by Ian Mann
October 23, 2019
An excellent evening of music making from three of the leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene and their illustrious and highly talented American guest.
Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, Brecon Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/10/2019
Sarah Morrow – trombone, tambourine, vocals Dave Cottle – keyboard,
Alun Vaughan – six string electric bass, Paul Smith – drums
Brecon Jazz Club’s October event saw the American trombonist and composer Sarah Morrow visiting the town in the company of the Swansea based Dave Cottle Trio.
The performance was the first of a short tour that was also to include dates in Swansea, Narberth and Bristol. It was made possible by the generous support of Arts Council Wales’ Noson Allan, or Night Out, scheme.
The necessity of staging the gig to tie in with the other dates on Morrow’s tour necessitated a change of date (from the second Tuesday of the month to the fourth) and consequently a change of venue. The unavailability of the Club’s regular haunt, The Muse Arts Centre, resulted in a move to the Ballroom at the Brecon Castle Hotel, a performance space that was probably already familiar to most members of the audience thanks to its use as a venue at Brecon Jazz Festival over many, many years.
Born in Houston, Texas but now based in Nashville, Tennessee Morrow first came to prominence as a member of Ray Charles’ touring band, which she joined in 1995. Charles heard her playing and asked “who is that guy on trombone? I want him in my band!”
Morrow has also worked extensively with another great figure of American music, the recently departed Dr. John with whom she worked as an instrumentalist, musical director and producer, staying with him for seven years and playing a key role on two of his later albums.
She has worked extensively as a sidewoman in both the US and Europe and lived and worked in France for five years. In recent years she has been writing soundtrack music for film and television and she is also an acclaimed music educator.
As a bandleader Morrow has released four albums across a variety of jazz styles, commencing with 2000’s “Greenlight”, which put the focus on her own writing. There have also been a couple of standards based sets while her latest recording, “Elektric Air” (2016) introduced electronics to her sound and featured the cutting edge contemporary musicians Robert Glasper (piano, keyboards), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (drums).
The following list of artists, sourced from Morrow’s website http://www.sarahmorrow.com details some of the other musicians she has collaborated with during a productive and diverse career;
Bootsy Collins, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Van Morrison, Blind Boys of Alabama, The funky Drummers of James Brown (Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks), drummer Bernard Purdie, Bonnie Raitt, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Anthony Hamilton, free form saxophonist David Murray, organists Rhoda Scott and Tony Monaco, tenor sax legends Pee Wee Ellis and Hal “Cornbread” Singer, Cuban rapper Telmary, Rickie Lee Jones, the American All-Stars in Paris, Mingus alumni Ted Curson and Ricky Ford, French star Anne Ducros, trumpeters Arturo Sandoval, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Belgrave and Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, DJ Jahi Sundance, underground hip hop sensation Mike Ladd,
Given Morrow’s credentials we were very lucky to be seeing such a multi-talented performer coming to Brecon. Accompanying the trombonist was a trio led by the Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle, who was joined by his regular rhythm team of electric bass specialist Alun Vaughan and drummer Paul Smith. Cottle is also a talented trumpeter and in addition works as a jazz promoter, having run the Jazzland club in Swansea for twenty three years as well as co-ordinating the annual Swansea International Jazz Festival.
Morrow last worked with Cottle in 2006 and it was good to see the pair renewing their musical partnership over the course of two sets featuring imaginative arrangements of standards interspersed with a smattering of Morrow’s own compositions.
The first set commenced with a standard, a blues to be precise. I recognised the tune but couldn’t pin a title on it, a fairly common occurrence for many jazz listeners I suspect. When I spoke to Sarah at half time she couldn’t identify it either, nor could Dave or Alun. So if some knowledgeable audience member can help us out, give me a shout. The players seemed pretty unconcerned about it all, at the end of the day it’s the music itself that counts.
Morrow’s playing has been endorsed by that great of the trombone Curtis Fuller and you could immediately hear why as she stated the theme and delivered the first solo, her sound an irresistible blend of warmth, power and fluency. Cottle followed, adopting an acoustic piano sound on his remarkably versatile Yamaha Motif XF keyboard. Next came Vaughan who exhibited a guitar like agility on his six string electric bass, his fluency and virtuosity reminding me of the great Steve Swallow.
Next we heard the first song that Morrow wrote, “Tisha’s Dance” from her début album “Greenlight”. This was introduced by a passage of solo hand drumming from Smith that helped to shape the vaguely Latin-esque groove. A pleasingly quirky composition packed with complex, twisting stop / start phrases the piece included solos from Morrow on trombone and Cottle at the keyboard, now adopting an electric piano or’Rhodes’ sound, with Morrow shaking a tambourine as Cottle soloed.
The final section of “Tisha’s Dance” also saw Morrow’s first use of extended trombone techniques, the subtle deployment of vocalisations and over-blowing. This was continued on the unaccompanied introduction to the next tune, the avant garde flourishes suggesting that she may well have listened to the late, great Albert Mangelsdorff (1928-2005) during her time in Europe. It was certainly an unusual way in which to usher in the Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine”, which eventually settled into a subtly funky groove as Morrow’s playing took on more of a blues inflection. Cottle was featured at the piano and the performance was also notable for the lively dialogue between Morrow, again making use of vocalised techniques, and the impressive Smith, who was clearly enjoying the challenge and the experience of working with Morrow.
An arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” found Morrow and the trio back in more familiar jazz territory with cogent solos coming from all four musicians, culminating in a powerful drum feature from Smith.
A second Morrow original came in the shape of the gospel flavoured “Good Music Medicine”, which saw Cottle adopting a convincing Hammond organ sound on his Yamaha keyboard. Solos came from Cottle on organ, Vaughan on bass and Morrow on plunger muted trombone. This may have been unfamiliar material, but it was very much in the jazz tradition and the Brecon audience loved it, giving the tune a rapturous reception.
The first half concluded with a version of Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” with Morrow using the tune as a vehicle to introduce the individual musicians, and to engage the audience in a little game of call and response as we sang back her trombone lines, culminating in “Frere Jacques”! Great fun.
Set two also commenced with a blues, with Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” proving to be far more identifiable! Morrow’s shuffle blues style arrangement dated from a time when she played with the late Al Grey (1925-2000), once of the Count Basie Orchestra. Tonight’s version featured a rasping, bluesy solo from Morrow plus further outings from Cottle on ‘acoustic’ piano and Vaughan at the bass.
In honour of her former employer, Dr. John, Morrow had arranged the standard Bernie’s Tune” (written by Bernie Miller) in a New Orleans style. Smith introduced the piece at the drums, his marching rhythms underpinning Morrow’s theme statement before Cottle launched into a rollicking New Orleans style piano solo. A Smith drum feature then paved the way for Morrow’s own, hard driving trombone solo.
A propulsive jazz-funk groove drove the Morrow original “Bonehoppin’” which saw the composer state the theme and take the first solo, her raunchy sound and fruity vocalisations clearly delighting the audience. Cottle’s solo embraced a variety of keyboard sounds while Vaughan’s feature added slap bass techniques to his usual fluency. Smith was also featured at the drums, entering into dialogue with Morrow’s vocalised trombone once more. The composer subsequently described the piece as “Southern funk”, adding “I like to experiment with rhythm”.
The calm after the storm came in the shape of the ballad “You’ve Changed”, which demonstrated Morrow’s mastery of this style of playing and saw Smith deploying brushes for the first time. Cottle was also featured on ‘acoustic’ piano.
“Hit The Road Jack” closed the second set and saw Morrow deliver a serviceable blues styled vocal within a slyly funky arrangement that saw Cottle mixing electric piano and organ sounds. The performance also included a rousing trombone solo from Morrow that left the audience wanting more.
This came in the shape of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, played as a homage to New Orleans ‘tailgate’ trombone pioneer Kid Ory (1886-1973). Morrow is the proud owner of one of the Kid’s handkerchiefs, given to her by a descendant. Morrow and the quartet fairly romped through the tune with Morrow stating the theme prior to solos from Cottle on honky tonk style piano, Vaughan, with a typically virtuosic electric bass feature, and Smith at the drums. Morrow’s trombone solo led into an animated dialogue with Cottle’s keyboards as the quartet ended the evening in invigorating fashion.
The excellence of the playing, the quality of the original writing and the inventiveness of the other arrangements all helped to ensure that this performance was a notch ahead of the usual ‘guest soloist with local trio’ standards set.
Of course it helped that Morrow is such a talented soloist and all round musician but the efforts of the Cottle trio shouldn’t be over looked with Cottle soloing imaginatively throughout and coaxing a broad variety of sounds from his instrument. I’ve always been an admirer of Vaughan’s playing and some of his soloing tonight was quite inspired. Smith also turned in a fine performance behind the kit, probably the best I’ve seen him play, as he linked up effectively with Morrow.
This was an excellent start to the quartet’s short tour and one would imagine that subsequent performances will be even better. Apparently Morrow has brought a set of foot pedals over from the US, but these weren’t compatible with UK electrics and couldn’t be used tonight. She hopes to get them working later on the tour so audiences in Swansea, Narberth and Bristol may get to see another facet of her playing, one that presumably draws on the “Elektric Air” album.
Not that anybody tonight could have felt short changed, this was an excellent evening of music making from three of the leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene and their illustrious and highly talented American guest.
My thanks to Sarah, Dave and Alun for speaking with me afterwards. Hope the rest of the tour is a great success.
Sarah Morrow and the Dave Cottle Trio play at;
Swansea Jazzland, The Garage Music Venue, Uplands, Swansea 23rd October 2019
Span Jazz, Hotel Plas Hyfryd, Narberth, Pembrokeshire 24th October 2019
Sarah Morrow and the Andy Nowak Trio are at The Be-Bop Club, Bristol on 25th October 2019
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