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Aidan Thorne’s Duski, Queens Head, Monmouth, 08/10/2014.

by Ian Mann

October 09, 2014


A contemporary group playing fresh, original music that deserves to be seen and heard.

Aidan Thorne’s Duski, Queens Head, Monmouth, 08/10/2014.

Aidan Thorne is one of a clutch of fine bass players to emerge from South Wales, the others including Ashley John Long, Chris O’ Connor and rising star Huw V Williams. I’ve seen Thorne playing double bass in a variety of contexts including performances with trombonist Gareth Roberts, saxophonists Ben Treacher and Martha Skilton. drummer Ollie Howell and as a part of the groups Burum, Coltrane Dedication and Slowly Rolling Camera. He has also accompanied the Spanish musicians Arturo Serra (vibes) and Juan Galiardo (piano) and has recorded with guitarist Dan Messore’s Lacuna group.

I’ve always regarded him as a skilful, reliable bass player but hitherto his role has been strictly supportive, as the bassist’s so often is. However tonight saw Thorne stepping out of the shadows, strapping on a five string electric bass and leading his Duski quintet through two stimulating sets of mainly original music in a style that can best be described as “intelligent fusion”. It was the first date of a short tour which will see the group visiting several of Wales’ leading jazz venues.

Duski began back in 2009 as a trio featuring Thorne alongside young tenor saxophonist Greg Sterland and that stalwart of the Welsh jazz scene Mark O’ Connor at the drums. The band has now been expanded to a quintet with the addition of old associate Paul Jones on keyboards and synthesiser (the pair have previously worked together in Jones’ Tryfan trio) and Tom Ollendorf on guitar. The expanded instrumental palette has allowed Thorne to introduce additional colour and texture to the group sound and the quality of his writing impressed throughout. This, allied to some excellent playing from all the members of the band, ensured that this was a gig that exceeded expectations as Duski’s Welsh tour got off to an absolutely terrific start.

Although I’m a regular attender of jazz events at the Queens Head I don’t normally review them as it’s a pub and admittance is free, although they normally come round with a hat and I end up paying anyway! Not that I resent this, it’s great to have such top quality jazz so close at hand and I’m more than happy to support it. Landlord Neill Bell and musician Lyndon Owen of Music in Monmouth do a fantastic job with the programming and I’ve enjoyed many memorable nights of music at the Queens. I believe they get some sort of financial support from Jazz Services so I’m not sure what 2015 will hold. The programme for Autumn 2014 and into the new year is exceptional, but I think it might be a case of make the most of it while you can! Anyway my point is that this review appears mainly as a favour to Aidan who is justifiably keen to generate some publicity for this very worthy band.

One of the problems of watching music at the Queens is that it’s a pub and there’s no official admittance charge. Background chatter can sometimes be a distraction but in the main a pleasingly large audience, which increased in size over the course of the evening, got behind the band and gave them a good reception.

At first it seemed that Duski was going to be a hard hitting fusion outfit as Jones’ introductory keyboard doodlings erupted into a powerful riff with Thorne and O’ Connor’s solid grooves fuelling punchy opening solos from Sterland and Ollendorf. Jones, deploying a Nord 2 keyboard and a smaller Minibrute Analog synthesiser then threw some wilful dissonance into his keyboard feature.
However this proved to be only the opening episode of “Spare Part”, a piece composed of two contrasting sections, the second a kind of ballad that was actually more typical of Duski’s music overall with Sterland and Ollendorf now delivering very different types of solo. 

The freely structured, impressionistic opening of “Paris, Oh Paris” mutated into a kind of jazz waltz featuring Thorne’s liquidly lyrical electric bass solo, this followed by Jones who adopted a gentle, bell like electric piano sound. Thorne later explained that the piece was an attempt to subvert the usual accordion music style clichés that typify most tunes written about the French capital.

It was interesting to observe that when introducing his pieces Thorne habitually referred to them as “songs” and the next three pieces definitely had a distinctive song like quality. It was refreshing to see a “fusion” band concentrating on creating an atmosphere and attempting to tell a story, the focus on colour, texture, narrative and emotional effect rather than instrumental grandstanding and sheer technique. Indeed several of Thorne’s themes were very simple in construction, but were no less effective for all that.

The first of this trilogy of tunes was the ballad “Two Hours Long” which included a sensitive, intelligent contribution from Sterland, the featured soloist. Like Thorne and Ollendorf the young saxophonist is a graduate of the jazz course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and his playing exhibited an admirable maturity and versatility throughout the evening.

“Home” was written for the trio as far back as 2009 but its enduring qualities and strong melody made it a good vehicle for the quintet with solos from Sterland, Jones, Thorne and Ollendorf. The sly funk element introduced by Jones’ keyboards served the melody well.

A passage of solo bass guitar, including full chording, introduced “Lakeside”, the final number of the first set. Jones deployed synthesiser to create a menacing, eerie backdrop to Sterland’s tenor solo and for all the prettiness there was a faintly unsettling air ( in a good way) about several of the pieces we had heard in the first half.

It was therefore not a total surprise to learn that Thorne’s writing had been significantly influenced by the work of film and television director David Lynch, particularly the television series “Twin Peaks”. Something of a polymath Lynch has also written music and his oeuvre has been a source of inspiration for a number of jazz musicians.

The second set actually began with an instrumental arrangement of the tune “Sycamore Trees”, from the “Twin Peaks” TV series, the song originally sung by the recently departed “Little” Jimmy Scott. A freely structured, impressionistic intro featuring Thorne’s bass rumble and Jones’ synth and keyboard washes eventually led to Sterland picking out and developing the theme on tenor. The overall feel was suitably atmospheric and effective.

A change of mood came with the funky, upbeat, song-like “Prelude” with Jones’ funky electric piano complemented by O’ Connor’s hip hop style grooves. Together with the leader these two helped to fuel a soaring tenor solo from Sterland and a spiralling guitar exploration from the excellent Ollendorf which drew some of the most enthusiastic spontaneous applause of the evening. Tonight was the first time I’d seen the young guitarist and I was hugely impressed by his contribution throughout.  With its Metheny like narrative arc this piece was particularly well received on the night.

“Who Knows” was originally written as a trio piece back in 2011. Eleven bars long it featured Thorne’s melodic fuzz bass plus further solos from Sterland on tenor and Jones on electric piano.

When he’s not out on the road gigging Thorne must watch an awful lot of TV. The folk song “Rains Of Castermere” was sourced from “Game Of Thrones”, not a programme I watch, but many audience members recognised the tune and it was a popular inclusion in the set. The dark textures created by a combination of bass, tenor sax and synthesiser were followed by solos from Sterland on tenor and Jones on electric piano.

The familiarity of the “Games Of Thrones” piece helped to ensure that the quintet were rewarded with a rapturous reception including many vociferous requests for an encore. Thus the evening ended as it began with a slice of unadulterated, full on fusion. Thorne had toyed with the idea of unleashing the bass riff and propulsive groove that fuels “RC + I” at the beginning of the second set but opted for the “Twin Peaks” piece instead. Now it was revealed in all its glory on a vigorous work out that included dazzling solos from all the members of the group, Jones adopting a particularly dirty electric piano sound for his solo and the hitherto relatively unsung O’ Connor rounding things off with a rousing drum feature. It rounded off a triumphant first night of the Duski tour.

Speaking to Thorne afterwards he revealed that it his intention to record this material and then look to get it released, a process that is often more challenging than the recording itself. I hope he manages to get this music out there, these are pieces that deserve to be permanently documented and if anything it was the quality of Thorne’s writing that impressed me most about tonight’s performance. It will probably end up being self released but it would be nice if Dave Stapleton, Thorne’s boss in Slowly Rolling Camera, could be persuaded to put it out on his Edition label. We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime try to catch Duski at another date on their Welsh tour. This is a contemporary group playing fresh, original music that deserves to be seen and heard. Tour schedule below;

10th October -Peppers Jazz. Fishguard*

14th October - Jazz in the Bar, Brecon JazzClub

15th October - Swansea Jazzland

16th October - Cafe Jazz, Cardiff

*This date will be performed as a quartet - for more info

Also please continue to support the Queens head who have a quite exceptional programme lined up for the coming months.

P.S. If you were wondering about the band name, Duski was christened by the poet Martin Daws, the Young People’s Laureate for Wales who simply thought the music sounded “dusky” - perhaps not so surprising considering the David Lynch / Twin Peaks influence.
It’s also a play on the Welsh word “Dysgu” meaning “to learn”, as in “Dysgu Cyfri” a Gareth Roberts tune meaning “Learning to Count”.   

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