Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet

Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.

Photography: Photograph of Ben Thomas sourced from the Brecon Jazz Club website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

May 15, 2019


A welcome return to Brecon Jazz Club for this quartet playing their imaginative jazz arrangements of tunes associated with films and TV series.

Ben Thomas /  Julian Martin Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.

Ben Thomas – trumpet, Julian Martin – piano, Erika Lyons – double bass, Paolo Adamo – drums

Tonight’s event represented a welcome return to Brecon Jazz Club for this quartet following an earlier successful performance at the Club’s previous venue, the Bar at Theatr Brycheiniog in May 2016, three years ago to the day.

Once again Thomas and Martin presented a programme of jazz arrangements associated with film and television, a reflection of the interests of both the co-leaders in the visual arts. The only line up change saw the Bristol based drummer Paolo Adamo replacing Greg Evans at the kit.

Something of the background to this project can be read in my review of the previous show here;

Tonight’s arrangements came from the pen of the Cardiff based Martin, a musician whose professional career includes writing incidental music for films, documentaries and children’s TV plus the mysterious genre known as “Library Music”.  In addition to this Martin is an acclaimed teacher and workshop leader as well as being an accomplished and popular jazz pianist on the South Wales live music circuit. 

A number of items from the previous performance found their way into tonight’s repertoire but Martin had clearly been working on some new arrangements too and tonight’s show was warmly appreciated by a pleasingly substantial audience at The Muse.

The first set commenced in lively and playful fashion with Martin’s cleverly syncopated arrangement of the theme from “Top Cat”. This included an opening solo from Martin himself on keyboard, deploying the acoustic piano sound that he maintained for the rest of the gig, with further features coming from Thomas and Lyons.

Although it was primarily Thomas who acted as the quartet’s spokesman Martin couldn’t help himself recalling his boyhood obsession with Audrey Hepburn as he introduced Henry Mancini’s theme to the film “Charade”. The piece was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano, subsequently joined by double bass and brushed drums. Thomas’ trumpet solo began in mellow fashion, but gradually gathered momentum and intensity, becoming increasingly emotive with its use of blues inflections and slurred notes as Adamo switched to sticks. Subsequent solos came from Lyons on double bass and Martin himself on piano.

The tune “It Could Happen To You” was featured in a 1994 film starring Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda. Here Thomas stated the theme on trumpet before embarking on the first solo, followed by Martin and Lyons. Formerly Erika Howard the bassist was a professional jazz musician on the London scene in the late 70s and early 80s before moving to the Welsh Borders. She remains a supremely accomplished bass player and a consistently interesting and melodic soloist, as epitomised by her frequent features throughout the course of this evening.

From the 1965 film starring Michael Caine came John Barry’s theme for “The Ipcress File”, according to Martin only the second best John Barry theme tune - “but you try jazzing up ‘Dances With Wolves’” he explained. But Martin’s ‘jazzing up’ of “Ipcress” was just fine as he took the first solo, this followed by Thomas’ expressive, gently brooding trumpet.

From the first Superman film came “Can You Read My Mind”, a surprisingly moody and atmospheric piece of music considering its inclusion in the soundtrack of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Martin and Lyons introduced the piece as a duo, subsequently joined by brushed drums and further pensive trumpet musings from Thomas. Although a highly accomplished performer of standards the trumpeter’s output as a leader of his own projects is darker edged and more experimental and a sense of melancholy has increasingly come to imbue his increasingly technically assured playing, even on occasions such as tonight. At numerous junctures during the evening the bitter-sweet nature of his playing variously reminded me Chet Baker, Miles Davis and even Tomasz Stanko. Following a successful recent tour with Italian pianist Davide Logiri his ‘chops’ were in particularly good nick.

That said the first half ended on a cheery note with a breezy romp through the theme tune to the 1970s animated TV series “Roobarb and Custard”, with trumpet replicating the old synth melody line and with Martin soloing on piano above Lyons’ rapid bass walk and Adamo’s crisply marching drum grooves.

The opening tune of the second set came as something of a surprise, an arrangement of The Beatles’ “When My Guitar Gently Weeps” that was particularly well received by the Brecon audience. Solos came from Martin and Thomas and we subsequently learned that George Harrison’s song had appeared on the soundtrack of the cult film “Withnail and I”.

There was another Beatles connection to the next piece, an arrangement of the theme song from the ‘kitchen sink’ drama “A Taste of Honey”, the film starring Rita Tushingham. Thomas revealed that he knew the song from the version by Herb Alpert, a factor that came out in his playing as he shared the solos with Martin.

The theme from “The Godfather” was given a delightful jazz ballad arrangement which was notable for a wonderfully melodic bass solo from Lyons and her further exchanges with Martin’s piano. Thomas’ solo incorporated more of that pensive melancholy as Adamo deployed brushes throughout and Lyons flourished the bow at the close, for the second number in a row.

The theme from “M*A*S*H”, or “Suicide Is Painless” featured Thomas stating the theme and providing inventive variations upon it prior to an expansive piano solo from Martin. The pianist is a consistently fluent and imaginative soloist and it’s a shame that we don’t see him more often on the South Wales jazz scene. This piece was also notable for the first extended drum feature from Adamo, who hitherto had been content to provide flexible and intelligent support, never imposing but always quietly adding to the music. This was another item that was particularly well received and which seemed a particularly appropriate choice, given that it was once memorably covered by the Manic Street Preachers from just down the road in Blackwood.

A late insertion into the programme was Martin’s arrangement of the song “Secret Love”, included in the set tonight as a tribute to the recently departed Doris Day (1922-2019). Performed in a fast paced, fiercely swinging arrangement this was a celebration rather than a lament and featured lively solos from Thomas, Martin and Lyons and a vigorous set of drum breaks from Adamo as he traded phrases with the other instruments, with even Lyons getting in on the act.

The quartet maintained the energy levels as they rounded things off with “Soul Bossa Nova” from the 1999 Austin Powers movie with more ebullient soloing coming from Martin and Thomas.

Such was the audience response that the quartet remained on stage for an obviously unscheduled encore. After some debate this proved to be “Bye Bye Blackbird”, which is probably included in a film somewhere, even if nobody actually knew what it might be. In any event it allowed each member of this talented quartet to express themselves for one last time with solos coming from Martin, Thomas and Lyons and with Adamo again trading choruses with his bandmates.

Listeners who wish to hear more of Julian Martin are directed to the jam sessions that he runs at The Gate in Cardiff on the last Tuesday of every month.

Meanwhile Brecon Jazz Club’s next event will be a Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama showcase on June 11th 2019 at The Muse. This will feature music from two different trios, one led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head and the other by pianist Michael Blanchfield. Please visit for full details.

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