by Ian Mann
January 26, 2015
This evening demonstrated that there is still a healthy demand for swinging, unpretentious, down to earth. good humoured trad jazz.
Paul Munnery’s Swing Street Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 25/01/2014.
The first BMJ event of 2015 saw Brecon based trombonist Paul Munnery bringing his Swing Street Trio to the Kings Arms to perform two sets of jazz from the 1920s and 30s. The veteran Munnery is best known for leading the vintage big band Harlem Jazz Orchestra, an eleven piece ensemble that he founded in 1981. He also leads smaller groups under the generic name Swing Street, the varying line ups ranging from trio to sextet.
Jazz economics demanded that Munnery brought along a trio this evening but BMJ organiser Mike Skilton was rewarded with an impressive audience turn out (between forty and fifty I’d estimate) and with every table in the function room of the Kings Arms occupied a real “jazz club” atmosphere prevailed with the audience clearly taking great delight in the trio’s playing. The speakeasy comes to Abergavenny!
The small line up saw the trio members “doubling up” on a number of instruments, “we wanted to give you as many sounds as possible” Munnery explained later. Thus the leader also played some rhythm guitar, the impressively versatile Rachel Hayward moved between banjo, guitar and vibraphone and bassist Keith Tolley also provided the occasional vocal. Hayward has worked with saxophonist Sammy Rimington and with the all female Hotsy Totsy Band as well as leading her own group Rachel’s Dream. She has also been involved with the organisation of the Bude and Upton upon Severn Jazz Festivals. Cotswold based Keith Tolley has worked extensively on the South West jazz scene including stints with The Panama Jazz Band and Round The Horn and with various line ups led by reeds player/vocalist Robin Reece.
Prior commitments entailed that I was only ever likely to be able to witness the second half of the Swing Street Trio’s performance. In fact I arrived just on the stroke of half time and caught the closing number of the first set. The crowd reaction indicated that the first half had gone well and I was also much heartened by the size of the audience turnout. Among the appreciative listeners was Usk based vocalist Debs Hancock who told me that Munnery had announced that it was the trio’s intention to take the audience on a musical journey through the 20s and 30s and that most of the first set had been sourced from the first of those decades.
I’ll readily admit that the kind of trad jazz purveyed by Munnery and his colleagues isn’t normally my cup of tea but I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed their second set. The audience were very much on the trio’s side and Munnery’s droll, Ronnie Scott style tune announcements helped to ensure that a sense of humour was never away, something also expressed via the irreverent musical “quotes” that found their way into some of the solos.
The second half kicked off with a version of Irving Berlin’s “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” with Munnery soloing on muted trombone above the clipped rhythms of Hayward’s banjo and Tolley’s propulsive walking bass. A brief burst of solo banjo was followed by the first of many excellent bass features highlighting Tolley’s huge rounded tone allied to a nimble dexterity.
A similarly rounded trombone sound was to predominate on “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” which saw Hayward moving to acoustic rhythm guitar. The sliding of Munnery’s trombone was mirrored by Tolley’s bass on another impressive feature from the man on the bull fiddle.
Made famous by King Oliver’s band in 1923 “Canal Street Blues” saw Hayward moving back to banjo as Munnery blew Kid Ory style gut-bucket trombone, later softening and varying his tone by taking up one of his various mutes. The leader’s solos were once again augmented by a further feature for the excellent Tolley.
Munnery switched to rhythm guitar for “Autumn Leaves”, the first of two number featuring Hayward on vibraphone. Much influenced by Lionel Hampton she soloed using two mallets only but exhibited an admirable ability on the instrument with her clean, bell like sound. And that man Tolley was featured again too.
According to Munnery “Honeysuckle Rose” was written in 1929 with the middle eight being composed over the telephone by Fats Waller and lyricist Andy Razaf, a nice story and one indicative of the trio’s love for their source material. The song was delivered by the unusual combination of vibes, trombone and double bass with Tolley squeezing some of those aforementioned quotes into his solo, among them the theme from “Steptoe and Son”. But come on Keith, it’s nearly February and surely too late for “Good King Wenceslas”!
Hayward moved back to guitar as Tolley sang an amusing Anglicised version of “Makin’ Whoopee”, the only vocal item in this second set with Munnery taking the main instrumental solo on muted trombone.
A lively version of W. C. Handy’s classic “St. Louis Blues” brought the evening to a joyful close with Munnery’s fruity trombone sharing the solos with Tolley’s bass. Such was the enthusiasm of the audience reaction that Mike Skilton hardly needed to coax the trio back for an encore of Louis Armstrong’s “Shine” which incorporated farewell solos from Munnery on muted trombone, Hayward on banjo and Tolley at the bass.
Tonight’s show had been a “win win” all round. Munnery announced himself delighted with the size of the turnout and the enthusiasm of the audience and Mike Skilton was happy to have broken even financially. Variety is the essence of what BMJ do and this evening demonstrated that there is still a healthy demand for swinging, unpretentious, down to earth good humoured trad jazz - and although it’s not quite my favourite jazz genre even I went home happy.
For me it’s intriguing that trad and free improv- musics from totally opposite ends of the jazz spectrum- both fall into the category of music that is best appreciated in the live environment where everything seems to make sense and things fall into place, even if I wouldn’t dream of listening to it at home.
Next up at BMJ is another local hero, virtuoso gypsy jazz (and beyond) guitarist Remi Harris with his trio on Sunday 22nd February 2015. Details at http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk