Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Arturo Serra and Juan Galiardo Quartet / Cardiff University Big Band

Arturo Serra and Juan Galiardo Quartet / Cardiff University Big Band, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon.

Photography: Photograph of the Cardiff University Big Band sourced from the Brecon Jazz Club website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

May 23, 2014


A thoroughly enjoyable and memorable evening. A good advertisement for Brecon and the forthcoming Jazz Festival and for the spirit of co-operation that makes it all happen.

Arturo Serra / Juan Galiardo Quartet

Cardiff University Big Band

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 20/05/2014.

It wasn’t originally my intention to see the Arturo Serra and Juan Galiardo Quartet twice in three days. However when covering their show at Abergavenny (recently reviewed elsewhere on this site)  I was very kindly invited by Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club to attend this event at Theatr Brycheiniog, a special double bill that also featured the Cardiff University Big Band. 

In my review of the Abergavenny show I explained something of the genesis of Espana Cymru, the short tour of Wales undertaken by Spanish musicians Arturo Serra (vibes) and Juan Galiardo (piano) and make no apologies for cutting and pasting in the following paragraphs;

  Since the Cardiff based Orchard Media Group took over the running of Brecon Jazz Festival in 2012 they have been keen to establish links with local jazz clubs and societies, encouraging them to promote their own events as part of the main festival programme. The majority of these events take place on the Sunday of the Festival at the Guildhall with a series of back to back performances curated by local organisations such as Torfaen Jazz Society, Swansea Jazzland, Porthcawl Jazz Festival, North Wales Jazz and Black Mountain Jazz.

The jazz flame in Brecon is kept alight for the rest of the year by Brecon Jazz Club who host regular events in the bar at the town’s beautiful Theatr Brycheiniog. During the festival they, too, are one of the institutions who are invited to curate an event at the Guildhall. In 2013 as part of an internationally themed programme of four concerts at the Guildhall they invited Spanish musicians Arturo Serra (vibraphone) and Juan Galiardo (piano) to co-lead a quintet featuring guest vocalist Celia Mur.  The event was a tremendous success and Brecon Jazz Club have now invited Serra and Galiardo back to Wales for a short quartet tour which will see the two Spaniards accompanied by some of the principality’s finest rhythm players in the shapes of bassists Aidan Thorne and Ashley John Long and drummers Mark O’Connor and Phil Redfox O’ Sullivan. Billed as “Espana Cymru” the tour will take in dates at Abergavenny, Brecon, Swansea, Cardiff and Usk. 

So that’s the background for tonight’s double bill, arguably the focal point of the Espana Cymru tour held in the main house at Theatr Brycheiniog. Both acts had previously been Brecon Jazz Club’s “entrants” at Brecon Jazz festival, the Cardiff University Big Band having performed at the Guildhall showcase in 2012.

Tonight’s well attended event was intended as a “curtain raiser” for Brecon Festival itself which will take place over the period 7th to 10th August 2014. Introducing tonight’s concert Lynne not only thanked the Arts Council of Wales and Paula Redway and her team at Theatr Brycheiniog but also invited Pablo Janczur, head of Orchard to say a few words. In his turn Pablo thanked Geoffrey Marshall, the Dean of Brecon Cathedral, who will be retiring shortly. The Cathedral will continue to be a festival venue but we jazz fans will miss Geoffrey’s colourful concert introductions and his equally colourful items of headgear, each chosen specifically for the occasion. The outgoing Dean was quite a character and one who will be much missed. However the real theme underlying the words of Lynne and Pablo was the spirit co-operation, the kind of co-operation that makes events such as tonight and the forthcoming festival such exciting and enjoyable occasions and helps to put Brecon and Wales as a whole firmly on the jazz map.

And so to tonight’s music, beginning with the opening quartet set that saw Serra and Galiardo joined by a new Welsh rhythm section featuring bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Mark O’Connor who took over the roles fulfilled by Ashley John Long and Phil Redfox O’Sullivan at Abergavenny. With new musicians in tow and with Galiardo having access to an acoustic grand piano this evening’s set was subtly different to Abergavenny’s. With Galiardo, rather than Serra, appearing to set the agenda the playing was generally more lyrical in tone with Serra deploying the four mallet technique more frequently than at the previous show.

Although tonight’s performance was again mainly in the head/solos/head format it certainly wasn’t a carbon copy of the Abergavenny performance with a number of different tunes finding their way into the set. These included “Taking A Chance On Love”, “I Hear A Rhapsody” and the much covered Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice”, something of a modern day standard.  Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” was one of the pieces reprised from the Abergavenny show.

Once again Galiardo and Serra delivered some great solos but with a shorter amount of time available Thorne was allocated less solo space than Long had been. Subsequent two set performances may of course be different. Incidentally Galiardo let slip the fact that Thorne is originally from Australia, news to me, he’s been part of the South Wales jazz scene for so long I actually though he was Welsh! Meanwhile Mark O’ Connor demonstrated once again why he’s one of the most in demand drummers in Wales with his skilled and tasteful accompaniment and carefully constructed solos. 

Having reviewed the Serra / Galiardo quartet previously I intend to concentrate more fully on the performance of the Cardiff University Big Band (hereafter CUBB) who were superbly led by the young alto saxophonist Alex Davis, a second year music student. However not all the players were studying music, this was a multi disciplinary ensemble with students of a rich variety of subjects rubbing shoulders with the full time musos. Such was the quality of the playing that the standards of the individual and collective musicianship were never called into question. This was a tight, superbly drilled young band with Davis, in particular, exhibiting a maturity far beyond his years in terms of his own playing, band leadership and audience interaction. In the absence of a director, unusual for a student ensemble, he undertook these multiple tasks with good humour and considerable aplomb.

The nineteen piece band consisted of six saxes (three altos, two tenors, one baritone), five trumpets and four trombones plus piano, guitar, electric bass and drums, the drum chair being shared at various times by two musicians, one right handed, the other left, making the changeovers eventful and forcing Davis to keep talking as he invited various band members to entertain us with a joke!
Don’t be misled though, the overall impression of this performance was of an admirable professionalism.

The band kicked off with a rousing take on Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood”, a proven crowd pleaser with features for the twin tenors, two of the trumpets and a closing series of drum breaks.

Davis then invited guest vocalist Alexa Dean to the stage to sing three numbers with the band. The singer had been spotted by Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club at a performance at Café Jazz in Cardiff and they suggested that she guested with CUBB. Despite a shortage of rehearsal time the collaboration worked well as Dean performed the standards “They Can’t take That Away From Me” and “Love Was Made For Me And You”, the latter first featuring a quartet of piano, guitar, bass and drums before the whole band came in. These two songs were punctuated by Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” which introduced a pop/soul element to the proceedings.

The instrumentalists took over again on a rousing take of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, the old Cannonball Adderley hit penned by Joe Zawinul with hard hitting solos by pianist Matt Pole and trumpeter Simon Lerego. “Brass Machine”, a funk flavoured feature for the entire trumpet section, and particularly Andy Thompson, maintained the energy levels as the band began to build a juggernaut like momentum. This carried over into an arrangement of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder ” with features for alto saxophonist Harry Henshaw and bass trombonist Russell Evans.  In a year that sees the 75th anniversary of the founding of Blue Note Records this seemed a particularly apposite choice. 

A change in the drum chair coincided with the return of vocalist Alexa Dean who entertained us with a few choice musical factoids as the changeover took place. Her rendition of “Feeling Good”, co-written by Anthony Newley and made famous by Nina Simone featured a big band arrangement that varied from the tightly muted to full on swaggering. A gospel infused “Get Happy” was suitably joyous and Gershwin’s “Summertime” concluded her second set of three songs. Here she demonstrated her scatting abilities with trumpeter Thompson the featured instrumental soloist. The arrangement was of particular interest, lush and often more sombre than is usual for this piece. We also learned that “Summertime” has been recorded more than 2,500 times, including an aborted Beatles version that never made it on to record.

The next instrumental piece was arguably the highlight of the evening. Dr. Daniel Bickerton wrote “Stand Up” for CUBB’s recent German tour and they also performed at Porthcawl Jazz Festival. The band attacked its lively interlocking horn lines with considerable energy and panache with tenor saxophonist Jack McLeod the featured soloist. Previous performances had clearly honed the bands’ collective cops and this was a terrific rendition. Bickerton, seated in the audience was duly prompted to “stand up” and take the applause that was rightly his due.

CUBB brought a loping swing to “La Mer” and another outpouring of energy to a brief but joyous “St. Thomas”, the jazz calypso written by the great Sonny Rollins. An innovative big band arrangement of the old Phil Collins hit “Sussudio” seemed set to round things off with Jack McLeod on tenor and Jack Lewis on trombone enjoying a rousing, rasping stand off with a series of increasingly thrilling exchanges.

However in that aforementioned spirit of co-operation Serra and Galiardo were invited to the stage to play a couple of numbers with the band, Galiardo the featured soloist on “Body And Soul” alongside Alex Davis. Serra and McLeod then featured on a second Sonny Rollins tune, “Airegin”.

Singer Alexa was re-introduced to the crowd to take her applause and offer her thanks to the members of Brecon Jazz Club. The band then brought the curtain down on a long but very enjoyable set with “Sing Sing Sing”, a tune associated with drummer Gene Krupa. Introduced appropriately by the drums the piece finally offered the band’s guitarist a chance to cut loose.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this well presented performance by these talented young musicians, all of them aged between eighteen and twenty two. I’ll admit that I preferred the instrumentals but the addition of Dean’s vocals ensured that the programme flowed coherently and added a good sense of contrast and dynamics and many audience members may have actively preferred these numbers. Overall I was very impressed and the students can be justly proud of their efforts. It was impossible to catch all the names which was a shame, as everybody concerned really deserves a mention.

My thanks to Lynne for inviting me to have a drink in the bar after the event and introducing me to Arturo Serra, Juan Galiardo and Alex Davis. Thanks also to Juan for giving me a review copy of his eponymous début solo album which I intend to take a look at in due course.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable evening, a good advertisement for Brecon and the forthcoming festival. I’m glad I was invited along, so thanks again to Lynne and Roger and all at Brecon Jazz Club.   

blog comments powered by Disqus