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Daniel McBrearty

Clarinet Swing


by Ian Mann

July 12, 2012


McBrearty places New Orleans stylings within a chamber jazz context. The resultant album is imbued with an easy charm that quickly captivates the listener.

Daniel McBrearty

“Clarinet Swing”

(Dan McB Music)

Daniel McBrearty is a Welsh born clarinettist who now lives in Antwerp, Belgium. Amazingly he delivered this CD directly to my door as he passed through Leominster en route to visiting his family in Mid Wales. Such resourcefulness demanded that I give the album a listen and as the title suggests it’s an enjoyable, unpretentious album that features McBrearty and his trio tackling a variety of jazz standards in a broadly New Orleans style but with a few contemporary twists thrown in. There are also three McBrearty originals written in the same vein and which sit comfortably within the context of the album.

McBrearty’s musical education was anything but formal, first plundering his father’s record collection and developing a love for jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole, Count Basie and Lester Young. He began to learn to play, first violin, later clarinet and tenor saxophone. An ex marine bandsman who ran McBrearty’s local music shop taught him how to play guitar.

When McBrearty left Wales to work as an electronics engineer he continued to perform as a semi pro musician playing either horns or guitar across a wide spectrum of popular music including soul, funk, reggae, blues and, of course, jazz. He released a home produced jazz funk CD in 1996 ( an EP entitled “Dan McB” and featuring his saxophone playing it is still available) and in 2001 moved to Belgium, the home of his then wife, following a year spent in Dublin. Family life took precedence for a while but McBrearty also found time to cut a world jazz album with Indian percussionist Udhav Shinde which allowed him to explore areas of freer improvisation on the clarinet.

By 2010 McBrearty was playing full time, mainly in a pop context and recorded an EP with pop/soul singer Mariona but a visit to New Orleans in 2011 persuaded him to concentrate his energies on jazz once more. The fruits of this inspirational visit can be heard on this album made with a trio consisting of Belgian musicians Dirk Van der Linden (piano) and Jean van Lint (bass). As McBrearty’s liner notes explain he was looking for an intimate “chamber jazz” sound hence the decision to record without drums. This daring approach works well and the resultant album is imbued with an easy charm that quickly captivates the listener.

Some of the pieces were recorded in a duo format and feature just clarinet and piano. Among these is the opening piece, Ray Hubbell’s “Butterfly”, a tune inspired by Puccini and made famous by Benny Goodman. Van der Linden brought the tune to the session and the rapport between the pianist and McBrearty is immediately obvious in this delightfully unhurried version of the piece. Although recorded in Antwerp the warmth of the playing immediately conjures up images of New Orleans. 

McBrearty’s “March Of The Bluestones” was inspired by the mountains of Pembrokeshire and is dedicated to his late father, Jim. With Van Lint on board the music has a greater rhythmic propulsion and adds elements of blues and bebop into the mix. Once again there’s a great sense of rapport between McBrearty and Van der Linden and with Van Lint holding down the bottom end the duo are given the scope to swoop and soar. There’s some sparkling piano from Van der Linden and this is matched by the clarity and invention of McBrearty’s clarinet lines. 

Fat’s Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is another duo performance and the tune is an old favourite of McBrearty’s, as a youngster he owned a copy of a live album featuring this tune recorded by Goodman’s sextet in Copenhagen in 1972. Taken at strolling pace and with a distinct blues inflection the piece offers more fine interplay between clarinet and piano. McBrearty and Van der Linden had met briefly a few years before this recording and had worked through some lead sheets before making the album but their instinctive understanding of each other’s playing suggests that they might have been working together for years.

McBrearty wrote the main theme for the lovely ballad “Vikanda” some fifteen years ago, originally under the title “Ballad For This World”. An attempt to record it at that time was unsuccessful but McBrearty decided to revive the piece for this project, adding sections and dedicating the piece to a deceased friend. There’s a heartfelt tenderness about McBrearty’s playing here and this is matched by Van Lint’s elegant bass solo. McBrearty performed the piece at the funeral of the dedicatee.

Another McBrearty original, “A Swing For Paolo” also has it’s roots as a tribute to a departed friend. Guitarist Paolo Radini was a former playing partner, based in Brussels and a great exponent of swing and bebop. This lively piece embraces these styles and includes some marvellously swinging piano from Van der Linden alongside the composer’s sinuous clarinet lines. It’s a celebration of a life rather than a lament and I’d like to think that it captures something of Radini’s spirit.

“Body And Soul” is one of the most familiar numbers in the entire jazz canon but it’s not one that you often hear played on clarinet. McBrearty speaks of the difficulty of finding something new to say about the piece. In duo mode he and McBrearty choose to concentrate on the beauty of the melody and there’s a simplicity and intimacy about their playing that ensures that their version makes for a surprisingly satisfying listen.

The old show tune “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” swings prodigiously and is a lot of fun. Arranged by McBrearty and Van der Linden the piece is driven by Van Lint’s bass and features scintillating solos from all three musicians. McBrearty dedicates the tune to his two young daughters, for whom it is something of a favourite.

McBrearty harks back to the early influence of Nat King Cole for “When I Grow too Old To Dream”, the album’s only vocal track. Unfortunately McBrearty isn’t Cole and for me his brief vocal adds nothing, the playing however is as fine as ever.

The album concludes with a lovely trio version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”. McBrearty adopts a warm, woody tone on clarinet, Van der Linden is at his most lyrical and Van Lint anchors everything sympathetically and economically. “I wanted to leave you with something short and sweet” says McBrearty and he and his colleagues succeed admirably.

“Clarinet Swing” is an unpretentious and highly enjoyable album with some excellent playing from all three musicians involved. For what is presumably a self released recording it also has a very good, clear sound courtesy of engineers Yannick Heeren at Southside Studios in Antwerp and Barry Gardner at Safe & Sound Mastering in the UK. The music dips into a variety of jazz genres while retaining an essential “New Orleans” sound and although the style is rather less modern than my usual listening I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this album.   

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