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Jingu Bang

Jingu Bang, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 05/10/2023.

by Ian Mann

October 06, 2023


In terms of the attendance and the positive audience reaction this was one of the most successful Music Spoken Here shows thus far.

Jingu Bang, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 05/10/2023

Scott Hammond – drums, Ruth Hammond – tenor sax, bass clarinet, melodica, Korg synthesiser, Dale Hambridge – keyboards, Greig Robinson – electric bass

Jingu Bang is a Bristol based ensemble founded by drummer Scott Hammond and fronted by his wife, Ruth, on a variety of reeds and occasional keyboards. The band is normally a quintet but tonight played as a four piece due to the absence, through illness, of percussionist Lisa Cherrian. Jingu Bang did make efforts to find a last minute replacement but in the end were obliged to perform as a quartet. Although this engendered a few alterations to the set list the band were still highly effective as a four piece and were given a great reception by the audience at what was one of the best attended Music Spoken Here events thus far. Promoter Dave Fuller’s new ‘pay what you can’ approach, designed to prevent third party ticket agents from taking a cut, seems to be, ahem, paying off.

The Jingu Bang band name has its roots in Chinese mythology but its musical inspirations are primarily American. The group’s primary influences date back to the fusion era of the 1970s and include electric era Miles Davis, Weather Report and particularly Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. Tonight’s show featured no fewer than seven Hancock compositions, all of them acknowledged as classics of the fusion era.

I recall seeing a five piece version of Jingu Bang, with percussionist Tammy Payne replacing Cherrian, at the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival, a performance that is reviewed here;

Tonight’s programme was very similar, so there will be a degree of overlap between the two reviews.

The first set set commenced with Scott Hammond striking a large gong emblazoned with the band name as Ruth conjured swirling, oscillating sounds from her Korg synth. Scott then began to lay down a funky drum groove, augmented by Robinson’s muscular electric bass and the clavinet like sounds generated by Hambridge, who was playing a rack of two Nord keyboards. The tune was Hancock’s “Palm Grease” and featured dynamic solos from Ruth on tenor sax and Hambridge at the keyboards, now deploying an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound.  An excellent, high energy start, with Scott’s drums at the heart of the music throughout.

Next up was “King Cobra”, a tune by saxophonist Tom Scott and his band LA Express, a highly popular outfit back in the day. Scott is also well known for his role as a sax soloist and horn arranger on Steely Dan’s classic “Aja” album. This now rarely heard gem was also performed at Brecon, albeit in a different arrangement with Payne’s percussion featuring prominently. Tonight’s high energy rendition certainly maintained the funk quotient that had been established by the opener. Ruth Hammond excelled with a powerful tenor sax solo that generated the first spontaneous applause of the evening, and she was again followed by Hambridge on electric piano, with Ruth now augmenting the ensemble sound on Korg.

Scott handled all the announcements, describing Hancock’s tune “Butterfly” as being as close to a ballad as Jingu Bang were likely to get. This saw Ruth switching to bass clarinet, her thoughtful,  woody toned ruminations underscored by increasingly forceful stop / start near funk rhythms, with Hambridge eventually taking over at the keyboards. It should be noted that Hambridge is also a skilled acoustic pianist who has been heard in this context with vocalist Sarah Ellen Hughes and with the group Moonlight Saving Time, fronted by singer Emily Wright. But he’s also played more funk and fusion with Bristol electric bass specialist Richard O’Brien.

Also played at Brecon was “Deju”, a composition by the Bristol based drummer and composer Jon Whitfield, a great friend of Jingu Bang. Whitfield’s piece is dedicated to his partner Jude and again it more than held its own in comparison to the writing of more famous composers such as Hancock. Subtly driven by Robinson’s bass this piece featured Ruth Hammond on melodica as she shared the solos with Hambridge’s keyboards.

From the Herbie Hancock album “Secrets” came “People Music”, which Scott Hammond described as having a “chilled out vibe”. This saw Ruth Hammond returning to the bass clarinet to channel the spirit of Bennie Maupin as she soloed over a laid back, subtly funky groove. Robinson was also to feature on electric bass as he soloed over a backdrop of keyboard washes generated by Hambridge and Ruth Hammond.

The first set concluded with the only Weather Report tune of the evening, “Palladium”, a Wayne Shorter composition from the classic Weather Report album “Heavy Weather”, released in 1977. With Ruth Hammond moving back to tenor sax Jingu Bang played a barnstorming version of this piece with Ruth leading the way on powerful tenor and with Hambridge coaxing an array of analogue synth sounds from his keyboards. Scott Hammond rounded things off with a dynamic drum feature. The crowd went into the interval feeling very happy, with several members of the audience later declaring this performance of Palladium” as the highlight of the night.

Set two commenced with a fabulously funky rendition of the Hancock hit “Chameleon”, centred around Robinson’s distinctive bass line, this allied to Scott’s drums and Hambridge’s clavinet like keyboards. Incisive solos came from Ruth on tenor sax and Hambridge on electric piano, with Scott also enjoying something of a drum feature.

The only original tune of the evening was the band’s own “Bristol Bonsai”, which again compared well to the more famous material. This featured Ruth on bass clarinet, at first playing with Scott’s drums only, an interesting and absorbing dialogue with Scott deploying mallets. With the addition of keys and bass the music began to gather momentum with Scott’s drum feature, making extensive use of cowbell, followed by Hambridge’s electric piano solo.

Back to the Hancock repertoire for another classic, “Actual Proof”, introduced by Robinson and Hammond and with Robinson’s funky bass line augmented by the sounds of ‘clavinet’ and Korg.  Indeed this was to be a real feature for the keyboard players with Ruth delivering a searing but melodic solo on Korg, followed by Hambridge on electric piano as Robinson and Scott Hammond continued to stoke the rhythmic fires.

Following the complexities of “Actual Proof” the band turned to another of their mates for the next piece. “Charlotte United” was written by Gary Bamford, a keyboard player from Swindon, and deployed simpler, but no less effective melodies and rhythms. Arguably representing this set’s ‘ballad’, but still hardly lacking in energy, this incorporated features for Ruth on tenor sax and Robinson on bass. Yet again this was a piece by an English writer that stood up well against its American counterparts.

Many of Hancock’s compositions are inspired by creatures from the natural world and next we heard “Spider”, from the “Secrets” album, which saw Ruth Hammond doubling on Korg and tenor and soloing on the latter above a hard edged funk groove. Further features came from Robinson on electric bass and Hambridge on keys.

A final Hancock composition, “Heartbeat”, was performed as a kind of “official encore”, a splendidly funky rendition with Ruth again featuring on Korg alongside Hambridge’s keyboards. Oddly enough this piece had started the show at Brecon.

In terms of the audience reaction this was one of the most successful Music Spoken Here shows thus far. The familiarity of much of the material probably helped, but the playing was excellent throughout with Ruth Hammond displaying an impressive ability as a multi-instrumentalist.

Scott Hammond is also the drummer with Jethro Tull and had just returned from a US tour with them. The fact that he’s the first choice for what is still a hugely popular band is testament to his abilities and it’s possible that the ‘Tull connection’ may have added a few numbers to the ‘gate’ tonight.

It could be argued that there were rather too many Hancock numbers, there were some listeners who were disappointed not to hear more Weather Report, but it’s possible that some of these were included due to the enforced change of line up. I also enjoyed the original pieces by Jingu Bang, Jon Whitfield and Gary Bamford. It would be nice to see more material like this featured in future Jingu Bang sets.

Nevertheless this was a performance that was enjoyed by many and the audience definitely went home happy.

My thanks to the members of the band for speaking with me afterwards, and “get well soon” to Lisa Cherrian.



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