by Ian Mann
May 20, 2014
A good natured canter through a series of jazz standards on this opening date of a short "Espana Cymru" tour featuring Spanish and Welsh musicians.
Arturo Serra / Juan Galiardo Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 18/05/2014.
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 of course 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.
Originally from Valencia Serra has played with many leading European and American musicians including Pat Metheny, Kenny Barron and the late Mulgrew Miller. Born in Seville Galiardo graduated from Cadiz University before moving to the US to study at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has also performed with a number of top American names including saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi and Donny McCaslin.
Today’s lunchtime date at Black Mountain Jazz represented the first date of the Espana Cymru tour with Serra and Galiardo fresh off the plane from Bristol airport. The rhythm section was Long on bass and O’Sullivan at the drums, with Thorne and O’Connor taking over for the rest of the tour.
This was BMJ’s first event back at the Kings Arms following a period of tenure at the Swan Hotel and promoter Mike Skilton was rewarded with a respectable turnout of around thirty diners for the pre gig lunch with others arriving later just for the music. The food received a unanimous “thumbs up” from our party of three and everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals too. It all made for a congenial, listening atmosphere in the re-furbished performance area at the Kings although the glass roof did create a bit of a “greenhouse effect” on the hottest day of the year thus far.
Today’s session was led by Serra, a good natured canter through a series of jazz standards spread across two sets. At one time Serra was taught by Gary Burton but it’s Bobby Hutcherson that he cites as his key influence, his love of Hutcherson’s playing expressed on the album “Bobby”, a tribute session featuring tunes associated with the great man. Like Burton Serra plays a Musser vibraphone and sometimes deploys his former mentor’s pioneering four mallet technique but he’s a less floaty, lyrical player than Burton, instead attacking his instrument in a style that goes back through Hutchinson all the way to Lionel Hampton. The first two pieces were played using four mallets before Serra reverted to two for the rest of the show this technique best suited to his crisp, bebop inspired solos.
Meanwhile Galiardo coaxed consistently inventive, adventurous and frequently feverish solos from his Roland RD500 electric piano. I was highly impressed with his playing and would like the opportunity to hear him on an authentic acoustic piano, perhaps on his well received 2012 eponymous début album which features a quintet including saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli.
Serra and Galiardo have worked together regularly and know one another’s playing well. As part of a still relatively unusual instrumental configuration their mutual respect for each other’s playing ensures that they never get in one another’s way.
Long and O’Sullivan quickly slotted in and soon established a rapport with the two Spaniards as jazz again revealed itself to be a truly international language. I’ve always been an admirer of Long’s playing and he got plenty of opportunity to shine, with Serra generously granting him a substantial amount of solo space.
O’Sullivan led the highly competent “house trio” that accompanied visiting London soloists such as saxophonist Christian Brewer and trumpeter Damon Brown at the 2013 wall2wall Jazz Festival presented by Black Mountain Jazz. He is an adaptable and intelligent drummer, able to play in a variety of jazz styles and he acquitted himself well here, he and Long inspiring the two Spaniards as well as finding plenty to say on their own account. Many of the tunes found Serra and Galiardo engaging in fiery exchanges with O’Sullivan, the drummer clearly relishing the numerous series of breaks.
Serra’s halting English entailed that many tunes went unannounced but the first set included Lerner & Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” (from the musical “Camelot”) and Johnny Mandel’s waltz “Emily”, both played by Serra with four mallets, his solos representing increasingly elaborate variations on the themes . The ballad “Estape” was bookended by passages for solo vibes and also featured lightly blues inflected piano and brushed drums. Elsewhere a hard grooving bossa nova became the vehicle for expansive, probing and increasingly feverish solos for piano and vibes, Serra periodically vocalising along to his solos like a less jarring Keith Jarrett.
The second set continued the familiar head/solos/head format beginning with sprightly versions of “This Love Of Mine” with solos from Serra, Galiardo and Long followed by “It Could Happen To You” with features for the entire band. Serra informed us “I like old songs” - as the quartet’s elegant ballad reading of “I Can’t Get Started” demonstrated, topped and tailed by features for solo vibes and with Long’s bass playing at its most eloquent.
The next piece (unannounced) introduced a more contemporary groove as the launching pad for solos by Serra and Galiardo, but this was just the warm up for a high energy closer that dazzled with its opening vibes salvo, Galiardo’s restlessly inventive piano soloing and O’Sullivan’s climactic drum feature. Vibes players are always spectacular to watch but Serra surpassed himself here. Even so I’d place him in the “second rank” of vibes players, just behind the likes of Burton, Hutcherson, Joe Locke, Matt Moran and the UK’s own Jim Hart. I’d have liked to have heard some original material too alongside the numerous standards, most of them delivered in a very similar format.
Overall though this was a highly enjoyable afternoon of jazz with some excellent soloing by Serra, Galiardo and Long with the Welsh rhythm team offering sterling support - propulsive when required but sympathetic too. It was particularly good to be back at BMJ after a lengthy absence, poor weather forced me to miss a couple of events back in February and March.
Promoter Mike Skilton thanked both Brecon Jazz Club and the Arts Council of Wales for their support in staging this event, hopefully the start of a very successful tour. The remaining dates are;
20/05/2014 7.30 pm
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, double bill with Cardiff University Big Band
21/05/2014 8.30 pm
22/05/2014 8.30 pm
Cafe Jazz, Cardiff
23/05/2014 8.30 pm
Royal British Legion Club, Usk
24/05/2014 2.30 pm - Workshop
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
Open Access Jazz Ensemble
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The next BMJ event will be on June 13th 2014 and will feature the Fat Face Trio from North Carolina.
Matthew Postle (trumpet/melodica), Troy Conn (guitar), and Molly Brown (tuba)
Venue to be advised.