by Ian Mann
August 04, 2021
"Enjoyable, entertaining and educational". Ian Mann enjoys the second event in Wall2Wall Jazz Festival's "Jazz in the Barn" live gig series, featuring 'house band' the BMJ Collective.
BMJ Collective, “The Journey of Trad”
The Barn, White House Farm, Llanvetherine, Abergavenny, 03/08/2021
Part of Wall2Wall Jazz Festival 2021
Alex Goodyear – drums, backing vocals, Jack Mac – clarinet, tenor sax, lead vocals,
Luke Adams – banjo, guitar,, backing vocals, Clem Saynor – double bass, backing vocals
The second event of the 2021 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival’s live gig series in the charming setting of the Barn at White House Farm featured the BMJ Collective, named after the Festival organisers Black Mountain Jazz.
The 2021 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival is, in effect, a ‘hybrid’ event, featuring a mix of live and online performances with musicians being filmed and recorded for a series of online features that will be streamed during October 2021. Typically a day’s filming at the Melville Centre is followed by a live performance to an in person audience at the Barn in the evening.
The full story behind the format of Wall2Wall 2021 can be found as part of my review of the first event in the live gig series, a duo performance by vocalist Ella Hohnen-Ford and pianist Joe Webb which had taken place the previous evening. Review here;
Hohnen-Ford and Webb’s performance was a themed event paying tribute to ‘The Great American Songbook’. For the BMJ Collective the theme was “The Journey of Trad”, a chronological journey through the history of early jazz, from the American Civil War (or “War Between The States”) to the beginning of World War 2. Band leader Alex Goodyear later told me that the filmed event will contain much more detail about the development of the music, including the evolution of the instruments deployed and biographical accounts of the early pioneers of the music. It should make for fascinating and informative viewing when it is eventually transmitted. For tonight Goodyear and his colleagues were mainly content to concentrate their focus on just playing the music.
Cardiff based Goodyear, a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, has become heavily involved with Wall2Wall over the years. In 2020 he led the ‘house band’ at the ‘Virtual Festival’ and in more normal times led his own Bop Septet at the 2019 Festival. He has also appeared at BMJ / Wall2Wall events with pianist Guy Shotton, vocalists Beck Biggins and Sarah Meek and with bassist Nick Kacal’s Guerillasound group.
Goodyear is also an acclaimed educator and it is intended that the “Journey of Trad” will also be presented at local schools and colleges. Black Mountain Jazz has always been keen on youth development and on bringing the music of jazz to the wider community and as the organisation’s ‘house band’ the BMJ Collective will fulfil an important role in this mission.
The formation of the BMJ Collective has seen Goodyear recruit the services of fellow Cardiff musicians Jack Mac (Jack McDougall), Luke Adams and Clem Saynor. All are versatile musicians capable of playing in a variety of jazz styles but tonight they put their trad hats on, literally in Mac’s case, for a programme that promised “civil war songs to post depression laments”.
Goodyear’s military style drums ushered in the proceedings, making effective use of the snare and bass drums. With the addition of double bass, banjo, and eventually clarinet it soon became clear that this was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, aka “John Brown’s Body”, with Mac stating the familiar melody on clarinet before singing the full lyrics, backed by Adams and Saynor.
“Wade In The Water” was the first of two spirituals, an evocative song that even more than a century after it was written has never lost its near apocalyptic power. This was introduced by the impressive young bassist Clem Saynor, last heard with pianist Rachel Starritt’s trio. As Saynor played unaccompanied the voices of the swallows nesting in the barn could be heard, as they had been the night before, an ornithological choir adding to the unique atmosphere of the event. More conventional jazz sounds came from Mac’s voice and clarinet, with the front man establishing his instrumental credentials on the latter.
Also from the spiritual repertoire “Down By The Riverside” upped the energy levels with Mac again leading on clarinet, his solo accompanied by vigorous bass and banjo and the clatter of Goodyear’s sticks on rims. Adams was playing a distinctive six string banjo, essentially a guitar banjo, and his solo afforded Mac the opportunity to gather his breath before singing the lyrics.
Goodyear described “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” as “an early 20th century pop hit” and the performance again featured clarinet and banjo solos in addition to Mac’s vocal.
A combination of banjo and Goodyear’s hand drumming provided a distinctive introduction to WC Handy’s immortal “St. Louis Blues”, with Mac delivering the lyric as well as sharing the instrumental soloing with Adams.
I’ve heard the jazz standard “After You’ve Gone” many times but didn’t realise it dated all the way back to 1918, with Goodyear describing it as “late Dixie, early trad”. This featured another distinctive intro with Mac’s vocal accompanied only by Saynor’s bass. Saynor is a dexterous player with a huge tone and his contribution throughout the evening was consistently impressive. As the music gathered momentum we were also able to enjoy instrumental solos from banjo and clarinet.
“After You’ve Gone” was the first of a sequence of tunes that have become familiar and undisputed jazz standards, all presumably written during the ‘roaring’ 1920s. First up was “Tea For Two”, which saw Adams switching from banjo to guitar mid tune, a sign of the evolution of the music of which Goodyear had spoken. Adams took his solo on guitar on a piece that also proved to be Mac’s last outing on clarinet.
Mac switched to tenor sax for the ballad “Sweet Lorraine” - “moving with the times”, as Goodyear put it. With the leader playing brushed drums the solos came from Mac’s warm toned tenor and Saynor’s melodic double bass.
For “Blue Skies” the group jumped straight in with Mac singing from the off. His subsequent tenor solo was backed by insistent rhythm guitar and double bass plus Goodyear’s brushed drum groove. Solos also came from Adams on guitar, a semi-acoustic six string, and Saynor on double bass.
Goodyear described George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” as a “cornerstone piece”, in view of its famous chord sequence being used as the basis for so many other well known jazz tunes. Introduced by a combination of tenor sax and brushed drums the performance quickly gathered momentum with the additional heft of Saynor’s bass. Solos came from Mac on tenor, his powerful playing spurred on by Goodyear’s shouts of encouragement. Adams then took over on guitar before a closing brushed drum feature that also saw Goodyear making effective use of his feet.
The late 1920s witnessed the ‘Jazz Age’ and the explosion of the music in cities such as New Orleans, Chicago, New York and Kansas City, each with their own distinctive scenes and styles. From this era came Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” featuring Mac’s voice and tenor and Adams’ guitar solo over Saynor’s loping bass groove.
Those “post depression laments” were embodied by the 1930s song “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”, written in the aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. This proved to be the evening’s only pure instrumental and featured Mac’s bluesy, vocalised tenor sax alongside the melancholy lyricism of Adams’ guitar.
The advent of swing in the 1930s marked the end of the trad era and this change found expression in the final number of the night, a raucous romp through Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”, featuring Mac’s vocals and instrumental solos from all four musicians.
This went down a storm with the crowd and the inevitable encore was a version of “When The Saints Go Marching In”, how could you end a trad gig without playing this? Mac sang the full lyrics, vocally backed by his colleagues, and also gravitated between tenor and clarinet. A great way to round off an enjoyable, entertaining and educational evening.
Now, I’ll admit that trad isn’t exactly my favourite jazz genre but it was impossible not to enjoy this as the audience were swept along by Goodyear’s infectious enthusiasm and the skilled playing of a highly accomplished band. Mac’s singing was more than adequate and his command of both clarinet and tenor was genuinely impressive.
Goodyear’s announcements offered tantalising snippets of information that bode well for the more comprehensive narrative that will accompany the later stream from the Melville.
On a glorious summer’s evening at White House Farm tonight’s show represented a second successful event in BMJ’s Wall2Wall live gig programme.
Other events in the series are;
Wednesday 4th August: 8pm
Dom Pipkin Trio
New Orleans Comes to Wall2Wall (already sold out)
Thursday 5th August: 8pm
Wendy Kirkland Trio
Celebrating the Divas
and at The Melville Centre;
Tuesday 10th August: 5pm and 8pm
The Shez Raja Sextet with Guest Tony Kofi
Tales From the Punjab
Full details from the Black Mountain Jazz website