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Tomorrow’s New Quartet

Tomorrow’s New Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/12/2023.

by Ian Mann

December 16, 2023


A terrific performance from a hugely talented quartet. At the end the audience at The Muse rose to their feet to give this superb young band a well deserved standing ovation.

Tomorrow’s New Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/12/2023.

Rod Oughton – drums, Helena Kay – tenor saxophone, Deschanel Gordon – piano, Flo Moore – electric bass

The 2023 programme at Brecon Jazz Club came to an exciting conclusion with a superb performance of largely original material from this stellar young quartet. As soon as this line up was announced earlier in the year I immediately knew that this was a gig that I just had to see.

Tomorrow’s New Quartet (hereafter TNQ) are led by drummer and composer Rod Oughton, a graduate at the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. Between the years 2012 and 2014 I enjoyed seeing Oughton give several excellent performances behind the kit in both Brecon and Abergavenny in his role as the drummer of the RWCMD Big Band, an institution that has helped to launch the career of a number of other professional jazz musicians.

During his years in Cardiff Oughton also performed with guitarist James Chadwick, saxophonist Ben Treacher and the Afro-Cuban ensemble The Mañana Collective . 

I was always impressed by Oughton’s playing, which was skilful, paid great attention to detail and could be immensely powerful when required. The range of acts, across a number of genres, with which he has been associated both during and after his period in Cardiff is also a testament to his versatility.

But Oughton is more than a just drummer. After leaving Wales he became a professional musician in London and in 2021 released the album “Only In Autumn”, which saw him leading an octet with the collective name OK Aurora. The band line up included many of the leading young jazz musicians on the London jazz scene,  among them trumpeter Alexandra Ridout, a former BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year.

OK Aurora was not a straight-ahead jazz ensemble, but was instead aiming for a blend of contemporary jazz and intelligent pop, with artists such as Steely Dan and Becca Stephens named by Oughton as significant influences. The music and lyrics on “Only In Autumn” were written exclusively by Oughton, who proved himself to be a talented songwriter and lyricist, with Russian born singer Alina Miroshnichenko, another RWCMD graduate, giving voice to his words. Two other RWCMD alumni, saxophonist Dan Smith and bassist Pete Komor were also part of the OK Aurora line up.

My review of “Only In Autumn” can be found here;

In contrast to OK Aurora Oughton’s latest project is an all instrumental affair. The group members first played together in 2019, not long before the first Covid lockdown, “a great time to start a new jazz group”, as Oughton ruefully remarked. He spent much of the lockdown period writing specifically for the musicians that he optimistically dubbed “Tomorrow’s New Quartet”, reasoning that the group would eventually be able to get together to perform the fruits of his labours. Thus the group name isn’t as presumptuous / pretentious as it first might appear, instead it’s a simple expression of hope.

Oughton had played with all the members of the group before, but never in this particular combination. Gordon and Kay are bandleaders in their own right and the saxophonist’s two excellent releases at the helm of her own KIM Trio (“Moon Palace” and “Golden Sands”) are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

“This project gave me a sense of purpose during that challenging period” Oughton explains in the liner notes to the “Tomorrow’s New Quartet” album, which was eventually recorded in May 2021 and subsequently released in 2022 by Ubuntu Music, who had also handled the OK Aurora release. Engineered by Sonny Johns and Peter Beckmann the album represents an impressive debut and a number of pieces from it were performed this evening. However Oughton is a prolific writer and there was plenty of excellent new material too. At the request of Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall the quartet also included “a couple of pieces that the audience were likely to know”, but these weren’t the usual Great American Songbook standards, with Oughton and the band choosing a small selection of more modern classics from the pens of Keith Jarrett,  Chick Corea and Abdullah Ibrahim.

This evening’s performance was supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Noson Allan (or Night Out) scheme, so thanks are due to them.

It was appropriate that the evening should begin with a world premiere of a new Oughton composition simply titled “Intro”.  This commenced with the sound of Deschanel’s unaccompanied arpeggiated playing on upright acoustic piano, with minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass representing a clear source of reference, and one that was to surface again before the close. Moore’s electric bass was added, almost imperceptibly at first, before the arrival of drums and sax steered the music into more obvious jazz territory, with Kay stating the main melodic theme on tenor and delivering the first real solo of the night, still underpinned by those arpeggiated keyboards. Oughton also featured strongly,, with some passages of music almost seeming to be led from the drums. An exciting, intriguing and very contemporary opener.

TNQ turned to the album repertoire for “Three High”, which Oughton’s liner notes inform us was “written the day after an unexpected evening with two friends”. Written back in 2019 this was the first piece that Oughton composed for the then new group. Introduced by Oughton at the drums, subsequently joined by tenor sax and electric bass, the first section featured the group in saxophone trio mode, with Gordon a relatively late addition to the proceedings. Kay took the first solo on tenor, followed by the impressive Gordon as the group now moved into piano trio territory. Finally we heard from the composer with a neatly constructed drum feature.

In addition to his years in Cardiff and London Oughton has also spent time living in Amsterdam and in Brazil. His love of the music of Latin America and of Brazil in particular found expression in his composition “Chorinho Para Mudanca”, a title translating as “a little cry for change”. Introduced by the sound of tenor sax, piano and Oughton’s hand drumming, with Moore’s bass subsequently added, this was a piece that combined infectious rhythms with breezy melodies and included fluent solos from Kay and Gordon, two award winning musicians. Kay was the recipient of the 2017 Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, while Gordon was the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year for 2020. Tonight their solos were followed by a feature from Flo Moore, her melodic thumb and finger picked soloing on five string electric bass sometimes reminiscent of the great Steve Swallow.

A return to the album material for “Eulogy”, a composition that Oughton dedicates to the memory of his late neighbour Terry Little, who passed away in December 2020 as the result of contracting Covid. The tune proved to be more upbeat than unexpected, a celebration of a life well lived as well as a lament. With Oughton prompting via brushed drums this was a piece with more of a conventional jazz feel, similar in style to a jazz standard. Kay delivered a beautiful, warm toned tenor solo, complemented by another exceptional solo from Moore on bass.

The first ‘outside’ item of the evening was a spirited rendition of the Keith Jarrett composition
“Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” from the classic 1974 Jarrett ‘European Quartet’ album “Belonging. Parts of the tune were later ‘borrowed’ by Steely Dan for the title track of their 1980 album “Gaucho”. Jarrett’s name has since been added to those of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker with regard to the authorship of “Gaucho”.
The introduction to the performance was in piano trio format, with Gordon leading from the keyboard. Kay then joined on tenor sax, probing deeply as she delivered the first solo, playing with a power and fluency to match Jan Garbarek. Gordon took the next solo, confidently filling the Jarrett role. It’s a favourite tune from a classic album, so it was really good to hear this one.

A lengthy first set concluded with another album track as TNQ played “The Journey To Your Door”, a composition that represents a real product of the lockdown experience with Oughton’s liner notes describing the piece as;
“A representation of the nerves and the excitement that comes when you’re on your way to meet someone that you’ve only previously met on Zoom”.
This was notable for the exhilarating exchanges between piano and electric bass, Oughton’s effervescent drum feature, with liberal use of cow bell, and Kay’s saxophone flourishes on the coda.

The second set began with the opening and title track of the album. Oughton describes “All Together, Now!” as;
“A unison melody, to mirror the great efforts and sacrifices that we were making as a society”.
The style of the piece was very much in the jazz tradition and at first I though it might be a piece actually dating from the bebop era, it very much had that feel about it. The lively, complex, boppish unison head was followed by exuberant solos from Kay on tenor and Gordon on piano, plus a series of lively drum breaks from Oughton.

Oughton’s love of Brazilian music found further expression in a new composition named “Meteor H”, the title an anagram honouring the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal. Oughton described his piece as being a “pastiche” of Pascoal’s style and it included expansive solos from Kay and Gordon, the latter’s arguably his best of the night.

Another new tune, “Blue and Gold”, was written by Oughton as a showcase for saxophonist Helena Kay. This was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone, with Kay eventually joined by electric bass and brushed drums. Kay played with a remarkable degree of fluency and assurance throughout the evening, she’s a hugely accomplished soloist with a big, burnished sound capable of combining power with great beauty. This piece was also notable for a liquidly melodic electric bass solo from the similarly impressive Moore.

The second ‘outside’ item of the evening was a suitably Latin-esque arrangement of the Chick Corea composition “Armando’s Rhumba”. This incorporated expansive solos from Gordon and Kay and it was a piece that was particularly well received by the Brecon audience.

The second set concluded with a performance of the Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Water From an Ancient Well”, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone, to which was added the patter of Oughton’s hand drumming. Once Ibrahim’s familiar melody kicked in the focus shifted to pianist Gordon, whose solo sounded suitably ‘Ibrahim-ish’.
TNQ then segued into a second Ibrahim composition, which effectively served as their encore. Rather carelessly I failed to make a note of the title but this part of the sequence was notable for Kay’s forthright tenor soloing and Oughton’s closing drum feature. At the end the audience at The Muse rose to their feet to give this superb young band a well deserved standing ovation. It must have been pleasing for Rod Oughton to mark his return to Wales in such a triumphant manner. The following night TNQ were due to play another show at The Flute & Tankard in Cardiff, a real ‘homecoming’ gig for Oughton.

This really was a terrific performance from a hugely talented young band. Oughton has established himself as an important figure on the UK jazz scene as both a player and a writer and in Kay and Gordon he had two outstanding soloists who were more than capable of bringing his ideas to outstanding fruition. Oughton and Moore represented a flexible and intelligent rhythm team with Moore negotiating some complex and tricky bass lines in addition to making the most of her opportunities as a soloist. Oughton consistently impressed with his technical prowess behind the kit, his playing mixing power with precision and providing an effective launch pad for the solos of Kay and Gordon. He also impressed with his occasional drum features and handled the announcements with just the right balance of information and humour.

During the interval and at the close I enjoyed lengthy conversations with Oughton, Kay and Moore. My thanks to them for that and to Rod for mentioning the work of The Jazzmann from the stage. It’s gratifying to know that my efforts are appreciated by the musicians that I endeavour to support. I’m also grateful to Rod for gifting me a copy of the “All Together, Now!” album, an excellent recording that also includes five tracks not performed tonight, namely “Jemstones”, “The 40th Day”, “Waltz For Last Year” “Angelou” and “Outro”, the last named a solo electric bass performance from Flo Moore. The recording is highly recommended.

All in all this was a great way to sign off a very successful 2023 for Brecon Jazz Club.



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