by Ian Mann
December 09, 2021
The standard of the singing and playing from the Kirkland trio and their guest was exceptional throughout. The quality of the performances was enhanced by the high standards of the production.
Wendy Kirkland Trio with special guest Annette Gregory, “Celebrating the Divas”, Livestream for Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival, Abergavenny.
First streamed 03/12/2021
Wendy Kirkland – piano, vocals, Pat Sprakes – double bass, Steve Wyndham – drums
special guest Annette Gregory – vocals
Since 2006 Black Mountain Jazz, headed by Mike Skilton, has been presenting regular jazz events in Abergavenny, utilising a variety of different venues over the years.
In 2013 the monthly club programme was supplemented for the first time by the weekend long Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Usually taking place in early September Wall2Wall has since become an established annual event with a growing national reputation.
Needless to say 2020 was, of course, very different. During the early stages of the pandemic it quickly became obvious that Wall2Wall in its traditional format was never going to be a viable option for 2020. Instead Mike and his fellow BMJ organisers opted for a ‘Virtual’ Festival, establishing a partnership with Mark Viveash of the locally based 47 Studios and Productions.
Artists who had been scheduled to appear at the 2020 Festival, or who had had club engagements cancelled, were filmed to the highest audio and visual standards in Covid safe conditions during the summer of 2020 by Viveash and his crew and the performances were subsequently transmitted during the autumn to a global, ticketed audience. The artists were paid the same fee as for a live gig and the performances were augmented by informative interview footage.
It all made for an excellent package, one that was enthusiastically received by jazz lovers far and wide and overall the 2020 Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival could be considered an outstanding success. All of the 2020 performances have been comprehensively reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.
They are also still available to view via the Black Mountain Jazz website. Some of the music was also immortalised on the limited edition CD “Covid Jazz 2020”, which features a track from all of the artists that took part and which can be purchased via the BMJ website.
With Covid uncertainty still raging during the early months of 2021 it was decided that Wall2Wall would be a Virtual event for the second year running. However the gradual easing of restrictions during the summer ensured that it could eventually become a ‘Hybrid’ event, part live and part on line.
Five very different acts were booked, all travelling to Abergavenny during August to be filmed in performance during the day at BMJ’s regular HQ, the Melville Centre, by Mark Viveash and the 47 Studios team.
In the evening the artists then performed in front of a live, paying audience in the Barn at White House Farm in the nearby village of Llanvetherine. For many of the musicians involved this was their first performance in front of a live audience for over a year and they relished the opportunity to play to a real live crowd, especially in such a delightful, and highly scenic, rural location.
The Barn performances were scheduled on consecutive nights and I was unable to attend all of them. I reviewed the show by the duo of vocalist Ella Hohnen-Ford and pianist Joe Webb and also “The Journey of Trad”, presented by The BMJ Collective, a band led by the Cardiff based drummer and educator Alex Goodyear.
I’m grateful to guest contributor Nigel Jarrett for covering the performances by New Orleans inspired pianist Dom Pipkin and by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland with her “Celebrating the Divas” show.
One live event was actually held at the Melville. Electric bass specialist Shez Raja’s “Tales from The Punjab” project was more reliant on musical technology and wasn’t really suitable to the Barn. After a day’s filming he then played two storming sets to live audiences, the ‘two shows’ format designed to allow for a degree of ‘social distancing’. I covered the second of these, for me the highlight of the Festival’s live programme.
It was originally intended that the ‘Virtual’ element of the 2021 Wall2Wall would be streamed in October but the decision to transmit during November and December, with the footage remaining available until the end of February 2022, makes sense, the long winter nights allowing greater opportunities for viewing.
WENDY KIRKLAND TRIO with special guest ANNETTE GREGORY
As Nigel Jarrett kindly stepped into the breach to review the show at White House Farm this was a second streamed event that I approached with fresh eyes and ears.
The live show had featured just the Kirkland trio, with the leader on piano and vocals, her husband Pat Sprakes on double bass, and the immaculate Steve Wyndham at the drums. Nigel’s account of this August 2021 performance can be found here;
For the session at the Melville Theatre the trio were joined by guest vocalist Annette Gregory, originally from Manchester but now based in Worcestershire, where she also runs Kidderminster Jazz Club. Gregory has a number of EP releases to her name and like Kirkland is a fan of female jazz vocalists old and new, but particularly those from the ‘Golden Age’ of ‘Great American Songbook’ style jazz – Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday etc.
As a pianist / vocalist Kirkland is particularly drawn to the women who both play the piano and sing. Her 2017 album “Piano Divas” celebrates the work of these artists, among them Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Blossom Dearie, Nina Simone and Shirley Horn, plus lesser known figures such as Dena Derose, Carol Welsman and Tania Maria.
Album review here; https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quartet-piano-divas
Based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, where she and Sprakes run Chesterfield Jazz Club Kirkland was previously regarded as a good ‘regional’ musician. The success of the critically acclaimed “Piano Divas” recording gave her a national profile and she has since played a number of sell out London shows at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s.
Crucially “Piano Divas” featured Kirkland’s own arrangements and she made no attempt to vocally imitate the artists that she was honouring, her voice was very much her own. The album was documented over the course of two days and is essentially a “live in the studio” recording with Kirkland singing and playing piano simultaneously, in keeping with the ethos of the project.
The “Piano Divas” show has toured widely and it remains the basis for Kirkland’s current work. The success of the album led to the 2019 follow up “The Music’s On Me”, which followed a similar blueprint but placed a greater emphasis on the original writing of Kirkland and Sprakes.
It was Kirkland’s quintet, including guest vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais, that played the opening night of the then newly established Kidderminster Jazz Club in 2019. My review of this show, which also includes a look at “The Music’s On Me” recording can be found here;
Gregory and Kirkland have remained friends, hence the former’s presence at the Melville as a special guest at the ‘ Virtual’ part of today’s proceedings. I suspect that she would have sung at the Barn as well had she not been obliged to return to the Midlands in the evening to host a performance by yet another fabulous vocalist, Tina May, at Kidderminster Jazz Club. I was present to review that performance, hence the decision for Nigel to cover the Kirkland show at Llanvetherine.
Not that this Wall2Wall session was Kirkland’s first visit to Black Mountain Jazz. In April 2018 she led a quartet in a “Piano Divas” show at a club night the Melville Theatre, an event reviewed by guest contributor David Hobbs.
First aired on 3rd December 2021 the stream from the Melville Centre commenced with the usual “Filmed in Abergavenny, Streamed to the World” sequence, accompanied by the sounds of the Kirkland trio playing “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”. We then cut to footage of the trio performing the song at White House Farm.
The caption “Several Hours Earlier” then appeared, transporting us back to the Melville and a performance of the song “Sunday In New York”, written by Peter Nero and originally sung by ‘honorary diva’ Mel Torme. The trio’s arrangement featured Kirkland’s well enunciated vocals and fluent piano soloing. Also an accomplished Hammond organist Kirkland was initially an instrumentalist, adding vocals to her repertoire later. These days she’s equally proficient in both capacities and in terms of audience recognition her ability to ‘multi-task’ has served her well. Here she was well supported by Sprakes, perhaps best known as a guitarist but equally accomplished on double bass, and Wyndham, an understated but consistently tasteful and swinging drummer who is capable of imparting considerable momentum to the music through the use of brushes alone.
Blossom Dearie has been a considerable source of inspiration for Kirkland, and also to other contemporary British jazz singers, among them Bristol based vocalist Victoria Klewin, who brought her own Blossom Dearie themed show to a BMJ club night in September 2019. Kirkland and the trio chose to cover the Dave Frishberg / Bob Dorough song “I’m Hip”, which appeared on Dearie’s live album “Blossom Time at Ronnie’s”, recorded at Ronnie Scott’s. The trio had great fun with this wittily barbed satire of a certain type of jazz fan, the fifties hipster, with Kirkland throwing a contemporary reference to Jamie Cullum into the lyrics.
Gregory joined the trio to add her soulful vocals to a version of “How High The Moon” in an arrangement inspired by an Ella Fitzgerald live recording. With Gregory handling the singing Kirkland was able to stretch out more expansively at the piano.
Gregory remained with the band for a version of that most familiar of standards “All The Things You Are”, another song recorded by Fitzgerald and also by Fran Sinatra and Charlie Parker, the latter treating it as a barnstorming instrumental.
Kirkland resumed vocal duties for Frank Loesser’s “Slow Boat To China”, the trio’s version inspired by an arrangement by the Canadian born pianist and vocalist Carol Wellsman. This particular stream also embraced an educational aspect with images of inspirational artists such as Welsman (born 1960) briefly projected onto the screen alongside factual nuggets about other versions of certain songs. A word of praise too for the camera work in general, which included intriguing shots of Wyndham and his drum kit from above and close ups of the hands of Kirkland and Sprakes on keys and strings.
Gregory returned to add a sensuous vocal to an arrangement of the song “That Old Feeling”, inspired by a recording by Anita O’Day (1919 – 2006). An image of O’Day briefly appeared, alongside the information that the song had also been recorded by drummer Art Blakey, trumpeter / vocalist Chet Baker and pianist Art Tatum.
Gregory first heard the song “April In Paris” on a recording by Billie Holiday. Her own version was performed at a much faster, swinging tempo, introduced by the duo of Wyndham’s brushed drums and Gregory’s voice, later joined by double bass and eventually piano. Kirkland may have bided her time but she was enjoy herself stretching out instrumentally, her piano solo followed by a feature for Sprakes at the bass, his impressive solo combining a broad, resonant tone with a strong melodic sense and an impressive level of dexterity. Brief captions informed us that the song was written by Vernon Duke with lyrics by E. Y. Harberg and that it is one of the most recorded songs in the jazz canon, with a 1950 version by the Count Basie Orchestra one of the most celebrated.
Kirkland took over again for “Haven’t We Met”, written by Kenny Rankin and recorded by Mel Torme. Kirkland dedicated her version to the Brazilian pianist / vocalist Eliane Elias and performed it in the unusual style of a 5/4 jazz waltz, complete with one of a number of impressive scat vocal episodes.
The Leonard Bernstein song “Some Other Time” appeared in the Broadway show “On The Town”, but failed to make it into the movie starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
Kirkland speculated that this might be because the song was too reflective and melancholy. Her version was inspired by a duo recording by Canadian pianist / vocalist Diana Krall and guitarist Mark Whitfield, which actually came out under his name. Kirkland and Sprakes often perform in the same duo format, making this song a natural choice for them. Kirkland’s wistful vocals and lyrical piano were sensitively supported by bass and drums, with Wyndham’s delicate brush work particularly impressive. As the trio played an image of Krall, born 1964, briefly appeared.
Gregory returned for a version of “On A Clear Day”, inspired by a recording by Sarah Vaughan (1924-90). Introduced by Sprakes at the bass this featured an unusual, slowed down, Latin inflected arrangement with further instrumental honours going to Kirkland at the piano.
Gregory then delivered her final performance of the set, a version of the song “Never Will I Marry”, sourced from the “Songs For Lovers” album by Nancy Wilson (1937 – 2018). Gregory clearly relished the opportunity of singing such a punchy, upbeat version of the song and her contribution to the session ended on a high note.
Kirkland and the trio rounded things off with sole original song of the set, “Travelling Home”, co-written with Sprakes and sourced from “The Music’s On Me”. The song is a good natured reflection on the musical lifestyle and the joy of returning home after a successful gig, something that musicians are now beginning to enjoy again as we emerge from the pandemic.
We were then returned to White House Farm for a full length performance of “East Of The Sun..”, featuring solo episodes for piano and scat vocal and also for double bass, and with the faithful Wyndham finally being given his head as he and Kirkland traded fours towards the close.
This was arguably the pick of the Wall2Wall streamed productions thus far. The presence of Gregory ensured that the streamed footage was very different to the live show and the standard of the singing and playing from the Kirkland trio and their guest was exceptional throughout. The quality of the performances was enhanced by the high standards of the production, both the audio and the visuals were excellent with the occasional snippets of information proving to be both educational and entertaining. Congratulations to Mark Viveash and his team, and of course all the musicians involved.
Details of the full line up for the 2021 Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival appear below;
The wall2wall Jazz videos will stream at staggered dates between 27th November and 9th December. All videos will remain accessible until 28th February 2022. Full Festival line up attached.
Welcome to our 2021 Festival
Filmed in Abergavenny
Streamed to the World
Ella Hohnen-Ford & Joe Webb
A Tribute to the Great American Songbook
Streaming from Saturday 27th November 2021
The Dom Pipkin Trio
New Orleans Comes to wall2wall
Streaming from Tuesday 30th November 2021
The Wendy Kirkland Trio
With special Guest Annette Gregory
Celebrating the Divas
Streaming from Friday 3rd December 2021
The BMJ Collective
The Journey of Trad
Streaming from Monday 6th December 2021
The Shez Raja Sextet
With special guest Tony Kofi
Tales From the Punjab
Streaming from Thursday 9th December 2021
Each individual video is £8 and there is a Super ticket that gives access to all five for £30.
Tickets are classified ‘Single, Family & Friends’, which encourages watching with others and re-watching. However, we do ask ticket purchasers that passwords are not shared.
Tickets plus full biographies of all performers at http://blackmountainjazz.co.uk/wall2wall-virtual-jazz-festival-2021/
You will see when you visit our website that we have included a Catch Up ticket for access to last year’s festival videos.blog comments powered by Disqus