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BMJ Collective with Chris Cobbson

BMJ Collective with Chris Cobbson, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 11/02/2024.

Photography: Photograph by Kasia Ociepa

by Ian Mann

February 14, 2024


Cobbson's playing was immaculate throughout, as was that of his colleagues, and it was a real treat to see Jack Mac performing on four different saxophones over the course of the evening.

BMJ Collective with Chris Cobbson, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 11/02/2024.

Jack Mac (Jack McDougall) – tenor, alto, soprano & baritone saxophones, Nick Kacal – double bass, Ryan Thrupp – drums with Chris Cobbson – guitar


The BMJ Collective is essentially the ‘house band’ of Black Mountain Jazz. The name was first coined in 2021 when drummer Alex Goodyear led the first edition of the band at that year’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, a hybrid event that featured a series of live summer performances in The Barn at White House Farm in the village of Llanvetherine near Abergavenny. The Festival also featured a further series of performances by the same acts that were filmed at BMJ’s regular home at the Melville Centre and were subsequently streamed later in the year when the Covid restrictions were subsequently tightened once more.
The first BMJ Collective featured Goodyear, Jack Mac on saxes, clarinet on vocals, Luke Archer on guitar and banjo and Clem Saynor on double bass. This quartet traced the “Journey of Trad” as they explored  the history of early jazz, from the American Civil War (or “War Between The States”) to the beginning of World War 2. Both the live performance at The Barn and the subsequent stream from the Melville are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The name was revived in 2022 when the second edition of the Collective, featuring Goodyear, Saynor and pianist Eddie Gripper performed with vocalist Marvin Muoneke at the 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Fortunately things were back to normal by this time and this was a well attended show at the Melville Centre in November that is reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here.

In January 2023 the trio of Goodyear, Saynor and Gripper, again under the BMJ Collective name, accompanied twin saxophonists Alex Clarke and Dan Newberry at another excellent show at the Melville that is reviewed here;

The encouragement and nurturing of young jazz musicians has always been an important part of the BMJ remit and the organisation’s latest youth project is the BMJazzKatz, which brings together young people aged eleven to nineteen for monthly jazz sessions at the Melville Centre, with the intention of forming a youth big band. More on BMJazzKatz can be read in the news story that can be found here;

For the JazzKatz sessions the tutors are Jack Mac, who is heading the programme, Nick Kacal and Ryan Thrupp, these three thus becoming the latest edition of the BMJ Collective. The idea of the tutors then performing for the public in the evening is not only for ticket sales to contribute towards the teaching costs, but also for the students to see their tutors performing at their best and embodying the JazzKatz motto of “work, play, inspire”.

As these BMJ Collective gigs have now become regular events it is intended that a different guest musician will be invited to perform with the group each time. Tonight was the fourth event in the‘ BMJ Collective With’, series, the previous guests having been pianist Ross Hicks, vocalist Sarah Meek and pianist Michael Blanchfield, all leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene.

The previous three shows have all been reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann site and all have exceeded my expectations, representing far more than the usual obligatory or perfunctory ‘house trio with guest soloist’ session with the band churning out a selection of well worn jazz standards.  The impressive Hicks brought along some of his own compositions, which revealed him to be a writer of considerable potential, in addition to being an imaginative and inventive piano soloist. He is currently due to begin recording his debut album.

All three sessions have featured a welter of interesting outside material, including some inspired jazz arrangements of well known pop tunes. Adventurous vocalist Meek also contributed one original song to the set list.  Meanwhile Blanchfield impressed as a technically accomplished pianist, an inventive jazz soloist and an imaginative arranger and selector of tunes, many of these rarely heard.

The BMJ Collective has developed into an impressive unit, all highly capable musicians who have established an impressive collective rapport that enables them to bring the very best out of their guests. This was very much apparent in tonight’s performance with their latest guest, guitarist Chris Cobbson.

Meanwhile one should not overlook the educational role of the BMJ Collective. In October 2023 the BMJazzKatz, mentored accompanied by Mac, Kacal and Thrupp gave their first public performance in the Melville Theatre as part of that year’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Review here;


Guitarist Chris Cobbson describes himself as “a Ghanaian who grew up in London” and states “I have been fortunate to absorb an eclectic mix of music from my African heritage and my explorations in jazz, soul, Caribbean music and other genres. The experience has shaped my musical voice and personality”.
Now based in the West of England Cobbson first became known to the Black Mountain Jazz audience via his appearance in Cheltenham based saxophonist and vocalist Kim Cypher’s online quintet performance that formed part of the 2020 Virtual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, filmed and streamed from the Melville Centre by BMJ. Review here;

He was also part of the quartet that Cypher brought to a hugely successful village hall gig at Pudlestone in Herefordshire in November 2022. Review here;

Cobbson appears on Cypher’s acclaimed 2019 album “Love Kim x”.

In addition to his work with Cypher and the leadership of his own groups Cobbson is also a member of the Bristol based band Baraka, a group that performs in a variety of musical styles stemming from the African diaspora. The band is fronted by Ghanaian percussionist and vocalist Ben Baddoo, the Caribbean is represented by bassist/vocalist Royston Gage from Dominica, who is joined in the rhythm section by Trinidadian drummer Tony Bailey. 

Baraka describe their music as “a high energy mix of Hi-Life, Township, Soca, Calypso and Reggae” and I’ve been lucky enough to witness a couple of their colourful performances at Festivals in Brecon (2022) and Wall2Wall in Abergavenny (2016). The Abergavenny show also featured the  Irishman Brendan Whitmore,  who added a jazz and blues element via a range of saxophones plus flute and harmonica. At Brecon this role was filled by trumpeter Ryan Porteous.

Cobbson’s career has included a couple of high profile engagements, including a stint with UK African music pioneers Osibisa and also as a member of the band of saxophonist / bass clarinettist Courtney Pine. Cobbson was part of the group that Pine brought to the 2013 Brecon Jazz Festival and was one of the better performers at what ultimately proved to be disappointing gig. A review of this show forms part of my Festival coverage here;

Cobbson has also performed in the band of restaurant critic turned jazz pianist Jay Rayner.

In 2022 Cobbson released the solo album “My Favorite Things”, which featured his compositions almost exclusively, the exceptions being the Rodgers & Hammerstein title track and “Malaika”, a song written by the Kenyan singer and composer Fadhili William. 

I have to confess that after enjoying Cobbson’s live performances with Pine and Cypher I found the album to be just a little too laid back and tasteful and would have appreciated a few more rough edges.  The recording featured a large cast of musicians with the veteran percussionist Karl Vanden Bossche playing a particularly key role. Nationally known names appearing on the album include Courtney Pine, pianist Dave Newton and flautist Gareth Lockrane. My review of the recording, from which much of the above biographical detail has been sourced, can be found here;

In June 2023 Cobbson brought his own African Jazz Quartet, featuring guitarist Phil Dawson, bassist Raph Mizraki and percussionist Richard Olatunde Baker, to Black Mountain Jazz for a sell out show. This promised a “jazz celebration of music from around Africa” and delivered just that, with tunes from Ghana, South Africa, Gambia, Ethiopia and Nigeria, with the diaspora being represented by songs from the USA.

It was a high energy performance that had the audience on its feet and many of them had obviously remembered this joyous musical experience and had come back again on a cold February night to hear more from Cobbson. It was a pretty decent turn out and Cobbson and the Collective didn’t disappoint.

It was bassist Nick Kacal’s decision to invite Cobbson to perform with the Collective. These two had worked together in the past but I think I’m correct in believing that this was the first time that Cobbson had played with Mac and Thrupp.

Cobbson handled all the announcements and selected most of the tunes. Having heard of Mac’s versatility as a saxophonist he had also encouraged Mac to bring along his full arsenal of saxes, with all four horns getting an outing during the course of the evening.

Mac began on tenor for what Cobbson described as a “bluesy, gospelly” rendition of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”. Sax and guitar stated the familiar theme in unison before diverging to deliver individual statements, Cobbson going first, his solo exhibiting something of the soulful fluency of Grant Green. Mac followed with a typically powerful excursion on tenor and there were also features for double bass and drums before the group coalesced once more around Adderley’s much loved theme.

The late, great Wes Montgomery is also a major inspiration for Cobbson and it was Montgomery’s own “Four on Six” that followed. Mac remained on tenor to share the solos with Cobbson and there was a second feature for the excellent Thrupp as he ‘traded fours’ with Cobbson and Mac.

“Stompin’ At The Savoy” saw Mac moving to soprano and Cobbson adopting an ‘acoustic’ sound on his electric guitar as the pair introduced the piece in duo format, with Cobbson’s acoustic style strumming underpinning Mac’s gently darting melody lines. With the addition of bass and drums Mac launched into the first solo, his soprano sounding almost clarinet-like as he began to probe more deeply, his playing exhibiting something of a New Orleans influence. Cobbson then took over on guitar, now adopting a more conventional jazz guitar sound, before Mac returned on soprano to take things storming out.

The quartet continued to mix and match musical styles with a bossa style arrangement of the Irving Berlin composition “They Say It’s Wonderful”, a song famously recorded by vocalist Johnny Hartman with the John Coltrane Quartet in 1963. Tonight’s performance was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar. The addition of bass and drums led to a coolly elegant solo from Cobbson as Mac sat back, content to allow the others to function as a trio for some considerable time. When Mac did eventually join the fray it was to deliver an impressively tender and fluent solo on baritone sax. A word too for Ryan Thrupp who, acted in the role of colourist on this ‘bossa-ballad’, variously deploying a combination of brushes and mallets.

Another change of style and geographical location with a jazz arrangement of the old calypso song “Sans Humanite”, made famous by perhaps the most celebrated calypsonian of them all, Lord Kitchener. Cobbson stated the theme on guitar before handing over to Mac to take the first solo, this time on alto sax. Mac’s impassioned wailing was underscored by Thrupp’s clipped, calypso style rhythms. Subsequent solos followed from Cobbson on guitar and Kacal on double bass as a varied and highly enjoyable first set came to a close.

The second set got under way with a Cobbson original, “JP’s Sermon”, a tribute to the late London based drummer Johnny Piper. The tune turned out to be unexpectedly sunny and upbeat, a reflection of Piper’s positive attitude and cheerful personality. Although it was the first time that they had seen the score the members of the Collective responded enthusiastically to this jaunty, bouncy composition. Mac had continued on alto sax, his solo followed by Cobbson on guitar and Kacal on double bass, with Thrupp adding a final drum flourish. This was a piece that was particularly well received by the Abergavenny audience.

Next up was “Funky Mama”, a composition by the late American trumpeter and composer Blue Mitchell based upon the chord changes of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. Cobbson presented the piece in a calypso style arrangement that included solos from himself on guitar, Mac on soprano sax and Thrupp at the kit, the latter’s feature including an impressive hand drumming episode.

The ballad “My One And Only Love” was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar and was subsequently performed in trio format, with Mac sitting out entirely.  Cobbson stated the theme and took the first solo but the piece also functioned as a showcase for the melodic double bass playing of the impeccable Nick Kacal. Thrupp again impressed with his sensitive drum accompaniment, again deploying a combination of mallets and brushes.

The Charlie Parker bebop classic “Scrapple From The Apple” increased the energy levels once more and saw Mac switching to tenor sax to take the first solo, propelled by Kacal’s bass, Cobbson’s skilful guitar comping and Thrupp’s rapidly brushed drums. Cobbson’s own solo saw him adopting a classic jazz guitar sound to deliver the slippery bebop melody lines. The performance concluded with a series of rapid fire exchanges between Cobbson and Thrupp.

The evening ended with an instrumental rendition of the Ray Charles song “I’ve Got A Woman” with a blues / soul / gospel groove fuelling the earthy tenor sax soloing of Mac, who was followed by Cobbson on guitar. Mac then returned on tenor, his second excursion building to a blues-wailing peak as the band signed off in rousing fashion.

As has been common to the four events in this series to date the standard of the musicianship was excellent throughout. As a unit the BMJ Collective just seem to keep getting better and better. In turn their own impressive collective rapport enables them to bring out the best in their guests, and Cobbson was to prove no exception. The guitarist handled all the announcements and presented the show in a relaxed, informative and sometimes humorous manner. His playing was immaculate throughout, as was that of his colleagues, and it was a real treat to see Mac performing on four different saxophones over the course of the evening.

As I have previously observed, and as BMJ’s Debs Hancock reminded the audience, “this is a series of events that continues to punch well above its weight”.

The next event on March 10th will see BMJ Collective concentrating on their educational role as they present a free early evening public performance featuring the talented youngsters from the BMJazz Katz. Further public performances of this nature are also planned for later in the year.

In the meantime it is to be hoped that the ‘BMJ Collective With’ series will continue. I’m already looking forward to finding out who the guest will be in April.







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