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The Bannau Trio

Live: Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 15/02/2009


by Ian Mann

February 21, 2009


Local Girl Makes Good

The latest item in Black Mountain Jazz’s exciting and varied spring programme featured this distinctive trio led by vocalist Nia Lynn. 

This was something of a homecoming for the singer who was born locally but is now establishing herself on the London scene following her studies at the prestigious London Guildhall School Of Music . She recently made a guest appearance on Nathan Riki Thomson’s album “Under Ubi’s Tree” which is reviewed elsewhere on this site. Another healthy attendance at BMJ’s HQ at the Kings Arms was enhanced by the presence of a number of Lynn’s family and friends.

Lynn was joined by her regular trio members Ross Stanley (piano) and Gareth Lockrane (flutes and piccolo). 

Stanley is one of the rising stars of the British scene, equally adept on both piano and Hammond organ. His playing has been heard in a number of contexts including piano with the modern hard bop of drummer Dylan Howe’s quintet and organ with guitarist Jim Mullen’s swinging combos. He also plays Hammond in a trio featuring the father and son team of ex Yes guitarist Steve Howe and the aforementioned Dylan. In a more experimental context he contributes keyboards to the trio MA led by saxophonist Tom Challenger, a member of the Loop Collective. Ross Stanley is a very busy boy.

Gareth Lockrane is arguably Britain’s leading jazz flautist, matched only by one of his former tutors, ex Loose Tube Eddie Parker. Lockrane co-leads the Grooveyard project with saxophonist Alex Garnett, releasing the album “Put The Cat Out” in 2003. He also leads his own sextet and an occasional big band, both as yet unrecorded, and is also a developing film composer.

The Bannau Trio have recently recorded their eponymous second album for 33 Records (catalogue number 33JAZZ182) a follow up to their similarly titled 2006 release on the same label. The new record features a mixture of original material and jazz standards imaginatively arranged by the trio. The performance at Abergavenny featured a selection of songs from both albums with the emphasis on the most recent recording. 

With no bass or drums to hide behind the level of interaction between the trio is necessarily high and the exposed format ensures that both singer and instrumentalists are constantly on their toes. At times it must be like walking a musical tightrope. The instrumental set up recalls the trios of Norma Winstone, one of Lynn’s main influences. Like Winstone Lynn likes to alternate between original composition and the standards repertoire, sometimes combining the two approaches by adding her own words to an existing tune- the art of “vocalese”. Like Winstone Lynn also ventures into the areas of both folk music and popular song for her unusual and imaginative interpretations.

At Abergavenny the trio commenced with Lynn’s original “Our Room” which also opens the new album. Although the 2006 release was credited “Nia Lynn-The Bannau Trio” this is inevitably a very democratic trio with each member highly reliant on the efforts of their colleagues. Although superbly supportive of the singer Stanley and Lockrane are also given ample room to stretch out with virtually all the numbers featuring extended solos for piano and Lockrane’s assorted flutes. Both featured here on a number that featured Lynn singing her own words but also adding wordless “scat” vocals in the tune’s latter stages.

Also from the new album came a group arrangement of the standard “Invitation”. Lynn described Stanley as her “right hand man” and in reality both his hands were kept remarkably busy, the left dealing flexibly with the rhythmic demands placed upon him and the right shining in the numerous dazzling solo passages. 

Next came two back to back examples of vocalese. As if to emphasise the Winstone influence both these tunes came from Winstone’s colleagues in the group Azimuth. First we heard “Hope”, Lynn’s interpretation of Kenny Wheeler’s tune “Heyoke” from Wheeler’s 1975 ECM album “Gnu High”.

This was followed by “Gliding” her take on pianist John Taylor’s tune “Pure And Simple”, here featuring the rounded, woody tones of Lockrane’s bass flute.

Next came the trio’s playful arrangement of the standard “Nice Work If You Can Get It” featuring a particularly sparkling solo from Stanley and Roland Kirk style vocalised sounds from flautist Lockrane. The tune appears on the trio’s first album and was extremely well received here.

Returning to the new album the trio followed this with an absorbing interpretation of the classic Bob Dylan song “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. Delivered in a hushed gospel style with a hymnal introduction and featuring Lockrane’s alto flute this was a chillingly beautiful version of the song. Dylan has been done to death but the trio managed to bring something fresh and original to his oeuvre here. The album version is enhanced by the sound of guest Laura Metcalfe’s viola. 

The first set concluded with another Lynn original, “Broken Folds”, which bookended things nicely. The tune appears on the trio’s first album and incorporates Lynn’s Welsh language lyrics. Also worthy of attention was the duet between Lockrane’s flute and Lynn’s scat vocals. 

The trio’s second set commenced with a further visit to their first album for a lively but beautiful version of the Kenny Wheeler tune “E.K.I.” or “Everybody Knows It”.

From the more recent recording came Lynn’s own “Precious”, a song of big city alienation mixing quick fire lyrics with a sense of yearning for higher things.

Returning to the standards repertoire the trio tackled Michel Legrand’s classic ” What Are You Doing The rest Of Your Life?”, laying particular emphasis on the lyric by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Lynn’s deep, throaty vocal combined well with Lockrane’s alto flute in another winning duet.

Another standard, “A Beautiful Friendship” saw Lockrane taking up the piccolo to deliver a technically challenging but memorable solo before switching back to flute.

“The Midnight Sun” featured the music of Lionel Hampton and the ingenious lyrics of Johnny Mercer in another imaginative and distinctive trio arrangement incorporating Lockrane’s bass flute.

Lynn’s love of folk music surfaced with “The Bannau Brycheiniog” or the Brecon Beacons, the range of mountains from which the trio takes it’s name. This Welsh Hornpipe was suitably lively and airy, good natured and full of charm. Given the location of the performance it was particularly well received and it was inevitable that the trio would be called back for an encore in the form of “Just For My Love”

The concert had made for a memorable homecoming for the “local girl made good” and another successful evening for Black Mountain Jazz.

Lynn had covered every number from the new album with the exception of “John Barleycorn”, an old English folk song extolling the virtues of beer. The song has been covered by everybody from the most venerable of folk purists to rock bands like Traffic and Jethro Tull. The arrangement I know best falls somewhere between these two extremes, Oysterband’s rollicking version on their “Big Session ” album. 

Lynn’s version is inevitably more genteel. Paced by guest John Parricelli’s acoustic guitar and also featuring a second appearance from Metcalfe’s viola alongside Lockrane’s flute, Lynn’s powerful vocal performance ensures that her take on the song is well worth hearing. 

“John Barleycorn” represents Parricelli’s second performance on the album. His gently chiming electric guitar adds greatly to the recorded version of “Hope” (“Heyoke”).

Lynn sold an impressive number of albums on the night, and rightly so. The record is a charming artefact in it’s own right with characteristically excellent performances from the members of the trio. The guest slots from Parricelli and Metcalfe add greatly to the songs on which they appear but personally I must admit that there are times when I miss the bass and drums.

I was also disappointed that the album packaging fails to contain transcriptions of the lyrics Given the importance Lynn attaches to poetry and lyrics (both her own and those of others) this seems like a major oversight. I appreciate that there may be copyright issues with the standards but being able to read the words, especially to the original and vocalese numbers, would add greatly to the overall listening experience. 

That quibble aside the album has proved to be a most enjoyable memento of an excellent live performance.

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