by Ian Mann
February 21, 2012
An impressive collective sound in a well chosen set that also included a number of vocal tunes sung by vocalist Jonas Seetoh.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Jazz Ensemble with guest soloist Gethin Liddington, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 19/02/2012.
The jazz course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (hereafter RWCMD) is one of the most respected jazz courses in the UK. Under the guidance of Head of Jazz Paula Gardiner and an array of distinguished resident and visiting tutors, among them tonight’s guest trumpet soloist Gethin Liddington, the College has produced a number of significant figures on the local and national jazz scenes. Alumni include pianist and founder of Edition Records Dave Stapleton, bassist Chris Hyson and saxophonist Martha Skilton, daughter of Black Mountain Jazz promoter Mike Skilton. By coincidence the morning following this concert yielded an email giving news of the impending release on the Babel label of the début album by Indigo Kid, a band featuring the talents of two former RWCMD students now making a name for themselves in London. Indigo Kid is led by guitarist Dan Messore and also includes drummer Gethin Jones and their début recording also features the playing of the great Iain Ballamy, a celebrated nurturer of young British talent. I hope to be taking a look at the Indigo Kid album some time in the near future.
Returning to this evening’s concert the RWCMD band lined up with a classic big band configuration of four trumpets (plus Liddington making five), four trombones (including one bass trombone), two alto saxes, two tenor saxes, baritone sax, piano, double bass and drums. Incredibly this was their first gig of the year but you’d never have known as they made an impressive collective sound in a well chosen set that also included a number of vocal tunes sung by vocalist Jonas Seetoh.
The band kicked off with an arrangement of “When You’re Smiling” by the Los Angeles based big band arranger Tom Kubis. The tune was originally made famous by Louis Armstrong with Liddington taking on the great man’s role here with a fluent and incisive trumpet solo. Of the younger musicians solo honours went to Greg Sterland for his tenor solo.
Next came the punchy and funky “High Maintenance” as arranged by Gordon Goodwin for the Pixar movie “The Incredibles”. Alto saxophonist Ben Treacher led off the solos. Liddington aside this young musician proved to be the outstanding soloist of the evening with his dry, Jackie McLean like tone. Treacher already leads his own quartet and also appears as part of Farmyard Cannibals, a quartet led by tonight’s bassist Huw Williams. Treacher was followed by tonight’s guest Gethin Liddington and drummer Rod Oughton enjoyed a series of flamboyant drum breaks.
Vocalist Jonas Seetoh was now introduced to sing a couple of numbers that featured on Robbie Williams’ hit album “Swing When You’re Winning”. These were delivered straight ,with big band arrangements but with the minimum of instrumental embellishment i.e. no solos. The two items chosen were “Have You Met Miss Jones” and “Ain’t That A Kick”. I’ll admit that this area of jazz isn’t really for me (too close to the mainstream) but nevertheless I felt that Seetoh made a fair fist of it and acquitted himself well.
Every jazz band, big or small, needs a good drummer and in the precocious young Oughton the RWCMD band certainly has one. Oughton drove the band with an obvious relish but his playing was always crisp and accurate and full of detail. In many ways he proved to be the fulcrum of the band. “Cute”, as arranged by Neal Hefti for the Count Basie Band featured Oughton in a series of absorbing brushed drum breaks and also highlighted the talents of his partner in rhythm bassist Huw Williams, another influential presence in the overall ensemble sound.
A second Gordon Goodwin tune, “A Few Good Men”, was as hard hitting and punchy as the earlier “High Maintenance”. Oughton’s drums led things off with solos coming first from the excellent Treacher and then from Daniel Smith on rasping baritone sax. The low end textures as played by Smith and the trombones were excellent all night and added depth and colour to the arrangements.
Liddington sat out for the next vocal tune, Seetoh’s version of George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” as inspired by the contemporary interpretation by superstar crooner Michael Buble.
The star trumpeter returned for the final tune of the first set, an effective trumpet led arrangement of American guitarist and composer Pat Metheny’s ballad “Always and Forever” from the 1993 album “Secret Story”. Liddington can be a fiery player but this showed his ballad skills at their best as he exhibited a remarkable control and purity of tone.
A shorter second set commenced with “Count Bubba”, a piece both composed and arranged by Gordon Goodwin. This included some innovative solo section passages (reeds/trombones/trumpets) plus more conventional jazz solos from Treacher and trombonist Tony Lovell.
Next came the standard “Stella By Starlight” in an equally distinctive arrangement by the British saxophonist Paul Booth which he originally wrote for the BBC Big Band. The piece underwent a dramatic tempo change mid tune and included excellent solos from Liddington and Treacher.
“Joy Of Cookin’” kept the pot bubbling in a Quincy Jones/Sammy Nestico arrangement of the Count Basie tune with Liddington blazing on trumpet.
Seetoh’s contribution to the second set came in the form of one of the best known of all jazz standards “All Of Me”, once more based upon the Michael Buble version. Overall however I felt that this was weaker than his first half contribution.
Two rousing instrumentals rounded off the evening. Trumpeter and composer Maynard Ferguson’s “Whisper Not” included solos from both Liddington and the RWCMD’s trumpet section leader Rob Smith who also handled the announcing duties for the evening. It was Smith who initially brought this talented young band together last September and runs their rehearsals at college. We also heard from both tenors, Sterland and Joe Atkin-Reeves.
Finally came “Shiny Stockings” in Frank Foster’s arrangement for the Basie band, here something of a showcase for Liddington and rightly so. As ever this highly versatile trumpeter had been a joy to listen to. I was also very impressed by his young colleagues and I’m sure that many of these young musicians will go on to forge successful careers in the music and be among the stars of the future.
Despite the clamour from a small but appreciative audience the ensemble had run out of arrangements and the evening had come to a close even though Liddington seemed keen to have a go at something else.
Although the attendance was probably less than Mike Skilton would have hoped for the audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive with the suggestion being made that the RWCMD Jazz Ensemble should visit the club on an annual basis. Watch this space.
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