by Ian Mann
March 01, 2016
An intriguing double bill of recorded and live music from artists based in Wales.
The Sheik Of Shellac / Glen Manby Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/02/2016.
The second of BMJ’s monthly events at their new venue, the Melville Centre, featured an intriguing double bill of Wales based artists. Hugh Parry aka The Sheik of Shellac is based in Mid Wales while alto saxophonist Glen Manby is a long term stalwart of the Cardiff jazz scene.
THE SHEIK OF SHELLAC
BMJ promoter Mike Skilton has long harboured a wish to have a ‘record night’ at one of the Club’s sessions. Indeed Hugh Parry, The Sheik had been considered as a possibility for the 2015 Wall2Wall but had been unavailable at that time.
Parry describes himself as ‘a wind-up D.J.’ and presents “music before the microchip” played on a variety of vintage phonographs, gramophones and record players. He performs for clubs and societies in the form of a talk/presentation as well as providing distinctive background music at functions such as weddings and birthdays.
Parry can tailor his presentations and musical style to suit any occasion. By his own admission he’s not a jazz fan first and foremost and was something of a late convert to the cause - but as tonight’s show revealed he’s amassed an impressive knowledge of the subject over the years.
Dressed in the kind of loudly checked suit that George Melly once sported Parry proved to be a knowledgeable and witty presenter. He’d brought along six pieces of apparatus from a collection of around seventy, all of them of the wind up variety with the exception of a 1950s Dansette, something that many of those present in the audience remembered from their youth.
Parry announced his intention to provide us with a “feast of jazz” and was true to his word with a selection of food based titles, almost all of them hot. Most of the music played was from the New Orleans and swing eras and was recorded on 78s with a running time of around three and a half minutes. As Parry explained the bebop revolution occurred at almost the same time the vinyl LP was invented, and thus very little of the music and its subsequent developments found its way on to the old 78 rpm discs.
Tonight’s presentation began with music from the first decade of the 20th century, a time that witnessed the first ‘battle of the formats’. Never mind LP vs. CD or even Betamax vs. VHS, this was cylinder versus disc, with the latter winning out and shaping all future developments. However Mr. Parry possesses a 1905 Edison phonograph on which he played a version of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Clarinet Marmalade” recorded on a 120 rpm cylinder. By modern standards the sound quality was appalling and we were informed that the last cylinders were produced in 1908 with the shellac disc subsequently taking over.
The difference in both quality and volume between the phonograph and the French made gramophone from 1910 that Parry played next was remarkable. Manufactured by the French company Pathe the “Tournaphone Invisible” had a horn several times larger than that of the phonograph and projected the sound of “Bacon and Egg Man”, a Mugsy Spanier side from 1940 superbly. As Parry observed it’s somewhat ironic that the device is rather more reluctant to play discs from its own era. Nevertheless one could appreciate from this how the gramophone came to capture the imagination, one could visualise this being used at a ball in a country house or even in the officer’s mess during World War 1.
The next machine, by the Gilbert company of Sheffield had a distinctive bugle arm but by the time of its manufacture, as gramophones became more common, the trend was away from portables and towards machines that looked like items of furniture, something that eventually culminated in the radiogram. The Gilbert was the first of the machines played tonight not to have a horn. It’s impressive capabilities were demonstrated by a typically bawdy and lascivious tune from Fats Waller called “Shortenin’ Bread”, originally recorded in 1941 but not released until after Waller’s death in 1948. Parry even read out a recipe for shortenin’ bread which frankly sounded pretty disgusting. Yes, this was a culinary talk too! Fats seemed to have set the mood for next we heard more tales of debauchery and dodgy dinner items on Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot”.
In the 1950s the development of the lightweight pick-up helped to ensure that vinyl took over from shellac and as alluded to previously most bebop was recorded in the LP format, as was the music of the British Trad Revival in the late 50s early 60s. The old wind up gramophones tended to be kept for outdoor use as electric powered players such as the Dansette took over. Parry demonstrated his own 1958 Dansette, the only non wind up player in tonight’s selection, with a recording of “Hershey Bar” by saxophonist Stan Getz’s quartet.
Parry went back to the 1910 gramophone for “Dunkin’ The Donut”, a recording by saxophonist Andy Kirk’s band Clouds of Joy featuring piano soloist Mary Lou Williams.
Then it was on to a somewhat temperamental German machine from the 1930s, the Odeon Orator. Odeon was the German arm of the American Columbia company but ironically the Orator steadfastly refuses to play any Columbia records, it seems to prefer HMV! Parry demonstrated the machine with “Hors D’Ouevres” by the Sid Phillips Orchestra. Parry’s collection also featured a handsome red Columbia portable gramophone from the US.
There were more dubious sounding culinary items on the menu including “Spare Ribs and Spaghetti” by the 1930s Swedish bandleader Owe Olston and “Chicken And Waffles” by the tragically short lived trumpeter Bunny Berigan who died in 1942 from cirrhosis of the liver aged just thirty three.
Jelly Roll Morton was an obvious guest at this ‘feast of jazz’ with his “Red Hot Pepper Stomp”. And nobody could forget to invite Louis Armstrong with his “Cornet Shop Suey”. Both of these tasty dishes from New Orleans featured the clarinet playing of the great Johnny Dodds.
The meal was coming towards a close now and for the sweet course Parry offered “Shoo- Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” by the Stan Kenton Orchestra featuring vocalist June Christie.
Finally Parry cranked up the Orator for a final time as the first half of the evening ended with the sound of “ I Ain’t Gonna Give You None Of My Jelly Roll” by Sidney Bechet and his Feetwarmers.
This was a great way to end an enjoyable, informative and entertaining presentation that included some excellent music. The technical details of the various players were interesting as was the information about the social conditions and fashions of the times in which they were manufactured.
The decision to thematically link the music with the ongoing food strand worked well and helped to maintain the attention of the listeners and some of the culinary snippets that Parry threw our way were also very interesting.
Quirky and different this presentation represented something of a departure for BMJ and those that were present very much enjoyed it. However I did wonder if the format of the evening deterred some potential audience members The January event featuring the jazz/folk crossover act Carmina was very well attended but numbers were substantially reduced tonight, which was a pity as The Sheik of Shellac had much to offer to both the hardcore jazz fan and the more casual observer.
Parry also runs a literary website called the The Wool Gatherer. More information on his activities, including a page dedicated to the Sheik Of Shellac, can be found at http://www.woolgathererinwales.com
GLEN MANBY QUARTET
The live music half of the evening came courtesy of alto saxophonist Glen Manby and his quartet. Manby is a popular figure on the Cardiff jazz scene and was once a member of local cult favourites Mike Harries’ Root Doctors, perennial favourites on the much missed Stroller Programme at the old Brecon Jazz Festival.
These days Manby leads a trio and a quartet and also holds a part time teaching post at the Royal Welsh College of Music And Drama. The quartet he had assembled for tonight’s performance included some of the best and most popular musicians on the South Wales jazz circuit with the leader being joined by Jim Barber (keyboards), Don Sweeney (bass) and Greg Evans (drums). The programme comprised entirely of jazz and bebop standards but the quality of the playing and the inventiveness of the soloing helped to raise the level of the performance, thereby ensuring that it was beyond the level of merely ‘routine’.
Manby’s influences include such well known altoists as Charlie Parker, Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderley. He also cites the lesser known figures of Andrew Speight, Australian born but now based in San Francisco, and the late Latin jazz saxophonist Mario Rivera. I also fancied that I detected something of Jackie McLean in Manby’s incisive tone.
However Manby doesn’t just listen to other alto players and the quartet’s performance kicked off with a rousing take on tenor legend Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig Of You”, which proved to be a good introduction to the voices of the band as Manby led off the solos followed by Barber on piano. Barber was playing a Nord Stage2 keyboard with a modified pedal set up that allowed him to create both piano and organ sounds, sometimes simultaneously if required . This was clearly a quartet with a clear love of musical technology, Sweeney was playing an upright five string electric bass that looked as if it might have once belonged to Eberhard Weber. I’d only seen him play acoustic double bass before but he delivered a number of excellent solos on the electric instrument, these often underscored by the organ sounds of Barber’s Nord. Evans rounded off the individual features here with a series of lively drum breaks.
Manby’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean” followed, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano by Barber prior to the addition of alto, bass and brushed drums.
Barber took the first solo on piano before adding organ sounds to Sweeney’s bass solo. It was left to the leader to complete the soloing on alto.
Next up was the quartet’s interpretation of Bill Evans’ arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” which incorporated an expansive solo from the excellent Barber. I’d seen him perform with trumpeter Steve Waterman at the 2015 Swansea International Jazz Festival and this set with Manby once again demonstrated just what a fine soloist he is, technically adept, imaginative, swinging and inventive.
Barber also introduced and took the first solo on the jazz standard “Alone Together” followed by Manby on alto. There was also an extended passage of unaccompanied bass as Sweeney put his new electric instrument through its paces to great effect. An American expat living in Wales the versatile Sweeney is also an accomplished guitarist and vocalist in which capacity he leads his own band Donnie Joe’s American Swing.
Jimmy Van Heusen’s tune “Nancy With The Laughing Face” has lyrics written by Phil Silvers – hence the somewhat irreverent alternative title “Bilko’s Ballad”. And this was a genuine ballad performance with Manby’s alto cushioned by Barber’s organ solo before the keyboard man changed the settings for a lyrical and rhapsodic piano solo. Then it was the turn of Sweeney on melodic electric bass before a further feature for Manby’s sax.
The inclusion of Chick Corea’s “Windows” brought a more modern element to the proceedings with Manby producing some of his most impassioned and powerful playing of the set as he shared the solos with Barber on piano and Sweeney at the bass.
The intensity was continued into the improvised 12/8 blues that followed which combined New Orleans and boogie influences with an occasional wilful dissonance. Manby’s blues inflected playing was again assertive and powerful with Sweeney the other featured soloist.
The quartet were on something of a roll by now and their version of Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-me” was also a high energy affair, this time with features for all the members of the group beginning with Barber on piano. Manby’s alto swooped and soared thrillingly prior to the mandatory features for the excellent rhythm section of Sweeney and Evans.
The deserved encore was a playful romp through Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” which incorporated solos from Manby on alto, musical director Barber at the piano and Sweeney at the bass with Evans turning in a a series of brightly brushed drum breaks.
All in all a highly creditable performance from this bunch of Welsh jazz stalwarts, one deserving of a larger audience.
Hopefully the crowds will be back on March 20th 8.00 pm when BMJ hosts the acclaimed German pianist/vocalist Olivia Trummer who will perform in an intimate duo situation opposite vibraphonist Jean Lou Treboux. This show is part of a national UK tour and is the only Welsh date. It promises to be a highly memorable event and represents quite a coup for BMJ.blog comments powered by Disqus