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Thomas Marsh Quintet

Thomas Marsh Quintet, Corn Exchange Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, 15/02/2024.

by Ian Mann

February 19, 2024


Ian Mann enjoys "a quality live performance" from the young bassist & composer Thomas Marsh & his quintet and takes a look at his debut album "What's Wrong With Rain?".

Thomas Marsh Quintet, Corn Exchange Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, 15/02/2024.

Thomas Marsh – double bass, Luca Gianassi – guitar, Ben Carter – alto saxophone, Juliana Deil – piano, Henry Wakley – drums

The young bassist, composer and band leader Thomas Marsh is a recent graduate (2023) of the esteemed Jazz Course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Originally from St. David’s in Pembrokeshire he remains based in Birmingham, as do his equally youthful colleagues, most of whom are also recent Birmingham Conservatoire graduates. Pianist Deil, a late replacement for the advertised Ben Shankland, is currently studying for a Masters Degree at RBC.

I recall seeing Marsh perform at the 2023 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he appeared as part of one of the three groups to be featured at the annual Birmingham / Siena Jazz Exchange event. Marsh was part of a quintet that also included Gianassi and Wakley, plus alto saxophonist Rebecca Wing and trumpeter Daniele Nocella. Although the group only performed two numbers it was enough to whet my appetite for tonight’s performance. My review of the Jazz Exchange event appears as part of my Festival coverage here;

The two tunes that were performed at Cheltenham were unannounced but on re-reading my account I suspect that they may have actually been original compositions by Marsh that subsequently appeared on his debut album “What’s Wrong With Rain?”, which was recorded in Studio 1 at the RBC and self released by Marsh in July 2023.

Dedicated to the memory of Marsh’s late father Robin the recording features Marsh on bass and Gianassi on guitar alongside tenor saxophonist Ben Partridge, pianist Ben Shankland and drummer Reece Downton. Partridge has since moved on, to be replaced in Marsh’s regular line up by alto saxophonist Ben Carter (there are just too many Bens). Carter favours a pure toned alto sound that is strongly influenced by Paul Desmond, although he also cites Art Pepper, Charlie Parker, Kenny Garrett and Chris Potter as other sources of inspiration.

Pianist Shankland is something of a rising star and was recently the subject of a favourable review by guest Jazzmann contributor Colin May for his trio gig at The Mad Hatter in Oxford in October 2023. Scottish born Shankland’s trio also included Chun-Wei Kang on drums plus BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year Ewan Hastie on double bass. Colin’s review can be read here;

Having read what Colin had to say about him I was initially a little disappointed to learn that Shankland was unable to appear, but in the event I was hugely impressed with his replacement, Juliana Deil, who performed superbly on the venue’s upright acoustic piano.

There is a good deal of cross fertilisation on the Birmingham jazz scene and Deil, who is also a composer, leads her own quartet, a group that features the rhythm section of Marsh and Wakley.  Marsh also co-ordinates the regular Jazz at The Ruin series of events in Digbeth.

Southampton born Carter is also a composer and bandleader and has recently launched a Crowdfunder campaign to help finance his debut EP. Link here;

On a wet Thursday night in Ross “What’s Wrong With Rain?” felt like an apt title as close to a hundred people crammed into the Corn Exchange to see this young quintet. A magnificent turnout that must have delighted both the band and promoter David Logan. My thanks are due to David for providing press tickets for myself and my wife.

The quintet’s repertoire included material from the “What’s Wrong With Rain?” album and featured a mix of Marsh’s original compositions plus a selection of interesting outside material that drew on both the jazz and rock canons.

Appropriately the performance began with “Prologue”, a Marsh original and the opening track on the album. Introduced by Gianassi at the guitar and featuring Carter’s beguiling alto sax melodies this was an episodic composition that incorporated fluent and tasteful solos from Carter, Gianassi, Deil and Marsh, with Wakley featuring towards the close.

Also from the album came Marsh’s imaginative arrangement of the jazz standard “Someday My Prince Will Come”, which was performed in a quartet format with Carter sitting out. This was introduced by the leader with a passage of unaccompanied double bass and later featured a soaring guitar solo from Gianassi, a technically accomplished player with seemingly prehensile fingers. Deil’s piano solo was more relaxed, but no less fluent, and there were also features for double bass and drums.

Marsh spent some time playing electric bass with Latin bands, a period that helped to inspire his selection of “Iberia”, a composition by Mongo Santamaria. Also ushered in by Marsh’s bass this was a lively piece that incorporated Carter’s effusive sax melodies and Deil’s Afro-Cuban pianistics and included expansive solos from Carter on alto, Gianassi on guitar and the leader on double bass. Carter’s pure toned alto returned to restate the theme before an extended passage of unaccompanied double bass saw the music segue into an extraordinary instrumental version of the song “Solid Air”, written by the late, great guitarist and vocalist John Martyn, a significant source of inspiration for Marsh, with Martyn’s bassist, the great Danny Thompson, representing one of Marsh’s bass heroes.

“Solid Air” emerged out of Marsh’s solo bass excursion, first via the leader’s bass motif and Wakley’s mallet rumbles and then by Carter’s statement of the melody. Something of the woozy, nocturnal mystery of Martyn’s original recording remained as the performance progressed via Deil’s lyrical piano solo and Carter’s gently brooding alto sax explorations. Finally the piece came full circle, with just the sounds of Marsh’s bass and Wakley’s mallets. This was a stunning instrumental interpretation of one of my favourite songs.

The first half concluded with the quintet upping the energy levels once more on a Marsh / Shankland arrangement of the Sonny Rollins tune “Airegin”, the complex head eliciting a false start. However the quintet soon nailed it, with Rollins’ tricky theme acting as the jumping off point for impressive solos from Carter, Gianassi, Deil and Marsh, with Wakley featured in a series of exchanges with sax and guitar as he ‘traded fours’. This lively performance brought an excellent first set to a close, one that was warmly applauded by a very attentive Ross audience.

Set two commenced with the title track from Marsh’s album. “What’s Wrong With Rain” was introduced by Wakley at the drums, soon joined by the leader’s bass and Carter’s sax melodies. An attractive theme provided the basis for typically fluent solos from Carter, Deil and Marsh. The performance concluded with a neatly constructed drum feature, with Wakley benefiting from the subtle support of his colleagues.

Also from the album came the ballad “Cofiwch”, the title being the Welsh word for “Remember”. It’s easy to imagine that the song is a lament for a lost loved one, but the word also has political connotations in Wales, the phrase “Cofiwch Dryweryn”  (“Rememer Tryweryn”) being a reference to the drowning of the Tryweryn Valley in Ceredigion in 1965 in order to create a reservoir to supply water to the city of Liverpool. This unilateral decision was strongly opposed in Wales at the time and the incident has since become a rallying call for Welsh nationalism.
Whatever the source of its inspiration this was a beautiful composition, again ushered in by Wakley at the drums, this time deploying mallets during an atmospheric introduction. This was the second quartet performance of he night, with Carter again sitting out. Gianassi’s reflective guitar melodicism was followed by a lyical piano solo from Deil, who was followed by Marsh at the bass. Marsh and Deil then entered into a thoughtful bass / piano dialogue, sensitively supported by Wakley’s mallets, this passage marking the bridge into the next section of a three part segue.

With Carter returning to the stage this proved to be an arrangement of the Cream song “We’re Going Wrong”. Marsh started out on electric bass and Cream have been an importany band for him, with Jack Bruce representing an early influence. Other inspirational bassists for Marsh include Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, Stanley Clarke and the aforementioned Danny Thompson. The Cream section of the segue included a soaring guitar solo from Gianassi that saw him making effective use of his sustain pedal. A near free jazz episode then hinted at Marsh’s growing interest in this area of the music, with the leader briefly deploying the body of his bass as a form of percussion. A melodic coda featuring the melodic sounds of Carter’s alto represented a reprise of “What’s Wrong With Rain”. Two different version of this composition also appear on the album.

Following this lengthy and impressive segue the evening concluded with another album track, Marsh’s composition “Westminster Wobble”, an instrumental tune based on the Cream song “Politician”. The composer’s unaccompanied bass intro ushered in an infectiously swinging, bluesy piece that incorporated solos from Carter, Gianassi, Deil and Marsh, plus an extended drum feature from Wakley, who relished the opportunity to unleash his inner Ginger Baker.

I was very impressed by this live performance from the talented Marsh and his highly accomplished quintet. The leader impressed both as a player and as a writer and “What’s Wring With Rain?” represents a remarkably assured and mature debut, a recording that also stands up impressively in the home environment. In addition to the material played tonight the album also includes an arrangement of the standard “It Could Happen To You” and the episodic, and very impressive, original composition “Reanima”. The recorded version of “Cofiwch” sees Tom Henery replacing Gianassi on guitar.

Gianassi, Carter, Deil and Wakley also impressed both individually and collective and I would be more than happy to see and hear any of them again, either as part of Marsh’s or other groups or as the leaders of their own projects.

My thanks to Tom, Juliana, Ben and Henry for speaking with me during the interval and after the show. All were highly personable and I wish them all well (also Luca, who I didn’t get around to talking to) as they embark upon their musical careers. Hopefully we will hear much more from all of them.

Individually and collectively they made a lot of new friends in Ross tonight with a quality live performance that suggested that a bright future awaits for all of them.

The track listing for “What’s Wrong With Rain?” is;

1. Prologue
2. Someday My Prince Will Come
3. What’s Wrong With Rain?
4. Solid Air
5. Westminster Wobble
6. It Could Happen To You
7. Cofiwch
8. Reanima
9. What’s Wrong With Rain?

The album is subtitled “Book 1” and the album packaging incorporates the promise “To Be Continued”. Expect to hear a lot more from Thomas Marsh.


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