by Ian Mann
February 10, 2020
Besides the exceptional playing the performance was also notable for the quality and maturity of Prado’s original writing. The Septet's debut album "Childhood" is a genuinely impressive piece of work.
Matheus Prado Septet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Town Hall, Kidderminster, 06/02/2020.
Kidderminster Jazz Club’s first event of 2020 attracted a pleasingly sizeable audience to the Corn Exchange Room in Kidderminster Town Hall for this performance by a Cardiff based led septet led by bassist and composer Matheus Prado.
Originally from Brazil Prado later lived in Spain before moving to the UK to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, the city that remains his home. Tonight’s line up was comprised entirely of RWCMD alumni and featured;
Matheus Prado – double bass, pandeiro
Dave Bush – tenor sax, shakers
Josh Heaton – alto sax, claves
Teddy Smith – trumpet, scraper
Lloyd Pearce – trombone
Michael Blanchfield – piano
Eddie Jones-West – drums
Regular visitors to the Jazzmann web pages will be aware that I regularly cover jazz events in South Wales, particularly those of the jazz clubs in Brecon and Abergavenny. Both clubs have strong associations with the RWCMD and with the exception of Pearce I was already familiar with the playing of these talented young musicians, having seen them demonstrating their abilities in a variety of line ups at events held at these two locations.
Indeed it was at Brecon that the founder of Kidderminster Jazz Club, vocalist Annette Gregory, first met Matheus Prado. At the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival organiser Lynne Gornall invited Gregory to sing with a quintet featuring students from the RWCMD, among them Matheus Prado. Billed as “Annette Gregory and Friends” this seemingly one off Festival event was a great success and found Gregory and her pianist and musical director John MacDonald establishing an immediate rapport with Prado. The Brazilian subsequently became the ‘first call’ bassist for Gregory’s groups and appears on two of the vocalist’s EPs. When Gregory began planning the inaugural programme for the newly founded Kidderminster Jazz Club it was inevitable that she would invite Prado along to showcase his playing and composing talents with his own group.
Besides inviting him to play on her own recordings Gregory had also been impressed by the album “Childhood”, Prado’s début release as a leader, which was recorded in 2018. Despite its title the album is a remarkably mature piece of work featuring a mix of original Prado compositions and intelligent arrangements of outside material, largely sourced from his native Brazil.
The album featured more of Prado’s RWCMD associates but the line up was very different to tonight’s, with Prado and Jones-West the only constants. Others to appear on the album were Daniel Newberry (tenor sax), Norman Willmore (alto sax), Thom Voyce (trumpet), Ben Williams-Stacey (trombone) and Pedro Baiao (piano). Several of these musicians are no longer based in Cardiff, hence the need for Prado to re-vamp the group.
Besides leading his septet the busy Prado is also a member of the Latin quartet Ocaso and has performed prolifically as a sideman, working with pianist Atsuko Shimada, drummer Max Wright and guitarists Maciek Pysz and Jean Guyomarc’h among many others. He is also a member of Josh Heaton’s Mouth of Words group.
It was strange for me to see these musicians playing at a venue outside their South Wales heartlands, but as Prado explained Gregory isn’t his only connection with Kidderminster. His bass was made by Kidderminster based instrument maker Paul N. Bryant, the proprietor of Bryant’s Basses.
Much of tonight’s material was sourced from the “Childhood” album, but the repertoire also included pieces by such celebrated Brazilian composers as Milton Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Pascoal.
The evening commenced with one of the ‘outside’ pieces from the album, an arrangement of “Bachiana Brasiliera No. 5” by the Brazilian classical composer Heitor Villa- Lobos (1887-1959).
Intended to combine Bach inspired counterpoint with traditional Brazilian rhythms the piece began as a horn chorale underpinned by the leader’s melodic bass. This “Aria” section was followed by the “Cantinela” section with Smith’s trumpet initially taking the lead, followed by Bush’s tenor, this in turn superseded by a passage of unaccompanied piano by the impressive Blanchfield.
The music then segued into Prado’s own composition “Childhood”, a vibrant piece featuring buoyant Brazilian and African inspired rhythms, colourful ensemble passages and fluent solos from Heaton on alto, Pearce on trombone and Smith once more on trumpet. The leader was featured on melodic double bass, with Bryant’s instrument impressing with it’s warm but resonant tones. Finally there was something of a feature for Jones-West at the kit as this opening segue came to a peak.
This had been an excellent start that highlighted the quality and complexity of Prado’s writing and arranging and the playing and sight reading skills of his colleagues.
Tenor saxophonist Dave Bush appeared as a guest on the “Childhood” album and his composition “Herons” also appears on the recording. This was the next piece to be played here, announced again by an introductory horn chorale, this followed by a lengthy passage with the group in piano trio mode and with Prado’s double bass very much to the fore. Blanchfield took advantage of the Town Hall’s beautiful grand piano, a real plus for Kidderminster Jazz Club, to deliver one of several inspired solos. The composer followed him with a fluent and authoritative outing on tenor before the piece resolved itself by coming full circle with a closing horn chorale.
Prado is a considerable authority on the music of his homeland and he likes to feature the work of such internationally known Brazilian composers as Nascimento, Gismonti and Pascoal in his sets. Next up was a joyous version of “Vera Cruz”, written by the self taught vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Nascimento. Prado explained that “Vera Cruz” was the name that the Portuguese originally gave to Brazil and that Nascimento had been the bassist’s mother’s favourite composer. He also remarked that because Nascimento was self taught his music was often unorthodox and took the musicians playing it to unexpected musical destinations. Tonight’s arrangement saw the tune introduced by the duo of Blanchfield on piano and Prado on bowed double bass. Jones-West then established a brisk drum groove that provided the platform for Bush’s melodic tenor sax soloing. Blanchfield followed with an exuberant piano solo that was now accompanied by the sounds of Jones-West’s sticks on rims. A brief cameo from the leader, again flourishing the bow, then paved the way for a closing drum feature from the busy Jones-West.
This inaugural season of Kidderminster Jazz Club has featured an ongoing Gershwin theme with each act being asked to include two Gershwin numbers, usually one in each set. Prado treated this request rather more liberally than some of the previous performers, specifically writing an as yet untitled ‘contrafact’ for the event with the septet improvising around his new melody above the “I Got Rhythm” chord sequence. The tradition of the ‘contrafact’ was pioneered by bebop musicians such as Charlie Parker and the boppish complexity of the interlocking horn lines reflected this, with Smith on trumpet and Heaton on alto emerging as the featured soloists. As the performance progressed the allusions to “I Got Rhythm” gradually became more obvious, before the piece concluded with features for Prado at the bass and Jones-West behind the kit.
An excellent first set concluded with “Lamentos do Morro” by the Brazilian composer Garoto, the title approximately translating as “A Sorrow of the Hill” and written for the shanty towns, or favelas, of Rio de Janeiro. However there was nothing sorrowful about the vibrant and colourful music, which included an extensive passage in piano trio mode with Blanchfield soloing in dazzling fashion above a lively double bass and brushed drum groove. Prado and Jones-West followed with a series of vigorous bass and drum exchanges, this followed by a more extended drum feature from Jones-West. The horns were deployed sparingly here, but it was good to hear the Town Hall’s resident grand piano being featured so extensively.
As a bass player Prado has an ongoing fascination with rhythm, and particularly the way in which African rhythms crossed the Atlantic during the days of the slave trade, Angolan rhythms to Brazil, Congolese and West African rhythms to Cuba and so on. His ten minute, four movement “African Suite” explores these processes, while also taking in North African rhythms from Morocco, and is arguably the centrepiece of the “Childhood” album.
The suite began the second set here and saw some of the horn players wielding percussion instruments, with Bush on shakers, Heaton on claves and Smith on scraper. Meanwhile Pearce blew a lonely trombone lament above the sounds of double bass, percussion and kit drums. Gradually the piece began to open up with Heaton probing on Ornette-ish style alto. Prado was also featured on pandeiro, a small hand held frame drum similar to a tambourine that has been described as the “unofficial national instrument of Brazil”. His pandeiro / drum kit dialogue with Jones-West was followed by a celebratory closing section that saw the four horns combining to make an impressively big ensemble sound, almost akin to a mini big band. Smith on trumpet and Bush on tenor exchanged pithy solos as the suite grew towards its resolution. This was an impressive piece of writing that again demonstrated Prado’s ambition and maturity as a composer.
Also sourced from the album “Remembering All The Things You Are” was another ‘contrafact’, one sourced from a VERY well known jazz standard, as its title might suggest. This was the first piece that Prado wrote for septet and originally emerged from composition classes at the RWCMD. Indeed it was his success in, and enjoyment of, these classes that prompted Prado to form his septet and also to begin writing for larger ensembles such as full jazz big band. As in the previous “African Suite” there were indeed passages here that sounded like a mini-big band, while individual solos came from Heaton on alto, Bush on tenor and finally Smith on trumpet. As on the Gershwin contrafact allusions to the original tune were slyly sprinkled throughout the piece, allowing the listener to reward themselves with a wry smile of recognition.
The album tack “My Friend Eddie” is Prado’s tribute to his partner in rhythm, Eddie Jones-West. Not surprisingly the drummer featured prominently during this tune, introducing the piece at the kit and subsequently driving the powerful unison horn lines, the phrasing of the horns designed to complement Jones-West’s rhythms. The first solo went to Blanchfield, who positively sparkled at the keyboard of that magnificent grand piano. Heaton followed on alto as the group temporarily went into saxophone trio mode with the soloist surfing the powerful bass and drum rhythms. Bush subsequently took over on tenor before Jones-West rounded things off at the kit.
The Egberto Gismonti tune “Aqua e Vino” (translating as “Water and Wine”) calmed things down a little and afforded Jones-West a well deserved rest as he and Pearce sat out. Blanchfield introduced the piece at the piano with Prado, again flourishing the bow, subsequently joining him in duet. Heaton, Bush and Smith provided subtle splashes of colour and texture in this low key, but very beautiful, performance.
This set’s Gershwin item was Prado’s blues style arrangement of “Lady Be Good”, which took an imaginative approach to a tune that remained eminently recognisable, whilst still sounding exciting and fresh. The impressive Blanchfield was the featured soloist, again displaying a high level of inventiveness at the piano.
The second set concluded with the final track of the album, “O Bom Filho A Casa Torna”, written by the Brazilian composer Bonficho De Oliveira. Translating as “The Good Son Comes Back Home” this piece represented a feature for trombonist Lloyd Pearce. The performance began with the four horns playing individual phrases in the round, with Blanchfield emerging as the first soloist as the rest of the band came in. Pearce was a classical student at RWCMD but also spent time hanging out with the musicians on the jazz course. His impressive solo here demonstrated that he is a versatile player who can more then hold his own in the jazz idiom.
Introducing this evening’s event Annette Gregory explained that it was the most ‘modern’ performance that Kidderminster Jazz Club had presented thus far. It was good to hear the audience respond to what was probably an unfamiliar line up to most of them with such enthusiasm. Even more heartening was the warmth of their reaction to music that was predominately self penned or sourced from outside the ‘Great American Songbook’ tradition. Even the two mandatory Gershwin pieces were tackled in innovative and interesting ways. Yet again this was evidence that provincial jazz audiences have the capacity to listen in an adventurous and open minded manner. It was a great turn out and a great reaction for such a young band.
The almost inevitable encore was “Ovum” (or “The Egg”), a typically idiosyncratic piece written by the great Hermeto Pascoal that harnessed the rhythms of North East Brazil and which made considerable technical demands on the players. Blanchfield took the first solo at the piano and he was followed by a series of exchanges, firstly between Heaton on alto and Smith on trumpet and then between Bush on tenor and Pearce on trombone.
I had been concerned as to how Prado and his septet would fare outside their South Wales heartlands but I needn’t have worried. This show was a triumph for the septet, and for Annette Gregory who had the courage to bring them to Kidderminster. Hopefully tonight’s successful performance will lead to further gigging opportunities for the band in the Midlands.
Besides the exceptional playing the performance was also notable for the quality and maturity of Prado’s original writing. “Childhood” is a genuinely impressive piece of work with its subtle mix of jazz and Brazilian elements and constitutes highly recommended listening. All of its seven tracks featured tonight alongside other gems from the Brazilian jazz canon, and of course those cheeky interpretations of the Gershwin repertoire.
It’s not easy to keep a seven piece band on the road, but do try to catch this excellent septet if you can, and also check out their album.
Matheus Prado’s website can be found at http://www.mpradomota.comblog comments powered by Disqus