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Five Go Swing

LIve: Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 15/03/2009

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by Ian Mann

March 19, 2009


Gypsy jazz played with an infectious enthusiasm. Great fun all round.

An enjoyable evening of gypsy jazz was the latest item in a varied programme hosted by Black Mountain Jazz at the Kings Arms. After the recent visit of alto saxophonist Martin Speake’s London based Generations band it was now the turn of a more locally based outfit.

Cardiff band 5 Go Swing also introduced a different musical style. Their amiable brand of gypsy jazz takes in the music of Django Reinhardt, swing era jazz standards and a smattering of Brazilian music for good measure. These local favourites have made regular appearances at the Brecon and Torfaen Jazz Festivals but they have also spread their wings further afield by appearing at the Kinsale Jazz Festival in the Republic of Ireland.

Initially formed in 2004 the band have gone through several line up changes before settling on tonight’s line up. The group are effectively led by violinist Heulwen Thomas, an engaging personality who handles the on stage announcements. In true “Hot Club” style there are two guitarists, Mike Lowe and Luke Archard. Unlike other gypsy jazz ensembles I have seen there is no designated lead guitarist with the other a rhythm specialist. 5 Go Swing are far more democratic and Lowe and Archard share the lead and rhythm roles pretty much equally. The group is rounded out by accordionist Julian Martin who brings a distinctive extra voice to the group (inspired perhaps by Martin Taylor’s Spirit Of Django) and double bassist Gavin Johnson. 

The band’s arrangements leave plenty of space for soloing with most of the numbers featuring solos from Thomas, Lowe and Archard, the guitarists often changing roles mid tune. Martin performs a dual function, his accordion swells are an effective textural device and he is also an engaging soloist. Johnson’s sturdy, propulsive bass lines power the band but he too is a dexterous soloist in his occasions in the spotlight. He occasionally makes use of the bow on certain numbers.

The group’s first set began relatively quietly with “J’attendrai”, partly to establish a contrast with the breakneck rhythms of the following “Stompin’ At Decca”, a piece that showcased Johnson’s muscular bass playing. 

In contrast to the two opening Django Reinhardt numbers “Bossa D’Orado” moved the musical focus to Brazil enabling the two guitarists to demonstrate their skills in a different setting.

In a well paced set the slow, violin led “Anouman” was followed by a good humoured, fast tempo romp through “Putting On The Ritz”. Then it was back to South America for the sunny samba rhythms of “Brazil”. 

More classic Reinhardt came in the form of the enchanting"Coquette” followed by an excellent segue of “Minor Blues” and “Swing 48”.Accordionist Martin demonstrated his solo skills here and there was also another strong contribution from bassist Johnson.

A tender version of “Troublant Bolero” was a feature for Lowe’s sensitive guitar picking with Thomas and Martin also soloing eloquently. The toe tapping “Belleville”, featuring Archard and Thomas brought an enjoyable first set to a close.

With both band and audience suitably fortified after a drinks interval the second half was to be even better as the band really warmed up. An imaginative arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” featured Archard and Thomas and also included a stunning accordion solo from Martin. One couple in the audience were inspired to get up and dance. Most impressive. 

“Pent Up House” was followed by a suitably ferocious “Django’s Tiger” featuring raging solos from Archard, Thomas and Martin. 

The group’s arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and the following tune (unannounced-“Djangology” perhaps?) both included powerful solos from Lowe and Thomas, the guitarist’s contribution on the jagged rhythms of the latter being particularly noteworthy.

Reinhardt’s “Douce Ambiance” was played as a kind of gypsy blues with Thomas’ mournful violin wringing all the sadness out of the tune.

A quirky arrangement of “What is This Thing Called Love” was introduced by Johnson’s bass and scratched guitars. Archard and Thomas were featured soloists, the violinist sometimes using the bow percussively. Our dancing couple had now returned to their seats where they were engaged in a scarcely less energetic hand jive.

5 Go Swing are about to undergo another line up change. Guitarist and founder member Mike Lowe is due to leave the group shortly to pursue a career as a rock musician. “Mediterranean Blues” a particular favourite of his gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his skills in his current context.

The theme to “I’ve Found A New Baby” was stated by Thomas’ violin before guitarist Archard took flight, dazzling the audience with his lightning runs. Thomas and Martin also featured as soloists.

“Minor Swing” brought the set to a storming close, featuring each member of the band in turn. A small but enthusiastic audience called them back for two encores, “Anniversary Song” and another, faster, unannounced item, possibly “Limehouse Blues”.

Whatever,it had been an enjoyable evening’s music making, greatly enjoyed by a small but enthusiastic audience. The band seemed to enjoy it hugely too. This was certainly the lowest attendance I’ve seen since I started visiting Black Mountain Jazz. Apparently some regulars were away in Italy following the Welsh rugby team. Given the lacklustre nature of the Welsh victory they’d probably have been better off here. Let’s hope numbers pick up for future events, I’m sure they will.

Those that stayed away missed an evening of enjoyable music played with an infectious enthusiasm. 5 Go Swing’s music might not be new-but it’s certainly great fun.

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