by Ian Mann
July 06, 2021
For me an excellent return to the live music scene. Jones is a gifted writer and it was great to hear his original compositions played by a highly talented band and on a ‘proper’ grand piano.
Dave Jones Quartet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Town Hall, Kidderminster, 01/07/2021.
Dave Jones – piano, Dan Newberry – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute, Ashley John Long – double bass, Andy Hague – drums
Tonight’s performance represented my first live music experience for over a year. The last had been a performance by Bristol based vocalist Victoria Klewin at Breton Jazz Club on March 10th 2020, a gig that this evening’s bassist Ashley John Long had also played on.
Kidderminster Jazz Club was established by vocalist Annette Gregory in the autumn of 2019 and got off to a great start with an inaugural show from pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet. The new club quickly hit its stride but was only able to present five monthly performances
before the Covid crisis struck, the final show being on March 5th 2020 with a performance from trumpeter / vocalist Sue Richardson.
Fortunately Kidderminster Jazz Club benefits from the generous support of the Town Council and following the recent easing of restrictions Annette took the decision to re-open the club with a visit from the South Walian pianist and composer Dave Jones and his quartet. The coming months will include visits from vocalist Tina May and saxophonist Alan Barnes, two musicians who had been due to visit the Club during the summer of 2020.
After such a long time away from the music scene I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about going back, but in the event I felt safe, relaxed and very much at home. The Town Hall’s Corn Exchange Room, KJC’s regular venue, is a large, airy room with large tables that help to enable easy social distancing. Masks were only required when audience members were moving around, once seated one could enjoy the performance, and the beer from local independent Bewdley Brewery, without being muzzled. Around two dozen intrepid jazz fans ventured out, well down on previous figures, but symptomatic of the fact that many people are still anxious with regards to Covid. As restrictions continue to be relaxed and vaccination levels continue to grow I predict that audience numbers will rise for future events, particularly for such popular performers as May and Barnes.
Nevertheless this select gathering, which included several KJC regulars, among them jazz broadcaster John Hellings, helped to ensure that this was a good way of dipping one’s toe back in the water.
If it was strange for the audience it was equally weird for the band, some of whom were playing their first gig for over a year. The quartet’s regular saxophonist, Ben Waghorn, was missing for Covid related reasons, hopefully nothing serious, and his role was brilliantly filled by the young saxophonist and flautist Daniel Newberry.
Newberry is a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff and I have previously seen him perform at both the Brecon and Black Mountain (Abergavenny) Jazz Clubs, both leading his own group and in the bands of others, such as those of drummer Alex Goodyear and guitarist Gerard Cousins. He has also recorded with Brazilian born bassist and composer Matheus Prado, whose septet performed a brilliant concert at Kidderminster Jazz Club in February 2020.
Tonight Newberry rose to the challenge of filling the shoes of the vastly experienced Waghorn with considerable aplomb. This was his first gig for a while and he was thrown in at the deep end to perform two sets of largely original music and to double on soprano sax and flute in addition to his usual tenor. He acquitted himself superbly with a performance that showcased both his sight reading and interpretative skills. He performed with great maturity and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play better.
As for leader Jones he seemed to be delighted to be back playing his music in public again. I’ve never seen him talk quite so effusively between tunes and he was clearly relishing the opportunity of playing the Town Hall’s rather splendid grand piano. He sounds so much better behind a ‘real’ piano, rather than an electric keyboard, so this was a real bonus for the audience too.
It has become traditional at Kidderminster Jazz Club for each season of events to have a theme. In 2019/20 it was the music of George Gershwin, with each artist expected to include two Gershwin tunes in their performance, preferably one in each set.
For 2021 the theme is Charlie Parker and tonight’s event kicked off with a Parker inspired version of the standard “All The Things You Are”, as selected by Newberry. This enabled the young saxophonist to get his feet under the table with a performance of a familiar tune, and he responded enthusiastically with a fluent and expansive tenor sax solo, followed by similarly impressive features from the leader at the piano and Long on double bass.
Much of the original material was sourced from Jones’ most recent full length album release “KeyNotes” (2017), recorded with a quartet featuring Waghorn, Long and the young drummer Lloyd Haines, an RWCMD graduate who has since moved to London and has been replaced by Bristol based Hague, the latter also a trumpeter, composer, bandleader and promoter. Hague has appeared on the quartet’s later EPs “Answers On A Postcard” (2019) and “Is That The Time?” (2020). The first of these also features Long doubling on his second instrument, the vibraphone.
From the “KeyNotes” album we heard “Sands”, originally conceived as a solo piano piece but now re-imagined for quartet, with its beguiling sax melody providing the jumping off point for some superb soloing, commencing with Long at the bass. Also an accomplished classical player in the baroque style Long is a virtuoso technician and a stunning bass soloist, his melodic and staggeringly dexterous pizzicato playing here often focussing on the instrument’s upper registers. Jones followed at that grand piano, effortlessly fluent and expansive, while Newberry probed intelligently on tenor, again displaying an increasingly impressive maturity.
From the same album came the Jones original “Afro”, one of several pieces with terse, but highly descriptive, one word titles. This required Newberry to switch, a little reluctantly, to flute, sketching the melody above a piano led Afro-Latin groove. On a piece inspired by the late, great McCoy Tyner it was appropriate that Jones should lead the solos off at the piano, paying suitable stylistic homage to the great man. Newberry followed on flute, again acquitting himself well, and there was also a feature for Hague at the drums, a ridiculously talented musician who is even better known for his exceptional trumpet playing.
From the “Is That The Time?” EP came “Dedication to Doctone”, Jones’ tribute to another of his late keyboard heroes, the great Kenny Kirkland (1955 – 99), a bandleader in his own right and a prolific sideman with both jazz and rock performers, including such high profile names as Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Sting. Titled for Kirkland’s ‘Doc Tone’ nickname the piece represented both a lament for Kirkland’s demise and a celebration of his life, the sorrow expressed in the lyrical keening of Newberry’s soprano sax and the thoughtfulness of Long’s melodic bass solo, the joyousness in Jones’ Kirkland inspired piano soloing, this in turn inspiring a more full on solo from Newberry, with Hague responding in kind from behind the kit.
Set two commenced with “Funky”, another of those self explanatory titles from the “KeyNotes” album. This saw Newberry restored to his favoured tenor, and sharing the solos with leader Jones, with both men delivering powerful and expansive statements, spurred on by the propulsive Afro-Cuban grooves laid down by Long and Hague. This represented a rousing and satisfying start to the second half. “I love playing that tune!” Newberry confided to me afterwards.
From the “Is That The Time?” EP “Dai’s Bossa” slowed things down a little. Surprisingly this tune represents the first piece that the prolific Jones, he’s also a composer of ‘library music’, has written in the bossa style. On this evidence it hopefully won’t be the last. Having had his ‘funky’ fun on tenor Newberry was required to return to the flute, stating the theme on the instrument before sharing the solos with Jones and Long.
The quartet normally close their performances with “Departures”, a tune from the “KeyNotes” album inspired by the life of the travelling musician, something that will hopefully soon be returning. The quartet’s 2020 tour was curtailed early, with only the London date taking place. It had been intended to record this show, in February 2020 at Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, for a live album, but the sound of roadworks taking place outside on Dean Street resulted in the unfortunate scuppering of these plans. And we all know what happened next!
Tonight’s performance of the tune saw Newberry back on tenor and really digging in as he shared the solos with Jones.
But tonight, of course, “Departures” didn’t mark the end of the journey. We still had a second Charlie Parker tune to enjoy with Newberry this time plumping for “Scrapple From The Apple”.
Being allowed to choose the Parker pieces was the young saxophonist’s reward for manfully tackling the half dozen Jones originals, written in a compositional style that the leader has described as “back to basics – but not basic”. Newberry responded by really tearing up the Parker piece on tenor as the quartet rounded off the evening in barnstorming fashion.
The audience may have been small in comparison to pre-pandemic numbers but they responded to this high energy set closer with demands for “More!”
After a brief consultation the quartet settled on “Blues”, another tune from the “KeyNotes” album and an excellent example of the form. It had originally been scheduled for the end of the first half but had been abandoned when Annette Gregory called for a break. Newberry was in his element by now and led things off on tenor, sharing the solos with Jones before Hague rounded things off with a final drum feature.
For me this had been an excellent return to the live music scene, in a relaxed setting with some of my favourite musicians. Jones is a gifted writer and it was great to hear his original compositions played by a highly talented band and on a ‘proper’ grand piano, the latter a real bonus.
My thanks to Dave, Ash, Andy and Dan for speaking with me afterwards and also to Annette Gregory and John Hellings. Congratulations to Annette for re-opening the Club and I look forward to future jazz events at Kidderminster Town Hall.
Meanwhile Dave Jones and the guys are keen to restart regular gigging and visiting some of the venues they had to miss out on last year. It’s not all over yet, but it’s good that things are beginning to look up at last for musicians, promoters and audiences alike.
The programme of forthcoming events at Kidderminster Jazz Club is as follows;
5th August - Tina May
2nd Sept - Alan Barnes
7th Oct - Roger Beaujolais
11th Nov - Ian Shaw
2nd Dec - Emma Johnson
For further information please visit http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk
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