by Ian Mann
August 10, 2021
The first full day of live music at the 'hybrid' Brecon Jazz Festival with performances by the Warren / Liddington / Newberry Trio, solo pianist Rachel Starritt and the funk & fusion combo Jingu Bang.
Photograph of Ruth and Scott Hammond of Jingu Bang by Ron Milsom, sourced from the Brecon Jazz Festival website https://breconjazz.org/
“Wherever You Are”
Brecon Jazz Festival 2021
The Castle Hotel, Brecon, Sunday 8th August 2021
Like so many events the 2020 Brecon Jazz Festival, in its physical form at least, was inevitably subject to cancellation.
Undeterred, the organisers, Brecon Jazz Club, headed by Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon entered into a productive partnership with Vialma, a French hosting and streaming company with a specialist interest in jazz, and with Ratio Studios, from nearby Merthyr Tydfil, who describe themselves as “Wales’ first dedicated livestreaming studio”.
Working in conjunction with Vialma and Ratio Brecon Jazz Club presented an excellent “Virtual” Brecon Jazz Festival 2020, with a multitude of streamed performances being screened over the course of the ‘traditional’ Festival weekend on 7th, 8th and 9th August 2020.
The 2020 “Virtual” Brecon Jazz Festival was covered extensively on the Features pages of The Jazzmann and can still be found here;
The success of the “Virtual” Festival ensured that Brecon Jazz Club continued to work closely with both Ratio and Vialma. This resulted in a number of livestream performances being filmed by Ratio and hosted by Vialma at BJC’s regular venue The Muse over the winter lockdown period. Despite the absence of a live audience these broadcasts continued to bring Brecon Jazz to a global constituency and included performances by guitarist Nigel Price and by the bands Coltrane Dedication and Ocasa.
Another innovation saw a collaboration between Brecon Jazz Club and Chesterfield Jazz Club with pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her sextet playing a to a small live audience at Chesterfield Jazz Club, while online ticket sales were administered by Brecon Jazz Club.
The ongoing uncertainty regarding the pandemic, exacerbated by the differing restriction in Wales and England, found BJC deciding to adopt a ‘hybrid’ approach for the 2021 Festival with a mix of live and online performances. A further innovation saw the Festival expanded to cover the whole month of August, rather then being crammed into one intense Festival weekend.
The live shows, the majority of which will take place in the ballroom of that much loved Brecon Jazz institution the Castle Hotel, will also be livestreamed, thereby offering the best of both worlds, and can therefore be seen “Wherever You Are”.
Other innovations for 2021 include a Brecon Jazz London day, with BJC collaborating with London based promoters Mood Indigo Events to bring a day of performances from the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury on Thames. These will play to a live audience in Sunbury with BJC again administering the live stream. A similar collaboration will take place with the Aberjazz Festival in Fishguard, which takes place over the course of the August Bank Holiday weekend.
The global reach of Brecon Jazz is reflected in a specially filmed performance by the renowned American jazz violinist Regina Carter, which will be screened at The Muse on 14th August 2021 as well as being transmitted online.
Full details of the very comprehensive live and online programme can be found at https://breconjazz.org/
HUW WARREN / GETHIN LIDDINGTON / DAN NEWBERRY TRIO
RACHEL STARRITT – SOLO
Huw Warren – piano, Gethin Liddington – trumpet, Dan Newberry – tenor saxophone
Rachel Starritt - piano
The first full Sunday of the Festival was due to host two Bristol based bands at the Castle Hotel.
The first of these should have been the Senegal born, Bristol based pianist Ibou Tall and his band The Jazzmates. However a sudden illness caused a last minute cancellation, a source of great disappointment for both the band and the Festival organisers alike. This was a great shame as I had been intrigued by what I had read about Tall and was really looking forward to seeing him play. It is hoped that he will now be able to record a stream to be transmitted as part of the Festival and that he will eventually be able to visit Brecon in the future as part of the regular Jazz Club programme, when that is able to resume.
Once the Festival organisers had been told the bad news they promptly contacted ticket holders by email, advising of the cancellation but announcing that they were hoping to organise some form of alternative musical entertainment. Knowing how resourceful Lynne and Roger can be I just knew that they would come up with something, and I had no hesitation about travelling to Brecon for the gig.
Even at remarkably short notice Lynne and Roger were able to assemble a trio featuring three of Wales’ finest jazz musicians, Festival veterans Huw Warren and Gethin Liddington on piano and trumpet respectively, plus rising star Dan Newberry on soprano sax.
The ‘chamber jazz’ nature of the line up ensured that no time had to be wasted setting up a drum kit and the hastily formed trio were ready to go only shortly later than the designated time. Thus we were able to enjoy a full afternoon of music making with Rachel Starritt playing a short segue of solo piano pieces between two sets from the Warren / Liddington / Newberry trio.
Introducing the trio’s performance Warren promised a mix of jazz standards and ‘world music’ the latter coming in the form of pieces by the South African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim and the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal.
Warren also recalled previous visits to Brecon and particularly gigs in this very room, notably a brilliant performance in 2013 when he appeared with the American drummer Jim Black and the Welsh bassist Huw V Williams as the one off trio ‘Wales Meets Brooklyn’.
The impromptu trio’s sound-check elicited a round of applause as they ran through “A Night In Tunisia” but the actual concert began with the Township cadences of Ibrahim’s “Mandela”, introduced unaccompanied by Warren at the piano and with subsequent solos coming from Newberry on tenor and Liddington on trumpet.
A nasty crackling sound emanating from the keyboard was quickly rectified by a member of the crew re-connecting a loose lead and the sound improved dramatically for the rest of the set, beginning with the jazz standard “Alone Together”. This was ushered in by a duet between Warren and Newberry. The young tenor player, a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, has previously performed at both the Brecon and Wall2Wall (Abergavenny) jazz festivals and more recently appeared with pianist Dave Jones and his quartet at Kidderminster Jazz Club. The Kidderminster performance saw Newberry demonstrating a growing maturity and fluency as a soloist and these qualities were very much in evidence again today in this pared down ‘chamber jazz’ trio format. Meanwhile Liddington was featured on muted trumpet and Warren with a highly creative passage of unaccompanied piano. Also impressive was the interplay between the horns of Newberry and Liddington.
The opening set concluded with a reading of the classic jazz ballad “Body and Soul”, introduced by Warren at the piano and with Newberry given the opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a ballad player with a soft and breathy tenor sax solo. It was a piece that would have been perfectly suited for Liddington’s famous four valved flugelhorn, but he had only brought his trumpet with him. Nevertheless he still sounded highly impressive on that, soloing with both tenderness and fluency.
Warren then rounded things off at the keyboard, performing with as much lyricism as the electric instrument would allow.
Present as a member of the audience was Rachel Starritt, a young pianist from Bridgend. Unsighted since birth Starritt studied jazz at the RWCMD where her piano tutors included Huw Warren and Nikki Iles.
In 2020 Starritt and the members of her trio, bassist Clem Saynor and drummer Alex Goodyear recorded an online set that formed part of that year’s “Virtual” Brecon Jazz Festival.
Today she requested to play something during ‘half time’ and I got the impression that her performance was originally intended to be ‘interval music’ as audience members recharged their glasses, took a comfort break or enjoyed the beautiful views of the Brecon Beacons from the garden of the Castle Hotel, a space once described by the American guitarist Wayne Krantz as “the best backstage area in the world!”.
As it was nobody moved. Starritt is a hugely accomplished pianist who really comes to life behind the keyboard. Her short set featured a segue of the tunes “After The Morning” by John Hicks and “Marian McPartland” by Dave Brubeck and her performance of these two pieces transfixed the audience. Starritt has also studied classical piano and her technique was truly impressive, blending complex left hand rhythms with melodic right hand flourishes and a genuine flair for improvisation.
She still performs in both the classical and jazz formats and still leads her own jazz trio. Indeed it was Starritt’s trio that opened the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival with a pre-recorded set that was transmitted live at The Muse on the afternoon of August 1st. I hope to view this on line at a later date and to review it as part of a future article.
In the meantime I was highly impressed by this short solo piano performance from the hugely talented Rachel Starritt.
The trio returned for their second set with Warren introducing the standard “There Will Never Be Another You” at the piano, before going on to share the solos with Newberry and Liddington.
Warren has a particular fondness for Brazilian music and has led his own Trio Brasil, a group sometimes augmented by saxophonist Iain Ballamy. One of the pianist’s musical heroes is the great Brazilian composer, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Hermeto Pascoal and back in 2009 Warren paid tribute to Pascoal on the trio album “Hermeto +”, an engaging mix of Pascoal tunes and Warren originals recorded in the company of bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Martin France.
Today Warren elected to play the Pascoal composition “Frevo Em Macio” as a solo piano performance, a typically quirky and rhythmically complex piece that allowed Warren to demonstrate his own virtuoso piano technique. There can be no doubting that Starritt learned her own skills from a true master.
Liddington and Newberry returned for the final tune of the afternoon, Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple”. This saw the so called ‘chamber’ trio blowing up a storm with expansive solos from Warren, Liddington and the increasingly impressive Newberry, plus a series of vigorous exchanges between the three that replicated the ‘trading of fours’ with a drummer. They merged together again for a final unison rendition of the tricky ‘head’, and then they were gone.
This had been a hugely enjoyable afternoon of music making, salvaged from the wreckage of the earlier cancellation. The audience responded with considerable enthusiasm and overall this unscheduled event could be regarded as a considerable success. Well done to everybody concerned, notably the Festival organisers and, of course, the musicians themselves for stepping into the breach at such short notice.
Ruth Hammond – tenor sax, bass clarinet, Korg synthesiser, melodica, Scott Hammond – drum kit, Dale Hambridge – Nord keyboards, Greig Robinson – electric bass, Tammy Payne - percussion
There were to be no similar difficulties with the evening event at the same venue, a visit from another Bristol based band, the funk and fusion five piece Jingu Bang.
The group arrived in plenty of time and set up as we enjoyed a meal in the hotel bistro. They were raring to go at the scheduled starting time of 7.00 pm.
Jingu Bang was founded by drummer Scott Hammond and is fronted by his wife Ruth on reeds and occasional keyboards. The line up is completed by an experienced set of Bristol based musicians, keyboard player Dale Hambridge, percussionist Tammy Payne and bassist Greig Robinson. The band name has its roots in Chinese mythology, but its musical inspirations are emphatically American.
The group’s primary influences date back to the fusion era of the 1970s and include electric era Miles Davis, Weather Report and particularly Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Indeed Headhunters and Weather Report material was to feature prominently during the band’s set, which was again livestreamed to a global audience.
This was Jingu Bang’s first gig back after lockdown and they looked delighted to be back on stage again and playing to a live audience. Their set commenced with Scott Hammond striking a gong emblazoned with the band name as they launched into the funky and highly rhythmic fusion of “Heartbeat”, with Hambridge soloing on one of a rack of two Nord keyboards and deploying an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound.
The Weather Report influence was first expressed via a version of the Jaco Pastorius tune “Opus Pocus”, which actually appeared on Jaco’s eponymous solo début album from 1976. Unsurprisingly this featured Scottish born bassist Greig Robinson alongside the exotic percussion of Tammy Payne and the powerful tenor sax soloing of Ruth Hammond.
The first Herbie Hancock tune of the set was “4 A.M.”, sourced from the great man’s 1980 album “Mr Hands”. This was a keyboard dominated piece with Ruth Hammond doubling on Korg synth alongside Hambridge’s bank of Nords. Hancock plays a whole range of keyboards on the original album, creating a sound that Jingu Bang successfully managed to replicate here.
“Chameleon”, from the “Headhunters” album, is one of Hancock’s most famous tunes, and although the album version lasts for more than fifteen minutes there was also a successful singles edit that even gave Herbie a hit in the pop charts. Jingu Bang went for the extended version with Robinson playing the famous bass riff and Hambridge generating an appropriately funky clavinet like sound on keyboards. Ruth Hammond’s tenor sax soloing was suitably powerful and she also doubled on Korg as Hambridge delivered a searing keyboard solo above a mesmeric bass/ drum / percussion groove.
A rare nugget that I particularly enjoyed was a version of the tune “King Cobra”, originally recorded by saxophonist Tom Scott and his band LA Express, a popular fusion outfit back in the day. Scott is also famous for his role as a sax soloist and horn arranger on Steely Dan’s classic “Aja” album. Here Scott’s tune featured the siren call of Ruth Hammond’s tenor sax above a veritable rainforest of drums and percussion, this followed by Hambridge’s expansive solo on electric piano.
Many of Hancock’s compositions were inspired by creatures from the natural world and next we heard “Spider”, which saw Ruth Hammond doubling on Korg and tenor and soloing on the latter above the sound of bubbling electric bass and percolating percussion, before handing over to keyboard specialist Hambridge.
Continuing the theme was “Butterfly”, which saw Ruth Hammond moving to bass clarinet and channelling the spirit of the great Bennie Maupin, soloing above the sound of Hambridge’s shimmering keyboards and the odd meter grooves of the rhythm section.
The Weather Report repertoire was referenced through “Palladium”, a Wayne Shorter composition from the classic 1977 album “Heavy Weather”. Jingu Bang’s interpretation featured a tenor sax solo from Ruth Hammond and a combined drum / percussion feature for Scott Hammond and Tammy Payne.
Jingu Bang closed their set with “Deju”, a tune written by a friend of the band, the Bristol based drummer Jon Whitfield. It’s to Whitfield’s credit that his composition more than held its own alongside pieces by Hancock, Shorter and Pastorius. This saw Ruth Hammond making a final move to melodica and sharing the solos with Hambridge’s keys as both stretched out above an authentically funky groove.
This was an enjoyable and energetic set featuring a raft of classic fusion material, plus one or two unexpected and very pleasing surprises. It was certainly very well received by an enthusiastic audience and the event proved to be a very successful return to the live circuit for Jingu Bang.
I’ve kind of moved on a bit from 70s fusion in recent years but this was an enjoyable trip down something of a personal memory lane and there was much to enjoy here, with the standard of playing excellent throughout. My only quibble would be that the details of Tammy Payne’s percussion playing sometimes got overwhelmed in the mix by the other instruments.
My thanks to the members of Jingu Bang, who had clearly very much enjoyed themselves, for speaking with me afterwards – and for the gift of a very nice Jingu Bang mug featuring their distinctive Chinese inspired artwork. Thanks again guys, hope to catch up with you again sometime.
Scott Hammond has since informed me that he and Ruth also play in the Hopkins-Hammond Trio, an organ trio that rather appropriately features the multi-talented Ruth Hammond on organ, with Scott on drums and Matt Hopkins on guitar. More information on this project can be found here; https://www.thehopkinshammondtrio.com/
Scott has also worked with Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, which represents a pretty impressive feather in his cap.
So, a good first full day for me at Brecon Jazz. Look out for more features covering both live and online performances during the course of this month long Festival.
For full details of all live and online events please visit;
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