by Ian Mann
June 29, 2015
An enjoyable evening of jazz with two well programmed sets from the experienced guitarist and composer James Chadwick and the exciting young talents of bassist Aeddan Williams and drummer Rod Oughton.
James Chadwick Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 28/062015.
BMJ’s regular monthly session for June saw organiser Mike Skilton again turning to home grown jazz talent with this performance by Cardiff based guitarist and composer James Chadwick and his trio. The leader has been a significant presence on the music scene in South Wales and the Welsh Borders for a number of years now, indeed I can recall first hearing him well over a decade ago at the still popular Saturday Café free lunchtime sessions at the Courtyard Arts Centre in Hereford.
Most of Chadwick’s local gigs have featured him playing well known jazz and bebop standards in the company of other leading local musicians including bassist Erica Lyons, trumpeter Ben Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Lee Goodall. However he has also released two excellent albums of original material on the nationally distributed 33 Jazz record label, “Undercurrent” (2002) and “Wacahume” (2010), the second of which is favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. The personnel on these albums includes such well known musicians as bassists Andy Hamill and Jerome Davies and drummers Tom Hooper, Dave Ohm and Martin France. Adrian Fry guests on trombone and also co-produces “Undercurrent”. Lee Goodall contributes both drums and alto sax to “Wacahume” as well as acting as engineer and producer. Both albums are very enjoyable and reveal Chadwick to be a thoughtful guitarist and composer, a musician who eschews flashy runs and show off tendencies but who plays with a quiet intelligence that is ultimately highly distinctive.
Chadwick is also an acclaimed educator and had taken some time out to concentrate on his teaching activities. His active return to the jazz scene has found him playing in the company of two outstanding young musicians, drummer Rod Oughton and double bassist Aeddan Williams.
Oughton, originally from Surrey, is about to graduate from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, following which he intends to try and establish himself on the fiercely competitive London jazz scene. I predict that Oughton will do well in the English capital but he will be much missed on the South Wales jazz circuit. I first heard the young drummer in 2012 on the first of three visits to BMJ by the RWCMD Big Band led by trumpeter Rob “Teddy” Smith. Oughton played all three shows and was a real driving force in the success of these events, in many ways he was the real fulcrum of the band. He also leads his own small groups on the Cardiff jazz scene, hosts a regular jam session at Dempsey’s in the city, and has become an increasingly prolific sideman with Chadwick, pianist James Clark, vocalist Hannah Grace and others. Recently he has been appearing with tonight’s bassist , Aeddan Williams, in the band of rising star singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford, another recent visitor to BMJ although strictly in a solo context. Another intriguing project is Element Trio which teams Oughton with London based musicians Flo Moore (double bass) and the young award winning vibraphonist Ralph Wyld.
I will admit that prior to this evening bassist Aeddan Williams was an unknown figure to me. Born in South Wales he studied at Leeds College of Music before returning to his homeland. His main gig seems to be as bassist with Kizzy Crawford but he is also a talented multi instrumentalist and has recently released his début solo recording “I Could Be Here All Night” on which he plays the majority of the instruments himself. Williams informed me that the album is more of a pop than a jazz recording and that it exhibits a strong Beach Boys influence. He’s clearly into all kinds of music but names Dave Holland and Larry Grenadier as his jazz double bass heroes, pretty good role models if you ask me.
The publicity on the BMJ website prior to this event suggested that the programme would include a selection of jazz standards, jazz arrangements of Welsh folk tunes, plus a couple of Chadwick originals. The trio delivered on all three counts in a well balanced programme that delivered a special surprise right at the end, but more on that later
The trio commenced with “Days Of Wine And Roses” with Chadwick’s careful and precise picking and chording supported by Oughton’s brushed drum grooves and Williams’ solid and supportive double bass. It represented a slightly tentative start but Chadwick has clearly been galvanised by the skill, energy and enthusiasm of these two exceptional young musicians and it didn’t take long for the trio to hit its collective stride.
“There Is No Greater Love” included a sparkling bass and drum dialogue in the middle of the tune, this bisected by Chadwick’s own theme statements and solos. Oughton and Williams have clearly developed a terrific rapport thanks to their regular work with both Chadwick and Crawford and they were in irrepressible form here.
Chadwick’s two albums have revealed him to be a composer of some merit and it was good to see a couple of his original tunes being included in the programme. The luminous, Metheny like ballad “New Beginnings” was sourced from the “Undercurrent” album and included delicately picked guitar, sensitively brushed drums and a fluent and melodic solo from Williams. The bassist’s obvious love of melody was apparent in his soloing throughout the evening with Williams sometimes mouthing his melodic lines as he played. However this was strictly silent, not the kind of irritating Keith Jarrett style vocalisations that pianists, in particular, are prone to. A word here too for Oughton’s exquisite cymbal work with mallets at the close of the tune.
A jaunty interpretation of “I Remember April” was the vehicle for a colourful drum feature from Oughton that included some particularly inventive hand drumming.
A passage of unaccompanied guitar then introduced “Stella By Starlight”, this most familiar of standards also including features for Williams and Oughton.
The first set ended with John Scofield’s blues “I Can See Your House From Here”, the title track of Sco’s 1994 album for Blue Note recorded with fellow guitarist Pat Metheny. Chadwick clearly relished soloing on this one, particularly with the support of Williams’ muscular bass walk and Oughton’s deft, imaginative drumming.
The start of the second set found the trio in particularly good humour on a spirited and mischievous arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” with solos from Chadwick and Williams.
An evocative arrangement of the Welsh folk tune “Calon Lan"was notable for Chadwick’s melodic touch and Oughton’s imaginative work with both bare hands and brushes. However the real stand-out was Williams’ stunning unaccompanied bass feature, comprehensive proof, as if any were needed, that this young man is a seriously talented musician that we are surely destined to be hearing a lot more of, whether in a jazz context or otherwise.
Chadwick introduced the standard “Have You Met Miss Jones” with a reference to the TV series “Rising Damp”. Williams and Oughton peered at each other with puzzled expressions, both obviously far too young to remember Leonard Rossiter, Frances de la Tour et al. Myself and the rest of the audience suddenly felt very old. Still at least the music was good with solos from Chadwick and Oughton, the drummer improvising brightly around Chadwick’s melodic guitar motif.
The title of “Beetroot 2 Me” reflected the unassuming Chadwick’s fascination with language and word play. The tune first appeared on “Wacahume” and tonight’s arrangement represented the livelier side of Chadwick’s writing as he soloed inventively above the rapid grooves generated by his colleagues. The performance also included a characteristically melodic solo from Williams, a player who combines his innate tunefulness with a huge double bass tone, a winning combination.
Chadwick likes to include a blues in every set and the trio’s version of Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround” was a fitting tribute to the recently departed jazz genius and his remarkable composing skills. Here the trio treated Ornette’s theme as something of a “blowing vehicle” with all the members of the group enjoying extended features.
A lively version of “Night And Day” then looked like closing the proceedings for the night, another tune that included features for all three protagonists.
However by this time the audience had been joined by trumpeter Ben Thomas who was on his way home following an earlier gig elsewhere. Thomas has played with all three musicians before and was cajoled into unpacking his horn and joining the trio for a brisk romp through the Charlie Parker bebop classic “Now’s The Time”. Thomas’s fluent, Miles like trumpet soloing was a delight and presaged final features from Chadwick, Williams and Oughton. This unexpected bonus was a great way to round off a very enjoyable evening of music making. Some were keen for the newly assembled quartet to continue, but in effect this had already been the trio’s encore.
It had been a very enjoyable evening of jazz and a welcome reminder of the talents of both James Chadwick and Ben Thomas, two musicians I hadn’t seen playing live for some considerable time. Meanwhile Williams represented an exciting new discovery and Oughton more than confirmed the promise he’d shown with the RWCMD.
I felt that the programme itself was well structured, living up to the pre-pubilicity and delivering the promised mix of folk tunes, standards and originals. When the band-leader is also a composer it’s always good to hear some of their own tunes whatever the overall context. Chadwick is a thoughtful, quiet musician and I enjoyed witnessing Oughton and Williams coaxing him out of his shell with their youthful brio and enthusiasm - and I’m sure Chadwick loved it too, it was by no means the first time that this trio had played together.
It may well be that we shall lose Oughton to the delights of “The Smoke” but isn’t the thought of a full quartet gig also featuring Thomas an appetising idea?
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