by Ian Mann
February 27, 2023
Ian Mann enjoys a live performance from pianist Dave Jones & his quintet as they play the music of Kenny Garrett. He also looks at their recently released live album "Live at Pizza Express Jazz Club".
Dave Jones Quintet, “A Hole in One”, The Music of Kenny Garrett, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abegavenny, 26/02/2023.
Dave Jones – piano, Andy Hague – trumpet, flugelhorn, Ben Waghorn – tenor sax, Ashley John Long – double bass, Ryan Thrupp – drums
Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones has been a regular visitor to BMJ, appearing as both leader and sideman with a variety of different line ups and in a broad range of formats and contexts.
His previous visit as a leader had been in October 2018 in the company of a quartet featuring Waghorn, Long and Hague, but with the latter performing behind the drum kit on that occasion. For this latest project Hague has stepped back into the front line in his more familiar role as a trumpeter of some distinction. His place in the rhythm section has been taken by the highly talented young drummer Ryan Thrupp, a rising star of the UK jazz scene.
Jones’ previous visit had seen the quartet focussing on the pianist’s original compositions, with the emphasis on pieces sourced from the then current album “Key Notes”, which had been released the previous year. Jones is a highly talented writer as can be seen from the following biographical details, largely sourced from a previous review.
In the 1990s Jones spent time in London, establishing himself on the city’s jazz scene and recording the 1996 album “Have You Met Mr. Jones?”, plus a long deleted EP in 1999. In addition to his work as jazz musician Jones has also been a prolific composer of ‘library music’ and his work in this area has been heard regularly on television and in cinema.
The 21st century has seen him back in his native Wales enjoying something of a ‘jazz renaissance’. He has released an impressive catalogue of jazz 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 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, 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 “Keynotes”, which featured the nucleus of this current group with Waghorn and Long joined by the youthful drummer Lloyd Haines. A graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff Haines is now making his name on the London jazz scene and he was subsequently replaced by the versatile Hague, best known as a highly skilled trumpeter but equally accomplished behind the drum kit.
With Hague in the drum chair the quartet released the EPs “Answers On a Postcard” (2019) and “Is That The Time?” (2020).
2021 saw the release of “Unfinished Sentences”, a series of recordings that Jones had made in 1999 with a variety of different musicians at Gateway Studios in Kingston- upon-Thames. Intended as Jones’ second album the material was recorded, mixed and mastered but wasn’t commercially released at the time. However when the rights to the recordings were eventually returned to the artists Jones decided to release them himself using the album title “Unfinished Sentences”. It’s a recording that still sounds fresh and vital all these years later.
The material on “Unfinished Sentences” was largely sourced from other composers and the album only contains one Jones original. Elsewhere the pianist turns to the compositions of his musical heroes, among them McCoy Tyner, Hampton Hawes, Bobby Timmons, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham and Tadd Dameron.
In a sense it represents a link to this current project, which sees Jones abandoning original writing for the time being to concentrate on the music of the American alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader Kenny Garrett.
Garrett, born in 1960, first made a name for himself as a sideman with the likes of Miles Davis and Chick Corea but he has also enjoyed a prolific career as the leader of his own groups, having released his solo début as far back as 1984. His sound is rooted in hard bop but has also absorbed the influences of funk soul,, hip hop and other elements of contemporary Black American music.
Jones has long been an admirer of Garrett’s music and has enjoyed seeing the saxophonist playing live at London jazz clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s and the Pizza Express, both in Soho. On learning that Hague had arranged a series of Garrett tunes the pianist suggested that these would be suitable for performance by this quintet, hence the ‘A Hole in One’ project was born, its name taken from the title of a tune on Garrett’s 2001 album” Happy People”.
I was lucky enough to witness an early performance of the Garrett material when the quintet visited the Queens Head in Monmouth in 2022. The band has since continued to hone its approach to Garrett’s music and in January 2023 recorded a live album featuring Hague’s arrangements of Garrett’s tunes at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. “Kenny Garrett, who I’d first seen live at that very same club at least a couple of decades ago”, recounts Jones in his album notes.
Ironically the quartet had been due to record a live album of original material at the ‘Pizza’ in February 2020 and although the gig went ahead as scheduled the recording had to be shelved due to the noise of roadworks on Dean Street, immediately outside the club. There was to be no such bad luck three years later when the group, now expanded to a quintet, played to a capacity audience and documented the performance on the recording “Live at Pizza Express Jazz Club”.
Tonight’s event wasn’t quite a sell out but there was still a very sizeable audience for the quintet’s visit to Abergavenny. In a sense tonight’s gig represented a direct follow up to the previous month’s event featuring saxophonists Alex Clarke and Dan Newberry fronting the ‘house trio’ the BMJ Collective, led by drummer Alex Goodyear. That quintet had chosen to round off the evening with arousing performance of Garrett’s tune “Happy People”, which may well have whetted musical appetites for tonight. The Jones quintet were to treat us with another performance of that same piece, but more on that later.
It seemed entirely appropriate that tonight’s performance should take place in front of the “Hard Bop” pop up poster from BMJ’s “Jazz Through The Ages” exhibition. Like some of the classics of the hard bop era (“Moanin’”, The Sidewinder”, “Song For My Father” etc.) Garrett’s tunes are based around catchy hooks and motifs, his highly accessible themes simultaneously representing ‘earworms’ for the audience and great springboards for improvisation for the musicians.
Jones described Garrett’s tunes as being “accessible, but with great jazz content” before explaining that Garrett usually played them in a quartet format. The presence of two horns in the Jones quintet, and with the saxophone being a tenor rather than an alto, allows Jones and arranger Hague to put their own spin on the music. I have to admit that given the importance of Hague’s role in the project that I’m a little surprised that he doesn’t share co-leader billing.
Tonight’s performance featured all of the material from the Pizza Express live recording, albeit presented in a slightly different running order, plus the bonus of the composition “Chief Blackwater” from Garrett’s “Standard of Language” album.
The quintet kicked off with album opener “A Hole in One” from Garrett’s “Happy People” album (2002). Like most of tonight’s pieces this commenced with a unison theme statement from trumpet and tenor with more than a hint of the classic ‘Blue Note Sound’ always evident. The synchronised bass and drum grooves laid down by Long and Thrupp then acted as the platform for fluent, but hard hitting, solos from Hague on trumpet, Waghorn on tenor and Jones at the piano.
The band adopted a softer sound for “November 15”, a tune from Garrett’s 1997 album “Songbook”, a favourite recording for Jones and for many others and an album generally regarded to be something of a modern jazz classic.
This saw Hague moving to flugel as the two horns again doubled up on the theme before Jones delivered the first solo, followed by Hague on flugel, Waghorn on tenor and finally Long on double bass.
Continuing to follow the Pizza Express album running order the quintet upped the energy levels once more with “Now”, a tune sourced from the 2006 recording “Beyond the Wall”, an album inspired by Garrett’s visit to China and his ongoing interest in Asian culture and philosophy. This featured powerful solos from Waghorn on tenor, Hague on trumpet and Jones at the piano, plus a serious of vigorous exchanges between the two horn players and the impressive young drummer Ryan Thrupp. This was an item that was particularly well received by the Abergavenny audience.
There was a slight variation from the album running order as the quintet slowed things down again with “Native Tongue”, another composition from the “Standard of Language” recording. This was altogether slower and softer and introduced one of Garrett’s prettiest and most memorable melodies. Hague moved back to flugel and Thrupp was featured on brushes for the first time with lyrical solos coming from Jones at the piano and Waghorn on tenor. This was a piece that was also very well received, with some people citing it as their favourite tune of the evening.
The first set concluded on an energetic, upbeat note with “Hargrove”, a tune from Garrett’s most recent album release “Sounds from the Ancestors” (2021). Dedicated to the memory of the late, great trumpeter Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) this introduced a funky bass and drum groove and a punchy, horn driven theme, with trumpet and tenor later diverging to deliver some scintillating horn interplay that mixed fire with subtlety, qualities that Jones also brought to a sparkling piano solo.
Set two commenced with “Brother Hubbard”, a tune from the “Songbook” album representing Garrett’s homage to another great jazz trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008). With a theme reminiscent of the writing of Horace Silver this was piece that featured solos from Hague on flugel, Waghorn on tenor and Jones at the piano, plus some absorbing interplay between the two horns.
Next came the previously mentioned “Chief Blackwater”, a high energy performance fuelled by Long’s propulsive bass lines and featuring some bravura soloing from Waghorn on tenor, Hague on trumpet and Jones at the piano, plus an extended series of energetic exchanges between the horns and drummer Thrupp.
The “Songbook” material continued to feature prominently as Hague moved to flugel and Thrupp picked up the brushes for the ballad “She Waits for the New Sun”, combining with Waghorn on the unison theme statement. Lyrical solos came from Jones at the piano and the brilliant Long at the bass, his playing both hugely virtuosic and highly melodic. Hague and Waghorn also impressed with their delicate horn interplay on the outro.
A shorter second set closed with “Happy People”, the title track from Garrett’s 2001 album. Introduced by bass and drums this piece featured an infectious, upbeat groove that sparked lively solos from Jones and Waghorn plus some joyous trumpet / tenor interplay and finally a neatly constructed drum solo from the impressive Thrupp.
The immediacy of Garrett’s writing, combined with the quality of the quintet’s performance saw the audience clamouring for more with several getting to their feet to applaud the band. The quintet certainly didn’t need to be prompted into playing an encore, the bebop flavoured “Philly” from yet another Garrett recording, “Do Your Dance” from 2016. Propulsive bass lines and crisp drumming helped fuel fiery solos from Waghorn on tenor and Hague on trumpet, while Thrupp was also featured at the drums.
Following the success of last month’s Clarke / Newberry event this was another terrific night at Black Mountain Jazz with musicians, organisers and audience all delighted with how the evening had gone. CD sales were brisk and the quintet could be justly satisfied with their night’s work.
The quality of the playing on the Pizza Express album is excellent throughout with recording engineer Felipe de Paula doing an excellent job and ensuring that everyone sounds good. The CD running order is;
1. A Hole in One
2. November 15
4. Brother Hubbard
5. Native Tongue
7. She Waits for the New Sun
8. Happy People
“Live at Pizza Express Jazz Club” is available via;
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