and physical health and well being.
They’re jazz enough to have appeared at Ronnie Scott’s and at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and this afternoon show was very well received by a small but supportive audience, later swelled by the young workshop members. I was pleasantly surprised by them and will certainly be interested in hearing their début album “Internal Weather System”, which is due for release in early 2023.
The duo began with “Gold and Green” which saw Charlie establishing a rhythm track by looping the sound of shakers and adding electronic beats as Jake doubled on bass guitar and Yamaha keyboard. The use of live looping techniques also allowed Charlie to provide her own vocal harmonies. The way in which they deployed the technology at their disposal was impressive and visually arresting, but it was still the quality of the song itself that counted, and this piece represented a convincing start.
“Happening Now” was written by Charlie in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and the song’s lyrics address the very real fears that affected everybody at the time, the refrain “Face the Fire” and the line “did you ever think about it?” reflecting the collective anxiety. Musically the piece saw Charlie looping the sounds of a kalimba (African thumb piano) and also her own voice. Jake added further backing vocals and also delivered a brief keyboard solo.
The fact that Jake’s brother was isolated in China at the beginning of the Covid crisis also informed the duo’s writing at this time. The next song, written by Jake, addressed the subject of childhood memories and was sung on this occasion by Charlie as Jake was still suffering with the after effects of a cold. The performance also included a lyrical keyboard solo from the composer.
After some pretty heavy subject matter a jazz inflected arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” came as a shot of light relief.
Since lockdown began Charlie and Jake have been part of the Open Collab project which began life as a monthly online show. The duo put out an open call for poets all over the world to send them their words, with the duo setting the best of them to music. The project is still ongoing and numerous live music and poetry shows have been presented under the Open Collab banner in Bristol.
From the Open Collab project came the song “Life Begins With Sound” which featured found sounds and the sampled voice of poet Holly Moberley reading her words. These included such evocative lines as “What the Thunder Said” and “If you think I’m loud you should hear the voices in my head”.
One song slated for the new album is “Make Art Of Me” another highly evocative autobiographical song written by Charlie about a skin condition that she suffers from.
The new song “A Place For Everything” introduced a degree of theatricality as dry ice, triggered by Mark Viveash of 47Studios who were filming and recording the Festival, swirled around the duo.
Charlie readily admitted to the mental unease that continued even after the worst of the pandemic was over. The song “Fluency” addressed the healing qualities of leaving the city to visit her parents’ home in the country. This featured the sounds of layered voices and glitchy keyboards and was greatly appreciated by Charlie’s parents, who were seated in the audience.
“Resilience” addressed the subject of its title and featured the defiant lyric; “I’m speaking on behalf of her, my inner girl, I won’t lose my voice this time”.
The similarly personal “Lilac Light” featured synth like sounds and the lyric “I am not defined by all that I have survived”. The “Lilac Light” of the title references both enlightenment and healing.
The set’s second cover was “Clear My Head”, a song recorded in English by the Icelandic artist Dadi Freyr. This featured the sound of twin keyboards, Charlie was playing an Avesis V49, and looped voices. This was a charming and quirky song that fitted neatly into the Charlie and Jake aesthetic.
“Pick Up” was another song to address themes of mental health and well being and featured Jake on electric bass and percussion. Written about overcoming adversity the positive nature of the song saw Charlie encouraging a little audience participation, taking over where Liddard had left off the night before.
“Internal Weather System” addressed the subject of changing moods within the ongoing mental health theme and was another piece to feature the sound of electric bass in addition to voices and keyboards. Whether Donald Fagen’s blues tinged “Weather In My Head” was a possible source of lyrical inspiration I couldn’t say.
The set closed with the playful sing along “Hey!”, which featured more audience participation. The younger members of the audience who had come to join us absolutely loved it!
Overall I was highly impressed with Charlie and Jake. Their songs were an intriguing mix of the serious and the playful, tackling sensitive and sometimes highly personal subject matter in a whimsical, non self pitying way that sets them apart from many other singer-songwriters. And despite the weightiness of some of the content their presentation is good natured and humorous, this is a duo that take their music seriously but not themselves, always a good combination in my opinion.
My thanks to Charlie and Jake for speaking with me afterwards and I look forward to the release of their album in the New Year.
MARVIN MUONEKE & THE BMJ COLLECTIVE
Marvin Muoneke – vocals, flugelhorn, Eddie Gripper – piano, Clem Saynor – double bass, Alex Goodyear – drums
Marvin Muoneke is a vocalist, pianist and trumpeter based in Weston-super-Mare. He works regularly on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West with his quartet and he is also a session singer specialising in jazz, pop and soul.
Muoneke appeared at Wall2Wall fronting the BMJ Collective, led by Cardiff based drummer Alex Goodyear and on this occasion featuring two other South Wales based musicians, pianist Eddie Gripper and bassist Clem Saynor.
Muoneke and Goodyear first met at the Stage & Hounds Jam in Bristol, an encounter that helped to sow the seed for tonight’s collaboration. Muoneke has a striking baritone voice and this, coupled with his imposing physical presence, have invited comparisons with Gregory Porter. Muoneke acknowledges Porter as a source of inspiration but doesn’t base his vocal style on him. Nevertheless Porter’s success has had something of a knock on effect and Muoneke is a musician who is never short of work. On the evidence of tonight’s performance it’s easy to see why.
In general I’ll admit to not being overly fond of male jazz vocalists and once again I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this show. Like Charlie and Jake earlier Muoneke quickly won me over with his charismatic vocal performance - and the fact that he also proved to be an adept instrumental soloist on flugel horn was the icing on a very tasty cake.
The singer was brilliantly supported by a young, swinging rhythm section who all performed superbly with both Gripper and Saynor delivering wonderfully fluent solos as Goodyear anchored the group from the drum kit. From the quality of the overall performance one would never guess that Muoneke had never sung with this particular trio before.
This was one of the best attended events of the Festival and the audience provided the quartet with great encouragement from the outset as Muoneke kicked things off with the Steve Allen song “This Could Be The Start of Something Big”. This established the singer as a commanding stage presence and his authoritative rendition of the lyrics was augmented by a scat vocal interlude.
Muoneke explained that he was of mixed Nigerian and Guyanese heritage, his surname meaning “created by the spirit”. This was by way of introducing his self penned signature song “The Young Man With The Old Soul”, which featured him on both vocals and flugelhorn.
A stunning version of the ballad “Moonlight in Vermont” followed with Muoneke’s sensitive vocal performance complemented by Gripper’s lyricism at the acoustic upright piano and the delicacy of Goodyear’s brush work, the latter rather appropriate after the earlier workshop. The performance also featured the velvety sounds of Muoneke on flugel, his playing exhibiting similar qualities to his vocals. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the band played this.
At Muoneke’s instigation a passage of unaccompanied double bass introduced a swinging “Let There Be Love” with the singer giving his instrumental colleagues a chance to really stretch out, with Gripper and Saynor responding with fluent, swinging solos.
Muoneke introduced “You and the Night and the Music” on flugel, later putting down the horn to sing the lyrics. The song was taken at a fast pace and the performance also included a scat vocal episode, another excellent solo from Gripper and finally a brushed drum feature from the irrepressible Goodyear.
Muoneke introduced the Matt Dennis composition “Angel Eyes” as a “saloon song” or “torch song” and paid homage to recorded versions by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin. His own rendition was also highly impressive with the band bringing a blues feel to the song and with Muoneke featuring on both vocals and flugel, with Saynor briefly picking up his bow at the close.
It was Goodyear’s turn to introduce Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”, playing the skins with his bare hands. The quartet had arranged the song themselves, giving it a Latin-esque twist and incorporating a scat vocal episode alongside instrumental solos from Gripper and Saynor.
Inspired by Nat King Cole’s version “Route 66” was given a powerful blues treatment with Muoneke’s vocals augmented by another inventive piano solo from the inventive Gripper. Goodyear had played with brushes for most of the set, not wishing to overpower the singer, but at the close he and Muoneke became equals in a series of thrilling scat vocal / drum exchanges, with Goodyear now wielding sticks.
The third solo instrumental introduction saw Gripper ushering in the Gus Kahn song “It Had To Be You”. Muoneke joined him in a voice / piano duet before Saynor and Goodyear joined in on bass and drums. The performance also included a solo from Muoneke on flugel.
From the film “High Society” came the song “Now You Has Jazz”, originally performed by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Muoneke took both roles here in a high energy performance that also included instrumental cameos for Gripper, Saynor and Goodyear plus a flugel solo from Muoneke.
The up-tempo swinger “Love or Lust” was a second Muoneke original. His own songs fitted well into the fabric of the largely standards based programme and this performance featured a scat vocal episode plus a piano solo from Gripper. Muoneke claimed to have written the song when he was eighteen, but I wasn’t totally convinced that he was being serious.
Encouraged by the reception given to “Love or Lust” the singer opted to perform another original, “Love Is The Only Way”. This was written during his university days and subsequently updated during the lockdown period. This was another convincing offering, with Gripper taking the instrumental honours.
An excellent collective performance concluded with “Every Day I Have The Blues” in a version inspired by the Count Basie Band with singer Joe Williams. This was a terrific way to end an excellent set and the audience participation theme continued with a bout of Cab Calloway style call and response, a feature at the close of all of Muoneke’s shows apparently. Elsewhere we also enjoyed solos from Gripper, Saynor and Goodyear.
Muoneke enjoyed a terrific reception and doubtless made a lot of new friends this evening. It was unfortunate that his two albums, “The Young Man With The Old Soul” and “Lockdown Hootenanny” are currently only available digitally , otherwise he would have had plenty of CD sales this evening.
Blessed with a voice that is both tough and tender Muoneke is a skilled vocalist / instrumentalist and a charismatic stage performer. He’s also a genuinely nice guy who mingled readily with festival goers after the show and it was a pleasure to talk with him. His music may be a little outside my usual listening zone but he’s definitely a name to look out for in the future.
And a word too for the brilliant support offered to him by Goodyear, Gripper and Saynor. Marvin spoke very highly of them as he chatted after the show.
JULIE CAMPICHE QUARTET
Julie Campiche – harp, electronics, voice, Leo Fumagalli – tenor saxophone, Manu Hagmann – double bass, Clemens Kuratle – drums, percussion
For me the most keenly awaited performance of the weekend was that of the Julie Campiche Quartet, the group led by the Swiss harpist and composer. The band are currently on a European tour in support of their latest album release “You Matter”, issued on the German label Enja Records.
Wall2Wall was the last of only three UK dates, the others being at the Cambridge and London Jazz Festivals so it represented quite a coup for BMJ’s Mike Skilton to bring the group to Abergavenny.
I first became aware of Campiche’s extraordinary music when I reviewed a Swiss Jazz showcase event that formed part of the 2020 EFG London Jazz Festival, which, of course, took place entirely on line. She was just one of three highly contemporary Swiss jazz acts.
I enjoyed Campiche’s performance so much that I asked her UK publicist to forward me a copy of the quartet’s début album “Onkalo” for review. A CD subsequently arrived from Switzerland complete with a hand written note from Julie herself, a nice touch, and we have remained in contact ever since.
The “Onkalo” album was a seriously impressive piece of work and is reviewed here;
It whetted my appetite for seeing a full live performance from the quartet and I got somewhere near with a livestream from the Unterfahrt Jazz Club in Munich in April 2021, probably the best streamed event that I witnessed during the whole lockdown. This was largely due to the music but the experience was helped by the extremely high standard of the sound and visuals. At this time the quartet’s material was still largely being sourced from the “Onkalo” album but there was a teaser for the next release with the inclusion of “Aquarius”, the opening track on “You Matter”. My review of the Munich show is here;
Only one thing could top this, and that was watching the band play live in person. But before that there was the matter of reviewing the quartet’s new album, a similarly impressive statement that found Campiche and her group continuing to refine their sound while tackling themes such as climate change, gender politics and the interdependence of humanity. My review of “You Matter” can be found here;
Tonight’s show saw the quartet playing the entire “You Matter” repertoire, albeit with a slight deviation from the album running order. They began with album opener “Aquarius” a piece that takes its title from the name of a boat that was criticised in Italy for trying to save drowning refugees. “That pissed me off” explained Campiche, who speaks excellent English and has clearly picked up on the some of the earthier elements of our language. The music began in gentle, atmospheric fashion with the sound of harp and electronics, bowed bass and Kuratle’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Fumagalli’s tenor was the outlet for Campiche’s anger as the saxophonist delivered a searing solo above a backdrop of arpeggiated harp, percussive bass bowing and increasingly powerful drums. Like all of his colleagues Fumagalli’s sound was augmented and mutated via the use of electronics. Both he and Hagmann were in possession of pedal boards while Kuratle had an electronic percussive device capable of generating deep, dubby sounds and the leader had a whole table of electronic gizmos. I’ve commented before about the contrasts between the power of the tenor and the delicacy of the harp and indeed Campiche’s writing is full of dynamic and textural contrasts, constantly shifting and mutating in a rich and colourful sonic tapestry. The excoriating force of Fumagalli’s solo contrasted with a more reflective episode featuring a dialogue between the leader’s harp and Hagmann’s bowed bass. Hagmann then switched to the pizzicato technique as Campiche soloed more expansively, with Fumagalli’s tenor eventually returning to stoke up that sense of rage once more. This was essentially a protest song without words, a powerful and evocative composition that introduced the quartet’s unique sound to the Abergavenny audience.
There was a change in the album running order with Kuratle’s composition “Lies” being played next. It’s another piece with a political edge to its title and again it began in atmospheric fashion with the sounds of harp, electronics and mallet rumbles, these elements joined this time around by the piping of high register tenor. Hagmann then set up a powerfully plucked bass groove augmented by Campiche who threaded a silk scarf through the strings of the harp to give them a dampened, more percussive sound. Extended techniques were to be a feature of her playing throughout the set, at other times she used a drum mallet on the strings, these in addition to the liberal use of electronics. Middle Eastern music is an acknowledged influence on the quartet’s sound and there was something of that here with the dampened harp strings sounding decidedly oud like. Gradually Fumagalli’s tenor began to assume prominence; Campiche’s compositions unfold constantly and solos are not sign posted as in more conventional forms of jazz. In this mutually cooperative environment the instrumental hand-overs are less obvious and more organic, part of the fabric of the music.
The closing dialogue between Hagmann’s bass and Kuratle’s drums and percussion, including the use of that electronic percussive device, represented a segue into the Campiche composition “Fridays Of Hope” a piece that takes its title from the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s “Friday for Future” network. The sampled sounds of a Thunberg’s speaking voice were skilfully woven into the fabric of the music, with the clarion call of Fumagalli’s tenor representing the instrumental counterpart to Thunberg’s words with their “wake up and change” message. A particularly dramatic sequence saw Kuratle’s drums responding powerfully to the disembodied voice of Thunberg declaring “I wanted to act”. I’ve never seen a ‘trading fours’ sequence quite like this before.
A change of pace with the gently brooding “Parenthese”, a Campiche composition that
addresses “the many things we constantly put off doing” and which draws inspiration from the spiritual jazz of Alice and John Coltrane. This commenced with a dialogue between Campiche and Hagmann, life partners and parents, and the music also featured the ethereal sounds of Campiche’s wordless vocals. Fumagalli’s tenor wove wispy melodies, revealing a softer side of his playing. Kuratle largely played with mallets but also introduced the atmospheric sounds of small percussion – shakers, bells etc. On this most impressionistic of pieces Mark Viveash triggered the dry ice machine and the mist swirled around the performers to provide a strong visual image. “We’re on fire!” declared Campiche, and in a sense they very much were.
“The Others’ Share” was another tune inspired by inter-personal relationships and “the complex relationship between oneself and others, or between ones own many facets”. Complex staccato phrases distinguished the introductory stand off between Campiche and Kuratle, this followed by a brief passage of unaccompanied double bass and then a more expansive solo from Campiche. Fumagalli was also to feature on tenor sax, the sound of his horn heavily echoed. This was another piece that saw Campiche utilising drum mallets on the harp’s strings.
The Campiche quartet are fond of seguing tunes together and eventually “The Other’s Share” morphed into the twelve minute epic “The Underestimated Power”, arguably the album’s centre piece. The title of this this continually mutating magnum opus refers to “the undervalued power of women”. As so often in Campiche’s work the music ebbed and flowed, alternating between aggressive, groove based passages and more reflective interludes , with the plaintive but angry ‘cry’ of Fumagalli’s sax again giving voice to Campiche’s concerns. To be honest I was so absorbed in the music by this point that I’d stopped taking notes, happy to immerse myself in the richness of the quartet’s sound and the multiple twists and turns of the writing. I do recall Hagmann’s arco bass being prominent in the early stages and the sounds of both harp and sax being heavily distorted and manipulated.
The performance concluded with Fumagalli’s composition “Utopia”, also the closing track on the album. This evolved from a quiet introduction featuring just harp and double bass to embrace a staccato sax motif, to which Kuratle responded in dynamic fashion, prompting the composer into a suitably powerful tenor sax solo. A more reflective episode featured a double bass solo from Hagmann before the composer took up the cudgels once more to deliver a blistering sax solo.
I was a little concerned about how the experimental sounds (the group has been described as ‘avant-garde’) of the Campiche Quartet would go down with the BMJ audience, but I needn’t have worried. The audience wasn’t the largest of the weekend, but it was far from sparse either. It was however the most enthusiastic with several members of the crowd getting to their feet to give this remarkable band a standing ovation. The warmth of the response was reflected in the number of CD sales afterwards and following sold out shows in Cambridge and London, where the quartet had played at The Vortex, this represented a highly successful conclusion to the British leg of the band’s European tour.
They say you should never meet your heroes (or heroines) but for me it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Julie and the members of her quartet. Following our exchanges of cards and emails Julie was every bit as charming as I’d hoped and she had some very kind word to say about my previous reviews of her albums and livestream performances. I’m also grateful to Clemens Kuratle for providing me with a copy of “Lumumba”, the recent release by his quintet Ydivide, an international ensemble that includes the English musicians Dee Byrne (alto sax) and Elliot Galvin (piano). I intend to take a full look at this excellent new recording very shortly.
After waiting so long to see this band this gig was everything that I had expected and a definite Festival highlight.
MONMOUTH BIG BAND with DEBS HANCOCK
The final ticketed event of the Festival took place on Sunday evening and featured the Monmouth Big Band, directed by trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts, together with guest vocalist Debs Hancock.
But this wasn’t the only event of the day. There had previously been a successful Gospel Singing Workshop conducted by Tanya Walker and a Community Free-access Afternoon that had featured a number of live performances in the bar.
These included guitarist / vocalist Mansel Davies performing songs from his excellent début album “Breaking Bread”. Album review here;
The programme also included jazz vocalist Emma Davidson followed by pianist Ross Hicks who played a programme comprised of material associated with jazz artists from Kansas City – a fair sprinkling of Charlie Parker tunes one would suspect.
Finally Cardiff based saxophonist Josh Heaton introduced a jazz and poetry session, which I would imagine to have been a variation on his Mouth of Words project. A 2018 performance by Mouth of Words forms part of this review of a Welsh Jazz Showcase in Brecon;
The live events were bookended by two screenings of videos filmed for the 2020 online Wall2Wall Jazz Festival featuring the Kim Cypher Quintet and the Remembering Charlie Parker event, a centenary tribute to the great saxophonist by a sextet featuring saxophonists Ben Waghorn & Martha Skilton, trumpeter Jonny Bruce, pianist Dave Jones, bassist Ashley John Long & drummer Alex Goodyear. I reviewed these performances at the time of transmission. Links below.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend of these events as the live music programme had been announced very late and I was already committed to other family related obligations. This was a shame as I would have undoubtedly enjoyed the live events in the bar and it was particularly disappointing to miss Mansel Davies after having given such a favourable review to his album.
However it was always my intention to come and see BMJ director and Stalwart Debs Hancock sing with a big band for the first time as she guested with the Monmouth Big Band and their musical director Gareth Roberts.
Hancock has developed into a highly accomplished jazz vocalist who sings regularly with her own small groups and who has also featured in a number of one off events at previous Wall2Walls. She is also a great organiser and was heavily involved with the success of this year’s Festival.
I’ve been a fan of Gareth Roberts’ playing and composing for many years, both with his own quintet and as a member of Heavy Quartet and numerous other bands, including the quartet that he co-leads with pianist and composer Dave Jones.
In recent years Roberts has been the MD of the Monmouth Big Band, an eighteen piece ensemble featuring some of South Wales’ best jazz musicians. I finally caught up with the band at the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival when they performed at The Guildhall with a number of guest soloists, among them saxophonists Tmasin Reardon and Dominic Norcross. This had been an excellent set and I was very much looking forward to seeing the MBB again. The Brecon performance forms part of my Festival coverage here;
Lining up with six reeds, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, electric bass and drums, plus Roberts himself on additional trombone the band kicked things off with an instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone” in an arrangement by Oliver Nelson for Buddy Rich. The line up was slightly different to that at Brecon and was notable for the addition to the ranks of trumpeter Mike Prestage, a fine player who took the soloing honours here.
Prestage also featured alongside fellow trumpeter Terry Claxton on an arrangement of Count Basie’s “Corner Pocket”. The pair featured as soloists alongside Roberts himself, with a brief cameo also coming from pianist Carol Miller.
Debs Hancock joined the band to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia”, acquitting herself well in this unfamiliar setting. The instrumental honours went to tenor sax soloist Tom Hennessey.
An arrangement of “The Lady Is A Tramp” saw Hancock warming to her task and introducing an element of showmanship to her performance with a series of effective hand gestures. The impressive Prestage was again the featured instrumental soloist.
Hancock left the stage as the rest of the first set was given over to a series of performances from “The Monmouthshire Suite”, a work composed by Roberts for the Band as the result of a commission from the Ty Cerdd organisation in Cardiff.
The full suite was premièred at the Savoy Theatre in Monmouth in 2019 and parts of the work were also featured at the 2022 Brecon Jazz Festival performance.
“The Monmouthshire Suite” is inspired by the landscape and history of the county and the first piece from this work to be performed today was the ‘overture’ “Dawn” which segued into “Descending the Blorenge”, named for the mountain separating the towns of Abergavenny and Blaenavon. The cadences of the music were designed to mimic those of the steep descent while the melody was based on a traditional Welsh folk tune collected by Augusta Hall, Baroness Llanover. Today’s rendition included solos from Claxton on trumpet and Hennessey on tenor sax.
Also based on a folk melody collected by Lady Llanover was the ballad “After The Battle”, a piece inspired by Monmouthshire’s war torn history. This was to be a feature for the band’s lead alto saxophonist James Graham.
Inspired by another landmark local to Abergavenny “Skirrid Fawr” featured Louis Barfe’s drums simulating the sound of thunder on the mountain as he featured alongside the composer’s trombone. The piece segued into the closing “Dusk”, a suitably crepescular horn chorale.
Once again I was very impressed by the quality of Roberts’ writing and I would welcome the opportunity of hearing “The Monmouthshire Suite” in its entirety, should that ever become possible.
Set two opened with a fiercely swinging arrangement of “In The Mood”, which Roberts described as being “hotter than Glenn Miller”. This saw altoist Graham and tenor man Hennessey exchanging phrases, followed by a solo from star trumpeter Prestage.
Roberts paid tribute to the celebrated big band arranger Dave Wolpe who recently passed away on 25th October 2022. Wolpe’s arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” was played with great verve by the MBB and featured Roberts himself as the instrumental soloist.
Hancock rejoined the band for a playful rendition of “Too Darn Hot”, which also included solos from Prestage, both with and without the Harmon mute.
Hancock has always had an affinity for ballads and her choice here was “Cry Me A River”, a ‘revenge ballad’ that she performed here with great conviction, with Prestage again featuring instrumentally.
The singer’s final item was an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”, which she performed with great élan with her scat vocal episodes complemented by Prestage’s plunger muted trumpet solo.
The quirky Roberts original “Mop Dancing” first appeared on the trombonist’s début album “Attack of the Killer Penguins” back in 2006 and it has been part of his repertoire ever since. The piece is dedicated to the long-suffering souls who mop up spilt beer at jazz clubs. This big band arrangement saw an already rollicking tune becoming even more boisterous with solos coming from Prestage on stentorian trumpet, Hennessey on tenor and Graham on alto, the whole thing driven along by Steve Tarner’s monstrous electric bass grooves.
Robert’s love of Ellington was reflected in the inclusion of yet another Duke tune, this time “The Echoes of Harlem”, a blues inflected ballad featuring Claxton first on plunger muted trumpet and later with an open bell.
The performance concluded with two more Ellington pieces, beginning with “C Jam Blues”, which included solos from some of the musicians who had not previously been highlighted. Rod Cunningham weighed on on baritone sax followed by Colin (first name only) on trombone and Tarner on high register electric bass. There was also a brief solo from pianist Miller.
Finally we heard “Caravan”, actually written by Juan Tizol, in arrangement by Dave Wolpe, which featured tenor man Tom Hennessey as a soloist.
This event had attracted the largest audience of the whole weekend and the Theatre was officially sold out. The audience gave Roberts, the MBB and their own Debs Hancock a terrific reception as Wall2Wall 2022 ended in style.
Hancock returned to the stage to thank the many people who had made the Festival possible, among them workshop organiser Rod Cunningham (of the MBB), official photographer Kasia Ociepa, sound crew Mark and Sean and their team, Patricia Morgan on lights, front of house John Anderson and the team at the Melville Centre for running the bar. She should have thanked herself too.
The only cloud on the horizon was the fact that BMJ’s main man, Mike Skilton was admitted to hospital during the early hours of Sunday morning. He was due to undergo heart surgery in the near future and this may prove to be blessing in disguise if the planned operation can take place sooner rather than later. Reports suggest that he’s currently doing OK and all at BMJ and the wider jazz community will wish him all the best. Get well soon Mike.
He can rest assured that with the assistance of Debs Hancock and the rest of the team mentioned above he has helped to curate another excellent Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. All of the ticketed acts delivered with some of them exceeding expectations. My personal highlight has to be Julie Campiche but others will no doubt have their own favourites.
A couple of exciting new local discoveries were trumpeter Mike Prestage and pianist Eddie Gripper. It would be intriguing to see them coming back to BMJ on a club night as leaders of their own groups. Just a thought.
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