by Ian Mann
October 30, 2018
The quartet’s efforts were warmly appreciated by a decent sized crowd on a very chilly October night.
Dave Jones Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/10/2018.
Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages since I reviewed his excellent trio album “Impetus” back in 2009. He has since released an impressive catalogue of other recordings beginning with the more expansive offerings “Journeys (2010) and “Resonance” (2012), both of which featured a core quartet including saxophonist Lee Goodall plus additional brass and strings. Like “Impetus” both albums highlighted just what an accomplished and ambitious composer Jones can be and all attracted an impressive amount of critical acclaim from the London based jazz media.
In recent years Jones’ preferred working group has been a quartet featuring Goodall on reeds, Ashley John Long on double bass and, when available, the Irishman Kevin Lawlor at the drums. This line up released the excellent concert recording “Live At AMG” in 2014.
Jones has since released “Postscript” (2016), an intimate duo set recorded with Long and has appeared as a sideman on Lawlor’s two solo albums “Exodus” (2013) and “Eight” (2015). Other credits include work with the jazz/folk outfit Burum and with Coltrane Dedication, the free-wheeling aggregation co-led by saxophonists Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes,
In February 2017 Jones visited BMJ to première his latest quartet recording “Key Notes”, an album that introduced a new quartet featuring Long, saxophonist and flautist Ben Waghorn, and young drum tyro Lloyd Haines, a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. Haines, who had also appeared on “Journeys” and “Resonance”, is now making a name for himself on the London jazz scene and at the time of the BMJ performance his place in the Jones quartet had just been taken by Andy Hague, a highly talented and versatile musician from Bristol who is arguably better known as a trumpeter, although he seems to be spending more and more time behind the drum kit these days. Hague is now the first choice drummer for the Jones quartet and will appear on the group’s next album, which is due to be recorded in the Spring of 2019. He has also drummed for pianist John Law but as a trumpeter has released a number of albums as a leader including 2012’s Horace Silver inspired “Cross My Palm”, which is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, as have all of Jones’ recordings from “Impetus” onwards.
“Key Notes” includes a couple of tracks that feature Long on his ‘second’ instrument, the vibraphone. Long’s ability as a versatile and virtuoso bassist is well known, he also has a parallel classical career, but he’s increasingly acquiring a reputation for his skills with the mallets too. Long first began playing the vibes on stage during his tenure with the long running, but sadly now defunct, Cardiff cult outfit Heavy Quartet but has subsequently led his own vibes fronted groups, including an appearance in this capacity at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival.
At the suggestion of BMJ promoter Mike Skilton Long brought both his double bass and his vibes to Abergavenny (it’s amazing what you can fit into the back of a VW Passat!), thus helping to ensure that tonight’s performance was radically different from 2017’s. It must be unusual for any quartet to include two such talented multi-instrumentalists as Long and Hague, maybe we’ll get to hear some of Andy’s trumpeting at the 2019 visit!
Tonight’s performance had something of an experimental feel to it as the quartet played a mix of freshly written material slated for the impending new album and more familiar ‘played in’ items from the “KeyNotes” repertoire.
The quartet commenced with “Sands”, the opening piece from the “KeyNotes” album. The composition was originally written as a solo piano piece and was introduced here by the sound of Jones’ unaccompanied keyboard. The entry of the band found Waghorn re-iterating the folk tinged theme on tenor sax before Long took the first full length solo of the night on double bass. Long’s virtuoso, classically honed technique ensures that every solo he plays is full of interest. Bass solos are never boring when Ashley John Long is around. A few days previously I’d seen Jones and Long performing as part of the Coltrane Dedication quintet at the Queens Head in nearby Monmouth. There the bassist’s solos were little short of astonishing, involving the liberal use of extended techniques, both with and without the bow. In the Jones group he’s not encouraged to go quite so far out, but tonight his inventiveness and dexterity still remained stunning. The bassist was followed by Waghorn’s fluent, probing tenor and by Jones himself at the keyboard, adopting an acoustic piano sound as Hague provided responsive and relevant drum commentary. A final theme restatement, led by Waghorn’s tenor, saw Long briefly flourishing the bow.
Perhaps Waghorn should also be regarded as a multi-instrumentalist. His playing on flute on the McCoy Tyner inspired “Afro” from “KeyNotes” was exceptional as he shared the solos with Jones, while Hague also weighed in with a closing drum feature.
Besides his jazz output Jones has also written prolifically for film and TV soundtracks, plus so called “library music”. This proved to be the source of inspiration for the first new number of the evening. Still unnamed but with the working title “New Kalimba Song” this performance saw the leader wrestling with new musical technology as he triggered a loop of pre-recorded kalimba like keyboard sounds that Jones had previously recorded as part of his soundtrack work. Underpinning the piece in Terry Riley like fashion the loop, plus Jones’ keyboard generated bass lines courtesy of a second on stage keyboard, freed Long up to feature on vibes. The loop was switched off as Hague’s crisp, Latin-esque drum grooves powered solos from Waghorn on tenor and Long on vibes, the latter deploying two mallets in the manner of Milt Jackson. The kalimba sounds were resumed towards the end of the tune but it’s probably fair to say that in the overall context of the performance the technological aspect was only a qualified success.
Another new piece, currently prosaically titled “Second New Tune” was again Tyner influenced, and again featured Waghorn on flute. This proved to be rather more straightforward as Waghorn shared the solos with Jones on piano and Long on double bass.
Most of the titles on the “KeyNotes” album sound as if they started as working titles but subsequently remained unchanged. Most are a single, highly descriptive word, as typified by the following “Blues”, which did pretty much ‘what it says on the tin’. Waghorn stretched out on tenor on a piece that sounded like an update of a classic Blue Note record. He was followed by Jones at the piano with Hague also enjoying a series of brisk, colourful drum breaks as he traded phrases with the other members of the band. Jones has described “KeyNotes” as “back to basics, but not basic”, which sums the album up well. Jones and his colleagues are capable of finding interesting things to say within the most conventional of jazz formats.
“Blues” ended a lengthy first set which saw the audience retire to the Melville Centre’s bar area to recharge their glasses and enjoy a slice of complementary pizza from the Abergavenny franchise of Domino’s who had sponsored the recent Wall2Wall Jazz Festival and are continuing their support of BMJ. It’s a nice touch that shows true community spirit, so thanks very much to them for that.
A shorter second set began with another new, and as yet untitled tune, with Jones’ walking keyboard bass lines locking in with Hague’s drums and Waghorn’s tenor to create an authentic hard bop sound, this fuelling an impressive vibraphone solo from Long as demonstrated his mastery of the four mallet technique, Gary Burton and all that. Waghorn followed him with some powerful, meaty tenor soloing. An invigorating start to the second half.
The energy levels were maintained with another of those bluntly descriptive titles from “KeyNotes”. “Funky” lived up to its name as Hague’s drum grooves synchronised with Jones’ keyboard bass lines to fuel further solos from Long on vibes, two mallets again this time, and Waghorn on r’n’b flavoured tenor, sounding suitably earthy as he dug in deeply.
Also from “KeyNotes” “Departures” was one of the first pieces written for that project, the original title “Arrivals and Departures” a reference to the travelling lifestyle of the freelance jazz musician.
Combining an authentic hard bop feel with one of Jones’ most arresting melodic themes the piece included solos for Jones on piano, the astonishingly dexterous Long on double bass, Waghorn on tenor and finally Hague at the drums.
In the absence of Debs Hancock, who was away representing BMJ at the Rotterdam International Jazz Festival, it was left to Mike Skilton make the monthly 200 Club draw. The holder of winning ticket number 69 found themselves in a very good position!
Mike then tempted the Jones quartet back for a well deserved encore. This proved to be “Latin”, the final track from “KeyNotes” which featured some appropriate rhythmic patterns plus solos from Waghorn on flute and the composer at the piano. It’s a while since I last went to a jazz gig where the flute featured quite so prominently, thus tonight’s performance represented a refreshing change.
I continue to be a fan of Jones’ writing and playing and although there were moments when tonight’s gig felt a little like public rehearsal as new material was tried out the quartet’s efforts were warmly appreciated by a decent sized crowd on a very chilly October night.
Jones is a great friend of BMJ and on the Saturday of the recent Wall2Wall he played a series of engaging duets with friends in the bar area as changeovers were being affected between acts in the main theatre space. The duets teamed Jones with Long, vocalist Debs Hancock, trumpeter Ceri Williams and alto saxophonist Glen Manby. These were performances that were listened to attentively and very well received, with many listeners returning tonight to hear Jones in a slightly more formal context. The proposed 2019 recording by the Jones quartet will be awaited with much interest.
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