by Ian Mann
May 30, 2022
The band’s energy and enthusiasm was infectious and the playing excellent throughout. It was great fun from the word go and it was impossible not to get swept up in it all.
Bass 12 Brass Band, Black Mountain Jazz, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/05/2022
Mark Fortnum – alto sax, vocals, Jack Mac – tenor sax, lead vocals, Joe Bentley – trumpet, vocals, Tim West – trumpet, vocals, Lloyd Pearce – trombone, vocals, Peter Richards – trombone, vocals, Will Marston – sousaphone, Ryan Thrupp – drums
Bass 12 are a young brass ensemble from Cardiff whose repertoire has been strongly influenced by other leading contemporary brass bands, predominately from the US and most significantly New Orleans.
They acknowledge the inspiration of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Rebirth Brass Band and the Hot 8 Brass Band, all from New Orleans, the Young Blood Brass Band from New York and the UK’s own Hackney Colliery Band.
The members of Bass 12 are all former students of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, and although some of them have now left the Welsh capital they still gather together to perform at weddings, parades and other functions.
Tonight’s performance at Black Mountain Jazz represented a rare jazz club appearance in front of a listening audience, rather than the usual party crowd. Their set was adjusted accordingly, with more room given for individual solos, but without sacrificing anything of the band’s drive, energy and infectious sense of fun. Like their influences, as outlined above, Bass 12’s musical heritage dates back to the New Orleans ‘second line’ tradition and the octet see themselves primarily as entertainers, reflecting the fact that jazz first started out as dance music, as played on the streets of New Orleans.
Tonight’s performance attracted a near capacity crowd of around sixty to the intimate performance space that is the Melville Theatre. With many new faces in attendance BMJ promoter Mike Skilton pronounced himself delighted with the turn out. BMJ are now reaping the rewards of boosting their online presence during lockdown following two highly successful Wall2Wall ‘Virtual Festivals’, filmed and recorded to an exceptionally high standard by Mark Viveash and his team from 47 Studios & Productions. With Covid restrictions now finally over BMJ’s new online audience is now coming out to see live jazz performances in person, which represents a very welcome development. Of course, it was good to see many familiar faces too, but like all jazz clubs BMJ needs to attract new fans in order to survive and it is to be hoped that tonight’s ‘first timers’ will return in the future, particularly in the wake of this hugely entertaining performance from Bass 12.
Bass 12 are led by alto saxophonist Mark Fortnum, who was one of the most prominent instrumental soloists and who also seemed to function as the band’s Musical Director. Most of the lead vocals were handled by tenor saxophonist Jack Mac (Jack McDougall), a familiar face from his appearances as part of the 2021 “Journey of Trad” live and online presentations led by drummer Alex Goodyear.
All of the six strong front line of Bass 12 sang, while leather lunged sousaphone specialist Will Marston and drummer Ryan Thrupp concentrated purely on their rhythmic duties. Marston’s astonishingly agile and propulsive sousaphone bass lines were at the heart of the group’s music.
His was a truly remarkable performance, a fact acknowledged by Fortnum at the end of the show as he thanked Marston and Thrupp - “we wouldn’t be anywhere without them!”.
Opener “Do Watcha Wanna” introduced the band’s punchy, brassy sound and also incorporated a tribute to the Blues Brothers with Mac breaking into “Everybody Needs Somebody”. The melodic lead changed hands frequently, alternating between trombones, saxes and trumpets, with West taking the first individual solo.
The band’s signature tune “We Are Bass 12” was a statement of intent, with Mac promising us the sound of horny horns, brassy trumpets, sumptuous sousaphone, dangerous drums and more.
These were delivered via the segue of “Feel Like Funkin’” and “We Got Fire”, which featured the raucous vocalising of the entire front line as the audience were encouraged to clap along. Fortnum took the first of several excellent alto solos, quickly followed by a rousing trombone solo from Richards and a tenor solo from Mac.
The segue had been inspired by the Rebirth Brass Band but the next item dug deeper into the musical history of New Orleans as the band tackled Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras” in New Orleans”, with Mac leading the boisterous collective vocalising and also taking the first instrumental solo on tenor. He was followed by Pearce, whose rasping trombone solo featured the sounds of vocalised growls, generated via the use of a plunger mute.
Bass 12 now turned to a more contemporary source of inspiration with a performance of the tune “No Diggity” from the repertoire of the London based Hackney Colliery Band. Fortnum promised us something that was more “funk rock heavy”, which is exactly what we got, with solos coming from Mac on tenor and Thrupp at the drums.
An arrangement of the Thelonious Monk classic “Blue Monk” was sourced from the repertoire of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and was ushered in by the combination of sousaphone and trombones.
Mac and Fortnum later exchanged phrases while West soloed on trumpet, underpinned by Marston’s walloping sousaphone bass lines.
Arrangements of pop, soul and hip hop tunes have become part of the contemporary brass band repertoire and next up was a version of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”, as arranged by New York’s Young Blood Brass Band. This was introduced by Thrupp at the kit and incorporated solos from West and Fortnum.
The band then brought an exciting first half to the close by parading through the audience to make their way to the bar, appropriately playing a tune called “Lets Go Get ‘Em”.
During the interval BMJ’s Debs Hancock briefly interviewed Fortnum and Mac. Among the topics under discussion were the band’s nomenclature, Bass 12 apparently coming from computer language, the name suggested by technophile West. But I read more into it than that, the original Dirty Dozen Brass Band was an octet, plus there’s a fine Cardiff tradition of giving a band a name that has no relationship to the number of people in it – hands up if you remember cult favourites the Heavy Quartet, which was never a four piece but could number up to eleven.
Mac was initially inspired to pick up a saxophone by the Blues Brothers film and Fortnum by Lisa Simpson! It was only later that they discovered the likes of Art Pepper and other jazz saxophone greats. Both musicians expressed the importance of jazz as entertainment, as previously discussed above. They also discussed the absorption of soul, rock, pop and hip hop into the brass band canon. Although neither had been fortunate enough to actually visit New Orleans their love for, and knowledge of, their source material was palpable and really shone through.
The interval also saw glasses of beer and prosecco raised to celebrate the recent granting of charitable status to Black Mountain Jazz, a development that should help to ensure the future of this thriving Jazz Club.
Bass 12’s ‘band uniform’ is a varied collection of rather loud shirts, a good visual representation of their party style music. The beginning of set two also included synchronised movements, or choreography if you will, as the band dipped and swayed collectively to the sweeping melody lines of “Out Of The Read and Into The Black”, with Fortnum and drummer Thrupp the featured instrumentalists.
“Your Mother Don’t Dance”, a particularly lively item from the repertoire of the Rebirth Brass Band, included solos from trumpeter Bentley and trombonist Pearce, plus Mac on tenor sax.
The song “Drink A Little Poison Before You Die” was written by the New Orleans guitarist John Mooney and was featured in the US television drama series “Treme”. Introduced by Marston’s sousaphone this featured Fortnum’s alto sax solo and saw lead vocalist Mac conducting an audience sing along.
The Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol composition “Caravan” is an undisputed jazz classic and tonight’s rendition was inspired by an arrangement by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band that put a contemporary slant on the piece with solos coming from saxophonists Mac and Fortnum.
An arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, also a classic of its kind, upped the funk quotient once more with Marston and Thrupp combining to lay down a mighty groove, this acting as the springboard for a deliciously filthy sounding trombone solo from Pearce that again saw him making effective use of the plunger mute as his other front line colleagues yelled vocal encouragement. Leader Fortnum was also to feature on alto.
The Rolling Stones song “The Last Time” has become part of the repertoire of many contemporary brass bands and featured Mac’s lead vocals, backed up by the lusty singing of his colleagues. Richards and Pearce enjoyed a series of trombone exchanges, with Mac also entering into the discussion on tenor. Fortnum was again featured on alto.
Fortnum has begun to write his own arrangements for the band, one of these being a highly convincing adaptation of the Dua Lipa song “Don’t Start Now”, with trombonist Richards and trumpeter Bentley both featuring strongly.
An arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” was sourced from the Hot 8 repertoire and saw the band’s vocalists delivering the lyrics with an almost indecent relish. The featured instrumental soloists were West on trumpet and Fortnum on alto.
“We’re going to play a 90s classic” declared Fortnum. This proved to be a mash up of Spice Girls songs, one that worked pleasingly well in this format and clearly delighted the audience.
The inevitable encore was the equally inevitable “When The Saints Go Marching In”, delivered by the band with appropriate gusto and with trombonist Richards the featured instrumentalist.
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the performance from Bass 12. The band’s energy and enthusiasm was infectious and the playing excellent throughout. It was great fun from the word go and it was impossible not to get swept up in it all. The audience clearly loved it and gave the band a great reception, although despite Mac’s best efforts nobody actually got up to dance. This was after all a listening audience, but they clearly liked what they heard.
Today’s successful jazz club appearance followed a similarly successful show by Bass 12 on the Free Stage at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, suggesting that the band will continue to build a following on the jazz circuit. It’s also likely that they will begin to build a repertoire that is less reliant on the work of others if Fortnum continues to develop as an arranger. My thanks to him for speaking with me after the show and for providing a set list plus full line up details.
It’s possible that the band may return to Abergavenny later in the year to run a workshop at the 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival.
Meanwhile BMJ’s next event will be an Open Night on the evening of Wednesday June 2nnd 2022, a celebration of their newly acquired charitable status. Please visit http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk for details.
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