by Ian Mann
April 20, 2022
The quality of the playing was exceptional throughout and some of the soloing quite breathtaking. The unusual instrumental combination helped to put a new spin on the established gypsy jazz repertoire
Transatlantic Hot Club, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 17/04/2022
Ben Creighton-Griffiths – harp, Adrien Chevalier – violin, vocals, Ashley John Long – double bass
Brecon Jazz Club’s latest event took place on Easter Sunday and the organisers were rewarded with a large and enthusiastic audience for this truly international collaboration featuring local heroes Ben Creighton-Griffiths (harp) and Ashley John Long (double bass), who were teamed with French born, New York based violinist and vocalist Adrien Chevalier.
Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier first met in 2013 when Creighton-Griffiths was performing at ‘Journées de la Harpe’, a harp festival that takes place in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guyane, Guadeloupe, St Anne, and St Lucia. Both musicians come from musical families and Chevalier’s mother was part of the orchestra accompanying the harpists. She introduced Creighton-Griffiths to her son, who was of a similar age to the young harpist.
Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier soon developed a strong musical support and an equally firm friendship. In 2014 they began an annual tradition of performing together in Cardiff and adopted the Transatlantic Hot Club name in 2019 as they began to tour more widely.
Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier represent the core of the ensemble but the ranks of the Transatlantic Hot Club have also included Franck Billot (clarinet), Linus Wyrsch (clarinet) Tatiana Eva-Marie (vocals), Roberto Gervasi (accordion) and Sara Labriola (guitar). A whole string of players have filled the bass chair, namely Don Sweeney, Matheus Prado, Philip Ambuel, Julian Smith, Aeddan Williams and currently Ashley John Long.
In 2020 a version of Transatlantic Hot Club featuring its co-leaders alongside Ambuel Wyrsch and Labriola performed a special online show as part of that year’s ‘Virtual’ Brecon Jazz Festival. Creighton-Griffiths was recorded at his home in Cardiff, playing with four musicians recorded at their individual residencies in New York. It all cohered remarkably well and clearly helped to whet the appetite of the Brecon jazz audience for tonight’s live performance. My account of this special livestream event can be found as part of my 2020 Festival coverage here;
The 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival, subtitled “Wherever You Are”, was a ‘hybrid’ event featuring a mix of online and genuine live performances, the majority of the latter taking place in the ballroom of the Castle Hotel. Among the live events was a performance by the Swing Strings Trio, a project assembled specifically for the festival and featuring Creighton-Griffiths and Long alongside violinist Xenia Porteous. This proved to be a resounding success and the trio hope to work together again. My review of that performance forms part of my 2021 Festival coverage and can be found here;
Astute readers will have noted that the instrumental configuration of Swing Strings Trio and Transatlantic Hot Club is exactly the same, so it’s not too surprising that Creighton-Griffiths and Long both seem so at home in each of these line ups. The current edition of the Hot Club contains an extra ingredient with Chevalier also adding vocals, but more on this later.
Tonight’s performance was part of a short tour that had already seen the trio performing in Edinburgh, Caernarfon, Fishguard and Cardiff with Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier also scheduled to play a duo date in Norwich. The tour had been twice postponed, first in 2020 and then in 2021 and the trio were clearly delighted to be playing in front of live audiences again. Tonight’s performance was generously supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Noson Allan or Night Out touring scheme.
As the group’s name suggests its primary influence is the Quintette du Hot Club de France and its most famous members, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Tonight’s material was largely sourced from the classic ‘gypsy jazz’ repertoire immortalised by Reinhardt.
First up was “Dark Eyes”, a traditional gypsy tune originally arranged by Reinhardt but with the trio giving it their own twist via an atmospheric opening passage featuring the sound of unaccompanied harp and later the eerie bowing of violin and arco bass. Eventually the piece mutated into a more conventional Hot Club style with Chevalier’s violin taking the lead and delivering the first solo. He was followed by Creighton-Griffiths and then by Long, all three quickly establishing themselves as genuine virtuosos of their respective instruments. These solos were genuinely dazzling and there was still a series of sparkling violin and harp exchanges to come.
Another staple of the gypsy jazz / Reinhardt repertoire followed, “J’Attendrai”, which saw the introduction of Chevalier as a vocalist, delivering the lyric in his native French. Creighton-Griffiths then provided the first instrumental solo as Chevalier’s pizzicato violin provided an additional rhythmic component alongside Long’s double bass. Chevalier was later to shine with the bow and Long was to deliver another jaw-droppingly dexterous double bass solo before Chevalier reprised the lyrics.
As Creighton-Griffiths explained the trio’s version of “Claire de Lune” was not the classical composition by Claude Debussy but the French ballad by Joseph Kosma, also the composer of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves”. Introduced by a violin and harp duet this piece also featured Creighton-Griffiths and Long exchanging solos and taking it in turns to accompany each other as Chevalier looked on.
The jazz standard “Exactly Like You” picked the pace up once more with a genuinely swinging performance featuring virtuoso solos from all three musicians, with Long’s playing centred around the bridge of his double bass. He then reverted to a more supportive anchoring role as Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier enjoyed a series of dazzling harp / violin exchanges.
Chevalier’s vocals were re-introduced for “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, with the lyrics this time delivered in English and with instrumental features for harp and double bass.
Solo harp introduced another gypsy jazz staple, guitarist Dorado Schmitt’s “Bossa Dorado”. Delivered by the trio at a suitably fast clip this featured the dizzying bowing of Chevalier and the lightning fast finger work of Creighton-Griffiths and Long.
Written in 1932 by Joe Myrow and performed by Django Reinhardt “Blue Drag” was a genuine blues and saw Chevalier wrestling some appropriately bluesy sounds out of his violin as he and Creighton-Griffiths shared the solos above the earthy undertow of Long’s bass. The bassist was then rewarded with his own feature towards the close.
An excellent first set concluded with the jazz waltz “Indifference”, pronounced by Creighton-Griffiths in an authentically French fashion. This was very much a showcase for the brilliant bowing of Chevalier as the trio gradually accelerated the tempo of the tune.
During the interval the band enjoyed a curry from the nearby Nepalese restaurant, which served to fuel them for a similarly exceptional second half.
This commenced with another Hot Club standard, a ferociously swinging “Minor Swing” that featured some dazzling unison passages, fiery individual instrumental solos from Chevalier, Creighton-Griffiths and Long, and a further series of fiery violin and harp exchanges.
“Confessing” was the first vocal item of the second set, with Chevalier again singing in English before taking the first full instrumental solo. The piece had been introduced by a short passage of unaccompanied harp from Creighton-Griffiths, who was to follow Chevalier here. Finally we heard from Long at the bass.
Solo harp also introduced the trio’s version of Luis Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus” as the music took a Brazilian turn. Chevalier played with great flamboyance as he shared the solos with Creighton-Griffiths and Long. The performance then ended in atmospheric fashion with the bowed sounds of both violin and double bass on the outro.
Long sat out as Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier performed a lyrical ballad as a duo, alternating the roles of soloist and accompanist. I suspect that the title may have been unannounced, I’ve just found that I haven’t got a note of it, so apologies for that.
Long returned as the trio turned up the heat for a blistering version of “Joseph Joseph” with the bassist’s propulsive lines fuelling the virtuoso solos of both Creighton-Griffiths and Chevalier, with the violinist bowing in particularly bravado fashion.
An authentically swinging version of “Coquette” maintained the momentum with all three musicians featuring as soloists.
“Swing Gitane” was even faster, with all three protagonists again featuring and with Chevalier arguably delivering his most dazzling solo of the evening.
He was to feature as a vocalist on the concluding “Almost Like Being In Love”, delivering the verses in English before sharing the instrumental solos with Creighton-Griffiths and Long.
A hugely supportive and wildly enthusiastic audience gave the trio a terrific reception and the performance of a deserved encore was never in doubt. This was to be “Shine”, another Reinhardt associated number which was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied harp and which later featured more conventional jazz solos from Chevalier, Creighton-Griffiths and Long.
Like everybody else present at the The Muse I was hugely impressed by Transatlantic Hot Club. The quality of the playing was exceptional throughout and some of the soloing quite breathtaking. The unusual instrumental combination helps to put a new spin on the established gypsy jazz repertoire.
This was the fifth night of the tour and the members of the trio were right on top of their game, both individually and collectively. In addition to the quality of the playing Creighton-Griffiths handled the announcements with a growing confidence and maturity.
I’ll admit to not being quite so keen on the singing, but this is very much a matter of personal preference. There’s no doubt that it added a degree of variety to the performance and also served as a timely reminder that many of the gypsy jazz tunes that we now think of as instrumentals began life as songs, much as many of the American jazz standards did.
It is hoped that Transatlantic Hot Club will be able to record an album at some point. It will be keenly anticipated by anyone lucky enough to have seen the group on this current tour.
My thanks to Ben, Ashley and Adrien for speaking with me, and also to Ben’s mother and aunt, who I enjoyed talking with during the interval. I’m also grateful to Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club for giving The Jazzmann a name check as she wrapped up the evening’s proceedings. It’s heart warming for me to know that my work is appreciated by the wider jazz community.
A memorable evening all round and a reminder of just how much we’ve all missed live music.
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