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Damon Brown Quintet featuring Tammy Weis.

Damon Brown Quintet featuring Tammy Weis, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 29/01/2012.

by Ian Mann

February 01, 2012


A highly enjoyable evening of unpretentious, swinging jazz played and sung by a very classy band.

Damon Brown Quintet featuring Tammy Weis, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 29/01/2012.

The first BMJ event of 2012 got the year off to a swinging start with London based trumpeter Damon Brown bringing a star studded quintet to the Kings Arms. Brown and vocalist Tammy Weis travelled up from London and were joined by a West Country based rhythm section featuring British jazz stalwart Dave Newton on piano ( he now lives in Bath) and the Bristolians Will Harris (bass) and Scott Hammond (drums). This proved to be a very classy ensemble who delivered a set of well chosen standards plus an original from singer Tammy Weis. Already inclement weather allied to an unfavourable forecast kept numbers down but those who attended were treated to a highly enjoyable evening of unpretentious swinging jazz. 

Damon Brown has been a respected figure on the UK jazz scene for a number of years and his original music strikes a good balance between the jazz tradition and more contemporary sounds as evidenced by the band Killer Shrimp which he co-leads with saxophonist Ed Jones. Although rooted in the hard bop tradition Brown also brings elements of funk, soul and reggae to his music and Killer Shrimp have also experimented with electronica. Tonight however the focus was firmly on traditional jazz virtues with Brown proving himself to be a supremely fluent soloist, choosing to stay on flugel horn all night (shades of Art Farmer perhaps) but producing an astonishing variety of sounds and styles from the instrument.

Any band that contains the peerless Dave Newton is sure to have plenty to offer and the pianist was his usual tasteful and imaginative self despite playing an electric version of the instrument. His inventive solos often made reference to other tunes-Newton is very fond of quotes-and always retained the interest. I was also very impressed by Harris and Hammond, two musicians that I previously knew little about but who accompany Newton on a regular basis on engagements in the West Country. Harris, who gave up medicine to concentrate on music full time, had an impressively full tone and proved to be a dexterous and imaginative soloist. Hammond played with just the right combination of restraint and propulsion and drove things tastefully from the back, his cymbal choices particularly impressive.

Vocalist Tammy Weis was born in Alberta,Canada and made her mark on the Vancouver jazz scene before moving to London. Originally steeped in country music she turned to jazz after hearing Sarah Vaughan. Her Canadian début “Legacy” (2000), a dedication to her late mother, covered a number of genres and established a fanbase in her native land. “Where I Need To Be”, recorded in the UK in 2010 was more adventurous and jazz orientated and featured a number of original songs written with pianist Tom Cawley. Tonight’s performance left no doubt as to Weis’ jazz credentials as she tackled a variety of jazz classics with poise and gusto.

The evening began with a couple of instrumentals with Brown and his colleagues tackling “My Ideal” and Clifford Brown’s “Joyspring”. The former was notable for Hammond’s exquisite brush work plus eloquent solos from Brown, Newton and Harris. Clifford Brown is obviously a long term hero of his contemporary namesake and the quartet’s reading included more fluent statements from Brown, Newton and Harris plus a series of colourful drum breaks and a beautiful solo flugelhorn cadenza.

Brown welcomed Tammy Weis to the stage to sing “Come Rain or Come Shine”. After a slightly tentative start she soon hit her stride on a piece that included further solos from Brown and Newton.
A joyous version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with Newton taking the instrumental honours was followed by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal’s ballad “I’ll Be Seeing You”. Made famous by Billie Holiday tonight’s version was movingly sung by Weis who squeezed every drop of emotion out of the lyric. Brown’s elegant and poignant flugel solo was the perfect accompaniment. 

Weis altered the gender of the lyrics for a sassy version of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So”, a tune included on her “Legacy” album.  Newton and Brown matched the celebratory mood with suitably effervescent instrumental solos. The singer then left the stage as the quartet rounded off the first set with an instrumental version of the standard “I’ll Close My Eyes”, something of a feature for the excellent Hammond whose solo drum passages opened and closed the piece.

Set two opened with a brace of well chosen instrumentals. Lee Morgan is evidently another of Damon’s trumpet heroes and “Ceora”, from the Blue Note album “Cornbread” is one of his best tunes. Here it was given due respect with more fine solos from Brown, Newton and Harris.

Pianist Elmo Hope’s “Bella Rosa” was a more surprising selection and this intriguing tune proved to be a surprise highlight with a quote laden Newton solo and a series of thrilling exchanges between drummer Hammond and his fellow instrumentalists. 

Tammy Weis rejoined the group for Rodgers & Hart’s “I Could Write A Book” with solos from Newton and Brown plus an intimate duet for just voice and double bass. “Everyone But Me”, co-authored with pianist Tom Cawley demonstrated her writing skills on a more frankly pop item partly inspired by the actress Audrey Hepburn. A lively solo from Newton was an appropriate comment on the “dancing” metaphors of the lyrics.

Weis was now full of confidence and began to dominate the proceedings as Brown, the nominal leader became more and more diffident. The blues ballad “Ordinary People” was followed by a rousing version of George Shearing’s “Lullaby Of Birdland”. Although less conspicuously involved Brown still allowed himself a degree of solo space and featured himself on both these tunes. “Birdland” also included solo contributions from Newton and Harris plus a brushed solo from Hammond.

“Bye Bye Blackbird” was introduced by another vocal/bass duet and included solos from Brown and Newton. “Route 66” was a delivered as a swashbuckling blues boogie with a rollicking solo from Newton and similarly lively features for Brown and Hammond. 

After this high energy set closer an encore was inevitable and the quintet cooled thing down again with Errol Garner’s “Misty”, a tune that has been part of Weis’ repertoire since her Vancouver days. Weis informed us that she used to perform with Garner’s elder brother Linton (1915-2003) and indicated that although uncredited Linton may have had a hand in the writing of his brother’s most famous song. It’s a mighty long way from Vancouver to Abergavenny but nevertheless this was a lovely way to round off an evening of enjoyable, high quality jazz played and sung by a very classy band. 



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