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Marvin Muoneke Quartet

Marvin Muoneke Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/02/2024.

Photography: Photo montage by Kasia Ociepa.

by Ian Mann

February 28, 2024


Given the quality of his live performances, his gregarious personality and his warm and charismatic stage presence I’m genuinely surprised that Muoneke is not more widely known.

Marvin Muoneke Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/02/2024.

Marvin Muoneke – vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn, Samuel Joyce – piano, Federico Leonori – double bass, Ryan Thrupp – drums

Marvin Muoneke is a vocalist, trumpeter, pianist and songwriter of Nigerian and Guyanese heritage based in Weston-super-Mare. He works regularly on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West with his quartet and he is also a session singer specialising in jazz, pop and soul.

He was once a featured vocalist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and currently sings with the Count Basie inspired big band Down For The Count. His vocal influences include Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. He also draws inspiration from the music of composers, arrangers and bandleaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Nelson Riddle and Billy May.

Muoneke has a striking bass-baritone voice and this, coupled with his imposing physical presence, have invited comparisons with Gregory Porter. Muoneke acknowledges Porter as a source of inspiration but doesn’t base his vocal style on him. Nevertheless Porter’s success has had something of a knock on effect and Muoneke is a popular musician who is never short of work.

A multi-talented individual he is also a published author, having written three fictional books for children. One would imagine that he would also make a great music educator.

In November 2022 Muoneke made a hugely successful appearance at the Melville Centre as part of the annual Wall2Wall Jazz festival, curated by Black Mountain Jazz. For that performance he was joined by the BMJ Collective, the ‘house band’ of Black Mountain Jazz, which at that time featured three young rising stars in drummer Alex Goodyear, bassist Clem Saynor and pianist Eddie Gripper.

Skilfully supported by his colleagues Muoneke delivered an excellent show that delighted the Festival audience. He proved to be a highly accomplished vocalist and a capable instrumental soloist, on that occasion specialising on flugelhorn. He was also a witty and charismatic performer who charmed the crowd, a true entertainer, but still dedicated to the jazz cause. My account of Muoneke’s Wall2Wall performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;

The success of Muoneke’s Wall2Wall appearance ensured that it was inevitable that he would eventually be invited back to headline a regular club night. Tonight’s keenly anticipated event was BMJ’s second sell out of 2024 following the January visit of Clark Tracey’s quintet to perform his father Stan’s Dylan Thomas inspired jazz suites “Under Milk Wood” and “A Child’s Christmas”. My review of the Clark Tracey event can be found here;

Muoneke’s second visit to BMJ saw him fronting his regular quartet of Bristol based musicians with Samuel Joyce at the piano, the Rome born Federico Leonori on double bass and current BMJ Collective member Ryan Thrupp at the drums.

The evening commenced with the members of the trio performing an instrumental introduction, thus allowing the charismatic Muoneke, suited, booted and indeed hatted to make the grand entrance to generous audience applause. The first number turned out to be his self written signature song “The Young Man With The Old Soul”. This was one of the few pieces that had also been performed at Wall2Wall.

Although still rooted in the Great American Songbook / Rat Pack tradition tonight’s show was very different to his previous visit in terms of songs played. This represented a tribute not only to the depth of the classic repertoire but also the to breadth of Muoneke’s knowledge of it.

Tonight’s performance of “The Young Man With The Old Soul” incorporated a solo from Joyce on the Melville’s upright acoustic piano, plus trumpet and scat vocal features from Muoneke. Following the performance he challenged the audience members to guess his age. One lady was spot on with twenty eight. Maybe she already knew, Muoneke had brought a few followers from the English side of he Severn Bridge with him, helping to boost the crowd figures.

Muoneke explained that he had loved jazz since childhood, having first been introduced to the music via the soundtracks of the classic Hanna Barbera cartoons. His love of his chosen genre is genuine and his knowledge impressively deep, with his song introductions giving full credit to composers, lyricists and arrangers.

Next up was the Sammy Cahn / Jimmy Van Heusen song “The Tender Trap”, famously recorded by Frank Sinatra, one of Muoneke’s primary musical influences. Muoneke delivered the song in the style of Sinatra, with Joyce again featuring as an instrumental soloist.

A stunning acapella arrangement of “Caravan”, written by Duke Ellington’s trombonist Juan Tizol, saw Muoneke singing the still relatively rarely heard lyrics.
The desert theme continued as the music segued into a band version of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop classic “A Night in Tunisia”. This was introduced by Leonori at the bass, with Muoneke delivering an even less frequently heard lyric in addition to a dazzling scat vocal episode. Instrumental solos followed from Joyce, Leonori and Muoneke, the leader with a strident, brassy trumpet solo that represented a tip of the hat to Gillespie.

The song “Let’s Face The Music and Dance” was written by Irving Berlin for Fred Astaire, but Muoneke took his inspiration from the version recorded by Nat King Cole. His assured delivery of the lyrics was complemented by Joyce’s piano solo and the excellent rhythmic support of Leonori and Thrupp.

Muoneke signalled to Joyce to provide an improvised solo piano introduction to “The Touch Of Your Lips”, a ballad written by the English born songwriter Ray Noble. Muoneke’s warm vocal delivery was augmented by lyrical, lightly blues tinged instrumental solos from Joyce on piano, the leader on velvet toned flugelhorn and Leonori on melodic double bass. A word, too, for the sensitive brushed drum accompaniment of Ryan Thrupp.

Muoneke took us on a visit to Brazil with the first of two songs written by Antonio Carlos Jobim. This featured another solo improvised introduction, this time from Leonori at the bass. Eventually he was joined by Joyce and Thrupp, the latter playing with bare hands. Muoneke’s singing was augmented by Joyce’s piano solo and a brilliantly constructed drum feature from the hitherto relatively inconspicuous Thrupp. Deploying a combination of hands and mallets this superb solo saw him sketching melodies on the drums. Thrupp’s regular appearances with the BMJ Collective have made him a real favourite with Abergavenny audiences and he enjoyed a terrific ovation here.

It also fell to Thrupp to introduce the next song, Muoneke’s “soul jazz” original “Love Is The Only Way”, which was combined with a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”.

The first set concluded with Muoneke’s beautiful rendition of the ballad “The End Of A Love Affair”. He’s a fine interpreter of a song whose singing can be both tough and tender, the latter quality present in abundance here. Joyce’s solo piano intro evolved into a voice and piano duet, with Muoneke later adding a lyrical trumpet solo.

Set two began in lively fashion with “Jeepers Creepers”, a song written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. Muoneke’s version was inspired by Louis Armstrong, and although he didn’t attempt to mimic Armstrong’s vocal style his subsequent trumpet solo, with its strident vocalisations, did owe something to ‘Satchmo’. Other instrumental solos came from Joyce on piano and Leonori on double bass.

“You And The Night And The Music”, written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, saw Muoneke switching to flugel and also delivering a scat vocal episode as he shared the solos with Leonori and Joyce.

Muoneke was performing in front of a pop up banner depicting Louis Armstrong, something that he found to be highly appropriate. Following the Armstrong inspired “Jeepers Creepers” Muoneke now tackled the Armstrong original “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” in a swinging version that featured him as both singer and trumpeter, with Joyce also acting as a featured soloist.

Our second excursion to South America was for another A.C. Jobim song, the more reflective “Meditation”, with Muoneke’s version inspired by Sinatra’s collaboration with Jobim. The performance began as a bass and vocal duet, with piano and brushed drums subsequently added. This was a sensitive ballad performance with Joyce’s lyrical piano solo complemented by Leonori’s counter melodies on the bass.

A second ballad followed with “But Beautiful”, written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. Ushered in by Thrupp’s brushed drums this was a poignant performance featuring Muoneke on both voice and flugelhorn.

Muoneke’s original instrumental composition “A Flat For Two” represented a swinging showcase for his abilities as a trumpet soloist, with Joyce and Thrupp also enjoying individual features. Muoneke is self taught as a trumpeter and regards himself as a singer first and as an instrumentalist second. Nevertheless his brass playing has come on in leaps and bounds since his last visit to Abergavenny, his instrumental solos now demonstrating a greater fluency, confidence and maturity than previously, qualities no doubt enhanced via a combination of practice and actual time on the bandstand.

Muoneke returned to vocal duties for the breathtaking segue that finished the set. Joyce’s unaccompanied introduction ushered in a remarkable voice and piano arrangement of “Nature Boy”, with bass and drums added as the song morphed into a final nod to Louis Armstrong in the form of “Wonderful World”.

The inevitable encore saw Muoneke encouraging the audience to follow his lead on the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross song “Love Makes The World Go Round”. Believe me this scat singing thing isn’t as easy as Muoneke and others make it appear to be! Alongside the good natured call and response sections between the singer and his adoring audience a swinging performance also included a rollicking piano solo from Joyce plus a final bass feature from the impressive Leonori. In a final twist Muoneke and the band paid tribute to the Welsh location by seguing into the familiar Tom Jones hit “It’s Not Unusual”.

The audience loved this lively, crowd pleasing encore, with many of its members getting to their feet to give Muoneke and the band a rousing ovation. The singer had them eating out of his hand for the entire evening and both he and his musicians had truly delivered. A word too for audio / visual engineer Mark Viveash and his team, the sound quality was excellent throughout.

As I noted at the 2022 Wall2Wall Festival event Muoneke is not only a skilled vocalist and instrumentalist he is also an all round entertainer and a genuinely nice guy with a warm and friendly personality. After the show he happily chatted with audience members, readily befriending everybody who spoke with him. Unfortunately his two albums “The Young Man With The Old Soul” and “Lockdown Hootenanny” remain unavailable, otherwise he would have sold a lot of CDs.

Given the quality of his live performances, his gregarious personality and his warm and charismatic stage presence I’m genuinely surprised that Muoneke is not more widely known. He has real star quality and more mainstream success might still come knocking, although he might have to make the move to London if that’s what he wants.

It was certainly a privilege to see him perform for the second time in the intimate setting of the Melville Theatre. Tonight’s show was a triumph both for Muoneke and for Black Mountain Jazz. 2024 has got off to a great start for the Club with two sold out performances and it is to be hoped that future events will continue to be equally well supported.  Well done, everybody.


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