by Ian Mann
July 25, 2012
Ian Mann enjoys performances from the Jim Mullen All Stars, Clark Tracey Quartet, Don Weller Big Band, Stan Tracey and Bobby Wellins Quartet and the Mornington Lockett / Martin Shaw Quintet.
Saturday at Titley Jazz, The Rodd Farm Estate, Titley, Herefordshire. 21/07/2012
Saturday at Titley Jazz offered improving weather and five performances, two from Titley regulars, two from festival newcomers and a special performance from the Don Weller Big Band under the leadership of Alan Barnes. Don Weller himself was sadly not able to attend the festival this year as he has been very ill and recently underwent heart surgery. All at The Jazzmann wish him well and he was also in the thoughts of the Titley audience, Don is a very popular figure and a long term stalwart of the British jazz scene. At least we got to hear his music in a rare big band performance, a welcome variation to the tried and trusted Titley template.
JIM MULLEN ALL STARS
The day kicked off bright and early at 11.00 am with guitarist Jim Mullen fronting a Titley house band consisting of pianist John Donaldson, bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Steve Brown. Although Mullen is a talented composer the programme consisted entirely of jazz and bebop standards and began with Rodgers & Hart’s “Blue Room” with Jim introducing his unique thumb picked guitar style inspired by Wes Montgomery. There’s been much talk of Mullen’s “Magic Right Thumb” but if anything the way the astonishingly agile fingers of his left hand shape the chords is even more impressive. Mullen led the solos off here followed by Donaldson and Hutton with Brown
offering a variation on the drum features of the previous day by conducting his solo entirely with brushes.
“D’Estate” (Italian for “summer” as Mullen helpfully explained) had an appropriately warm Mediterranean vibe and featured the flowing, rhapsodic piano of Donaldson on the first solo. Mullen’s own feature was stuffed full of quotes (it must be a Scottish thing, Dave Newton does just the same) including “You And The Night And The Music” and what those of us of a certain age still think of as “Mozart 40”.
“You’ve Changed”, a ballad particularly associated with Billie Holiday, featured Mullen’s effortlessly flowing and lyrical soloing but even here he couldn’t resist the temptation to slide in the occasional quote. Donaldson and Hutton matched him for sensitivity with their own features.
Mullen’s wry announcing style is a feature of his performances. “This is a really cheerful song” he said drily as he introduced “The End Of A Love Affair” but strangely enough it sort of was with Brown leading in with the drums and Mullen tearing the tune up bebop style in another solo full of quotes. Donaldson and Brown kept the energy levels up to conclude an excellent first set.
“Too Late Now” by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner opened up the second half with Mullen soloing with his customary fluency and Donaldson displaying his usual wit and invention at the piano. A typically musical Hutton bass solo and a series of drum breaks from Brown rounded off the piece.
Billy Strayhorn’s ” Lush Life” began capriciously with an outpouring of solo guitar with Mullen adopting a warmer tone as the rest of the group came in before becoming increasingly boppish. Following Donaldson’s solo the piece then finished with a solo guitar cadenza. Clark Tracey, standing by the side of the stage nodded his head in approval.
“Stairway To The Stars” is a particular favourite of Mullen’s, he also plays it with his organ trio, and he spoke fondly of its appearance in the film “Some Like It Hot” starring Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. Ostensibly the tune is a ballad but Mullen’s expansive soloing took the music somewhere else with Donaldson and Hutton following in his wake.
The set ended in energetic fashion with Freddie Hubbard’s bebop classic “Bird Like” featuring bravura solos from Donaldson, Mullen and Brown. Like John Etheridge the previous day the guitarist proved to be extremely popular with the Titley crowd. Mullen seemed to enjoy himself too, staying around for the rest of the day and I’d say that it’s almost a certainty that he’ll be invited back.
CLARK TRACEY QUARTET
Clark Tracey’s groups are always a highlight of the Titley programme. The hard hitting but highly accomplished drummer he is sometimes regarded as the “English Art Blakey” not only for his obvious love of the hard bop style but also the way that his bands have served as “academies” for many of the UK’s best young musicians, among them outstanding pianists Zoe Rahman and Kit Downes.
Today’s quartet featured Tracey’s long term associate Steve Melling at the piano with Arnie Somogyi on bass and in a change from the advertised line up Paul Booth on tenor saxophone. Simon Allen had a gig elsewhere and Booth was a last minute replacement, he seemed to be unknown to many of the Titley regulars but soon won them over with his robust soloing. The thirty three year old Booth is better known to me from his work with bassist Michael Janisch and for his own excellent solo album “Trilateral” (reviewed elsewhere on this site). He’s also worked with Somogyi in the bassist’s group Ambulance and there’s also the small matter of his high profile pop and rock gigs, particularly a long standing engagement with the Steve Winwood band.
Booth’s late inclusion meant that the programme was composed entirely of familiar jazz and bebop standards but the group’s punchy, effervescent performances ensured that these were highly enjoyable. They kicked off with Miles Davis’ “All Blues” with Melling soloing first followed by Booth who channelled the spirit of John Coltrane by really digging in before handing over to Somogyi.
McCoy Tyner’s brilliant composition “Passion Dance” featured more impassioned soloing from Booth followed by a feverishly inventive solo from the always excellent Melling. Tracey powered the song with rolling polyrhythms and also enjoyed an explosive drum feature at the end of the tune.
Mal Waldron’s enduring ballad “Soul Eyes” offered Booth and Melling the opportunity to show their sensitive sides with Tracey accompanying them with brushes. Somogyi’s bass solo was similarly thoughtful and lyrical as the quartet turned in a beautifully controlled performance.
The spirit of generosity that seems to pervade Titley was epitomised by the fact that Steve Brown let the other drummers borrow his kit all weekend. Tracey gratefully acknowledged this fact and I also overheard Brown offering advice to Dave Barry, talk about the “Drummer’s Union”.
Tracey made a fine noise on the borrowed kit as the quartet closed the first set by storming through “The Thing” with solos from Booth, Melling and Tracey.
The second half began with a slow burning “Alone Together” with Booth , Melling and Somogyi the featured soloists. Tracey described the band’s arrangement of “What Is This Thing Called Love” as “nippy” and there was certainly a boppish eagerness about their treatment of the song with solos from Melling, Booth and the leader.
A mid tempo “Autumn Leaves” represented the closest this set got to a ballad with solos from Booth, Melling and Somogyi.
The group finished in typically energetic fashion by tearing up Victor Feldman’s tricky but infectious “Seven Steps To Heaven” with rousing solos from Booth and Melling and a fiery exchange between Tracey at the drums and the two soloists.
Once again Clark Tracey had delivered and this was also a good gig for Paul Booth with the young saxophonist winning many new friends. I took the opportunity of introducing myself to him after the gig and he clearly felt that the long drive from his home in Ramsgate was well worthwhile. He’s another one who might well be back, other commitments permitting.
DON WELLER BIG BAND
For the sad reasons outlined above Don Weller was unable to lead and play with his big band so the baton passed to Alan Barnes for a performance consisting entirely of Weller originals, many of the pieces sourced from the 1997 Weller Big Band live album recorded at the Bull’s Head in Barnes but originally commissioned for the 1995 Appleby Jazz Festival ( a nice little piece of symmetry there) and released on 33 Records. Many of the players that featured on that recording were here again today in a line-up that featured;
Peter King, Martin Speake, Mornington Lockett, Art Themen, Alan Barnes-reeds
Steve Waterman, Tony Fisher, Dick Pearce, Martin Shaw- trumpets
Mark Nightingale, Adrian Fry, Martin Gladish, Sarah Williams- trombones
The first piece doesn’t appear on the album and I didn’t catch the title (some kind of anagram, Weller has a neat line in titles, often reflecting his idiosyncratic sense of humour). In any event it quickly captured the big sound and rich textures of the ensemble with solos coming from Newton at the piano and the twin altos of Speake and King.
“Fruit” is a typical Weller title, a piece of home spun cockney rhyming slang (fruit salad = ballad, geddit?). Also typical of Weller it isn’t quite a ballad but instead a quirkily swinging big band number with a vaguely Latin feel. Solos here came from the excellent Newton on piano, Speake on alto and the tenor of Art Themen, described by Barnes as the “Master of Harmonics”.
“Bongate Song” was named after a venue in Appleby and featured the trumpet of Dick Pearce and the alto of Peter King with the band gradually shifting up through the gears for the piece to climax with a drum feature from Steve Brown.
Barnes told a particularly disgusting anecdote about the reasons behind the title of “The Bearded Gravy”, a typically surreal Weller title. The name is matched by the music, a gallumphing odd meter groove reminiscent of the music of Charles Mingus framing uproarious solos from Themen on tenor, Adrian Fry on trombone, Barnes on baritone sax and Tony Fisher on trumpet.
Barnes got so carried away with an anecdote about Weller’s refusal to be overwhelmed by the Great Wall Of China (“I’ve got a wall at home”, shades of footballer John Trewick’s “once you’ve seen one wall you’ve seen them all”) that he forgot to give us the title of the next piece, a tricky item involving three pages of manuscript with features for two of the three Martins in the line up i.e. Messrs. Shaw and Gladish on trumpet and trombone respectively.
The second set got off to a rollicking start with another announced piece featuring the first solo of the day from tenorist Mornington Lockett, a Monk like piano solo from Newton and a blazing solo from trumpeter Steve Waterman.
In the absence of Weller Barnes invited Dave O’Higgins to guest on the marvellously titled “Glosy Roe” with the tenor saxophonist trading phrases and solos in thrilling fashion with his counterpart Mornington Lockett. Pearce on trumpet, Cleyndert on double bass and Fry on trombone also weighed in with impressive solo contributions.
Cleyndert also featured on the following “Twister” alongside the contrasting alto styles of Speake and King, Barnes on baritone and Dave Barry with a series of drum breaks.
The set closed with “High Force”, named after a waterfall on the River Tees and a piece that originally formed part of “The Pennine Suite”, the 1995 Appleby commission. As powerful and turbulent as its title might suggest the piece took things storming out with a string of bravura solos from Barnes on baritone, Gladish on trombone and Themen on tenor with Barry’s series of drum breaks acting as punctuation before a brilliant twin tenor set piece between Lockett and Themen prior to a scintillating final big band flourish.
Weller may have been missing but his spirit was very much present in this rich and vital music. Get well soon Don, we hope to welcome you back to Titley next year.
STAN TRACEY & BOBBY WELLINS PLAY MONK
2012 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (1917-82) and festival organiser David Masters felt moved to introduce something of a Monk theme to the festival. On Friday alto saxophonist Tony Kofi led a quartet in a performance of Monk pieces from his “Plays Monk” project. Today it was the turn of Stan Tracey, sometimes known as the “English Thelonious Monk” to pay tribute to one of his key influences, the other being Duke Ellington. Tracey chose his old friend tenor saxophonist to partner him in his interpretations of Monk’s music. Tracey and Wellins go back a long way and are most celebrated for their partnership on Tracey’s classic 1965 album “Under Milk Wood”, a suite of compositions inspired by the works of Dylan Thomas. Tracey and Wellins performed that music last year at Titley to great acclaim in the company of bassist Andy Cleyndert and drummer Clark Tracey and the two younger men were in attendance once more for Stan and Bobby’s Monk tribute.
Stan and Bobby opened with “Straight No Chaser” a spirited introduction to the voices in the band with each musician soloing in turn and with excellent interplay between bass and drums.
Wellins stated the theme to “Let’s Cool One”, a piece that featured the co-leaders extensively on impressive solos. “Bye Ya” featured both Wellins and Stan Tracey plus Clark at the drums but the highlight of the first half was a delightfully intimate duo performance by Bobby and Stan of “Monk’s Mood”.
After this Stan’s announcements became somewhat economical and I couldn’t put my finger on the number that closed the first set, Titley regulars with a more encyclopedic knowledge of Monk than myself will doubtless be able to enlighten me. Wellins, Stan and Cleyndert all featured with Stan slipping a quote from Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” into his solo, a nod of acknowledgement to his other main influence rendered particularly appropriate by the fact that Monk also recorded a version of the tune.
The second set followed a broadly similar pattern opening with the playful dissonance of “Little Rootie Tootie” with Bobby, Stan and Clark all featuring.
“Well You Needn’t” featured a lovely dialogue between Wellins and Cleyndert plus further solos from the bassist and Stan Tracey.
Wellins left the stage to allow the trio to play a delightful ballad (“Round Midnight” if memory serves) presaged by a lengthy piece of solo piano from Stan Tracey. The rhythm section were extensively featured on the next unannounced quartet item and the group finished with, I think, “Blue Monk” with Wellins and both Traceys taking solos.
Wellins and Tracey offered a different approach to Monk’s music than Tony Kofi had done, less contemporary and perhaps closer in spirit to the originals. There were no real surprises here but the two sets were eminently enjoyable with the interplay between Clark Tracey and Andy Cleyndert holding more interest than some of the by rote bass and drum solos of some of the earlier performances. At eighty six Stan Tracey is still playing as well as ever and this performance also acted as a curtain raiser for his inspired Sunday morning duet with bassist Andy Cleyndert, of which more later.
MORNINGTON LOCKETT / MARTIN SHAW QUINTET
Saturday ended with two of the festival’s new boys heading up a group of regulars with the front line of Mornington Lockett (tenor sax) and Martin Shaw (trumpet & flugel) backed by a Rolls Royce rhythm section of Dave Newton (piano), Mick Hutton (bass) and Dave Barry (drums).
The opener featured the blazing trumpet of Shaw and the cooler tenor of Lockett, the pair contrasting pleasantly on a number that also featured Newton and Barry but which was unannounced.
“Once I Had A Secret Love” was the vehicle for all sorts of trickery with an inventive slowed down arrangement by Martin Shaw based around Newton’s insistent piano vamping. It made a pleasant change to hear the tune treated in a different way to the usual frenetic bebop scrapple with the subtle interplay between the horns particularly impressive. Nevertheless there was still scope for excellent solos from Lockett, Shaw, Newton and Hutton.
“My One And Only Love” saw Shaw switching to flugel horn for the set’ s first true ballad. The piece was opened by a beautifully warm flugel and piano duet and with Barry deploying brushes an air of tenderness pervaded throughout with Lockett and Newton at their most lyrical and with Lockett providing a delicious solo sax cadenza.
Cedar Walton’s classic “Bolivia” upped the tempo again with more great horn interplay, particularly on the intro and fine solos from Shaw on flugel, Lockett on tenor and Newton at the piano plus a series of drum breaks from Barry as he traded phrases with the other instrumentalists.
The second set featured two unlikely but very welcome compositions from first Tom Harrell and then Kenny Wheeler. I’d not heard the Harrell piece before, a beautiful tune called “Moon Alley” from the composer’s 1985 album of the same name. The quintet more than did it justice with lyrical solos from Shaw on flugel, Lockett on tenor and Newton at the piano.
Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own” has become something of a modern day standard. Here its beautiful melody framed solos from Lockett on tenor and Shaw on flugel plus an inspired duet between Newton and Hutton, a delightful reminder of their brilliant Sunday morning duo performance in 2011.
After these two beautifully lyrical pieces the quintet turned the heat up for a closing romp through Clifford Brown’s “Joyspring”. Introducing the tune Lockett was fulsome in his praise of the festival listing it’s many virtues. “And the beer’s mega!” shouted a voice from the audience. I was drinking today so “Amen!” to that. The tune opened up with Hutton and Newton doing their duo thing before exploding into life with solos from Shaw on flugel and Lockett on alto plus a spirited exchange between the pair plus final features from Hutton and Barry. Unfortunately we’d reached the curfew although both band and audience looked as if they were ready for more.
With still improving weather and a string of fine performances plus the extra dimension provided by the big band this had been a second highly successful day at Titley Jazz 2012.
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