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Jonny Bruce Organ Quintet

Jonny Bruce Organ Quintet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 21/05/2023.

by Ian Mann

May 24, 2023


Effusive, ebullient, energetic. This was a band doing what they do best, playing the music they love and obviously relishing every minute of it. Magnificent entertainment.

Jonny Bruce Organ Quintet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 21/05/2023.

Jonny Bruce – trumpet, Greg Sterland – tenor saxophone, Joe Bradford – trombone, Guy Shotton – Hammond organ, Alex Goodyear – drums

Bristol based trumpeter Jonny Bruce is a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff and retains close ties with Wales.

His playing first came to my attention when he was a member of fellow RWCMD alumnus pianist and composer Dave Stapleton’s quintet, appearing on such DSQ releases as “When Life Was In Black And White” (2005),  “The House Always Wins” (2007) and “Between The Lines” (2010). The last named of these is reviewed here;

I was lucky enough to see the DSQ perform live on several occasions back in the day, although no accounts of these events remain in the Jazzmann archive. I do remember what a fluent and powerful soloist Bruce could be, a quality that he subsequently brought to the rather different musical environment of the Bristol based ensemble Moscow Drug Club, fronted by vocalist (and occasional percussionist) Katya Gorrie.

Moscow Drug Club played at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Festival in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and reviews of these performances can be found as part my Festival coverage for those years.

The band have also been regulars at the Progress Theatre in Reading where their shows have been enjoyed by regular Jazzmann contributor Trevor Bannister. Trevor’s reviews of MDC performances at Progress in 2016, 2017 and 2021 can also be found elsewhere on this site.

Bruce’s ties with BMJ are strong. He was at RWCMD with saxophonist Martha Skilton, daughter of BMJ promoter Mike, and the two played together on a regular basis back in the day. He was due to bring a trio to a BMJ Club night in 2020, an event that inevitably fell victim to the Covid crisis, but he was featured in BMJ’s series of online “Sorry We Missed You” interviews.

Bruce was also part of the 2020 Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival, appearing as part of a “Remembering Charlie Parker” event alongside saxophonists Martha Skilton and Ben Waghorn,  pianist Dave Jones, bassist Ashley John Long and drummer / narrator Alex Goodyear. Review here;

Now that musicians, reviewers and audiences are back in the hurly burly of live music performance it seems quite strange to be looking back at these Covid era articles. What a very strange time it was.

Fast forward to 2023 and Bruce has finally been able to bring a band to BMJ, and what a band it was! Originally billed as a quartet featuring Bruce, saxophonist Greg Sterland, organist Guy Shotton and drummer Alex Goodyear the line up was extended to a quintet with the addition of trombonist Joe Bradford, this representing a very welcome bonus. This was something of a Bristol / South Wales ‘supergroup’ featuring several of the two regions’ finest players.

Bruce’s lockdown interview revealed some of his primary trumpet inspirations, among them Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Chet Baker and Maynard Ferguson. Jazz aficionados will note that several of these were high note specialists and that influence lives on in Bruce’s bright, fluent, punchy, powerful playing.

The band he brought to Abergavenny drew upon the influence of the hard bop era, and particularly the numerous ‘organ trio’ albums recorded for the famous Blue Note record label.

Remarkably tonight’s performance was the band’s second gig of the day, the quintet having already played a similar set at Bristol Jazz Festival, which was running concurrently at the Bristol Beacon.

Things kicked off with the Roy Hargrove composition “Top Of My Head”, a popular tune with the late Hargrove’s fellow trumpeters. I’d seen Bryan Corbett perform the same piece with his quartet at the Corn Exchange in Ross-on-Wye just a few days earlier. Tonight’s version was substantially different with the three horns combining to give a powerful rendition of the head, underscored by a funky organ driven groove. Bruce took the first solo, followed by Sterland on tenor and Bradford on trombone. All were expansive, fluent and dynamic. Shotton followed on organ, a new generation Hammond twin manual SK2. This was the first time that I’d seen Shotton playing organ, having always thought of him as a pianist with a particular affinity for accompanying singers such as Sarah Meek, Debs Hancock and Claire Roberts. Shotton later told me that he has only been playing the Hammond for four years but on the evidence of tonight’s performance he’s a natural on the instrument, confirmed by his increasing numbers of gigs as an organist. Finally we heard from Goodyear, here last month with the Yetii piano trio and fast becoming BMJ’s ‘resident drummer’. His feature was powerful, lively and hard hitting, qualities he continued to exhibit throughout the evening.

“Whoopin’ Blues” introduced a New Orleans element with Goodyear’s martial rhythms underpinning the punchy playing of the three horns as they locked in together on the head. The first solo went to Sterland and his raunchy tenor playing was followed by a blazing organ solo from Shotton. The leader followed on trumpet with a similarly incendiary feature, while Bradford’s solo saw Bruce and Sterland adding off mic counterpoint. Finally we heard from the irrepressible Goodyear with a dynamic drum feature that was positively Blakey-esque.

A subtly Latin tinged arrangement of the jazz standard “Close Your Eyes” cooled things down a little and saw Bruce and Bradford muting their horns while Goodyear picked up the brushes for the first time. Bruce stated the melody on Harmon muted trumpet before handing over to Sterland, who took the first solo on tenor. Bradford removed the mute for his solo as the momentum of the music continued to increase, with Goodyear switching back to sticks. However the mutes were back in place for the more gentle outro.

The first set closed with the quintet putting a bebop style slant on the Duke Ellington composition “Cotton Tail”, a tune based on the rhythm changes of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. Again the three horns combined on the head before Shotton took the first solo, propelled by Goodyear’s brisk and surprisingly forceful brush work. The drummer moved to sticks to accompany Bruce’s ebullient trumpet solo, the leader subsequently followed by both Bradford and Sterland. The impish Goodyear delivered another volcanic drum feature before the three horns reprised the theme, this time diverging to deliver a series of thrilling intertwining lines.

This high energy first set, which had included some brilliant playing from all five musicians, was very well received by the crowd and the music didn’t stop there. During the interval audience members were entertained in the bar by the duo of Glyn (tenor & soprano saxes) and Loz (keyboard), who played a series of jazz standards, among them “Autumn Leaves”, “Misty”, How Deep Is The Ocean”, and even a dash of Thelonious Monk.

In terms of energy levels the quintet started the second set in the same manner that they had signed off the first. Drums and organ introduced “Swingin’ ‘Till The Girls Come Home”, a 1951 composition by the American bassist Oscar Pettiford. The horn players successfully navigated the tricky,  boppish head before Bruce led off the solos, using a plunger mute to generate a growling, vocalised trumpet sound. Sterland followed on tenor and Bradford on trombone, the latter also engaging in a series of animated exchanges with Goodyear that eventually morphed into a full on drum feature. A barnstorming group finale then featured the trademark sounds of Bruce’s dramatic high register trumpeting.

Written by Quincy Jones for Dizzy Gillespie “Jessica’s Birthday” featured blues informed solos from Sterland, Bruce and Bradford, the horn solos followed by a drum feature from Goodyear and a keyboard excursion from Shotton at the Hammond.

Bearing in mind that this was the band’s second gig of the day it perhaps didn’t come as too much of a surprise when Bruce declared that he and Bradford were stepping aside “to give our lips a rest”. The ballad “Talk Of The Town” was introduced by a combination of tenor and organ and was something of a showcase for the excellent Sterland. Goodyear deployed brushes throughout and added a neatly constructed drum feature.

The combination of drums and organ also introduced the Charles Mingus composition “Jump Monk”. The horns joined in to state the head before Bruce took off for a high energy, high register trumpet solo, his horn positively screaming. Sterland, Bradford and Shotton followed, their solos leading to another kinetic Goodyear drum feature. The drummer had been a whirlwind of activity pretty much throughout the two sets, and when not delivering explosive solos combined well with Shotton in the ‘engine room’ The organist’s remarkable bass lines, generated by hands rather than feet, were also a notable factor in the quintet’s sound. Finally the horns intertwined on the outro as the quintet rounded off the evening in buccaneering fashion.

The audience loved this effusive, ebullient, energetic group performance and gave the quintet a rapturous reception. The inevitable encore saw the band improvising an untitled blues theme, introduced by drums and keys and with Bradford, Sterland and Bruce trading solos.

A near capacity audience, which included a number of BMJ first timers, had been magnificently entertained by Bruce and his band, who proved that you don’t have to go to the big cities to hear top quality jazz. There may not have been any real surprises here but this was a band doing what they do best, playing the music they love and obviously relishing every minute of it. As Bruce acknowledged they, in turn, fed off the energy of the crowd. There really is no substitute for live music.

Regular visitors to this site may have spotted that this was also my second gig of the day. The afternoon had seen me in Brecon covering a performance at Theatr Brycheiniog by the Dutch jazz violinist Tim Kliphuis and his trio. This event, a co-production with Brecon Jazz Club had been very different, a performance that mixed elements of Hot Club style jazz with classical music. In its own way it was just as good as the Bruce performance had been and I enjoyed it equally. Jazz is a broad church and, for me, its sheer variety is one of the strengths of the music. Like the members of the Bruce Quintet I reached the end of the day feeling both tired and exhilarated.


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