by Ian Mann
October 01, 2018
Ian Mann enjoys this Dutch quintet's infectious blend of jazz, funk and soul.
Tristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018.
Black Mountain Jazz has established a good reputation for the variety of its programming, both at the regular club events that take place at the Melville Centre and at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival that enlivens the town every early September.
BMJ’s far reaching and often adventurous scheduling has included a broad variety of jazz genres and has featured an equally diverse range of musicians. Welsh artists have always been well represented but BMJ has also hosted musicians from the London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester Newcastle and other regional jazz scenes as well as welcoming international visitors from Argentina, Germany and Canada.
As if to illustrate the point this first club event following the 2018 Wall2Wall Festival saw the Melville Centre hosting the Dutch quintet Tristan with their blend of jazz, funk and soul. Fronted by vocalist Evelyn Kallansee Tristan also feature keyboard player Coen Molenaar, guitarist Guy Nikkels, drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen and bass guitarist Frans Vollink.
Tristan’s sound is unashamedly retro, influenced by classic ‘acid jazz’ and by bands such as Incognito and Brand New Heavies, with Snarky Puppy a more contemporary source of inspiration. They have released four full length albums of original material, “Full Power”, “2nd Phase”, “Lifestyle” and “Live In Concert”, and their groove based music has also inspired a set of remixes, the album “Remixed 2016”. A fifth studio recording “The Spice Of Five” is due for release in April 2019.
With the exception of Nikkels all the members of Tristan are songwriters and their material is comprised of original songs in the jazz/funk/soul idiom, all of which feature convincing English lyrics. Tristan are regular visitors to Britain and their first two albums reached the number one position in the UK soul charts. The band also cite Tower of Power and Earth Wind & Fire as significant influences and their albums feature additional horns, percussion and backing vocals. Among the horn players who have contributed to Tristan’s recordings are the well known British jazz saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and the big name American trumpeter Randy Brecker.
Tonight we heard the core quintet, “Tristan unplugged” as Kallansee described it. The band routinely play major festivals and halls that are much bigger than the Melville so they had turned down the volume a little in deference to the smallness of the venue and the presence of a predominately older, jazz club audience. Nevertheless there was still plenty of fire and passion about the group’s performance and the relative quietness of the mix made it possible to appreciate the subtleties of the playing, particularly from the principal instrumental soloists, Molenaar and Nikkels.
Guitar, string synth sounds and shimmering cymbals announced the beginning of show opener “I’ll Be Around” before a typically funky groove kicked in and Kallansee added her soulful vocals. Molenaar, who has previously worked with Dutch prog rock guitar legend Jan Akkerman, deployed a two tier rack of Yamaha keyboards capable of generating a rich tapestry of sounds including acoustic and electric piano, organ, synth and string synth. His solo here embraced a classic ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound as he shared the instrumental limelight with Nikkels’ sustain heavy guitar.
Introducing “Keep On”, a song from the band’s début album, Kallansee mentioned that this was the tune that British DJs first picked up on, giving the band generous airplay and helping to establish them in the UK. Buoyant grooves and an assertive vocal from Kallansee helped to keep the pot bubbling as Molenaar varied the angle of his attack with an acoustic piano style keyboard solo.
“Riverflow” maintained the energy levels while featuring drummer Cornelissen and guitarist Nikkels. Meanwhile “Lifestyle”, a song celebrating the band’s hard working, heavy gigging ethos saw Molenaar adopting the classic Hammond sound on his keyboards with a fiery organ solo.
The soul ballad “Lost” saw the group slowing things down a little and taking a comparative breather with bassist Vollink enjoying a short melodic cameo prior to a lengthy acoustic piano solo from Molenaar, the keyboard player skilfully shadowed by Cornelissen’s drums.
Batteries suitably recharged the band fired things up again with “Finally Found” with Kallansee’s powerful vocals matched by Nikkel’s searing guitar solo and Molenaar’s surging Hammond grooves.
Funk and reggae grooves combined on “Love Leads The Way” with Nikkels again impressing as the featured soloist. Elsewhere the guitarist proved to be an effective foil to Kallansee and the rest of the band courtesy of his choppy, rhythmic comping and chording.
An energetic first set ended with the confident soul strut of “Chainreaction” (no, not that one) with Kallansee’s vocals augmented by instrumental solos from Molenaar and Nikkels, with the keyboard player deploying a ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound.
During the interval band, staff and audience members enjoyed slices of free pizza courtesy of the local franchise of Domino’s, who had sponsored the recent Wall2Wall Jazz Festival and are continuing their support of BMJ, so thanks very much to them.
Talking of Wall2Wall we also heard from BMJ spokeswoman Debs Hancock that the Festival had helped to raise around £550 for the Music Therapy scheme at Ty Hafan, the children’s hospice based in the Vale of Glamorgan. It is intended that BMJ and Wall2Wall will continue to support this very worthy cause and continue to strengthen the links between the jazz club and the charity. Well done to all involved in raising this excellent total.
Back then to the music and a slightly shorter second set that began with “Step Into The Bright Light”, with Molenaar’s feature deploying both electric piano and synth sounds. The keyboard player also seemed to act as the group’s musical director, one suspects that even though Tristan is a highly co-operative and collective institution he and Kallansee are still effectively the leaders.
Tristan continued on their jazzy, funky soulful journey with “Butterfly” and “Odds To Win” with Molenaar continuing to vary his keyboard sounds.
The infectious “Feet Back On The Ground” featured a rousing vocal from barefoot singer Kallansee. However the footwear, or lack of it, was by accident rather than design. Tonight was the last night of a UK tour with Tristan having gigged the previous night in Southampton. On Monday they were due to take the ferry back to Calais before driving on home to Holland. Much of the band’s stuff had already been packed away for the journey and when Kallansee came to look in her bag for her stage clothes she found two right shoes. Ah, the complications of the touring life.
On a more serious note let’s hope that bands like Tristan can continue to visit the UK post Brexit. Creatives everywhere are looking on in trepidation, fearful of the restrictions the future might bring, border controls, work permits etc.. It probably won’t matter much to corporate rock behemoths but once again I fear that jazz musicians will get the short end (that’s the polite version) of the proverbial stick.
“New Beginning” featured the melodic electric bass playing of Vollink plus a jazzy acoustic piano solo from Molenaar. Besides their stated influences some of the sophisticated jazz chording deployed by Molenaar and Nikkels reminded me of Steely Dan, as did the way they incorporated their solos into the fabric of the songs with instrumental breaks that were concise but fiery, succinct but inventive and highly skilled.
The second set concluded with the Hammond driven, James Brown style of funk of “Trouble”, which actually induced one or two audience members to get to their feet, me included. One suspects that in a less sedate environment than a jazz club in Abergavenny, and with a younger crowd in attendance, Tristan are more than capable of filling an entire dance floor.
Nevertheless the listeners of BMJ had clearly enjoyed what they had heard and invited the quintet back for a well deserved encore. “Moontune” ensured that the groove continued until the very end and included some virtuoso Stanley Clarke / Jaco Pastorius style bass from Vollink.
Tristan were very different from the regular fare at BMJ but the audience listened with open ears and gave the band an excellent reception. There were one or two new faces in the audiences who were there specifically there to see them, which helped to give things a boost.
For myself I wasn’t too sure at first but soon found myself getting into it. Tristan’s blend of jazz, funk and soul is a style of music I largely stopped listening to a long time ago but in a live setting I quickly got into the groove and was highly impressed by the instrumental skills of the group’s members. Molenaar and Nikkels proved to be fiery and imaginative soloists, Cornelissen impressed throughout and Vollink dutifully kept the groove while seizing his occasional individual moments with aplomb.
As for Kallansee it was immediately clear that she had a powerful, soulful voice but she was singing through borrowed speakers which sometimes took the edge off her performance and made the lyrics difficult to decipher. Nevertheless she fronted the band well with energy and purpose, and her command of English, both as a lyricist and as an interlocutor between tunes, was exceptional.
My personal highlights were the solos of Molenaar and Nikkels and it’s possible that these two may have been afforded more instrumental space than usual due to the jazz club setting. If so they certainly grabbed their opportunities with both hands.
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