by Ian Mann
September 05, 2023
This was a quintet that worked very well together with guest trumpeter Teddy Smith fitting in seamlessly and establishing an excellent rapport with Gregory and the rest of the band.
Annette Gregory Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, St. Ambrose Parish Centre, Kidderminster, Worcs. 01/09/2023.
Annette Gregory – vocals, John McDonald – keyboard, Joe Kessell – double bass, Isaac Cortvriend- drums, Teddy Smith – trumpet
Kidderminster Jazz Club’s opening event of their 2023/24 season was the first at the Club’s new home at St. Ambrose Parish Centre, adjacent to the Catholic church of St. Ambrose.
It’s the third venue that the Club has occupied since its inception in October 2019 and follows stints at the Corn Exchange Room at the Town Hall and at the 45 Live rock club. I liked both of those well enough, and particularly the Town Hall, which had a ‘real’ grand piano, a real bonus for a ‘provincial’ jazz club and an instrument that visiting pianists just loved playing.
With the Town Hall closed for refurbishment the Club moved to 45 Live for the early part of 2023 but that agreement has not been continued for the new season. First impressions of St. Ambrose is that it will suit the Club well. With its brick lined walls it’s rather austere and even a little chilly, even on a warm late summer’s day in early September. That said the acoustics were excellent and the facilities comfortable and more than adequate. There is no bar but audience members are invited to bring their own drinks and nibbles, helping to keep the individual’s costs down in financially straitened times, and car parking is also free. It’s an arrangement that will suit many listeners well, even though St. Ambrose is on the outskirts of the town centre.
The move has also occasioned a change with regard to KJC’s regular Club Night, which will now be Friday rather than Thursday. This resulted in Club founder Annette Gregory performing herself at this inaugural event at St. Ambrose. The artist she had originally booked to perform on the Thursday couldn’t make the Friday, so Annette stepped into the breach, despite having once asserted that she wouldn’t play at her own Club for another ten years, her last KJC appearance having been the Christmas Special at the Town Hall in December 2019.
I’d last seen Gregory perform fairly recently when she appeared at Ludlow Brewery in early July 2023 as part of the Ludlow Fringe Festival programme. This had been an intimate trio gig featuring her Musical Director John McDonald on keyboard and Joe Kessell on double bass. The event was also part of Gregory’s “Believe Tour”, which saw her appearing at numerous venues and festivals around the country in support of her first full length album release “Believe”.
In a sense the new “Believe” album represents something of a follow on from the earlier “Jazz & Me” EP in that it features songs by others that have a particular resonance for the singer, but more importantly it establishes Gregory as a songwriter and includes six original compositions.
My account of the Ludlow Brewery show, which is combined with a look at the “Believe” album can be found here;
Annette Gregory - Annette Gregory Trio, The Mash Tun Stage, Ludlow Brewery, Ludlow, Shropshire, 01/07/2023 (Part of Ludlow Fringe Festival). | Review | The Jazz Mann
Initially I had suspected that tonight’s event would be very similar to the Ludlow performance, but it turned out to be substantially different, thanks to the presence of Isaac Cortvriend behind the drum kit and the addition of guest trumpeter Teddy Smith.
McDonald, Kessell and Cortvriend all appear on the “Believe” album together with guitarist John McKinley, who is currently sidelined due to illness. Smith brought an interesting new instrumental voice to Gregory’s music. He’s a musician whose playing I know well from his days at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, where he used to lead the College Big Band. I remember him appearing at the jazz festivals in both Brecon and Abergavenny. Originally from Nottinghamshire he’s now based in London and it was good to catch up with him again. Gregory and Smith have worked together before, the trumpeter having been introduced to the vocalist by a mutual acquaintance, the bassist Matheus Prado.
Introducing tonight’s show Gregory promised us a mix of songs from the new “Believe” album and from her previous EPs, a blend of jazz standards, arrangements of pop and reggae tunes and Gregory originals.
A seventy five minute first set commenced with the standard “It’s Almost Like Being In Love”, with Smith establishing himself as a fluent trumpet soloist, this opening piece also including features for McDonald on piano and Kessell at the bass.
Gregory impressed with her sensual vocals on a slowed down version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, an arrangement nevertheless inspired by Frank Sinatra. This was introduced by the impressive Kessell at the bass and included a passage featuring bass and voice only. Brushed drums were then introduced, followed by piano and trumpet, with Smith harmonising with Gregory’s vocal lines. The trumpeter was later to feature as an instrumental soloist.
Ushered in by McDonald at the piano “April In Paris” continued the ‘standards’ theme, with Cortvriend again wielding brushes, and with Smith and McDonald the featured instrumental soloists.
Cortvriend picked up sticks to introduce a playful Latin style arrangement of “On A Clear Day”, with McDonald tossing in a quote from Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” as he shared the solos with Smith.
The first original song of the evening was “Thinking”, Gregory’s delightful dedication to her grandchildren, performed here in an intimate duet with McDonald, a musician she described as her “stage husband”. Gregory’s songwriting has been supported by the BBC Introducing scheme at her local radio station BBC Hereford and Worcester, resulting in a showcase performance at the How The Light Gets In Festival at Hay-on-Wye on the Herefordshire / Wales border. “Thinking” has also been added to the BBC Radio 6 playlist.
A return to the standards repertoire for “All The Things You Are”, with Smith and McDonald soloing above a rapidly brushed drum groove.
“Close Enough For Love” was the second song to be given the ‘Latin treatment’ with Cortvriend’s drums prominent in an arrangement that combined Gregory’s sensuous and soulful vocals with Smith’s trumpet soloing.
From the “Believe” album came “How Could I Leave”, an old reggae song written by the late Dennis Brown (1957-99), the man dubbed “The Crown Prince of Reggae”. Brown was a pioneer of the ‘Lover’s Rock’ sub genre and this was a song listened to by the young Gregory. Tonight’s rendition was essentially a duet between Gregory’s voice and Cortvriend’s drums, albeit with McDonald wielding a shaker in the background. The combination of voice and Cortvriend’s hand drumming was mesmerising. The young drummer is another of those musicians whose playing just seems to get better and better every time you see him.
“The Very Though Of You” saw a return to jazz standards territory with a swinging arrangement that included solos from McDonald and Smith and a playful series of scat vocal and trumpet exchanges.
Gregory ended a lengthy first set with an original song, the ballad “Lonely”, a dedication to her late mother, who passed away on 31st December 2019. This featured an appropriately emotive vocal from Gregory and an elegant trumpet solo from Smith.
The second set commenced with “Stormy Weather”, with McDonald the featured soloist and with Cortvriend’s drums prominent in the arrangement.
Co-written by Gregory and McDonald the song “Mad About You” appears on the “Believe” album.
It represents their attempt to write an old style swing tune with a lyric representing “a celebration of love”. Tonight’s brisk and swinging performance included instrumental solos from Smith and McDonald. The recorded version features a sinuous soprano solo from guest saxophonist Ian Close.
“Too Marvellous For Words” included solos from McDonald and Smith followed by a scat vocal and double bass episode. The impressive Joe Kessell is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and is an increasingly busy and influential presence on the Midlands jazz scene.
“Never Will I Marry” represented something of a showcase for Smith and this was followed by an intriguing trio arrangement of “Blue Skies” that featured Gregory’s voice accompanied by just bass and drums. This proved to be particularly effective, with all three musicians acquitting themselves brilliantly.
Another Sinatra inspired choice, “Wee Small Hours”, was first introduced to Gregory by McDonald. A suitably noirish interpretation included solos from Smith on trumpet and Kessell on melodic double bass.
The title track of the “Believe” album, a Gregory original, saw McDonald adopting an electric piano sound on his Nord Stage 3 keyboard for the only time as Cortvriend laid down a hip hop inspired drum groove. Gregory’s lyrics are a paean to the power of self belief - “I can do this” - and were written as a response to the setbacks that she has overcome in the course of her jazz career.
A second celebration of Gregory’s Jamaican heritage came in the form of a jazz arrangement of the Bob Marley song “Waiting in Vain”, performed here by just voice and double bass.
This was scheduled to be the last song, but it would have been a rather low key way to bow out. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise to find that Gregory had an ‘official encore’ up her sleeve, a version of the old Randy Crawford / Crusaders hit “Street Life”, another song much loved by the young Gregory and the first single that she ever bought. The song appears on “Believe” and features saxophonist Close, his role filled tonight by Smith on trumpet, who shared the solos with McDonald. This was a soulful, funky, upbeat way to bring an excellent evening of music to a close.
This was a quintet that worked very well together with trumpeter Smith fitting in seamlessly and establishing an excellent rapport with Gregory and the rest of the band. It represented a good start to the St. Ambrose era with a loyal and highly receptive crowd turning out to support Gregory and Kidderminster Jazz Club.
The KJC programme at St. Ambrose Parish Centre continues as follows;
Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra
Kidderminster Jazz Club
Fri, Oct 6 @ 7:00PM St Ambrose Parish Centre , Leswell Street - DY10 1RP, Kidderminster
A must see:
The award-winning MIDLAND YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA One of Britain’s finest big bands Directed by John Ruddick MBE
MYJO has been described as one of the world’s top young big bands. It was unbeaten in the BBC National Big Band Competition for twenty years, including the final year of the competition. It has received international awards in the USA and Canada, and has worked with many of the finest jazz musicians in the world. It has also performed extensively in Europe, including a TV performance in Moscow ( now on You Tube).
Guest artists that have worked with MYJO include - Alan Barnes, Peter King, Courtney Pine, Elaine Delmar, Jamie Cullum, to name just a few. The list of names is phenomenal.
Kidderminster Jazz Club
Fri, Nov 3 @ 7:00PM St Ambrose Parish Centre , Leswell Street - DY10 1RP, Kidderminster
Jim Mullen began his musical life aged 8 playing “Tea-chest bass” in the neighbourhood skiffle group. He got his 1st guitar the same year, and when an older friend introduced him to jazz, he was hooked.
In 1975 he met sax player Dick Morrissey and began a 15 year association which produced 7 albums and became one of Britain’s top club bands. After the demise of Morrissey Mullen he worked with jazz vocalist Claire Martin (3 albums) and formed a series of quartets (3 albums). As a sideman he is in demand by visiting U.S. stars like Gene Harris, Mose Allison, Jimmy Smith, Weldon Irvine, Percy Sledge, Teddy Edwards, Plas Johnson, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Terry Callier.
Jim Watson, organ, has worked with Sting, Kurt Elling & Dave O’Higgins.
Tristan Mailliot, drums, has worked with Pete King, Bobby Wellins, & U.S. stars Jim Hall & Art Farmer.
Kidderminster Jazz Club
Fri, Feb 2, 2024 @ 7:00PM St Ambrose Parish Centre , Leswell Street - DY10 1RP, Kidderminster
Renato D’Aiello has become known as one of the strongest and most original saxophone sounds around. His treatments of jazz standards, and originals, both live and on cd, have won great admiration from audiences and the press. Renato studied with masters such as Sal Nistico, Tony Scott, Steve Grossman and Joe Henderson.
He has played in most of the major venues and festivals in the UK, and since May 2002 he has played regularly in Paris, receiving warm acclaim from Jazz Hot magazine and TSF radio. From July 2010 until March 2020 Renato has been running a very successful Monday night Upstairs at Ronnie Scott.
Kidderminster Jazz Club
Fri, Mar 1, 2024 @ 7:00PM St Ambrose Parish Centre, Leswell Street - DY10 1RP, Kidderminster
Eddie has established himself as a prominent pianist/improviser, composer, and educator in the Southwest region, expressing a broad interest in musical styles, including jazz, folk and electronic music. Home, Eddie’s debut album, consists of a traditional trio format and exhibits a keen rhythmic focus. The development of this vocabulary is evident from beginning to end; metrically challenging grooves are paired with rich, elegant harmonies, culminating in an outcome that is both provocative and gratifying.
Kidderminster Jazz Club
Fri, Apr 5, 2024 @ 7:00PM St Ambrose Parish Centre , Leswell Street - DY10 1RP, Kidderminster
As a finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2020, winner of the Rising Star category in the 2019 British Jazz Awards and nominee in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2021 & ‘22, Alex is known to be one of the most in-demand and versatile saxophonists to have emerged on the British jazz scene.
In summer 2022, Alex released her latest quartet album “Only A Year” featuring some of the UK’s finest musicians, namely David Newton, Dave Green and Clark Tracey. This led to a sell-out album tour in January/February 2023 across renowned UK jazz clubs and festivals. “One of the UK’s finest young jazz talents” – The Jazz Rag “Clarke is a rising star…and here is the evidence” - Jazzwise
Hopkins Hammond Trio
Kidderminster Jazz Club
Fri, Jul 5, 2024 @ 7:00PM St Ambrose Parish Centre , Leswell Street - DY10 1RP, Kidderminster
The classic jazz formation known as the ‘Organ Trio’ may be a new concept to you. If so, you will probably be delighted to know that it is not three organs but rather one organ (usually a Hammond organ), guitar and drums - three instruments that blend together to create a unique sound that can be very subtle or very powerful and everything in between.
Formed on a rare sunny day in Bristol, UK in 2016, this organ trio knew they were on to a winner after the first tune they played together. There is an undeniable chemistry between the three of them that is evident in everything they play. This could be well-known jazz standards, tunes by the likes of John Scofield and Pat Metheny or the trio’s own compositions.
Matt Hopkins – guitar Matt’s inventive and melodic guitar playing has been featured in groups as stylistically diverse as Andy Sheppard’s Hotel Bristol and Emily Wright & The Royals. He also takes the lead role in the “Music of Pat Metheny” project alongside pianist Dave Newton. Matt is also known as an instructor and educator, specialising in jazz improvisation.
Scott Hammond – drums Scott is probably best known for playing rock music with Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull all over the globe since 2010 but he’s not just a rocker. Jazz, especially in the organ trio setting, has always been close to Scott’s heart and this trio shows a more subtle side to his playing. In the jazz world, Scott has worked with Alan Barnes, Tina May, Herb Geller, Bobby Wellins, Jason Rebello, Pee Wee Ellis and many others.
Ruth Hammond - organ Ruth has many strings to her bow as she is equally adept on organ, piano, saxophones, accordion and vocals. After graduating from Leeds College of Music in 1998, she became Runner Up in the Young Jazz Musician of the Year (on tenor saxophone). She has released a solo album “All The Good Things” which features her singing her own songs.
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