by Ian Mann
December 17, 2015
A hugely enjoyable event that delivered some excellent playing and singing from both acts.
Bella Collins / Gareth Evans Duo
John-paul Gard / Phill ‘Redfox’ O’Sullivan Duo
Brecon Jazz Club Bar, Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 15/12/2015.
The final ‘Jazz in the Bar’ event for 2015 brought together two very different duos for a double bill advertised as a “Blues & Jazz Night”. Brecon Jazz Club continue to present leading local musicians, plus others from further afield, at their well supported monthly club nights. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal but this is very much a listening audience and musicians seem to appreciate playing for such an appreciative and knowledgeable crowd.
BELLA COLLINS / GARETH EVANS
Tonight’s format was a little different to usual by featuring two acts in a genuine double bill context and in adding such a strong blues element to the proceedings. The latter came primarily from Bella Collins and Gareth Evans, two Cardiff based musicians who bill themselves as an ‘acoustic duo’. They have acquired a good reputation on the live music circuit in South Wales and this summer appeared at Brecon Jazz Fringe Festival and at Tenby Blues Festival. Both play acoustic guitars and Collins also sings with a powerful and authentic blues voice. Their repertoire includes original material as well as classic songs from the blues and soul traditions
Tonight’s performance began with the classic blues song “Rock Me Baby” with Collins’ sultry, smoky blues voice augmented by Evans’ excellent guitar playing. He took the majority of the solos and quickly revealed himself to be a resourceful and imaginative guitarist with an excellent technique. I was impressed, and even more so when Collins later informed me that the guitar is very much Evans’ second instrument. Apparently he’s also a highly skilled French horn player who performs with a number of classical ensembles. And then there’s his alternative musical existence as a drum and bass artist using the name Undersound, in which guise he has made a number of recordings and also written music for films, video games etc. In other words Gareth Evans is something of a ‘Renaissance Man’, a genuine musical all rounder.
Next up was an unusual arrangement of a piece described by Collins as “an old soul song”. This turned out to be “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, most famously recorded by Marvin Gaye but also successfully covered in a very different style by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I rather liked this slowed down, bluesed up arrangement by Collins and Evans which retained the spirit of the original while sounding very different but which was still highly effective.
Jointly written by Evans and Collins “Golden Days” was the first of the original songs and was sung very effectively by Collins in the style of Billie Holiday. The singing, playing and, crucially, the writing all impressed here.
The old Jimmy Reed song “Shame, Shame, Shame” offered something of a showcase for Evans’ inventive guitar playing and also included a powerful Collins vocal.
“Mama Said” was a 1960 hit for girl group The Shirelles and proved to be the unlikely source for another artful slowed down blues arrangement from the duo with Evans providing a final twist by suddenly accelerating the tune and closing it with a gypsy jazz style flourish.
This proved to be something of a taster for the Collins original “Part Time Lover” (apparently her mother vetoed the original title of “Back Door Lover”!). This combined blues vocals with gypsy jazz style guitar with Evans’ Django Reinhardt type guitar runs including a quote from Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” as the musical genres became ever more blurred. Although Evans was essentially the featured guitar soloist Collins also exhibited considerable expertise on the instrument with her competent rhythm playing and she proved to be an effective instrumental foil for Evans throughout.
The duo closed their set with the Collins original “Who Are You Loving Now”, a slow song with a soulful vocal that Collins recorded with a band featuring a Hammond organist back in 2014. This final piece provided a tantalising glimpse at Collins’ other musical incarnation as lead vocalist with Bella Collins and The Blue, a funk and soul quartet with a strong blues element that also includes bassist Paul Higgins, guitarist Jeff Coleman and drummer Paul Westwell. However Collins’ main musical focus at the moment seems to be this duo with Evans.
Overall I was impressed with this set from Collins and Evans. As well as their innovative covers of blues and soul standards the original songs also stood up well and the singing and playing was highly competent with Evans delivering a number of inspired guitar solos. The Brecon Jazz Club crowd also seemed to enjoy them and gave them an excellent reception. I got the impression that the duo were also well satisfied with this gig and with the opportunity to play for a large, supportive, appreciative and, most importantly, listening audience.
JOHN PAUL GARD and PHILL REDFOX O’SULLIVAN
While Collins and Evans represented an interesting new discovery Gard and O’Sullivan were musicians I was already fairly familiar with.
John-paul Gard is a Bristol based organist who has been on the scene for over a decade and who has accrued a strong following in South Wales and the English West Country. His projects have included the band Pedalmania and Cookbook Project, his trio with guitarist Alex Hutchings and drummer Gethin Jones. His latest album is “Come On Rita”, a trio recording made with Kevin Glasgow, best known as a virtuoso bassist but here appearing on guitar, plus Jones at the drums.
I’ve seen Gard perform live on a couple of occasions with the Cookbook Project at the Queens Head in Monmouth, an event that always takes place on the last Saturday before Christmas and which is always very well attended and also highly exciting. Gard also performed at the 2013 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny with a trio featuring drummer Mike Brian, of Siouxsie and The Banshees fame, plus Indigo Kid guitarist Dan Messore.
Tonight Gard was teamed in a duo with drummer Phill ‘Redfox’ O’Sullivan, another popular figure on the South Wales jazz scene who has played with saxophonist Martha Skilton, The New Era Reborn Brass Band and many others. He has performed with some of Brecon Jazz Club’s overseas visitors including pianists Juan Galliardo and Atsuko Shimada and led the house band at the inaugural Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny in 2013 where he accompanied saxophonists Christian Brewer, Martha Skilton and Ben Treacher plus trumpeter Damon Brown. O’Sullivan is an accomplished, highly supportive musician who always delivers in any musical situation.
Tonight was the first time that Gard and O’ Sullivan had performed as a duo but one would never have guessed as they struck up an easy and instinctive rapport from the start. The lack of a bass player was never an issue as Gard handled the duties with his feet, something that he’s always made a feature of with his pedalboard clearly visible to audiences. Similarly the absence of guitar was hardly noticed as this merely gave Gard more scope to roam around the two manual keyboard on his Nord C20 - not actually a Hammond then, but sounding remarkably similar to one. Apart from hard core organ aficionados I doubt if many people actually noticed, and regardless of who the manufacturer was the music still sounded great. Gard is one of the best organ soloists around, a fiery and fluent player who is something of a local hero but who is arguably deserving of a national reputation.
The duo started off with the title track from “Come On Rita” , a lively start that demonstrated the impressive technical skills of both musicians.
The jazz standard “My One And Only Love” introduced a touch of gospel to the arrangement and also included the first of many quotes as Gard wove a quote from “Jingle Bells” into his solo. Well it was the last club night before Christmas and the whole gig had a relaxed, almost party atmosphere about it.
The next piece was unannounced but I suspect that it was the Gard original “Waltz For Evans” (I assume that’s Bill not Gareth) from the “Come On Rita” album. Gard’s soloing was typically fleet fingered and this time he managed to weave the melody from “Greensleeves” into the fabric of the tune. Great fun.
Many of Gard’s titles are dedication to other musicians. “Tea 4 Joey” honours that giant (in every sense) of the Hammond Joey de Francesco and is based on a chord sequence by guitarist Pat Martino, with whom De Francesco once played. The piece was played in bossa nova style with O’Sullivan responding well to Gard’s melodic prompting.
The duo’s version of “Moanin’”, the hard bop classic written by pianist Bobby Timmons for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was played at the request of Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall. Gard and O’ Sullivan had great fun with this with O’Sullivan’s military snare patterns recalling another Blakey classic, “Blues March”. Meanwhile Gard’s quote laden solo saw him trying to play “twelve songs in about two minutes”, almost inevitably including “Jingle Bells” again.
The trio wound up their set with a tune by Larry Goldings, another of Gard’s Hammond heroes. “I Would Like To Be Your Jellyman” saw the duo getting funky with plenty of space for O’Sullivan to express himself with a series of drum breaks prior to a full length solo. After the funk came a gospel flavoured coda as Gard finished with a flourish.
Except things weren’t quite over yet. Lynne Gornall invited Collins and Evans back to the stage and the evening concluded with a good natured jam by the newly formed quartet. First up was Collin’s “Number One Blues” which saw the composer singing the lyrics as Evans and Gard traded solos on guitar and organ before O’Sullivan rounded things off with another drum feature.
“Flip Flop Fly” was played as a kind of blues shuffle and a highly enjoyable evening of music finished with “Money”, not the Pink Floyd song but the one covered by The Beatles with Evans and Gard again feeding off each other with the organist delivering another playful, quote filled solo.
All in all this was a hugely enjoyable event that delivered some excellent playing and singing from both acts and it was great way to conclude Brecon Jazz Club’s highly successful 2015 programme as everybody went home happy and full of the Christmas spirit.
Lynne was also able offer us some encouraging news on the future of Brecon Jazz festival following the cessation of Orchard Media’s involvement with the event. Brecon Town Council is very keen that the event should continue, understandable given how much money the Festival contributes to the local economy, and it now seems likely that something will happen next year with local promoters such as Brecon Jazz Club becoming involved. Brecon Jazz 2016 may not feature the big international names that we’ve become accustomed to but something should happen, probably with more of a focus on local musicians. And as tonight’s two acts so capably demonstrated there is plenty of excellent local talent around.
In many ways it will all signal something of a return to the festival’s roots back in 1984. Brecon Jazz Festival is too cherished an institution to let die and if the event takes place in 2016 it needs the full support of the jazz community in Wales and beyond.
John-paul Gard’s Cookbook Project will play at the Queens Head, Monmouth on Saturday December 19th 2015 at 9.00 pm. Free admission but with a hat being passed round.
The next Brecon Jazz Club event will take place in the bar at Theatr Brycheiniog at 8.00 pm on Tuesday January 12th 2016 and will feature Donnie Joe’s American Swing.
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