by Ian Mann
August 25, 2019
Ian Mann enjoys the music of Nuadha Quartet and takes a look at their debut album "Cabin Tales". He also sings the praises of Hereford Cathedral's popular "Jazz In The Garden" series of musical events
Nuadha Quartet, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019.
Colin Tully – keyboard, Chris Egan – reeds, Carlos Riba – electric bass, Pedro Brown – drums, percussion
Today’s performance was the last in Hereford Cathedral’s popular “Jazz In The Garden” series, which features free music events in the delightful setting of the Chapter House Garden in the precincts of Hereford Cathedral.
This now well established series has traditionally featured leading local musicians playing from 1.00 pm to 2.15 pm each Friday lunchtime during August, but such has been the popularity of these events that the programme has now been extended and this year commenced in mid July. “Jazz In The Garden” regularly attracts audiences in the region of two hundred and has become a much loved local institution, something that its many fans look forward to every year.
The success of the series has allowed the Cathedral to attract the cream of local talent, and also musicians from further away. The quality of the acts has improved since the very early days and whatever the genre a high standard of musicianship is now a given.
In the context of this series the term “jazz” is used fairly loosely, but it is still an important component of much of the music on offer. This year’s programme has included the raunchy jazz, blues and soul of the Hannah Lockerman Band, contrasted by the smoother sounds of the Debs Hancock Quartet, where the emphasis was more strongly focussed on jazz standards and the ‘Great American Songbook’.
Local heroes Whiskey River brought their distinctive brand of Americana with its blend of cajun, blues and country while Little Rumba delivered a wry and witty mix of tango, klezmer, Berlin cabaret and Tom Waits.
Due to my presence at Brecon Jazz Festival the only act I missed this year was Hoi Polloi, a new band said to provide “a blend of classic jazz standards and well known contemporary tunes, all arranged in a unique jazz/swing/funk/latin style”.
Previous series have seen visits from guitar virtuoso Remi Harris and his trio bringing a mix of gypsy jazz and blues rock, and from the quintet led by trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and saxophonist Liam Byrne, two young lions offering a contemporary take on the classic hard bop style.
Harris, Brownfield/Byrne and Debs Hancock have all been covered in greater detail elsewhere on the Jazzmann.
The Chapter House Garden is a delightful performance space, a real sun-trap and a riot of colour thanks to the iridescent blooms brightening up the borders. The musicians play beneath a small gazebo on the raised, grass covered area in the centre of the Garden, with the audience arranged around them in a semi-circle. It really is a delightful way to spend a sunny lunchtime in summer, especially with the Cathedral café open and doing good business.
In the event of rain the performance is moved inside and takes place in the Nave, a beautiful performance space in itself. This year rain affected two gigs, but Whiskey River played inside to an audience of 250 while Debs Hancock attracted a similarly healthy attendance, with Guy Shotton being able to make use of the Cathedral’s piano rather then an electric keyboard. Rain doesn’t necessarily place too much of a damper on proceedings.
The 2019 “Jazz In The Garden” series was financially supported by five different local sponsors, which was impressive, and a great tribute to the Cathedral’s marketing department.
I haven’t reviewed a “Jazz In The Garden” event before as they are free events with a retiring collection and I usually drop a fiver on to the offertory plate. Besides it’s nice to just sit back and relax and enjoy the music sometimes, without the bother of taking notes, and the chilled out atmosphere of these events is particularly conducive to that.
Today, however, was different. Earlier in the year, around February or March, Pedro Brown forwarded me a copy of Nuadha Quartet’s début album, “Cabin Tales”, with a view to my writing a review. I listened to, and enjoyed, the album, but could find precious little about the group on line, and no information about where to buy the album, other than at gigs. It seemed a little counter productive to write about a recording that largely seemed to be unavailable, so I let it slide.
However Nuadha Quartet have since updated their website, http://www.nuadhaquartet.com, which now looks very impressive and professional, and the album is now available via their Bandcamp page.
With this in mind I decided that now would be a good time to take a fresh look at “Cabin Tales”, incorporating this with a review of the quartet in live performance. It also allows me to give a national plug for a great local music series, “Jazz In The Garden”, that readers outside Herefordshire and the Welsh Borders might hitherto have been unfamiliar with.
Nuadha Quartet is comprised of musicians living in the Monmouthshire and Herefordshire areas. First formed in 2016 the group initially traded as the Blue Sky Quartet before a change of moniker was enforced by the presence of another band on the circuit with a similar name.
The new name is representative of leader Colin Tully’s Scottish roots. Tully is the most high profile member of Nuadha Quartet having composed the soundtracks to two Bill Forsyth films, including the hit picture “Gregory’s Girl”. Also an accomplished alto saxophonist Tully worked as a sideman on this instrument for the late, great John Martyn. He has also worked with the bands Cado Belle and Sensorium.
Concentrating on keyboards with Nuadha Tully is happy to delegate saxophone duties to the experienced Chris Egan, who plays tenor and soprano, plus bass clarinet. Egan studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and his tutors have included British saxophone greats Tim Garland and Iain Ballamy. Egan also spent ten years living in Peru and playing with South American musicians. It’s an experience that informs both his playing and his writing. Currently he also plays with the Ross on Wye based Red River Blues band, a popular attraction on the local gig circuit.
Bassist Carlos Riba hails from Barcelona but is now based in the UK. He has worked on the Spanish music scene and has also spent some time in London. An electric bass specialist he names Jaco Pastorius as a seminal influence, and this is very much reflected in his playing.
Herefordshire based Pedro Brown is a highly popular musician with local audiences. This was his second gig of the Jazz In The Garden series following his recent appearance with the Hannah Lockerman Band. Brown also plays occasionally with an expanded version of Whiskey River. He, too, is an accomplished saxophonist and has released two instrumental solo albums featuring himself on drums, percussion, saxophone and keyboards. Something of a renaissance man Brown has travelled widely, always with camera to hand, and his photographs from visits to China, Africa, Australia and North America have been exhibited widely. He also photographs fellow musicians at the Cheltenham and Brecon Jazz Festivals. Brown’s travelling experiences are also reflected in his playing and his use of instruments such as the djembe, darabuka and shekere.
The majority of Nuadha Quartet’s material is composed by Tully or Egan, plus a handful of well chosen covers, including arrangements of traditional Scottish folk material. “Cabin Tales” is comprised mainly of original tunes and it was good to see them today putting the focus firmly on original material. As good as the other gigs in this year’s “Jazz In The Garden” series have been few of them have featured original writing, with the exception of Little Rumba, who included several of their own songs.
As Blue Sky Quartet today’s line up played in the Nave as part of the 2017 series (it must have been a wet day) and the emphasis then was more on covers, including tunes Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Weather Report and The Yellowjackets as I seem to recall. That performance was enjoyable but in the intervening two years Nuadha Quartet have really kicked on, writing and recording an album and putting the focus on their own compositions. The 2019 version of the group is tighter, more assured and more professional than it was two years ago. Even Tully, a reluctant announcer of tunes, seems more confident and relaxed.
Drawing subtly on Gaelic, South American and North African influences Nuadha Quartet’s music is probably best described as softly melodic fusion. That’s a summation that probably does them a disservice, suggesting that their music is bland and soporific. However that’s not really the case, their sound may be accessible enough for first time listeners to take to it straight away, as they did today, but there’s still a keen musical intelligence at work. Both Tully and Egan write memorable tunes capable of a broad appeal, but they also leave room for the soloists to stretch out in rewarding fashion.
Much of the album material was featured in today’s set as the Quartet commenced with album opener “For Love We Are Yearning”, written by Tully. A strong melody was augmented by the exotic sounds of Brown on djembe and shakers, in addition to kit drums. The memorable theme was enhanced by solos from Tully at the keyboard, Egan on tenor sax and Riba on electric bass, the latter’s liquidly melodic playing sounding very Pastorius like.
“Footsteps”, a non album track presumably written by Tully, found Egan stating the theme on tenor sax, before subsequently developing it during the course of his ensuing solo. Further solos came from Riba and Tully, the latter adopting a classic electric piano, or ‘Rhodes,’ sound on his Korg keyboard throughout today’s set.
Another new song, “The Lima Tango”, from the pen of Egan, added a dash of South American exotica with its composer switching to soprano sax. A pleasingly quirky mix of jazz and tango, the piece featured a complex but engaging theme and a fascinating amalgam of rhythms. Room was given for expansive solos from Tully at the keyboard, and Egan, probing incisively on soprano.
“Brother James’ Prayer”, credited on the album sleeve to Bain/Tully, was based on a Gaelic folk tune from Tully’s childhood. Introduced with a passage of unaccompanied piano the piece also featured the soft, breathy tenor sax of Egan as he and Tully engaged in an extended duet. Riba’s languidly melodic electric bass and Brown’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers added to the atmosphere. The adoption of a more conventional jazz rhythm led to solos for tenor sax, keyboard and electric bass, the latter even injecting a subtle element of funkiness to the Celtic inspired melodies.
Named after a South American god Egan’s “Kukulkan’s Feather” was a fascinating piece that Tully described as “coming from South America via Morocco”. With its composer again moving to soprano sax this thoroughly engaging piece of ‘world jazz’ embraced Brown’s exotic percussive rhythms and the North African / Arabic inspired modality of Egan’s soprano sax explorations. Tully’s shimmering keys and Riba’s underpinning bass growl found their own space within this multi-cultural musical terrain.
The first ‘outside’ item was a beautiful arrangement of the Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Blue Bolero”, which was introduced by a duo of shimmering keyboards and languid electric bass with Riba stating the theme before handing over to Egan, still on soprano, for the first solo. Tully followed on keys before a further, more extended feature for Riba’s Pastorius inspired electric bass.
From the album Tully’s “Conte Sul” emerged out of a free jazz style intro featuring the exchanges of Egan’s tenor and Brown’s drums and percussion. Subsequently a more orthodox Latin-esque groove was adopted, this providing the jumping off point for solos from Egan on tenor and Tully at the keyboard, plus a closing drum feature from Brown.
A sly funk element had been present in many of the Quartet’s tunes and this became more overt on “Some Funk for J.P.”, a tune dedicated to the Bristol based jazz organist John-Paul Gard, a musician with whom several members of the Quartet have previously worked. Here seductive, subtly funky grooves formed the basis for solos from Riba, Tully, and Brown at the kit once more.
From the album Tully’s “Jock and Shona” (the Gaelic equivalent of ‘Jack and Jill’) introduced a strong Celtic folk feel with its sprightly, Gaelic inspired melodies floating above Brown’s crisply brushed drum grooves as Egan on soprano, Tully at the keyboard and Riba on electric bass provided the solos. Despite the absence of the instrument I was reminded of the music of the Scottish trumpeter and composer Colin Steele, who regularly writes material featuring folk inspired melodies.
Today’s performance concluded with the band playing a sure-fire audience pleaser, their arrangement of the song “What a Wonderful World”, made famous of course by Louis Armstrong.
This instrumental version brought out the beauty of the melody, with Riba carrying it on electric bass prior to solos from Egan on soprano and Tully at the keyboard. Brown’s brushed drum grooves kept things ticking along nicely as Nuadh Quartet were awarded an excellent reception for today’s performance of largely original music. The positive reaction was vary much deserved, as the band had performed with great skill and precision throughout.
Unfortunately time was up, although when chatting to Pedro and Chris afterwards I noted that they did have a couple of ‘spares’ in the set-list, the album track “Hughie Graham”, an arrangement of a traditional Scottish Borders tune, and a version of Pat Metheny’s “Phase Dance”, that I seem to recall them playing in 2017. Speaking as a big Metheny fan it would have been nice to have heard that again today. Also we didn’t get to hear Egan on bass clarinet, the instrument being present on stage, but remaining unplayed.
Nevertheless this was an excellent way to round off the 2019 “Jazz In The Garden Programme” and its return in 2020 will give many Herefordshire music fans something to look forward to over the cold winter months.
The track listing for “Cabin Tales” is;
1. For Love We Are Yearning
2. Hughie Graham
3.Brother James’ Prayer
4. Kukulkan’s Feather
5.You Can See It Everywhere
7.Jock and Shona
8. Procrastination Blues
9. What a Wonderful World
Six of these were played today. Of the others the traditional “Hughie Graham” combines folk melodies with jazz harmonies and instrumentation, with Brown providing an exotic percussive presence, Riba briefly taking on the melody, and more orthodox jazz solos from Tully and Egan, the latter on tenor. Interestingly Tully appears on acoustic piano, the album featuring a mix of acoustic and electric keyboards.
Tully’s own “You Can See It Everywhere” is gently melodic, part ballad, part anthem, with its gentle melodies, liquid electric bass, softly trilling electric piano and neatly detailed but unobtrusive drumming. There’s even a little uncredited wordless vocalising, plus a gently probing tenor solo from the consistently impressive Egan.
Meanwhile Egan’s own “Procrastination Blues” is actually refreshingly uncomplicated, a genuine blues that features the composer’s straight ahead tenor playing backed by a swinging groove. Tully features on electric piano, but one could also imagine John-Paul Gard weighing in here on Hammond. Brown also gets to enjoy an extended feature behind the kit.
The day after their Hereford performance Nuadha Quartet were due to appear at the Aber Jazz & Blues Festival in Fishguard. The band’s profile is clearly beginning to rise, and the intelligent, melodic fusion of “Cabin Tales”, with its diverse jazz and folk influences, is well worth checking out.
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