by Ian Mann
April 29, 2015
A very enjoyable evening of swinging, mainstream jazz in a relaxed atmosphere with the focus on music associated with the great Paul Desmond.
Tamasin Reardon’s Ad-Lib, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 26/04/2015.
The current season of events at Black Mountain Jazz has seen a concentration on the playing of local musicians rather than that of London based bands engaged on national tours. I suspect that this has largely been due to budgetary constraints and the uncertainty as to the future of the Jazz Services organisation but the change of emphasis has allowed a number of locally based bands to play in front of comparatively large audiences, all of which have been highly supportive and appreciative.
Recent visitors to the club have included guitarists Trefor Owen and Remi Harris, trombonist Paul Munnery and vocalist Debs Hancock and tonight the spotlight fell on saxophonist Tamasin Reardon, a locally based musician who appeared on the Fringe programme at BMJ’s 2014 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival as part of a trio fronted by Hancock. Reardon plays both tenor and alto saxophones but this evening concentrated on the latter as she presented a programme of well known jazz standards, many of them associated with the late, great Paul Desmond (1924-77). Joining her on piano was Gareth Hall, who had been at the club the previous month as a member of Hancock’s band The Jazz Dragons. The rhythm section featured the vastly experienced drummer Greg Evans with Don Sweeney on double bass.
Sweeney is an interesting character, also known as Donnie Joe the expatriate American is also a talented guitarist and vocalist and leads his own bands including Donnie Joe’s American Swing, a quintet featuring Sweeney on guitar that is due to appear at the 2015 Wall2Wall Festival. Sweeney plays across a variety of musical genres and in many different line ups, I was certainly impressed with his capabilities as a bassist and was surprised that I hadn’t come across his playing anywhere before. For more information on his activities please visit http://www.donniejoemusic.com
Turning now to tonight’s leader Reardon’s on line presence is less obvious but she appears to be a member of Sweeney’s American Swing Band as well as performing regularly with many other leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene at venues in Cardiff, Torfaen, Brecon etc. My only previous known sighting of her was with Hancock’s trio in 2014 as detailed above. She is certainly a highly capable saxophonist as demonstrated by her playing tonight beginning with “The Way You Look Tonight” which saw her leading off the solos followed by Hall on piano and Sweeney at the bass.
Most of tonight’s pieces featured the same sequence of solos -alto, piano, bass - a pattern that became a little too predictable after a while. Next up was an arrangement of “Out Of Nowhere” that featured Evans’ brushed grooves on a tune recorded by Desmond on the 1963 album “Take Ten” which teamed Desmond with the guitarist Jim Hall plus bassist Gene Wright and MJQ drummer Conny Kay. Desmond is best known as the saxophonist with pianist Dave Brubeck’s hugely successful quartet. Even people who aren’t jazz fans recognise Brubeck’s biggest hit, “Take Five”, a tune actually written by Desmond.
The Desmond original “Samba Cantina” saw Reardon introducing a Brazilian flavour to her set and once more instigating the solos. Sweeney’s feature was particularly impressive, he’s a highly melodic bass soloist but also has the power, tone and sense of time and swing to really get behind the music at other times.
“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” was Reardon’s homage to another great alto player, the late Art Pepper (1925-82). However as Reardon pointed out the tune was also sung by Diane Keaton in the Woody Allen film “Radio Days” making it a popular item even with audiences who might not be dyed in the wool jazz fans.
“Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” was introduced as a ballad with Reardon drawing attention to the risqué lyrics in Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of the song. Ushered in by Sweeney at the bass the piece was played at a slightly faster tempo than a true ballad with Evans’ brushed drums supporting solos from Reardon, Hall and the always melodic Sweeney.
The obligatory Brubeck tune was not “Take Five”, which actually didn’t appear at all - “we’re sick of playing it” explained Sweeney later. Instead the quartet tackled the equally catchy “It’s A Raggy Waltz” with its 3/4 time signature. With this being a tune written by a pianist it fell to Hall to lead off the solos followed by Reardon and Sweeney.
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” transported us back to Brazil with the chatter of Evans’ sticks on rims underpinning the solos from Reardon, Hall and Sweeney.
A playful version of Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are” completed the first set with Reardon stating the theme and taking the first solo. An extended piano feature from Hall saw him inserting some mischievous quotes from other tunes into his solo. When it came to his turn Sweeney responded in kind, with the quote from “Get Happy” best summing up the spirit of this good natured musical exchange.
Set two began with the boppish theme and swinging grooves of Gerry Mulligan’s “Five Brothers” as Reardon broadened the theme of the evening to embrace ‘West Coast Cool’ in general. “Alone Together” then included extended features for Reardon and Sweeney.
A further excursion to Brazil came in the form of Luiz Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnaval” from the film “Black Orpheus” with Evans’ distinctive hand drumming the backdrop for solos from Hall, Reardon and Sweeney.
Reardon is a fluent improviser and soloist with a classically pure tone on the alto. Her extended feature on the ballad “Body And Soul”, a tune more commonly associated with the tenor saxophone thanks to the landmark recording by Coleman Hawkins, was outstanding and arguably represented her best playing of the night. It certainly earned the approval of Torfaen based trumpeter Ceri Williams who was present in the audience. Further solos came from Price and Sweeney who stayed true to the mood created by Reardon.
The evergreen “Bernie’s Tune”, written by Bernie Miller, was a second dip into the Gerry Mulligan repertoire with solos from Reardon, Hall and Sweeney with the pianist and bassist again playing the “spot the quote” game with ” I Got Rhythm” prominent, perhaps not that surprising considering how many tunes have been written around its chord sequence.
“When Sunny Gets Blue” was given a bossa nova treatment on one last trip to Brazil before Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” took things steaming out on an energetic note with Reardon’s solo containing some of her most forceful and impassioned playing of the set. Prior to this she’d been the epitome of cool, very much in the spirit of Desmond.
The Ad-Lib quartet had been very well received and BMJ’s Mike Skilton had little difficulty in coaxing them back for an encore, a version of “Desmond Blue”, the title track of one of the series of albums Desmond recorded with Jim Hall for RCA in the early 1960s. The success of the Brubeck quartet resulted in a contract clause which forbade Desmond to play with any other pianist. Instead he seemed to find a kindred spirit in guitarist Hall who left us only recently in December 2013 at the age of eighty three.
This had been a very enjoyable evening of swinging, mainstream jazz in the relaxed atmosphere of a provincial jazz club. A little predictable perhaps but very popular with its target audience and almost certainly another event that broke even financially. Everybody played well and my interest was piqued about seeing Sweeney in his guitarist guise when Wall2Wall comes round again in September 2015. See http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk for details.blog comments powered by Disqus