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Bennett Soundy Blues Sax Quartet

Bennett Soundy Blues Sax Quartet, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 15/11/2009

by Ian Mann

November 16, 2009


Precociously talented young saxophonist. A star in the making?

This evening was an important one for Black Mountain Jazz as they presented the first of several planned “Showcase Evenings” in conjunction with the UK’s new jazz internet radio station

The new station boasts several well known presenters including respected musicians and singers such as Trudy Kerr, Geoff Gascoyne and Mornington Lockett. It’s billed as being “for jazz people by jazz people”, a claim borne out by the impressive roster of presenters.

The station’s showcase evenings aim to boost the careers of young jazz musicians and to bring their talents to the notice of audiences across the country. Tonight’s show featured the prodigious abilities of fifteen year old saxophonist Bennett Soundy the son of UK Jazz Radio’s co-founder Brian.

Young Benn has an enormous tone on tenor sax-shut your eyes and you would never guess it was a fifteen year old kid playing. Benn recently jammed at the Bulls Head in Barnes with many of the elder statesmen of British jazz including Ronnie Scott alumni John Critchinson and Martin Drew plus others including Don Weller and Simon Spillett. On witnessing this Bill Ashton offered Benn a place with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) which Benn is poised to take up. It’s a fertile training ground that has produced literally dozens of high quality jazz players over the years among them Guy Barker, Pete Wareham, Steve and Julian Arguelles and others literally too numerous to mention.

On the evidence of tonight’s performance there can be no doubt at all that Benn Soundy is going to be a professional musician. Whether that will be in the jazz field remains to be seen, Benn has a deep rooted love of the blues and his powerful tone and soulful playing would fit right in with the horn sections of soul or r’n'b bands. It’s all speculative but in the current economic climate he’ll probably end up working right across the spectrum.

For tonight Benn is leading his Blues Sax Quartet with dad Brian on electric bass, Gordon Drummond on piano and Wayne Parker at the drums. Although Brian handles virtually all of the announcements this is definitely Benn’s band. His saxophone is the dominant instrumental voice throughout the evening and there’s something rather endearing about seeing him put the three older men through their paces. 

As Brian explains Benn has had a love of the blues from around the age of eight or so and his vision for the quartet is to give blues tunes a jazz twist and vice versa. They commence with Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”, a number famously electrified in the late sixties by Cream. It’s from this version that the quartet take their cue with Parker laying down a sturdy rock derived backbeat as Benn lays down some gutsy , Texas style tenor. Most tunes also feature solos from pianist Drummond and electric bassist Brian. Unfortunately the piano is a little too low in the mix and some of the subtleties of Drummond’s playing are lost but in many ways this doesn’t matter too much. The night is all about young Benn and any minor quibbles about the sound are quickly banished by the sheer joie de vivre of the evening. It’s a hugely enjoyable and unpretentious event.

Of the jazz composers Benn seems to have a particular affinity for the music of Thelonious Monk. Parker switches to a more overtly jazz style of drumming for “Straight No Chaser” which features another powerful solo from Benn on tenor followed by Drummond at the piano and dad on electric bass.

A barnstorming version of Willie Dixon’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” follows with some glorious r’n'b style tenor honking from Benn. He switches to soprano for Thelonious’ “Blue Monk” and it’s readily apparent that this is very much his second horn. He’s a little shaky at first but soon grows into it, visibly growing in confidence. There are solos from Drummond and Brian and the quartet close the first half with a good natured version of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” with tenor and piano both featuring strongly.

The second half begins with “Coming Home”, a tune written by Brian for his own band Blues Is Truth. It’s a classic slow blues and features a towering solo from Benn, probably his best of the night, plus features for Drummond and Soundy Sr.

At this point the quartet invited a guest to join them This was Martha Skilton (22), the daughter of Black Mountain Jazz co-ordinator Mike Skilton. Martha has just graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and is also a highly talented young saxophonist, playing both tenor and soprano-she has sat in at BMJ before, playing with Dominic Norcross among others. She’d brought her soprano along this evening and traded phrases and solos with Benn on tenor on a shuffling blues (title unannounced) which mutated into another Monk tune (but I can’t for the life of me remember which one) as the two horns coalesced.

T Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” saw Martha sit it out as the quartet delivered a powerful version of the song including an extensive bass features for the ailing Brian (a long standing arm injury was playing him up) and Martha returned to jam again on the Jazz Messengers classic “Moanin’” written by the late Bobby Timmons. The two saxophonists sparred good naturedly and Drummond also featured at the piano. It was great to see two such talented youngsters bouncing ideas off each other . With players like Martha Skilton and Benn Soundy around the future of British jazz is in good hands.

With Brian visibly tiring the quartet had another run through “Crossroads” to close the set but an enthusiastic audience reaction saw them come back for another take on on “Born Under A Bad Sign” featuring Benn’s gritty tenor and Drummond on honky tonk style piano. With a decent crowd in and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere it had been a most enjoyable evening and in Benn Soundy one got the distinct impression that one was watching a star in the making.

On a more prosaic note we enjoyed the tapas at half time. Previously the fare at these evenings has been a curry but that never seemed to have many takers, presumably because most of the audience had already partaken of Sunday lunch. The tapas, pleasantly reasonably priced, seemed to provide a more acceptable option and will hopefully continue.

Here’s to the next BMJ/UK Jazz Radio event due to take place at the Kings Arms on Sunday 28th February 2010 when tenor man Mornington Lockett will be visiting, backed by a Cardiff based rhythm section and hopefully bringing young Benn along for a blow.

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