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BMJ Collective with Michael Blanchfield

BMJ Collective with Michael Blanchfield, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 07/01/2024.

Photography: Photograph of Michael Blanchfield sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

January 09, 2024


BMJ Collective have 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.

BMJ Collective with Michael Blanchfield, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 07/01/2024.

Jack Mac (Jack McDougall) – tenor saxophone, Nick Kacal – double bass, Ryan Thrupp – drums, percussion, with guest Michael Blanchfield – piano


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 filmed at BMJ’s regular home at the Melville Centre that 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. This was the third ‘BMJ Collective With’, event the two previous guests having been pianist Ross Hicks in July 2023 and vocalist Sarah Meek in September 2023.

Both of these events exceeded my expectations and represented 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.

Both the Hicks and Meek sessions 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. Both shows are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

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;


Tonight’s event saw the Collective in the company of Cardiff based pianist Michael Blanchfield, a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD).

Following the completion of his studies Blanchfield has remained in the Welsh capital, working as a professional musician. He performs regularly on the still vibrant South Wales jazz scene in addition to playing rock and pop sessions and teaching piano at schools and colleges. It’s a scenario that will be familiar to most British jazz musicians.

During his student days I recall seeing Blanchfield leading his trio featuring bassist Ben Manning and drummer Eddie Jones-West at an RWCMD showcase at Brecon Jazz Club in June 2019. This was a double bill with saxophonist Rachel Head’s trio and is reviewed elsewhere on this site. Blanchfield has also been a member of Head’s sextet, in which he played organ

Following graduation the trio of Blanchfield, Manning and Jones-West continues to perform together under Blanchfield’s leadership.

Blanchfield and Jones-West, together with guitarist Alex Lockheart, comprise Arkocean, an electro-jazz trio that combines improvisation with elements of hip-hop, metal, house, drum and bass. Similarly configured British trios such as Strobes and Three Trapped Tigers have been cited as inspirations for this project.

The pianist also leads Michael Blanchfield’s Big Day Out!, a nine piece ensemble featuring tenor, alto and baritone saxes, trumpet, guitar, electric bass and drums.

As a sideman he works with guitarist / vocalist Tom Croysdill,  violinist / vocalist Angharad Jenkins and the four piece band Part Time Signals led by guitarist / vocalist Jake Church.

In 2017 he was part of a quintet led by drummer and composer Max Wright that supported London based pianist Tom Millar’s quartet at an enjoyable event at now defunct Cafe Jazz in Cardiff, yet another performance that is reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Having seen Blanchfield performing in a live setting before I was already aware of his considerable talents as a pianist and all round keyboard player. The RWCMD showcase at Brecon had also featured him playing a Korg electric keyboard, but tonight Blanchfield put the focus exclusively on acoustic piano as he performed on the Melville Centre’s trusty upright.

Jack Mac also chose to specialise on a single instrument, the tenor saxophone. Previous BMJ Collective shows have seen him doubling up on alto and soprano saxes and also singing. There were to be no additional reeds and no vocals tonight.

Thrupp’s brushed drums introduced the Charlie Parker tune “My Little Suede Shoes”, which subsequently saw the addition of piano, bass and tenor sax as the quartet combined to play the ‘head’. Blanchfield then took the first solo of this early evening gig as he stretched out expansively, supported by Kacal’s grounding bass and Thrupp’s crisp drumming, the latter now having graduated to sticks. Mac weighed in with a powerful and fluent tenor solo and there were also features for double bass and drums before the piece resolved itself via an absorbing dialogue between Blanchfield and Kacal.

The opener was a piece that the BMJ Collective trio had workshopped with their students during the afternoon. These items normally get played at the evening concert but it has also become something of a tradition that the guest musician should suggest the majority of the material. Blanchfield had brought along an arrangement of Vince Guaraldi’s “Oh, Good Grief!”, which saw a loping groove provide the platform for solos from Mac, Blanchfield and Kacal, These were followed by a series of brushed drum breaks from Thrupp that saw him exchanging choruses with Blanchfield and Mac, the latter squeezing in a cheeky quote from “Take The A Train” before embarking on a second tenor solo.

A quirky, blues inflected arrangement of the standard “Our Love Is Here To Stay” featured fluent and expansive solos from Blanchfield and Mac, with bassist Kacal giving the others the nod to finally rein things in and return to the ‘head’.

The blues influence extended into a ferociously swinging version of the Clifford Brown blues “Sandu”, with Mac and Blanchfield delivering buccaneering solos, buoyed by Thrupp’s solid drumming. Kacal delivered a typically dexterous double bass solo and Thrupp was also featured at the drum kit, before the return of the ‘head’ saw the whole band storming along on the outro.

I was expecting a break at this point as the soloists had really stretched out on the four pieces thus far, but Blanchfield had one more ace up his sleeve. This was an arrangement of “Coisa Feita” , song by the Brazilian guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Joao Bosco. Ushered in by a dialogue between piano and drums this lively Latin flavoured piece saw Blanchfield stretching out above Kacal’s anchoring bass and the chatter of Thrupp’s drums. Mac took over on tenor sax, his ebullient solo followed by Thrupp’s vigorously brushed drum feature, this eliciting a response from Blanchfield, his percussive piano representing a counterpoint to Thrupp’s drums. Finally Mac steered us towards the interval with a reprise of the main theme.

The first set had seen the three members of the BMJ Collective establishing an impressive rapport with their guest. The second set, although shorter, was to be even better, with the members of the quartet really ‘going for it’. Mac handled all the announcing duties and expressed that the opening tune of the second half was both more contemporary and more funky than they were used to. This proved to be “Aphelion”, a tune chosen by Blanchfield and written by the New York based bassist, composer and educator Janek Gwizdala. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano this was indeed the most contemporary sounding item thus far, and one that was also undeniably funky, with Thrupp wielding shakers in addition to laying down a driving beat, this providing the impetus for barnstorming solos from Blanchfield and Mac. Thrupp rounded things off with a powerful drum feature. This was a dynamic way to kick off the second half and proved to be extremely popular with the audience.

Mac and the other members of the Collective were in more familiar musical territory on the little known jazz standard “It’s You Or No One”, which included solos from Blanchfield and Mac, and a particularly colourful and inventive drum feature from Thrupp.

The quartet cooled things down with a beautiful ballad rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”. This was ushered in by a passage of lyrical solo piano from Blanchfield that established the mood for the whole piece. Mac exhibited an impressive tenderness on tenor, while Thrupp impressed with his delicate brushwork. Kacal stood out with a delightfully melodic double bass feature, accompanied by Blanchfield’s gentle piano chording and the soft swish of Thrupp’s brushes. There was even a brief flourish of the bow at the close.

The set concluded with the Pat Metheny / Lyle Mays composition “James”, another Blanchfield selection. The piece first appeared on the 1982 album “Offramp” (ECM Records), credited to the Pat Metheny Group. As a long-time Metheny fan I was delighted to hear this piece, albeit in a very different version to the original. Again this was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano. The addition of bass and drums led to a prolonged passage in ‘piano trio’ mode as Blanchfield soloed expansively. Mac eventually joined to solo on tenor, and there was also a double bass feature for the excellent Kacal.

The deserved encore was a ‘spur of the moment’ version of “Wayne’s Thang”, saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s tribute to the late, great Wayne Shorter. This proved to be a highly rhythmic piece, ushered in by Thrupp at the drums, with fluent and powerful solos coming from Mac and Blanchfield. Kacal was featured on double bass and Thrupp at the drums, the latter with an impressive extended solo that incorporated Afro-Cuban rhythms and a passage of hand drumming. The full quartet then teased the audience with a playful series of false endings.

Like the previous events with Hicks and Meek this was another evening of music making that had exceeded expectations and which had delighted the audience, who had turned out in pretty respectable numbers on a cold January night. Blanchfield impressed as a technically accomplished pianist, an inventive jazz soloist and an imaginative arranger and selector of tunes, many of them rarely heard.

The BMJ Collective have 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. The standard of the playing was excellent throughout, with all the members of the quartet delivering some inspired solos. Thanks to the quality of the musicians involved and the imaginative choices of material this is a series of events that continues to punch above its weight.  Well done to all concerned.


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