Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019



Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.

Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

by Ian Mann

September 18, 2019


A hugely enjoyable event, distinguished by some top quality playing and diverse and intelligent writing.

Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.

Rory Ingham – trombone, Dominic Ingham – violin, vocals, Toby Comeau – keyboard,
Joe Lee – electric bass, Jonny Mansfield- drums

Bonsai is the band that used to be known as Jam Experiment. The quintet has changed its name following a decidedly radical change of line up with violinist / vocalist Dominic Ingham, brother of the group’s trombonist Rory Ingham, replacing saxophonist Alexander Bone.

Bone was part of the quintet that appeared on the album “Jam Experiment”, released in 2017, a recording that attracted a good deal of critical acclaim for this new, exciting young band. The group toured the album extensively and I was privileged to catch them at a performance in Shrewsbury at The Hive Music and Media Centre, one of the monthly gigs promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network.
My review of that performance, plus my impressions of the Jam Experiment album can be read here;

Bone, the 2014 winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award , has since left to concentrate on a solo career. Dominic Ingham comes to the group thanks to his familial relationship with Rory and through his work with Bonsai drummer Jonny Mansfield’s innovative eleven piece ensemble Elftet.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed the new line up, at that time still using the Jam Experiment name, at the Progress Theatre in Reading in August 2018. Trevor’s account can be read here;

In August 2019 I reviewed “Bonsai Club”, the group’s first album under their new name. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensured that Bonsai sounded very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to. However I persevered and gradually found myself becoming increasingly drawn into the quintet’s increasingly distinctive new sound world. In addition to the unusual instrumental front line of trombone and violin the album also featured vocals for the first time with several of the compositions featuring song like structures. The album was also notable for an increased reliance on electronic elements with both Lee and Mansfield credited with playing synthesiser, this in addition to Comeau’s mix of acoustic and electric keyboards. My review of the Bonsai Club album, from which some of the above paragraphs have been lifted, can be read here;

My appetite for this performance by the group at The Hermon was whetted both by the “Bonsai Club” album and a recent performance by the Rory Ingham Quintet at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival. This was an excellent show from a band featuring Ingham, Mansfield, saxophonist Julia Mills, bassist Will Harris and German born drummer Felix Ambach. This line up enabled the multi-talented Mansfield to concentrate on the vibraphone, an instrument that he plays with a remarkable facility. It also transpired that Mills is the mother of Rory and Dominic Ingham, a highly talented player returning to the musical ‘front line’ after taking time out to concentrate on teaching and raising a family. My account of this performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;

Tonight’s date at The Hermon Chapel was part of Bonsai’s ongoing tour supporting their recent album release. Promoters Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards are steadily building an audience for their adventurous music programme featuring jazz and folk. The folk strand is an easier sell than the jazz, but nevertheless a small but highly enthusiastic audience turned up to see the Bonsai boys and the quality of the music, allied to the positivity of the crowd, helped to turn the event into a great night.

The programme featured material sourced from the “Bonsai Club” album plus a clutch of newer, as yet unrecorded compositions from members of the band.

The performance commenced with the title track from “Bonsai Club”, effectively the band’s signature tune. Written by Dominic Ingham the song opens the album and here featured his warm delivery of the haiku like lyric, the singing interspersed with instrumental solos from violin, electric bass and violin, the whole powered by Mansfield’s clipped, subtly funky drum grooves.

Lee’s bass introduced his own composition “Quay”, combining with Dominic’s vaguely mournful violin and Rory’s rounded trombone tones above a brushed drum groove. An atmospheric piece with a simple but effective one line lyric the tune also included instrumental solos from both of the Ingham brothers.

Dominic’s composition “Hop – The Hip Replacement” opened with the sound of shimmering keyboards, subsequently joined by bass and drums. As the piece gathered momentum Mansfield developed a hip hop like groove at the drums as the Ingham brothers delivered a unison theme statement. Subsequent solos came from Dominic on violin and Comeau at the keyboard, who combined with Lee’s bubbling electric bass and Mansfield’s melodic drum patterns.

The first of the newer pieces was Dominic’s composition “Warm As You”, a fully developed song featuring the composer’s voice and lyrics but also containing an increasingly propulsive groove that set heads nodding all around the venue. This helped to fuel a rousing trombone solo from Rory and the piece as a whole was rapturously received by the audience.

This was followed by another new tune, this time from the pen of Rory. “The Proselytiser” proved to be a more atmospheric offering that combined angular melodies with an infectious odd meter groove and saw Rory trading melodic phrases with his scat singing brother. A more conventional jazz solo saw Rory offering further evidence of his fluency and agility on the trombone while Dominic’s violin solo, at one point accompanied by electric bass only, introduced a folk element to the mix. The piece closed with a drum feature from the excellent Mansfield, confined to the kit tonight with no vibraphone present.

The second set commenced with Lee’s “The Crescent”, named after the street he grew up in in Truro, also the home city of Comeau. Meanwhile the Ingham brothers hail from Wakefield and Mansfield from Huddersfield. The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern and Cornish roots, despite since making the move to London.
Lee’s tune mixed darting melodic phrases for trumpet and violin with an infectious and buoyant groove. Comeau adopted a classic electric piano sound for his keyboard solo while Lee’s liquid bass solo reminded me of the playing of Mark Egan in an early edition of the Pat Metheny Group. The piece also featured Dominic’s wordless vocals and soaring violin.

Sourced from the “Bonsai Club” album Mansfield’s composition “Tin” featured trip hop style grooves and an eerie sound featuring layered keyboards and electronically enhanced trombone alongside Dominic’s vocals. The instrumental solo here came from Comeau, who enjoyed much more freedom in this second set.

The second half also saw the group introducing more new material, “two world premières in Oswestry!” exclaimed Ingham. Comeau’s “How Far” was introduced by his own electric piano and was another piece that saw the group expanding further into song based territory, with Dominic providing both wordless vocals and lyrics. Lee was the featured soloist here, fluent, fleet fingered and mellifluous on electric bass.

The bassist also introduced a new Mansfield composition, “Sunshine”, combining effectively with Dominic’s pizzicato violin. Keyboard arpeggios and Dominic’s wordless vocal melody lines were added to the equation to create an intriguing melange of interlocking patterns, these forming the backdrop to Rory’s rousing trombone solo as the group gradually developed a full on band sound.

Rory Ingham’s tune announcements were made with wit and warmth, even Ronnie Scott’s old jokes sounded fresh when recycled by a young twenty something. All too soon it seemed that we had come to the last number as Rory thanked Claudia and Barry and sound-man Phil, who had done an excellent job. Comeau’s new tune “Sam” took things storming out, a winning combination of fat funk grooves contrasted with wistful, introspective lyrics.

The enthusiastic crowd reaction ensured that an encore was inevitable, the band eventually settling on the Mansfield composition “Itchy Knee” with its infectious odd meter grooves borrowing from the lexicon of prog and math rock. Solos here came from Rory on fruity, rasping trombone and Dominic on wailing violin, at one juncture backed again only by Lee’s electric bass. Comeau, who plays a stunning solo on the recorded version, also featured at the keyboard.  Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

Overall this was an impressive performance from Bonsai, who certainly endeared themselves to the highly supportive audience. Under their new name the quintet have developed an increasingly distinctive group sound, something encouraged by the unusual instrumental line up and the rarely heard combination of trombone and violin. The new material suggests that in future they are likely to turn even more towards songs rather than instrumental compositions,  which may broaden their overall appeal, but possibly at the risk of losing some hard core jazz listeners. Nevertheless the reaction to the new songs tonight was overwhelmingly positive.

It will be interesting to follow Bonsai’s progress, but in the meantime tonight’s was a hugely enjoyable event, distinguished by some top quality playing and by the diverse and intelligent writing.

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