by Ian Mann
September 27, 2011
An unpretentious, thoroughly enjoyable and value for money event featuring music from seven very different bands.
Torfaen Jazz Society Mini Jazz & Blues Festival, Panteg House, Griffithstown, Pontypool, 24/09/2011.
TJS’s annual “mini festival” proved to be an unpretentious, thoroughly enjoyable and value for money event featuring music from seven very different bands over the course of the afternoon and evening. In keeping with the ethos of TJS’s regular club gigs a variety of jazz styles were represented with the personnel ranging from local heroes to nationally known figures. At £12.00 for an all day ticket this represented an incredible bargain and the standard of musicianship was impressive throughout.
Unfortunately the Society’s regular venue, the Open Hearth pub, was unavailable hence the re-location to the comfortable lounge of the Panteg Employees Social Club at Panteg House. The festival had actually kicked off the previous evening with performances by blues belter Debbie Lear and her band and jazz vocalist Sophie Garner with the Paul Jones Trio. Festival organiser Ceri Williams pronounced himself delighted with the Friday evening session and particularly the performance by Sophie Garner.
FESTIVAL ALL STARS
Saturday attracted an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd that filled the venue but not uncomfortably so. A well organised festival- band switch-overs were effected quickly and efficiently-kicked off bang on time with the Festival All Stars, a one off collaboration led by young trumpeter Jamie Brownfield. Brownfield, from Mid Wales, is a former NYJO member and studied for a year at Trinity before deciding to return home. He has been gigging regularly since a young age and is a member of several different bands, learning his trade “on the job” as it were. Brownfield is already a mature and fluent soloist and was featured here leading a cross generational band featuring the experienced Gareth Roberts, a band leader in his own right, on trombone and Gareth’s namesake Hugh Roberts, from Bristol, on tenor sax. Ashley John Long, now one of Wales’ premier bassists was part of a young rhythm section that also featured pianist Richard West and drummer Jools Aldridge.
The one off sextet played their way through a good natured set of jazz and bebop standards with much in between tune debating about which piece to tackle next. Inevitably it was all in the “head/ solos/head” format but with everybody rising to the occasion this hardly seemed to matter. Gareth Roberts always delivers and is one of my favourite trombone soloists so it was a pleasure to watch him play as always. Hugh Roberts’ gruff, earthy tenor sax proved a good foil for Brownfield’s pure toned trumpet and Ashley John Long is one of the most engaging double bass soloists around, at home in any context from the free to the straight ahead. Richard West impressed with his broad knowledge of jazz piano styles and Aldridge, in conjunction with Long, kept things swinging.
Most tunes involved round robin soloing, usually with a set of drum breaks at the end, but the quality of the playing ensured that the listener remained engaged. A swinging “Perdido” was followed by “All The Things You Are” and then a New Orleans style “Pennies From Heaven” with West’s honky tonk style piano and Roberts’ growling plunger muted trombone. Erroll Garner’s ballad “Misty” showed the more sensitive side of the band and was sandwiched between two high speed bop workouts, Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time” and Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”, both of these providing the group members with opportunities to demonstrate their considerable chops. Hugh Roberts then switched to clarinet for the final number, a New Orleans style rendition of “Indiana”.
The Festival All Stars had got the day off to a cracking start with a swinging, cheerful set chock full of good playing. Roberts and Long impressed as always but after this impressive display I’ll also be keeping an eye on the progress of the younger members of the group, Brownfield, West and Aldridge.
BRYN DAVIES QUARTET
Local lad Bryn Davies is only seventeen but he is already a remarkably mature soloist on both tenor and alto saxophones. A member of the Welsh Youth Jazz Orchestra he also leads his own quartet featuring pianist Aled Vaghela, bass guitarist Frank Morgan and drummer Andy Hughes. All are similarly youthful and also play in local pop and rock bands.
Despite being handicapped by what looked like a nasty hand injury Davies acquitted himself well, switching between tenor and alto in an entertaining set comprised of jazz and bebop standards. Pianist Vaghela, the latest addition to the group, initially looked nervous but quickly acclimatised to the situation and Hughes’ crisp, neatly energetic drumming impressed throughout.
Most of the tunes were unannounced, if Davies is to continue fronting his own groups he needs to work on the verbal aspect of his performance. However his playing spoke for him, he’s already an excellent technician and switched effortlessly between the two horns, the alto being reserved for tricky Charlie Parker style pieces. Among the stand outs were a funked up “Watermelon Man “, which saw Morgan’s bass guitar come into its own, and a strikingly mature ballad performance of “Georgia”.
Speaking to Davies later he downplayed his own performance but I still think the local, and very possibly national, jazz scene is destined to hear a lot more from this talented young musician. He turned up again later as a member of the New Era Reborn Brass Band and acquitted himself well there too.
REMI HARRIS TRIO
Guitarist Remi Harris is another young musician who is making rapid strides. The Herefordshire native has acquired a growing reputation as a masterful gypsy jazz style lead guitarist in the Django Reinhardt mould.
Since I first heard Harris’ music some eighteen months ago he has made considerable progress, touring as lead guitarist with violinist Dan Cassidy’s Swing Quartet and making his London début at the capital’s temple of gypsy jazz Le Quecumbar in Battersea. His performance at the 2010 Brecon Fringe got him a mention in Jazzwise magazine and in 2011 his Brecon date won him the approval of fellow guitarist John Etheridge with whom he is due to perform next year. Other admirers include guitarist Gary Potter, saxophonist Art Themen (of whom more later) and even former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant- keep an eye on young Mr Harris.
I’ve seen the Harris trio several times over the past eighteen months, mostly at local pub gigs and they’re getting better all the time. Their repertoire has expanded to include material beyond the immediate Reinhardt canon, there’s a greater mix of fast and slow material and Harris is now a more confident and mature between tunes interlocutor. Today he and rhythm guitarist Ben Salmon even turned up in suits but I’m not sure if this was a sign of growing professionalism or if they were going on to a party afterwards! Tom Moore, a student at Birmingham Conservatoire completed the group, playing what looked like a new four string Crafter acoustic bass guitar instead of his usual double bass (Moore shares bass duties with Del Strother who appears on the trio’s CD “Live At The Hatch”).
Today’s set was a good representation of the Harris trio’s increasingly mature style, a good mix of the fast and the slow and with bebop pieces and modern pop tunes rubbing shoulders with their core Django Reinhardt numbers. Opening with “Coquette” followed by the fast and furious “Django’s Tiger” the trio then varied the pace with their languid interpretation of The Beatles’ “‘Til There was You”. Breakneck versions of Reinhardt’s “Joseph, Joseph” and Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” were punctuated by the more relaxed jazz standard “All Of Me”.
Harris switched to a warm toned electric for “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, “There Will Never Be Another You” and the tricky, boppish “Cherokee”, a tune made famous by trumpeter Clifford Brown.
It was back to the acoustic for Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing"and Reinhardt’s “I’ll see You In My Dreams” and “Montaigne St. Genevieve”. Turbo charged versions of “Puttin’ On The Ritz” and the closing “Sweet Georgia Brown” added a touch of humour to the dazzling technique and ensured that the audience were left smiling. Harris and his colleagues are becoming increasingly adept at pacing and structuring a performance.
Harris, with his dazzling technique, is inevitably the main man but Salmon is the ideal foil, a specialist rhythm guitarist in the Dave Kelbie mould and Moore is a highly talented young bass player who was given the occasional solo, most notably on the Beatles piece.
Remi Harris’ star continues to rise, he’s a terrific talent who can only become better known.
NEW ERA REBORN BRASS BAND
The next band couldn’t have been more different. Inspired by the New Orleans outfits the Rebirth Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band South Wales’ own New Era Brass Band make a big, bad, beautiful noise. In the confines of the Panteg Social Club lounge they were LOUD but thrillingly so.
Led by festival organiser Ceri Williams on trumpet the band features some of South Wales’ best brass and reed players. Gareth Roberts and Gwyn Daniels shared trombone duties alongside a very young sax section comprising of Martha Skilton and Bryn Davies (tenors) and Lucy Price (alto) with Steve Davies holding down the bottom end on the mighty sousaphone. Phill Redfox O’ Sullivan and Keith Niblett slammed out propulsive rhythms on twinned snare drums with Mike Kennedy pounding away on a massive bass drum. The mighty Gethin Liddington normally augments Ceri Williams in the trumpet section but unfortunately was unavailable for this date, but no matter this band was plenty loud enough.
Combining funk, jazz and gospel with the energy of the New Orleans streets the bland blew and clattered their way through The Meters’ funk opus “Cissy Strut”, the hymn tune “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” done gospel style and the Rebirth Brass Band’s self explanatory “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up”, the latter the tune announcers’ nightmare. “New Orleans Mardi Gras” was introduced by the pumping of Davies’ sousaphone and the band concluded their short set with a rousing version of James Brown’s “Pass The Peas”.
Inevitably there were a number of excellent solos throughout the set with Roberts and Skilton the prime movers in this regard. Williams’ role was essentially that of co-ordinator although he did enjoy brief moments in the spotlight as did Daniels, Davies and Price. The rhythmic drive provided by the three drummers was impressive throughout and there were a couple of percussion cameos which featured all three of them hammering away. The underpinning role and sheer physical resourcefulness of Steve Davies couldn’t help but impress and even at this early stage in their history New Era are commendably tight. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to make of this but the sheer visceral power of the brass band hit me right in the gut. I thoroughly enjoyed this and with more gigging experience New Era are going to get even better. Catch them if you can, this is highly enjoyable and accessible music played with skill and a surprising amount of sophistication.
KITTY BEVAN QUARTET
“Kitty Bevan” appears to be a collective name for groups fronted by saxophonist/vocalist Bev Gough. Today’s quartet featured Gough leading a band comprised of guitarist Rob Haddon, bassist Steve Tarner and drummer Greg Evans. They performed an eclectic repertoire of jazz standards and pop tunes but truth to tell this was my least favourite set of the day, veering rather too close to cabaret/lounge jazz/easy listening-call it what you will- for my tastes. The chief pleasure for me was the guitar playing of Haddon, a veteran of the Cardiff scene and Brecon Jazz Festival with groups such as Chameleon and Tangent.
“If I Was A Bell” introduced Gough’s voice and soprano sax playing and also included features for Haddon, Tarner and Evans but by and large the soloing was split between Gough and Haddon with the rhythm section maintaining a low but tasteful profile.
Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” kept up the energy/jollity quotient but “Lullaby Of The Leaves” and"Black Orpheus” introduced a more reflective strand with Haddon’s Spanish style acoustic guitar picking on the latter particularly impressive. He stuck to the acoustic for an effective version of Grace Jones’ “I’ve Seen That Face Before” which also featured Gough on melodica and Tarner on arco bass.
Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” returned us to easy listening territory and for my money a take on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock’N’ Roll” was ill advised but plenty of other people seemed to like it. “Like Someone In Love” was an effective jazz ballad and a vocalese version of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” closed a well received set. Gough proved to be an engaging personality who enjoyed bantering with the audience and I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed this, it just wasn’t for me. However I did enjoy Haddon’s contribution on both electric and acoustic guitars, the best instrumental moments definitely came from him.
KEITH LITTLE QUARTET
There was more singing from the next act but I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the Keith Little Quartet far more than I’d anticipated. Defiantly old fashioned the Little group specialises in mainstream jazz with pianist and leader Keith Little citing Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Duke Ellington and Count Basie as his primary influences. The quartet is fronted by the magnificently moustachioed Martin Butterworth on clarinet, tenor sax and vocals who names clarinettists Bob Wilber and the recently departed Kenny Davern as his main inspirations. Bath based bassist Bill Lynn and Cardiff based drummer Mike Pincombe make up an experienced and swinging rhythm section.
Butterworth sang on most numbers and did so with skill and charm. Instrumentally he concentrated on clarinet but blew some agreeably earthy tenor sax on ” Somebody Loves Me” and “Pennies From Heaven”, the latter also including a fine boogie piano solo from Little.
Tunes featuring Butterworth’s voice and clarinet included “I Wish I Had You”, “S’Wonderful” and “World On A String”. These were interspersed by the fiery instrumental “Running Wild”, a tune associated with Benny Goodman and featuring dazzling solos from Little at the piano and Butterworth on clarinet.
“Fingers Boogie”, done as a trio was another reminder of Little’s considerable pianistic skills before Butterworth returned to sing Earl Hines’ “My Monday Dates” which was also notable for an exquisite clarinet/double bass duet. A romp through “My Blue Heaven” closed an enjoyable set and featured Butterworth on vocals, clarinet and tenor. Although a charismatic front man he was quick to acknowledge Little’s status as the band’s leader and organiser.
The Keith Little Quartet are very good at what they do and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them.
MARTIN FISHER QUINTET
The final act of the day was another one off aggregation put together by drummer Martin Fisher. The ever reliable Ashley John Long was back on bass with another local hero, multi instrumentalist Lee Goodall appearing here on alto and soprano saxophones. Two nationally known names completed the line up with Art Themen featuring on tenor sax alongside Steve Melling at the piano.
It was not altogether surprising that, like the Festival All Stars several hours earlier, the one off quintet stuck to a programme of well known jazz compositions albeit with some intriguing Fisher arrangements. Again most of the set was played in the theme/solos/theme format but with Themen, Melling, Goodall and Long as the soloists there was plenty of fine playing to enjoy.
The material included Tadd Dameron’s “Ladybird” which included features for all the participants, the most striking of which was the alto sax/double bass duet between Goodall and Long. Gigi Gryce’s “Minorities” featured an intriguing Fisher arrangement incorporating arco bass and tribal drums plus Goodall on curved soprano.
Jack Sheldon’s blues “Sarah” featured plenty of low down and dirty blues blowing with Long now duetting with Themen’s powerful tenor before demonstrating extended techniques on his bass solo. We heard a lot from Long as a bass soloist during the course of the day and it’s to his credit that he always kept things interesting.
“Have You Met Miss Jones” included a dazzling piano solo from the ever inventive Steve Melling and the quintet finished off by romping through their version of Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” with the soloists vying with each other for excellence. It may have been a little predictable but this was still an exhilarating way to finish off a marvellous day’s music.
Congratulations to Ceri Williams and the TJS team for staging such an enjoyable, well organised and successful event. Like many jazz clubs and societies TJS is feeling the economic pinch but it is to be hoped that they can continue to survive and will be able to hold a similar event next year.
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