by Ian Mann
April 02, 2019
Ian Mann enjoys an intriguing & exciting performance from this unique young trio from Cardiff featuring Ben Creighton Griffiths on harp and keyboards, Aeddan Willims on basses & Matt Williams on drums
Chube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.
Ben Creighton Griffiths – harp and keyboards, Aeddan Williams – electric and acoustic bass, Matt Williams - drums
The young Cardiff based jazz harpist and keyboard player Ben Creighton Griffiths has made quite an impression on Abergavenny jazz audiences through his previous appearances at BMJ events.
In 2016 he appeared at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival as part of the ‘interval’ music in the Melville Centre bar. Such was his virtuosity as he doubled on Welsh harp and electric keyboard that the room feel silent as people gave their full attention to the remarkable playing of this young prodigy. Among those to be impressed by Creighton Griffiths’ performance were violinist Christian Garrick and pianist David Gordon who had just completed an excellent duo show in the main house.
Also present was trombonist Dennis Rollins, whose Velocity Trio were the next act to play in the main house. A great champion of young talent Rollins was bowled over enough by Creighton Griffiths’ performance to invite him to become involved in a collaboration, which will be unveiled at 2019’s Wall2Wall, which will take place from 29th August to 1st September. Rollins will collaborate with the Chube trio on a programme yet to be decided. He will also be running a funk and blues workshop for young musicians during the Festival with BMJ currently looking for applicants for these sessions.
Later on in 2016 Creighton Griffiths returned to BMJ to give a lengthier solo performance in the main hall at the Melville Centre as he shared a double bill with bassist Aidan Thorne’s electro-jazz group Duski. My account of that evening’s performances can be read here;
In 2018 he was back in the bar at that year’s Wall2Wall, wowing the audience once more with his remarkable ‘one man band’ performance. A review of this show can be rad as part of my Festival coverage here;
Earlier in 2018 he performed as part of an all star octet at Llandudno Jazz Festival alongside such jazz luminaries as saxophonist Art Themen, trumpeter Neil Yates and drummer Clark Tracey.
Creighton Griffiths, who also made a cameo appearance at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival, has released a number of solo recordings including “1 Man Band” (2017) and the excellent “Pedals & Paws” (2015). Something of a child prodigy Creighton Griffiths made his first recording at the age of seven, “Ben Jamming” being a charity single in aid of the BBC Children in Need Appeal. Two full length albums followed, “A Ceremony of Carols” in 2009 and “An Incomplete A-Z of Jazz Harp Music” in 2012. All of these recordings, plus a live DVD from 2009 can be purchased at Ben’s website http://www.bjcg.co.uk/
Creighton Griffiths is still only twenty three and has been influenced by a broad range of music, including jazz, classical and folk, and of course rock and pop. His solo recordings focus on the harp but the Chube trio, established in 2015 as the band’s distinctive logo informs us, homes in on those rock and pop influences, filtering them through a jazz prism to create an exciting and unusual brand of contemporary fusion.
Joining Creighton Griffiths in Chube are Aeddan Williams on bass guitar and double bass and Matt Williams (no relation) at the drums. The trio have recently released their six track début EP “Self Titled” which is available via Ben’s website and also the group’s Bandcamp page https://chube.bandcamp.com/releases
To avoid confusion I’ll use first names from now on. Ben and Matt are childhood friends and the latter guests as a percussionist on the “Pedals & Paws” album. Aeddan is a leading figure on the Cardiff jazz scene and is a regular collaborator with saxophonist Joe Northwood, the latter being the organiser of the regular jazz and improv sessions held at the city’s Flute & Tankard and Tiny Rebel venues. Aeddan visited BMJ’s old venue, the Kings Arms, in 2015 playing double bass with guitarist James Chadwick’s trio. He has also worked with rising star singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford and as a talented multi-instrumentalist has also released a more pop oriented solo album “I Could Be Here All Night”.
I’ll admit to having had a sneak preview of what to expect from Chube. BMJ had received an advance copy of the EP and it was being played in the bar at the previous BMJ gig by the Adam Glasser Quartet. I was intrigued and excited by what I heard and was very much looking forward to seeing Chube performing live.
I noted that on first listening the Chube EP sounded quite ‘proggy’. Ben describes the trio’s music as “electro-fusion” and their instrumental line up tonight included electrified harp, a Nord Stage 2 electric keyboard and a smaller Korg synth. Meanwhile Aeddan played more bass guitar than double bass while Matt was a solid, driving presence at the drum kit.
Ben plays a Camac 47 Big Blue Electro-Acoustic Pedal Harp, and yes, the frame of the instrument really is bright blue. Moving between harp and keyboards, and frequently doubling up he was at the heart of the trio’s music but without being overly dominating. Aeddan’s bass also had a strong melodic role with the underlying groove frequently the sole responsibility of Matt. Chube’s compositions are jointly written and over the course of two absorbing and exciting sets we were to hear several of these, along with the group’s innovative arrangements of a variety of jazz, pop and rock material, some of it highly unlikely – but more on that later.
With Ben treating the sound of his harp via a variety of foot pedals the group sound was surprisingly full and admirably funky. “Shift”, the opening track from the “Self Titled” EP got things off to an energetic and highly rhythmic start with Aeddan’s electric bass grooves and Matt’s crisp drumming complementing Ben’s keyboard bass lines and harp and synth melodies. Solos in this spirited opener came from Ben on Korg synth and Aeddan on electric bass with the trio as a whole impressing with a sudden, unexpected precision ending.
Luiz Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus” probably represented more familiar ground for the majority of listeners with Ben’s harp sometimes approximating the timbres of a guitar on this Brazilian classic, whilst simultaneously establishing the harp as a convincing vehicle for jazz soloing. We also heard Aeddan’s melodic electric bass as he soloed above Ben’s woozy Nord keyboard textures.
The as yet unrecorded “Ligma” featured Ben utilising his FX pedals to loop and layer the sound of the harp then soloing above the textures he had created to the accompaniment of nimble electric bass and a hard driving drum groove. Aeddan continued to wrap his fingers around some slippery bass lines with a fluent and exciting solo.
Aeddan moved to double bass for another new group original, “Salty Tongue” which grew out of Ben’s opening harp arpeggios to embrace flowing, cascading harp melodies and tight bass and drum grooves in a winning blend of folk, funk and hip hop influences.
Ben has always cited Herbie Hancock as an important influence and “Pedals & Paws” includes his arrangement for harp of Hancock’s “Chameleon”. Tonight the trio chose to cover the similarly familiar “Watermelon Man” in an arrangement more Headhunters than Blue Note. Aeddan returned to electric bass as Ben doubled on Nord and Korg, deploying both instruments during the course of his solo, this followed by Aeddan on bass.
An excellent first set concluded with “Chrysalism”, another tune from the “Self Titled” EP. This was the first piece that the trio wrote collectively, Aeddan having joined the original duo of Ben and Matt in 2016. With Aeddan back on double bass the intro featured the combination of harp and arco bass with Matt deploying mallets on his kit to deliver a softer drum sound. Aeddan moved back to electric bass mid tune, effecting the change as Ben played both melody and bass lines on the harp in another extraordinary feat of musicianship. Matt switched to sticks as the music gathered momentum, Ben now soloing on harp above a powerful bass and drum groove whilst doubling on Nord. Finally he concentrated on the keyboards, delivering some deliciously distorted Rhodes and synth sounds as the trio continued to move up the gears.
The keyboards were also to feature prominently at the start of the second set with the combination of Nord and Korg providing the backdrop for an explosive drum feature from Matt as Aeddan played an anchoring role on electric bass. This piece was “Interlude”, another tune included on the trio’s EP.
Also from the recording came Chube’s arrangement of “Hey Ya”, written by hip hop artist Andre Benjamin and a huge pop hit for him in his Outkast incarnation. Chube’s arrangement keeps the familiar melody intact with Aeddan soloing on double bass alongside Ben on harp.
Ben talked about the trio’s fondness for improvisation before introducing a new group original, “The Land”, which actually relied more on structured composition. The introduction saw Ben on harp and Aeddan on double bass exchanging complementary melodic motifs, the music gradually becoming more layered and complex as Ben moved to double up on Nord and Korg and Aeddan flourished the bow in a manner reminiscent of Dan Berglund of e.s.t. The combination of acoustic and electric sounds sometimes reminded me of the UK’s own Polar bear, led by drummer and composer Sebastian Rochford.
Next up was a stunning arrangement of the Led Zeppelin classic “When The Levee Breaks”. At half time some listeners had complained that Matt’s drumming relied too much on rock rhythms, and in fairness there was an element of truth in that. But it was absolutely appropriate here as he totally nailed that famous John Bonham drum groove, giving Chube’s impressive arrangement an unstoppable momentum as Ben attacked his harp with his fuzz pedal turned up full and Aeddan played the melody on similarly distorted electric bass. A short passage of more conventional harp sounds then presaged a truly monumental final assault. Played with a youthful energy and exuberance this piece saw heads nodding furiously around the venue. Can you head bang to a harp? You betcha, Ben’s Guns ‘n’ Roses seemed to represent a statement of intent.
A video of the trio playing this piece can be found on their Facebook page;
There was a change in style for the next original, a piece simply titled “Reggae” but tonight dubbed “When The Reggae Breaks”. This featured Ben specialising on keyboards and soloing on Nord above the clipped reggae grooves laid down by the drums and electric bass, Ben subsequently picking up the rhythm on keyboard as Aeddan took his own solo.
They concluded with a return to more obvious jazz territory with a group arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Milestones” with Aeddan playing the famous motif on electric bass as Ben deployed his keyboards to help create an infectious funk groove before later soloing on harp.
Tonight featured one of the largest club night audiences that BMJ has enjoyed for some time, which was a tribute to the quality of Ben’s previous solo appearances. The enthusiastic reaction of the crowd to Chube’s music ensured that no prompting for an encore was needed from the Club organisers, the many shouts for “more!” were more than sufficient in themselves.
With nothing prepared Chube decided to close with a reprise of the opening number, “Shift”, but this time in an even faster, more frenetic arrangement that left both band and audience breathless.
Tonight’s performance was a triumph for both Chube and BMJ and there seems to be a real buzz building about this exciting and talented young band. If they were based in London rather than Cardiff their names would probably be all over the jazz media. Look out for Chube, all the signs are there that bigger things await.
The “Self Titled” EP is worth a fiver of anybody’s money and still sounds exciting and convincing in the home listening environment.
If you missed Chube at Abergavenny catch them on Saturday April 6th 2019 when they play as part of a triple bill at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff alongside two other trios, Arkocean and Moon Biscuit.
Details here; https://www.facebook.com/events/933761833486638/