by Ian Mann
August 17, 2017
The mix of vocal and instrumental jazz worked perfectly in a well balanced and well chosen programme. An unexpected Festival highlight. Photograph by Bob Meyrick.
BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2017
ANNETTE GREGORY & FRIENDS, THE MUSE ARTS CENTRE, BRECON, 13/08/2017
Annette Gregory is a jazz vocalist of Jamaican heritage, originally from Manchester but now based in Warwickshire. Inspired to sing jazz by Ella Fitzgerald she studied jazz vocal performance at the Guildhall School of Music in London.
Gregory is currently touring around the UK with her show “Annette Gregory Celebrates 100 Years of Ella”, commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the “First Lady of Song” in 1917. Gregory recently released the EP “Living the Dream” featuring songs from her “Ella” show. The singer has also been touring her “Sings Cool Jazz” show but it’s the Fitzgerald show that seems to have captured the public imagination with a string of further performances to come. Please visit http://www.annettegregory.info for details of a performance near you.
The first performance of the Festival at Brecon Jazz Club’s regular home The Muse saw Gregory and her pianist and musical director John McDonald joined in a one off collaboration with a trio of Cardiff musicians, all of them students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD).
Matheus Prado was playing his second gig of the Festival, having appeared the previous day at the Guildhall as part of a trio led by Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada. The line up was completed by two youthful, but hugely impressive, musicians in the shapes of Tom Newitt (tenor sax) and Zach Breskal (drums).
This one off collaboration came about at the suggestion of Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club who have an impressive record of bringing unfamiliar musicians together and making the resultant combinations work. Today’s performance was a particularly fine example of this with the five musicians seeming to hit it off immediately in a well balanced show that gave space to both the singer and the instrumentalists with all of the performers being given the opportunity to express themselves.
The performance was more wide ranging than Gregory’s Ella or Cool Jazz shows and included a number of instrumental pieces, but more on those later. The ensemble commenced with a concise version of “All The Things You Are” that demonstrated Gregory’s jazz credentials, her voice exhibiting a rich, deep soulfulness and a genuine talent for jazz phrasing. Newitt was also featured as a soloist, his warm rounded tone reminiscent of such old masters as Lester Young and Ben Webster.
McDonald introduced the next song with a brief passage of solo piano. This proved to be a vivacious version of “The Way You Look Tonight” with a sassy vocal from Gregory and another fluent solo from the impressive Newitt, these fuelled by Prado’s propulsive bass lines and Breskal’s crisp, swinging cymbal work.
Gregory informed the audience that her late father-in-law, Ken Powell, had been a saxophonist who had regularly performed at the old Brecon Jazz Festival. From him she had developed a strong love of instrumental jazz and in preparing for today’s show had asked each of the musicians to choose a favourite instrumental piece to play. The first of these was the Jobim bossa nova “Wave”, which by a process of elimination must have been selected by Breskal. Here Newitt impressed yet again, sounding more than a little like Stan Getz during the course of his solo. McDonald followed on piano, a Roland RD300 SX electric model.
Gregory returned to sing the song “He’s My Guy”, an item from her “Cool Jazz” tour sung in a manner inspired by Sarah Vaughan, with Newitt again the featured instrumental soloist.
Prado’s choice of instrumental was the lively, fast moving “Squirrel” with its tricky, boppish phrases. Newitt took the first solo, stretching out above Prado’s fast paced bass walk and Breskal’s rapidly brushed drums. The bassist then demonstrated his own virtuosity with a vigorous and expansive solo. In a piece that showcased the abilities of the whole band McDonald followed on piano before Breskal enjoyed a series of crisply brushed drum breaks.
McDonald’s choice of instrumental was an arrangement of the standard “Autumn Leaves” which saw him stretching out on piano and squeezing a quote from “Suicide Is Painless” into his solo. Newitt followed him with an assured solo on tenor, again exhibiting a remarkable fluency and maturity.
Gregory returned to sing the ballad “Embraceable You”, a song from the Ella Fitzgerald tour and the “Living the Dream” EP. Introduced by Mcdonald at the piano and featuring Breskal deploying brushes the emotional warmth of Gregory’s delivery was mirrored by Newitt’s tenor solo.
The song “Poor Little Rich Girl” features in Gregory’s “Cool Jazz” tour in an arrangement inspired by the version by Chris Connor. Gregory’s take on the song was surprisingly lively with the singer confidently delivering the hipster lyrics and with Newitt once more the featured instrumental soloist.
The saxophonist’s chosen instrumental was Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig Of You”, one of the composer’s most enduring and popular tunes and one which provided a showcase for Newitt’s own mightily impressive saxophone skills.
Gregory returned to provide a vivacious vocal on a celebratory arrangement of “It’s Almost Like Being In Love” that also included solos from Newitt, McDonald and Prado with Breskal turning in another series of brushed drum breaks.
The performance concluded with Gregory’s arrangement, “with a twist” as she put it, of “The Man I Love”, another song from the singer’s “Ella” tour. Performed as an insistent blues with a sultry Gregory vocal the piece also provided a final showcase for the young but hugely talented Newitt.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this show which proved to be an unexpected Festival highlight. The mix of vocal and instrumental jazz worked perfectly for me in a well balanced and well chosen programme. Gregory impressed with both her technical ability and her warm, generous personality. My thanks to her for speaking with my wife and I after the show. I note from her website that her Ella Fitzgerald show is visiting the Herefordshire village of Eye near my home town of Leominster on 30th September 2017, presumably part of the Arts Alive series of events, so I will try to catch her again then.
Meanwhile Tom Newitt came close to stealing the show with his versatile and highly accomplished sax soloing which was consistently assured, mature and fluent. I’d like to see him returning to Brecon and leading his own band at a regular Jazz Club event, preferably with the similarly impressive Breskal at the drums. How about it, Lynne and Roger?blog comments powered by Disqus