by Ian Mann
July 09, 2014
The third annual visit of the RWCMD Jazz Ensemble delivered a very enjoyable afternoon of big band jazz.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Jazz Ensemble, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 06/07/2014.
The RWCMD Jazz Ensemble first performed Black Mountain Jazz in 2012 in the company of guest trumpeter Gethin Liddington and their visits to Abergavenny have now become an annual event. There was to be no guest soloist this time but the Ensemble, led by trumpeter Robert “Teddy” Smith, still delivered two sets of enjoyable big band arrangements with the choice of material differing substantially from that of previous visits. The Ensemble are to be congratulated for continuing to broaden their repertoire and for bringing fresh tunes into their programme.
Led by Smith but with baritone saxophonist Joe Atkin Reeves handling the bulk of the announcements the Ensemble had sharpened up their presentation from their previous visit with a pre-planned set list - the constant shuffling of sheet music which was a feature of the 2013 show was pleasingly absent.
The Ensemble comprised of six reeds (two tenor saxes, two altos, one baritone plus a specialist flautist), three trumpets, four trombones, electric piano, double bass and drums and included a number of familiar faces whose names I’ll mention as we move along. On a brilliantly sunny day it was perhaps appropriate that the Ensemble should kick off with a Tom Kubis arrangement of “When You’re Smiling” with Smith the featured soloist. This was followed by a rousing version of Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol” which proved popular with the lunchtime audience.
The Ensemble sometimes operates under the name of the Teddy Smith Big Band and it was in this guise that they recently competed in the Big Band Cymru competition getting as far as the semi-finals. Their competition repertoire included the opening “When You’re Smiling” plus a Bob Kernow arrangement of the achingly beautiful Pat Metheny ballad “Always and Forever”, a feature here for the pure toned trumpet of band leader Smith. Apparently the band’s repertoire also includes a Kernow arrangement of the Metheny epic “First Circle”. I’d have loved to have heard that!
For this performance the Ensemble turned consistently to the tunes and arrangements of Sammy Nestico (born 1924), a musician best known for his role as the chief arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra. The Ensemble’s version of Nestico’s “Splankey” featured the flute of Graham Davies and also included solos from trumpeter Gideon Brooks and pianist James Clark. Many of the Ensemble’s musicians also appear in Clark’s Lonely Hearts Rugby Club band which mixes jazz with various strands of world music. The LHRC will feature on the concert programme of the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival. Visit http://www.breconjazz.com for details.
At this point final year student Kate Stainsby joined the Ensemble as guest vocalist to deliver two songs. She began with a version of “The Lady Is A Tramp”, singing the lyrics in the first person, and followed this with a take on Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Unfortunately her contribution was marred by microphone problems but her feature was still warmly received by the Abergavenny audience.
I think I’m correct in stating that the next piece was “Cute”, an arrangement by Neal Hefti for the Count Basie Band. In any event it featured the skills of the Ensemble’s long serving drummer Rod Oughton in a series of drum breaks deploying both brushes and sticks. The talented Oughton leads his own small groups and is definitely a young musician with bags of potential, one to look out for.
The Ensemble’s version of “All Of Me” centred around Pete Komor’s walking bass line and featured pianist Clark as the main soloist. A highly entertaining first half concluded with a typically rousing Buddy Rich number featuring Clark on piano, Rob Griffin on tenor sax and the trumpets of Smith and Brooks.
The second set commenced with an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone” with trombone the featured solo instrument. I assume that the soloist was Tony Lovell who has led the trombone section on the Ensemble’s two previous visit but I missed some names when Atkin Reeves introduced the band en masse so I can’t be categorical on this. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong.
The same trombonist also featured on Nestico’s “Tribute To Basie”, sharing the soloing duties with trumpeter Gideon Brooks.
John Coltrane’s “Central Park West” was performed as a slow blues with lush horn voicings framing
the work of featured soloist, tenor saxophonist Bryn Davies. Davies was to feature again on Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” alongside tenor partner Griffin and trumpeters Brooks and Smith.
Stainsby returned to sing two more songs, “That Old Devil Moon” and “Can’t Help Loving That Man”. Thankfully there were no technical problems this time and the young vocalist was again very well received.
“Blue Champagne” was a baritone feature for Atkin Reeves. The versatile young saxophonist had played tenor on his previous visits but this showcase proved him to be equally adept on the larger horn.
Nestico’s “Joy Of Cooking” added a touch of funk to the proceedings with a lively chart featuring solos from trumpeter Smith and tenorist Davies plus features for drummer Oughton and bassist Pete Komor.
Finally came the easy swing of “Eddie’s Theme” with solos from Smith on trumpet, Davies on tenor and Atkin-Reeves on baritone. Summoned back for an encore by a small but appreciative audience the Ensemble cantered through an arrangement of Nestico’s “From The Head” featuring Davies on tenor and Clark at the piano.
Although audience numbers were modest, due, perhaps to a combination of bright and sunny weather and the televised attraction of the Wimbledon men’s singles final, the third visit of the RWCMD Jazz Ensemble was still warmly appreciated by all those that were there. Under Teddy Smith’s direction the band has become tighter and more focussed in terms of both playing and arranging and with regard to presentation. All in all this was a very enjoyable afternoon of big band jazz.
The Black Mountain Jazz club programme will resume in the autumn. In the meantime BMJ will present the second Wall2Wall Jazz Festival at various venues around Abergavenny over the weekend of 30th and 31st August 2014. An ambitious concert and stroller programme will present a wide variety of jazz and will include some of the leading names in British jazz. Visit http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk for details.
From Joe Atkin-Reeves
Thanks for the write up!
The whole Band Cymru set, including The First Circle is available on YouTube here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?...
I believe it was Splankey that featured the flutes, Dan Smith and Jack Perry CockingsTony Lovell did indeed lead the trombones, Daf Thomas, Craig Walker, Matt Leach and Pete Komor is on acoustic bass.
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