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Nye Banfield Quartet

Nye Banfield Quartet, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 21/03/2024.

Photography: Image sourced from Nye Banfield's Facebook page [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

March 23, 2024


Banfield is a powerful and fluent tenor sax soloist, a skilled composer and a witty and highly personable interlocutor between songs. He’s a musician that I think we’re going to hear a lot more of.

Nye Banfield Quartet, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 21/03/2024.

Nye Banfield – tenor saxophone, Robbie Moore – keyboard, Benjamin Crane – double bass, Ewan Moore – drums

Originally from rural Leicestershire Nye Banfield is a London based saxophonist and composer who is currently touring in the UK in support of his debut album, the self released “Trails And Traces”, which is available via Bandcamp and recently received a 4 Star review from Eddie Myer in Jazzwise magazine.

Banfield is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Trinity Laban and was awarded his degree in 2019 following four years of living and studying in London. The Covid pandemic precipitated a move back to the family home in Leicestershire and an abrupt change of lifestyle after four hectic years in the capital. It was an experience that was to inform the writing on “Trails And Traces”, with much of the music on the album having been composed during 2021.

Banfield began learning violin and viola as a child before taking up the saxophone at the age of eleven. He continued as a string player in youth orchestras playing the music of such classical composers as Rachmaninov, Vaughan-Williams, Dvorak and Mahler. His growing interest in jazz ran parallel to this with his saxophone influences ranging from Madness through to John Coltrane and also including Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter.

The saxophonist still feels that there is a classical influence in his music, while also citing Shorter, Miles Davis, Ambrose Akinmusire, Duke Ellington, Robert Glasper, Radiohead, James Blake, Kendrick Lamarr and Damon Albarn as other sources of inspiration with regard to his writing process. He is also influenced by the sounds of modal jazz in general and the Blue Note record label in particular.

Prior to the release of “Trails And Traces” Banfield recorded the digital only EP “All Change”  (2018) during his student days. This features five Banfield originals performed by a quintet that included Dylan Jones on trumpet, Tom Morley on piano, Michael Shrimpton on double bass and Ewan Moore at the drums.

Recorded in 2021 “Trails And Traces” features a sextet that includes the talents of trumpeter Mark Kavuma, trombonist Will Diamond, pianist Rupert Cox, bassist Hamish Nockles-Moore and tonight’s drummer Ewan Moore. Kavuma, a bandleader in his own right and the founder of the Banger Factory record label is arguably the best known of these and his recordings and live performances have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann web pages.

Taking a sextet out on the road is not a particularly economic proposition so it was a more streamlined quartet that Banfield elected to bring to the Marr’s Bar. Banfield and Ewan Moore were joined by Ewan’s brother, Robbie Moore on keyboard and Benjamin Crane on double bass. Robbie Moore favoured a classic electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound all night, which helped to give the music a contemporary edge. Banfield plays tenor, alto and soprano saxophones but elected to specialise on tenor, as he does throughout the album.

Despite the youthfulness of the band tonight’s show was one of the more ‘straight-ahead’ jazz performances to have been presented as part of the Music Spoken Here series. I’m pleased to report that is was also gratifyingly well attended with a highly supportive and interactive audience giving Banfield and his young colleagues a very warm Worcester welcome. Promoter Dave Fuller must have been delighted with the success of the evening.

Over the course of two value for money sets the Banfield quartet performed six of the seven tracks from the new album in addition to jazz compositions by Don Cherry and Wayne Shorter, two inspired pop and rock covers and a remarkable arrangement of “Greensleeves”, allegedly originally written by King Henry VIII.

Ewan Moore’s cymbals introduced album opener “Rockhopper”, named not for the penguin but for a type of mountain bike. Banfield’s temporary, pandemic induced return to the Leicestershire countryside had prompted a return to his childhood hobby of mountain biking as he again explored the rural landscapes of his youth. Banfield’s statement of the melody immediately established his tenor sound, big toned and authoritative, with something of both Coltrane and Henderson about it. His first solo saw him probing deeply and fluently, his explorations fuelled by Ewan Moore’s dynamic drumming. Robbie Moore subsequently took over at the keyboard to deliver the first of what I’ll refer to as ‘Rhodes solos’. I’m not sure of the actual manufacturer of his keyboard but this continued to be his favoured sound.

“E11”, named for the London district of Leytonstone, was less frenetic and was ushered by Crane at the double bass, his plucked intro augmented by the celestial twinkling of Robbie’s keyboard. Leytonstone might appear an unlikely source of inspiration for a jazz tune, but Banfield clearly has a great fondness for the place, and for the “special person” that lives there. His tenor tone was softer and more rounded, qualities reflected during the course of a lyrical saxophone solo. Crane followed with a melodic bass solo, followed by Robbie on keys, with Ewan providing sensitive brushed support. A quiet section featuring just sax and keyboard formed the bridge into a closing section that featured the whole band, with Banfield’s tenor continuing to lead.

The first ‘outside’ item was Banfield’s arrangement of “Greensleeves”, which saw the famous old tune performed in a modal jazz style centred around Crane’s bass motif and featuring extended solos from Banfield and Robbie Moore, the latter becoming particularly animated as he stood up at the keyboard. The power of the sax and keyboard excursions was contrasted by a quieter bass solo that featured keyboard accompaniment only. Banfield then upped the energy levels once more during the course of a particularly rousing, Coltrane-esque sax excursion that drew on the ‘spiritual jazz’ tradition. A strong quartet performance was then rounded off by a dynamic drum feature from the consistently impressive Ewan Moore.

There was complete change of mood with the Banfield original “Song For Grandad”, which was dedicated to the composer’s late grandfather, who sadly passed away in 2021, around the time that the album was being recorded. This proved to be a short, sweet tribute, played by a trio of sax, keys and bass with Ewan Moore temporarily sitting out.

The drummer returned with a vengeance for the Pan-African grooves of the Don Cherry composition “Mopti”, a popular tune among young, contemporary jazz musicians. The piece was originally written for the group Old and New Dreams, a quartet of former Ornette Coleman alumni (trumpeter Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Ed Blackwell and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman) who were signed to ECM during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Banfield handled the complex ‘head’ with aplomb, accompanied by the polyrhythmic clatter of Ewan’s sticks on rims. Robbie took the first solo on keys, followed by a passage featuring the sounds of just tenor sax and double bass. Keys and then drums were then re-introduced as the music began to build in terms of power and intensity, with Ewan’s dynamic drumming rewarded with a closing drum feature. This was great way to conclude an excellent first set with the young quartet receiving a rousing ovation from the Marr’s Bar audience.

In addition to the music the success of the first half was also due to Banfield’s confident and engaging presenting style, his announcements giving just enough information as to the stories behind the original tunes, but without descending into self-indulgence.

The second set began with “Bellarom Gold”, named for an own brand coffee sold by Lidl that had helped to sustain Banfield and his colleagues during their student years. This featured anthemic, soaring sax melodies that provided the necessary stimulus for cogent solos from Banfield and Robbie Moore.

“Four Years Later”, a second tune inspired by Banfield’s time as a student offered a gentler, more lyrical approach, but contrasted this with a more loosely structured ‘free jazz’ episode, an interesting juxtaposition.

Banfield announced that the next two pieces would be arrangements of well known pop tunes. The first of these proved to be The Beatles song “Blackbird”, which was ushered in by an extended unaccompanied keyboard solo featuring the shimmering and chiming of Robbie’s ‘Rhodes’. The familiar melody only emerged very gradually and was subsequently taken up by the leader on tenor, his fluent solo followed by an unexpectedly funky keyboard excursion from Robbie. Banfield then re-stated the theme and treated it to a further series of variations.

The second cover was the Paul Simon song “Still Crazy After All These Years”. The music of both The Beatles and Paul Simon seems to have become increasingly popular among jazz musicians in recent years and as Music Spoken Here regular Justin McKeon recalled the same Simon song was also covered by pianist Eddie Gripper and his trio at an MSH event in January 2024. Tonight’s performance was introduced by the duo of tenor sax and keys, with both Banfield and Robbie Moore stretching out more expansively once bass and drums were added. The overall mood was one of introspection, mirroring the lyrics of the song.

Introduced by funky Fender Rhodes and bristling with hard bop inspired energy “Pocket Tissue Blues” incorporated a declamatory tenor sax solo from the leader followed by a muscular bass feature from ‘Big’ Ben Crane, the latter incorporating a dialogue with Ewan Moore’s drums. Robbie Moore then took over at the keys before leader Banfield returned for a final sax salvo.

An ecstatic audience reaction ensured that Dave Fuller had little difficulty in persuading the band to remain on stage for a deserved encore, this being an arrangement of the Wayne Shorter composition “Deluge” from his 1964 Blue Note album “Juju”. An unaccompanied tenor sax introduction was followed by the addition of bass, brushed drums and keyboards and led to powerful solos from both Banfield and Robbie Moore. An excellent way to round off an evening of jazz that featured an exciting blend of the traditional and the contemporary as Banfield’s original compositions rubbed shoulders with a selection of jazz standards, pop covers and traditional folk melodies.

This was arguably the most successful ‘straight-ahead’ jazz night to date at The Marr’s Bar with the audience giving the young quartet a great reception. All of the performers impressed and none more so than the leader. Banfield is a powerful and fluent tenor sax soloist, a skilled composer and a witty and highly personable interlocutor between songs. His musical skills allied to his outgoing personality should ensure that he becomes a hugely popular figure on the UK jazz scene in the years to come. Given his broad range of musical influences, embracing jazz, classical,  pop and rock it will be interesting to see how Banfield’s music develops in the coming years. He’s a musician that I think we’re going to hear a lot more of.

The “Trails And Traces” album is available via Banfield’s Bandcamp page and I have been listening to the recording as I write. The addition of trumpet and trombone, plus the use of bowed bass, imparts the music with greater depth, colour and texture, with Kavuma making a particularly significant contribution. The six pieces played tonight differed substantially from the recorded versions, but after all that’s what jazz is all about. The only item not to be played this evening was the fourteen minute final track “Conversations”, which Banfield felt needed the full sextet to really do it justice.

“Trails And Traces” is highly recommended. Find it here;

See also;


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