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by Ian Mann

March 18, 2015

/ EP

Ian Mann visits Brecon Jazz Club and enjoys a performance by a trio led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones. He also takes a look at the eponymous EP by her Brazilian styled quintet Balanca.



(Pig Records PIG 03)

March 17th 2015, St. Patrick’s Day, didn’t find me drinking a drop of the black stuff, shooting the Blarney or even listening to a bit of the old riddly-diddly.

Instead I found myself in Wales watching three musicians from Bristol celebrating the music of Brazil. The event in question took place in the bar at Theatr Brycheiniog where Brecon Jazz Club keeps the jazz flame burning for the other eleven months of the year when the world famous Brecon Jazz Festival isn’t in town. 

It’s been a while since I last attended one of the Club’s “Jazz In The Bar” sessions and I was delighted to discover that the Club appears to be thriving with around fifty paying customers turning up to hear a trio fronted by Bristol based vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones. Brecon Jazz Club organisers Lynne Gornall, Roger Cannon and David Brockwell are to be congratulated on their work in creating a successful jazz club in what is, in all honesty, not a particularly listener friendly performance space. However it is their tireless enthusiasm that makes it work and the Club have established strong links with the Festival itself and help to programme the Sunday afternoon events at the Guildhall which forms a showcase for local jazz talent from the immediate area and Wales as a whole.

Cathy Jones studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama before settling in Bristol. Her love of Brazilian music was nurtured in a variety of samba bands and as a vocalist she has fronted the Latin/Brazilian bands Sirius B and Balan?a.

The latter played a highly successful Festival gig at the Guildhall in 2013 as part of the programme co-organised by Brecon Jazz Club and her return to the town in a pared down trio format was keenly anticipated. It had originally been the intention that she would be accompanied by pianist Jim Blomfield and guitarist Dan Messore, the latter a fellow student of Jones’ at RWCMD. Unfortunately Messore was unable to attend but alto saxophonist and flautist Kevin Figes stepped very ably into the breach, his playing a natural fit due to his involvement with Jones in Balan?a
and the fact that Blomfield is the pianist in Figes’ own excellent jazz quartet.

I actually attended this gig as a paying customer and as such didn’t make any notes so this isn’t my usual song by song, blow by blow account of a live performance. However I can tell you that this was a very enjoyable event with the hastily assembled trio growing in confidence and assurance as the evening progressed. Jones’ use of a variety of held hand percussion (shakers, tambourine, cowbell, samba drum) was highly effective and provided rhythm, colour and momentum whilst also complementing her vocals well. Figes and Blomfield both soloed convincingly on the numerous instrumental passages with Figes’ assured flute playing a particularly distinctive factor. 

The material included a variety of samba and bossa nova pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim and other Brazilian composers with Jones delivering the Portugese lyrics with confidence and assurance. There were also a number of jazz standards, including a couple with a spring theme to match the season (“It Might As well be Spring” and a tongue twisting vocalese version of Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” ). Highlights for me included a breezy rendition of Pat Metheny’s cheerfully optimistic “Better Days Ahead” featuring Jones’ wordless vocals and tambourine, plus a moving version of Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me” from the “Mule Variations” album.

Jones was kind enough to give me a copy of Balan?a’s 2012 eponymous EP released on Figes’ Pig Records label. Balan?a is a five piece band featuring Jones and Figes together with the talents of Tristram Cox on guitar, Thad Kelly (of Partisans fame) on bass and Mark Whitlam at the drums.

The five track EP begins with Jones’ breezy arrangement of Jobim’s “Chege De Saudade” and features her vocals, both wordless and Portugese, alongside solos from Figes on alto sax and Cox on electric guitar.

“Femina” is the first of two pieces written by the Brazilian singer, guitarist and songwriter Joyce Moreno, a performer often known simply as Joyce. The quintet sound suitably authentic with Jones again singing in Portugese and providing additional percussion. Figes on alto and Kelly on bass feature as soloists as does Cox, whose acoustic guitar is at the heart of the attractive arrangement.

“Winter Song” is a Jones original in the Brazilian style with an English lyric and with Figes switching to flute. The wintry imagery of the lyrics creates an interesting contrast with the summery sounds of the music. At one point Jones’ voice doubles up wordlessly on the melody line with Figes’ flute. The flautist later appears an instrumental soloist as he follows Cox’s electric guitar.

Pat Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead” is obviously a particular favourite for Jones. This samba style tune first appeared on Metheny’s 1989 album “Letter From Home”. It’s a wonderfully attractive and catchy melody and Jones and her colleagues serve it well with the singer’s wordless vocals again combining well with Figes’ flute. Jones also links up well with drummer Whitlam to create a suitably exotic percussive backdrop. The kit drummer also enjoys a brief feature before the tune’s close.

The second composition from Joyce is “London Samba” which concludes the album on an upbeat note. Voice and flute again work well together and Figes shares the instrumental solos with Cox on yet another skilful and appealing arrangement.

There’s nothing particularly earth shattering about this EP but it’s a set of skilfully arranged and executed performances that manages to sound authentically Brazilian. As I write it’s the perfect soundtrack for a bright and sunny, if still rather chilly, spring afternoon - and it’ll probably sound even better in the summer. Plus it’s a very nice souvenir of last night’s gig. Thanks again, Cathy.

I’m not sure how active Balan?a are as a unit these days but Brecon Jazz Club has a busy programme of events scheduled throughout 2015. Next up is a quintet led by visiting Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada on Tuesday 14th April. For full details of the Club’s programme please visit   

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