by Ian Mann
October 17, 2020
Even in an empty theatre this was an exciting, entertaining and totally professional performance from Kim Cypher and her highly talented quintet.
Kim Cypher Quintet
Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival 2020
Filmed and recorded at The Melville Centre, Abergavenny
Performance first streamed 16/10 /2020, available via e-ticket only until 28/11/2020
Kim Cypher – Tenor, alto & soprano saxophones, vocals
Chris Cobbson – Guitar
Anders Olinder - Keyboards
Mike Green – Acoustic & electric bass
Mike Cypher – Drums
The Kim Cypher Quintet was due to appear at the Black Mountain Jazz club night in June 2020, the event falling victim, so like many others, to the Covid-19 pandemic.
To compensate Kim and the quintet were invited to participate in the Club’s annual Festival, now a digital only event in this year of the Corona Virus.
During the summer the trio were filmed and recorded playing a live show behind closed doors at BMJ’s HQ, the Melville Centre in Abergavenny. Their musical performances were interspersed with interview footage, which saw the husband and wife team of Kim and Mike Cypher in conversation with jazz journalist John Hellings, the presenter of the Sunday night jazz show on BBC Hereford & Worcester, a programme that is also transmitted on several other local radio stations. However, even this is in abeyance in the wake of Covid as the cash strapped BBC veer away from specialist radio programming.
The video began with a brief glimpse of black and white footage of Kim playing soprano sax before cutting to the interview with Hellings, also filmed and recorded at the Melville on the day of the performance.
The Cyphers’ story is an interesting one. Despite sharing a lifetime’s love of jazz the couple came late to the professional ranks, as they explained to John Hellings. Based in Cheltenham Kim and Mike first met as fifteen year olds in the ranks of the Gloucestershire Youth Jazz Orchestra. After eventually “getting together” both held professional ‘day jobs’ for some thirty odd years, Kim as a primary school teacher and Mike as an employee of one of the major banks. Throughout this time they pursued their shared love of music, performing on the local jazz circuit. I seem to recall first seeing them at one of the regular ‘Saturday Jazz Cafés’, free lunchtime events in the foyer of the Courtyard Arts Centre in Hereford, more than a decade ago now.
By their own admission Kim and Mike both felt like ‘outsiders’ in their respective day jobs and eventually took the brave decision to become professional musicians, a decision neither has ever regretted. Free to concentrate on music full time their playing and stagecraft improved by leaps and bounds and Kim has released two successful albums “Make Believe” (2016) and “Love Kim x” in 2019. These recordings have helped her to gain a national reputation and she has since toured successfully throughout the UK and performed in many of the leading London jazz venues.
The couples’ years in ‘conventional’ employment have sharpened their musical appetites and as fully professional musicians they always determine to put on a ‘good show’. Their performances, even ‘virtual’ ones, are full of good humour, energy, enthusiasm and some genuinely excellent singing and playing. Sometimes it’s a little bit too mainstream, or even ‘show biz’, for my personal tastes but there’s no doubting their love for their chosen material and their current way of life. Having taken a life changing decision Kim and Mike are clearly determined to make the most of it.
Even during lockdown the Cyphers’ enthusiasm has remain undimmed and they have hosted their regular “Twilight Jazz Sessions” and “Morning Coffee” broadcasts on social media throughout the lockdown period, featuring an entertaining mix of music and conversation.
Time now for some music as the quintet opened with a lightly swinging version of “I Love Being Here With You” with Kim concentrating on vocals as Cobbson on guitar and Olinder on piano provided the instrumental solos.
Hellings put it to the couple that they also liked to choose songs from outside the usual jazz parameters, citing their jazz waltz arrangement of “Valerie” (The Zutons, Amy Winehouse) and their version of the calypso “Yellow Bird”. The Cyphers explained that being based in Gloucestershire they often play to rural audiences and that the presence of such familiar material in the set list helps to smooth the way for the more obviously jazz focussed material.
The quintet then played “Yellow Bird” by way of illustration, with Kim’s earthy tenor sax leading the way as she shared the solos with Cobbson on guitar. The presence of Cobbson in the group represents something of a coup for the Cyphers. The Ghanaian born guitarist has previously worked with such luminaries as Courtney Pine and is a skilled soloist with an extensive knowledge of jazz and world music guitar styles. He had previously appeared at the Wall2Wall Festival in 2016 as a member of the Bristol based world music band Baraka. Apparently he is currently working on his own solo album.
Hellings made reference to the Cyphers’ other “high profile connections”, most notably with former James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, now based in the West of England and Kim’s former tutor.
Ellis appeared on the “Love Kim x” album, with one of the pieces being a tenor saxophone duet.
The Cyphers’ friendship with Ellis has ensured that they will always retain a fondness for the soulful and funky sides of jazz. By way of illustration came an instrumental version of the George Benson hit “Breezin’”, with Kim concentrating on soprano sax and Green switching to electric bass.
Kim’s incisive soprano solo was followed by something of a feature for the excellent Cobbson, with Olinder creating an underlying bed of string-synth textures.
From the “Make Believe” album the ballad “Hayley” offered a first example of Kim’s original writing. The tune was written for a cousin who died of a brain tumour, but Kim felt that the piece helped to bring her comfort while she was still alive, and now helps to keep Hayley’s memory alive.
Incorporating a mix of 4 / 4 and 3 / 4 time signatures the performance featured Kim on soprano sax, Green on double bass and Olinder on the Melville’s upright acoustic piano. Kim’s gently keening soprano solo was followed by Olinder’s blues tinged piano lyricism and Green’s melodic double bass, with Kim returning for a second soprano solo.
After a sequence of instrumental performances Kim featured her voice again on an Ella Fitzgerald inspired arrangement of “Comes Love” from the “Love Kim x” album. It was interesting to hear this song performed in an orthodox, ‘Great American Songbook’, manner rather than in a gypsy jazz or cabaret style. Kim also picked up her tenor to solo in an earthy, r’n’b tinged style, sharing the solos with Olinder on acoustic piano and Cobbson on guitar.
Composed by Cobbson “A Time To Reflect, A Time To Regret”, sourced from the “Love Kim x” didn’t sound quite as its title might suggest. After praising Cobbson’s writing the Cyphers warned us to “get your dancing shoes on” as Olinder switched to electric keyboards and Green to electric bass. With its infectious African and Caribbean rhythms the piece was a showcase for the composer on guitar and Kim on soprano sax, each delivering incisive solos before doubling up for a blistering series of axe and sax exchanges.
Further emphasising his importance to the quintet it was also Cobbson who introduced Kim to the Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Water From An Ancient Well”, a piece that the guitarist performs with his own quartet, a band that includes Mike Cypher at the drums. Kim subsequently recorded the piece as a single with a line up featuring Cobbson, Mike, Raph Mizraki on bass, Ian Bateman on trombone and Tom Berge at the piano.
Introduced by a dialogue between Kim on tenor and Olinder at the piano today’s performance included an expansive and increasingly impassioned solo from Kim on tenor, followed by a similarly powerful excursion from Cobbson on guitar.
“My Babe” was chosen by Mike Cypher, his selection inspired by a version recorded by one of his drum heroes, the great Steve Gadd. This was a powerful and raunchy performance with Kim’s bug miked alto, Cobbson’s guitar and Olinder’s acoustic piano all riding Mike’s shuffling, r’n’b influenced boogaloo drum grooves.
This was wildly exciting stuff and there was to be no let up in the energy levels as the quintet paid a final homage to Pee Wee Ellis with a version of James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, in an arrangement given, in the words of Mike Cypher, “a jazzy twist”. Ellis has toured with the Cypher band and this heartfelt tribute seemed like a good way to round off this ‘virtual’ show.
Once again Kim featured on alto as Mike laid down a Brown style shuffle rhythm and Olinder adopted a Hammond sound on his keyboards. The Swedish born, UK based musician is probably best known as an organist, having recorded in this capacity with saxophonist Tony Kofi and guitarist Cameron Pierre, among others. Here Olinder shared the solos with Cobbson’s guitar and Kim’s alto, the leader also taking the opportunity to vocally introduce the band, as Mike Cypher rounded things off with a drum solo and his trademark closing “Big Shout”.
Even in an empty theatre this was an exciting, entertaining and totally professional performance from Kim Cypher and her highly talented quintet. A varied programme put a jazz slant on a variety of musical genres and maintained my attention throughout. The standard of the playing was consistently excellent and personally I was pleased to see that Kim placed a greater emphasis on her sax playing rather than her singing, although I appreciate that some other viewers may have preferred things the other way round. Kim has been playing the sax since the age of nine and I was impressed by her ability on the three versions of the instrument that she featured today. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy her vocal contribution, she’s also a highly accomplished vocalist and it’s this, combined with her vivacious personality that has helped to make her something of a rising star on the UK jazz circuit.
Overall I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this gig and I also felt that the way in which the interview excerpts were incorporated into the final video worked well with John Hellings making a substantial contribution to the success of the finished product.
I was also impressed by the quality of the sound and of the filming, which featured a variety of different camera angles and exhibited a real understanding of the music. All of the Festival performances were recorded and filmed by a team headed by Mark Viveash of 47 Studios and Productions. The crew also included Tony KontecznySean McGowan and Julian Miles.
I suspect that this will prove to be one of the most popular items in this ‘Virtual Festival’. Coverage will remain on line to be enjoyed by ticket holders until November 28th 2020. Tickets available here;
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