Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

March 13, 2019


The trio makes for a cohesive, well balanced and interactive unit that delivers some well integrated ensemble playing alongside the brilliance of the individual solos.

The Roger Beaujolais Italian Trio

“Barba Lunga”

(Stay Tuned Records ST011)

Vibraphonist and composer Roger Beaujolais has appeared frequently on the Jazzmann web pages as both leader and sideman. A professional musician for over thirty years he is a spectacular vibes soloist and a highly popular figure on the UK jazz scene, loved by fellow musicians and audiences alike. 

A late comer to both the vibraphone and the professional jazz ranks Beaujolais has more than made up for lost time. He took up the instrument at twenty four and turned professional at thirty working first with the Chevalier Brothers and Ray Gelato during the 1980’s before becoming part of the 1990’s Acid Jazz movement. Beaujolais’ albums for the Acid Jazz label with The Beaujolais Band and Vibraphonic brought him a degree of commercial success including a US hit with Vibraphonic’s “Can’t Get Enough”.

Beaujolais has also enjoyed a successful session career appearing on pop and rock albums by artists as diverse as Duffy, Rumer, Robert Plant, Roni Size, Guy Chambers, Omara Portuondo, Alexander O’Neal, Morrissey, Paul Weller, Alison Limerick, Kirsty MacColl, Graham Coxon, Tony Allen, Ed Motta, Neneh Cherry, Shola Ama, Colin Vearncombe and Fairground Attraction. It’s a wide ranging and very impressive list.

As a jazz sideman he has worked with pianist Tim Richards’ Great Spirit group, Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra, saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Tommaso Starace, bassist Davide Mantovani and pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland. Indeed I first became aware of his playing during his tenure with Richards’ much missed Great Spirit nonet.

Since 1999 Beaujolais has placed a greater emphasis on straight ahead jazz in an acoustic setting, establishing his own Stay Tuned label to document his output.  He has since released a number of albums in either a quartet or quintet format  beginning with 1999’s “Old Times” and progressing through “I’ll See You Tonight” (2003), “Sentimental” (2005) “Blue Reflections” (2007), “Mind The Gap” (2013) and “Sunset” (2017). The most recent three of these have all been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

“Barba Lunga” represents the twentieth album of Beaujolais’ solo career and finds him in a pared down trio format in the company of the Italian musicians Giacomo Dominici (acoustic and electric bass) and Alessandro Pivi (drums). As his work with Starace and Mantovani has suggested Beaujolais has strong connections with Italy and he has has been a frequent visitor to Rimini for more than a decade, during which time he has established a strong musical relationship with Dominici and Pivi.

Since I last saw him perform Beaujolais has sprouted an impressive grey beard that makes him look a little like Robert Wyatt. I’d have thought it would get in the way when he is soloing on the vibes but nevertheless the new album is named for it - “Barba Lunga”, meaning “Long Beard”.

As on “Mind The Gap” and “Sunset” the focus is again very much on Beaujolais’ original writing. The album’s two covers are a remarkable arrangement of the Jimi Hendrix classic “The Wind Cries Mary” and an adaptation of the Stan Freeman/Jack Lawrence tune “Faith”.

The vibes trio is a fairly uncommon line up,  although the contemporary Cloudmakers Trio of vibraphonist Jim Hart,  bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Dave Smith comes to mind, and it was also the format often favoured by the late, great US vibes man Walt Dickerson (1931-2008).

Nevertheless Beaujolais seems to relish the freedom afforded by the exposed setting and the rapport he has established over a ten year period with his two Italian colleagues is immediately apparent.  Pivi’s drums kick start the opening “Granita for Anita” and his dialogue with the leader’s vibes is consistently absorbing as they negotiate the boppish twists and turns of the piece as Dominici plays an anchoring role on electric bass, his buoyant grooves also helping to drive the music forward. Having seen Beaujolais performing live in a variety of contexts on a number of occasions I know that he’s a fluent and often fiery soloist with a prodigious four mallet technique. He positively dazzles on the opening solo here and he’s followed by Dominici, finally cutting loose on the bass. It all makes for an energetic and exhilarating start.

Next we hear the title track, “Barba Lunga”, which initially adopts a slightly less frenetic approach as Beaujolais’ vibes lead the way accompanied by Dominici’s languid but springy electric bass groove and Pivi’s colourful and brightly detailed drumming. The leader takes the first solo, engineering a sudden kick into a more rapid swing groove mid tune as his mallets positively dance across the bars. Dominici’s melodic electric bass feature slows the tempo once more and there’s also a carefully constructed, subtly nuanced drum solo from the excellent Pivi.

Beaujolais, arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” becomes an effective jazz vehicle with Dominici’s acoustic bass playing the melody as Beaujolais’ shimmering vibes and Pivi’s brushed drums offer discrete support.

“Faith”, written by Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence was made famous by Art Blakey and Beaujolais and his friends treat it to a bustling bebop style arrangement that is positively joyous in its execution. Beaujolais sparkles with an energetic solo above a shuffling bass and drum groove. Dominici, on acoustic bass also enjoys an extended solo and there are a series of rapid fire drum breaks from Pivi.

The playful mood continues on the marvellously titled Beaujolais original “Mr Non PC”, another fast paced offering that places a contemporary slant on traditional bebop virtues with its numerous changes of pace. Here the trio are at their most tight knit and interactive, negotiating the tune’s complexities like a single organism. Nevertheless there is still room for moments of individual brilliance with Beaujolais and Dominici both contributing solos while Pivi turns in a receptive but highly colourful performance behind the kit.

“Are We There Yet” is ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied bass, subsequently joined by the shimmer of vibes and cymbals. It subsequently shades off into a languid, Latin tinged groove with the leader’s vibes floating serenely above a carpet of drums and acoustic bass. Dominici adds a characteristically melodic solo on acoustic bass.

“Benign Tonight” offers more contemporary bop virtues as Beaujolais solos in virtuoso fashion above a backdrop of Dominici’s rapid bass walk and Pivi’s crisp drum grooves. The drummer also enjoys an extended feature, as does Dominici at the bass.

“Lost For Words” is less frenetic, beginning with the shimmer of solo vibes and with Pivi alternating between brushes and sticks. A genuine ballad it features liquid, melodic electric bass from Dominici, who also accompanies Beaujolais as Pivi temporarily drops out. But the drummer later returns for a series of engaging exchanges with the leader’s vibes.

The pace picks up again for the playful romp that is “Peccable” with Beaujolais’ vibes percolating above a taut bass and drum groove on a piece that again includes some inspired exchanges between the members of the trio, with all three also featuring as soloists.

“On The Other Hand” slows things down once more with Dominici’s languorous electric bass initially taking the melody and expounding upon it before he hands over to Beaujolais. The bassist returns for a second bite of the cherry following the leader’s vibes solo. Meanwhile Pivi adds another well structured solo at the kit, his playing colourful and richly nuanced and imbued with subtle melodic flourishes.

The album concludes with the breezy and sparky “Enough Rope”, which is introduced by Pivi at the drums and includes solos from Dominici on acoustic bass and Beaujolais at the vibes plus a series of crisp and dynamic drum breaks from Pivi.

The Beaujolais Italian Trio is less radical in its approach than Cloudmakers and the music to be heard on “Barba Lunga” is largely rooted in conventional jazz and bebop virtues. The rapport between the three musicians is consistently impressive and the trio makes for a cohesive, well balanced and interactive unit that delivers some well integrated ensemble playing alongside the brilliance of the individual solos. This is a highly democratic trio and each member is afforded plenty of solo space and given the chance to shine individually.

Beaujolais wouldn’t claim to be a radical and there are few real surprises here but like the rest of his recent output it’s a highly accomplished album that offers much for the listener to enjoy. Let’s hope that he’s able to bring the members of his very impressive Italian trio over to the UK to play some live dates at some point in the future.

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