by Ian Mann
April 11, 2019
An excellent night of music that was firmly in the jazz tradition but still convincingly forward looking.
Dave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, Powys, 09/04/2019.
Dave Jones – piano, composer
Ben Waghorn – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute
Ashley John Long – double bass
Andy Hague – drums
Brecon Jazz Club’s April event featured this quartet led by Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones. Jones has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, as have all the members of his current working group featuring Cardiff based Long and, from the other side of the Severn Bridge, Bristol based musicians Waghorn and Hague.
Jones is a prolific composer who has released an impressive catalogue of recordings beginning with 2009’s trio set “Impetus”, featuring brothers Mark and Chris O’Connor on drums and bass respectively.
This was followed by the 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.
For a number of years Jones’ preferred working group was 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 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 2017 Jones released the album “Key Notes”, recorded with a quartet featuring Long, Waghorn and the young drummer Lloyd Haines. With Haines now making a name for himself on the London jazz scene Jones turned to Hague, a highly talented and versatile musician 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 appears on the group’s latest release, a three track EP titled “Answers On A Postcard”.
Tonight’s performance was the last of a short series of dates designed to promote the new EP and the majority of the music tonight was comprised of material sourced from this and “KeyNotes”. There were also two ‘outside’ pieces, both sourced from the impressive compositional repertoire of the great saxophonist, composer and improviser Wayne Shorter, one of Jones’ most significant musical influences.
“KeyNotes” represented something of a return to core jazz values for Jones following the experiments of “Journeys” and “Resonance” with the music best described as representing an updating of the classic Blue Note hard bop style. “Back to basics – but not basic” is how Jones likes to describe it. Jones’ compositions for this recording were distinguished by highly descriptive one world titles, including “Blues”, “Afro”, “Funky” and “Latin”, some of these getting an airing tonight.
“Answers On A Postcard”, recorded by this evening’s line-up, represents something of a continuation and features tunes that had already been ‘road tested’ on appreciative jazz audiences prior to being recorded at two separate sessions at Fieldgate Studios in Penarth in November 2018 and February 2019 – this really is an EP that is hot off the presses. Jones already has the next EP release planned, believing that recording material while it is still fresh is very much the way forward, capturing the music at its best while simultaneously keeping the quartet in the public eye.
At Fieldgate Jones was able to record using the studio’s resident Fazioli grand piano, an instrument that he also utilised to good effect on “KeyNotes”. Tonight he was giving a public début to his newly acquired Korg Grandstage keyboard, tonight deploying an acoustic piano setting exclusively, although the instrument is also capable of producing other keyboard sounds. Jones’ new toy sounded excellent, the ‘acoustic’ sound on modern electric keyboards having improved considerably in recent years.
The first set commenced with the quartet’s regular opener, “Sands”, the opening track on the “KeyNotes” album. Originally written as a solo piano piece the tune has a lilting, folk like melody which was sketched by Waghorn on tenor, his tone sometimes reminiscent of that of Jan Garbarek. The first full length solo of the night went to Long on double bass, his virtuosic but melodic playing accompanied by the sound of Hague’s brushes. Waghorn then stretched out on tenor, probing incisively and fluently, with Hague switching to sticks as the momentum of the piece began to build. Jones then took over on piano, soloing expansively and at one point duetting with Hague’s cymbals only. Finally we heard a restatement of the arresting main theme from Waghorn. I’ve seen the Jones quartet perform this piece on several occasions, each one subtly different to the other and different again to the recorded version, as is the nature and spirit of jazz. But it’s still a highly memorable piece, the beauty of that haunting melodic theme really making an impression on the listener.
From the same album came “Afro”, a piece inspired by another of Jones’ musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer McCoy Tyner. Introduced by Jones at the keyboard and with Hague laying down some exotic rhythmic patterns this composition featured Waghorn on flute and the overall feel of the piece was appropriately reminiscent of the Afro-Jazz of the 1960s. Jones took the first solo at the piano, his playing suitably Tyner-esque. He was followed by Waghorn on flute, his use of over-blowing and vocalised techniques evoking comparisons with Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. The excellent Hague also enjoyed a closing drum feature, making liberal use of cowbell.
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 “Kalimba Blues”, a tune that has been in the quartet’s live repertoire for some time but which makes its recorded début on the new “Answers On A Postcard” EP. This featured a sample of kalimba like keyboard sounds that Jones had previously recorded for his soundtrack work, this being allied to Hague’s drum groove to give the music something of a funk element. The blues component came from Waghorn’s lusty, bluesy tenor as he shared the solos with the leader’s piano.
The as yet unrecorded Jones original “DT” was dedicated to the memory of another of his pianistic heroes, the late, great Kenny Kirkland (1955-98). “Doc Tone” was a nickname given to Kirkland, a musician who famously worked with both Wynford and Branford Marsalis and was part of Sting’s touring band, also appearing on several of his albums. Modal in feel Jones’ piece was introduced by the sound of piano and bowed bass, to which were added Hague’s mallet rumbles and the incantations of Waghorn’s piping soprano sax. Long delivered another melodic pizzicato bass solo, accompanied by Jones’ sparse piano chording and Hague’s brushed drums. Jones was at his most lyrical as he soloed on piano, Waghorn subsequently taking over to probe sinuously on soprano with Long picking up the bow again at the close. The vaguely melancholic nature of the music helped to give the piece something of a valedictory quality.
Jones had promised the Brecon Jazz Club organisers a couple of standards, but these proved to be anything but safe ‘Great American Songbook’ choices. Instead Jones chose to celebrate the writing of Wayne Shorter, closing the first set with the saxophonist’s “Black Nile”, a tune that had also been played by Kirkland. A fiercely swinging arrangement featured a blistering tenor sax solo from Waghorn with the leader subsequently matching him for intensity as the keyboard. As I’ve said many times before Long is one of most inventive bass soloists around, a player with a prodigious, classically honed technique. Every solo that he takes is full of interest and his offering here was no exception, swarming all over the neck of his instrument to the accompaniment of Hague’s rapidly brushed drums. Finally Hague traded fours with Waghorn and Jones as an excellent first set came to an energetic close.
Set two commenced with the title track from “Answers On A Postcard”, a piece with a swinging, Latin-esque groove that sounded as if it had stepped straight off a classic Blue Note album, by Horace Silver, perhaps, yet still sounded fresh, exciting and vital. Jones has a happy knack of writing tunes that honour the jazz tradition, yet still sound both personal and relevant. With a vibrant solo from the leader and with Waghorn really digging in on tenor this was an attention grabbing way of kick-starting the second half.
Musically inspired by McCoy Tyner “The Power of Burgundy” took its title from the film character Ron Burgundy. This proved to be something of a flute showcase for Waghorn, his vocalisations during his solo drawing a smile from Long at the bass. Waghorn is an excellent flute soloist, following in the tradition of leading British exponents of the instrument such as Harold McNair, Ray Warleigh, Jimmy Hastings and, of course, Gareth Lockrane. Further solos came from Jones at the piano and Long on bass.
There was a return to the “KeyNotes” repertoire for “Funky” with Long and Hague providing a suitably propulsive rhythmic drive, while managing to avoid the usual funk clichés. All this was fuel for the expansive and authoritative soloing of Jones on piano and Waghorn on tenor. The recorded version of this tune features Long playing his ‘second instrument’, the vibraphone.
The ridiculously talented Long started playing vibes on gigs as a member of the Heavy Quartet and already has that whole Gary Burton four mallet thing off to a fine art, he’s a hugely accomplished and convincing vibraphone soloist. Long led a group from the vibes at this very venue at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival and doubled up bass and vibes at a Dave Jones Quartet show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2018, Jones providing synthesised bass lines when Long was wielding the mallets.
From the “KeyNotes” album the tune “Departures” was inspired by the vicissitudes of the travelling musician, notably the security checks at Bristol Airport. If this Brexit thing ever happens it’s probably going to get a whole lot worse – for all of us. In a variation of the recorded version, where he plays tenor and doubles on flute, Waghorn was tonight featured on soprano saxophone, his soloing both searching and searing as he shared the limelight with Jones at the piano and Long on bass, the piece as a whole driven along by Hague’s powerful drumming.
The evening closed with another ‘standard’, again from the pen of Wayne Shorter, this being “Footprints”, arguably his most famous composition. This was introduced by Long at the bass, subsequently joined by piano and drums before the bassist and Waghorn on tenor traded melodic motifs, this leading into more expansive solos from Waghorn and Jones plus a further set of variations on Shorter’s theme from the saxophonist. This was a winning way to end an excellent night of music that was firmly in the jazz tradition but still convincingly forward looking.
Jones’s compositions sound as if they’ve always been around but still sound vital and interesting.
It’s an impressive skill to have and although I’ve seen this material performed live on two previous occasions I’ve yet to become bored by it. Each time has seen Jones and the quartet treating the material differently, varying the instrumentation or the soloing order and thus keeping both band members and audiences fully engaged. A sizeable crowd at The Muse gave a warm and attentive reception to this group of highly capable local heroes. As I’ve observed many time previously any one of these guys could cut it on the London jazz scene, with the consequent increase in profile that would result. The members of this quartet are far more than just good ‘regional musicians’ and in Dave Jones they also have a composer of great ability and distinction.
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