by Ian Mann
July 11, 2019
The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable.
Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher
Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019
Ray d’Inverno – piano, Rod Paton – french horn, Tony Woods – alto & soprano saxophones, alto clarinet, Nette Robinson – vocals, Ashley John Long – double bass, Martin Fisher – drums
It was difficult to know quite how to bill this stellar sextet. The posters advertising this event made reference to the Ray d’Inverno / Tony Woods Quartet with Nette Robinson but this all star session was ultimately co-led by d’Inverno and jazz french horn player Rod Paton, now a Brecon resident. Paton had helped to curate the whole affair in conjunction with Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club.
Lynne and Roger have a proven track record of bringing together musicians who have never worked with each other before to create a convincing and successful one off group, united by a shared jazz music vocabulary. Such was the case here with Paton acting as the link between the players.
An acclaimed musical educator as well as a performer Paton moved to Brecon a couple of years ago and has since become involved with the South Wales jazz scene and played an important role as both musician and organiser at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival. During his career as an educator Paton spent time in the south of England where he made connections with both d’Inverno and Woods and also with Fisher. The drummer has also made the move to Wales and for a number of years organised jazz events in the Torfaen / Pontypool area under the Jazz MF banner.
As Lynne Gornall put it this was a band that was put together because the Jazz Club had wanted to feature several of the individuals involved as leaders of their own bands but had insufficient space in the monthly club event calendar to do so. Thus with Paton acting as facilitator they put them all together as one star group. Both d’Inverno and Woods are leaders of their own groups and once the front line musicians were on board it was decided to add the Wales based rhythm section of Fisher and Long. Woods and Robinson had never met with Long and Fisher before this evening but thanks to that shared jazz language the one off sextet gelled remarkably quickly and effectively.
Besides his work as a jazz musician d’Inverno has also enjoyed an academic career of some distinction and at one time held a post as Professor of Quantum Relativity at Southampton University. In his role as co-leader he kicked off the evening with a version of the standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, performed in the piano trio format with the help of Fisher and Long. d’Inverno took the first solo on his Yamaha electric keyboard, deploying an acoustic piano setting for the whole of the evening. Long, a Brecon regular and a great audience favourite also gave us a reminder of his formidable skills as a bass soloist. The piece concluded with a series of lively exchanges between d’Inverno on piano and the ebullient Fisher at the drums.
The line up was extended to a quintet with the addition of Woods on alto saxophone and Paton on french horn for an arrangement of another jazz standard, “My Beautiful Love”. Paton is one of a handful of musicians who has the ability to make the french horn a convincing instrument for jazz soloing – others include the UK’s Jim Rattigan and the Americans John Clark and Vincent Chancey.
He took the first solo here, improvising with great fluency, the tone of the instrument pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone. Woods followed, similarly assured and fluent and adopting a warm, almost tenor like, sound on his alto. Elsewhere the rarely heard combination of these two horns was both beguiling and effective. d’Inverno also featured as a soloist, his playing ripe with wit and invention.
Long’s double bass introduced the next piece, which saw vocalist Nette Robinson replace Paton on the stage to deliver a sultry, but playful, version of the familiar standard “Pennies From Heaven”. Following the initial bass and vocal duet piano and drums were added to the equation as Robinson artfully stretched the vocal melody lines with the flexibility and confidence of the highly accomplished singer that she is. Instrumental solos came from Woods on alto and Long at the bass.
Life partners Woods and Robinson have been key figures in preserving the legacy of the late pianist, composer and lyricist Michael Garrick (1933-2011), a musician with whom both have collaborated. Following Garrick’s death the couple took on the leadership of the Lyric Ensemble, Garrick’s last creative project, with pianist Nikki Iles taking on Garrick’s role. From the Lyric Ensemble repertoire came Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, with a lyric by Garrick beautifully delivered by Robinson following d’Inverno’s limpid solo piano introduction. Fittingly Woods was also featured as a soloist as he delivered a fluent and expressive statement on alto.
Robinson took over the announcing duties to introduce the standard “You Must Believe In Spring” in a ballad arrangement inspired by a version sung by Cleveland Watkiss. Woods moved to what I jotted down as bass clarinet, although on reflection it may have been alto clarinet, an instrument he has played on previous occasions. The lustrous, woody sounds that he produced were the perfect foil for Robinson’s warm, well enunciated vocals and d’Inverno’s lyrical piano soloing. A word too for Fisher’s sensitive and sympathetic brushed drum accompaniment. This was a performance that received a particularly rapturous reception from a pleasingly large audience that included a sprinkling of regulars from the nearby Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny.
An excellent first half concluded with an appropriately sassy take on Steve Swallow’s composition “Ladies in Mercedes”, a tune introduced to the pianist by bassist Peter Maxwell, once of the Andy Sheppard band. Sheppard has worked extensively with Swallow and Carla Bley, hence that particular series of connections. Robinson was clearly enjoying herself as she delivered Norma Winstone’s witty lyrics in suitably coquettish fashion, her singing interspersed with solos from Woods, surprisingly powerful on alto, and d’Inverno, with Fisher also weighing in with a dynamic drum feature. Also of note were the dazzling scat vocal and alto sax exchanges between Robinson and Woods. In a neat touch d’Inverno dedicated the song, with its Brazilian inspired rhythms, to the memory of the recently deceased Joao Gilberto.
The flyers for tonight’s gig had promised a mix of standards and originals and a shorter second set commenced with d’Inverno’s “Bopping Up The A27”, a tune written many years ago as part of the “Roadway Suite”, a commission from Hastings Jazz Festival. Performed in a quartet format this proved to be a suitably bebop flavoured tune and the perfect vehicle for Woods to release his inner Charlie Parker, driven on by Long’s propulsive bass and Fisher’s crisp, hard hitting drumming. With something of the feel of a bebop standard about it the tune also contained solos from d’Inverno and Long plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Fisher.
The quartet were joined by Robinson and Paton for the song “Alice in Wonderland”, written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the 1951 animated Disney film but which has since become a jazz standard. Robinson’s eloquent reading of the lyrics was complemented by similarly erudite instrumental statements from Paton on french horn and Woods on soprano sax.
Similarly lovely was the ballad “Turn Out The Stars” with music written by the late, great pianist Bill Evans and a later lyric penned by Michael Garrick. Garrick’s love of poetry is expressed in his words, beautifully sung here by Robinson with sensitive accompaniment coming from d’Inverno, Long and Fisher in yet another new instrumental configuration. The instrumental solo came from d’Inverno at his most lyrical.
MJQ pianist and composer John Lewis’ “20 East 30 West” was played as a blues with Paton demonstrating that the blues can authentically be played on the french horn as he delivered a stunning and totally convincing solo. Also featured were Woods on alto plus Long and Fisher on bass and drums respectively.
Paton also soloed on an uncharacteristically hard driving arrangement of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes”, a treatment that fellow soloist d’Inverno later described as “rock”. Also featured was Woods on alto sax.
Robinson returned to the stage for the closing number, an arrangement of multi-reed player Jerome Richardson’s composition “Groove Merchant” with vocalese lyrics by singer Jon Hendricks. d’Inverno had actually worked with Richardson and this connection helped to inspire his most exuberant playing of the evening as he traded solos with a similarly powerful and effusive Woods on alto.
Even the end of an excellent show it was still difficult to ascribe the leadership of this stellar sextet. d’Inverno and Paton shared most of the talking but Woods and Robinson had brought their Garrick inspired material along to form a key part of the performance. This may largely have been a ‘standards’ performance but it was one with a difference with all six musicians rising to the occasion and making excellent contributions. The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable and offered a good mix of styles and tempi throughout.
My thanks to Tony Woods, Nette Robinson and Ray d’Inverno for speaking with me at length and to old friends Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher for saying ‘hello’ too.
Woods is currently on tour with his five piece folk jazz Project featuring guitarist Mike Outram, vibraphonist Rob Millett, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Milo Fell. The Tony Woods Project have recorded a total of four albums “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004), Wind Shadows” (2009) and “Hidden Fires” (2017). The two most recent recordings are reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Their recent performance at the Sound Cellar in Poole has been recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and will be transmitted at 11.00 pm on Monday 22nd July. This is an excellent band playing Tony’s original material, catch them if you can.
In the meantime tonight’s event represented a great curtain raiser for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival on 9th, 10th and 11th August 2019.
From Martin Fisher via Facebook;
Hi Ian, lovely review of the Brecon gig, many thanks.