Damon Brown International Quartet With Ed Jones Deliver Hard Bop Judgements At The Verdict

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It's a complex web of internationalism that binds this band together; an Englishman, a Scot, an American and a German, all resident across the far east from Singapore to Seoul, joined by a saxophonist from London, and playing here tonight in the warm refuge of The Verdict. Damon Brown is dealing out the classic hand of dry wit introducing hard bop; opener 'My Deposit' is an uptempo cooker with a tricky truncated metric interlude; Sean Pentland on bass and Manuel Weyand on drums whip up a storm as Brown floats cooly above on his battered trumpet, his tone full and clear. Weyand is a terrific drummer, powerful, subtle and swinging. 'Mongolian Bossa' is introduced as "a love song... to a camel", though there's nothing flippant about its carefully constructed harmony. Then 'Han River Tales' features an artfully constructed arrangement that lets the rhythm section show off their aptitude for subtle interplay, powerfully driving behind the horns, pulling the dynamic down to build up again behind Paul Kirby's carefully measured piano solo, breaking down again to a perfectly paced bass statement and then to a drum break which is a masterpiece of control and technique. The pretty hipster standard 'When Sunny Gets Blue' is sung by Brown in an unvarnished baritone; standing forward in the club and singing off-mic, the effect is artlessly, utterly sincere, followed up by a truly breathtaking trumpet solo, a little gem of poise and soul.

Brown and Ed Jones have a long history together. As befits the leaders of an international band, they have the appearance of seasoned voyagers who have weathered many a storm; Brown in particular, a burly figure in knitted cap, hoodie and black-rimmed specs, looks like a bebop trawlerman. As players they're very well matched, both with a tough-but-tender tone that recalls the Harold Land/Clifford Brown partnership; they both specialise in long, logically constructed melodic phrases, driven forward by an unfaltering sense of time and a tone that projects outwards into the room. The set closer is a swinging 6/8 that has the clarion call quality of an Art Blakey classic.

The second set brings a minor key Blue Note-boogaloo named for Harold Land himself, that draws a real tour de force from Brown and sees Jones live up to the tune's namesake with his urgent but perfectly poised contribution. 'Lef And Lee', a tribute to pianist Leon Greening's powerful left mitt, sees intricate bass figures give way to a deep and heavy swing from the rhythm team. Pentland and Weyand really swing like the clappers; Kirby's piano favouring thoughtful harmonic depth over flash and fire, providing an effective contrast with the frontliners. Jones calls 'Out Of Nowhere' and gives a lesson in reading a standard through the art of bop. The evening's highlight though comes with 'I Don't Mind' – an original ballad by Brown with all the grace and wit of the Great American Songbook, the melody seeming to sing the lyrics which Brown himself claims to have forgotten. 'Kit Kat' closes the evening, until crowd pressure brings the band back to deliver a hearfelt 'My Ideal'.

This was a display of unpretentious musical mastery over a noble genre, delivered in exactly the intimate small club setting it was designed for, in front of an appreciative audience – judging by the smiles on the band's faces, a welcome stop-off amid their tireless globe-trotting.

– Eddie Myer

Clare Teal, Seamus Blake and Alan Barnes take Southport Jazz Festival by storm

Plus ça change, plus c'ést la même chose. That's just a fancy way of saying that the new regime running this popular festival [formerly known as 'Jazz On A Winter's Weekend'] stayed close to the template established over its previous dozen outings by organiser Geoff Mathews. His successor, Neil Hughes runs the Cinnamon Club in leafy Altrincham and clearly knows his way around the music scene, jazz included.

His first programme added an extra concert by The Weave on the night before the festival proper got underway, a gala dinner [with Liane Carroll to entertain] midway through and introduced a generally sharper, brighter look to the programme brochure, website and booking arrangements And it must be said, a marginally less challenging line-up of attractions: twelve in all. The result? A number of SRO concerts and a well-populated hotel throughout the weekend, the music mix apparently suiting both hard-core fans and casual weekenders alike.

The young trombonist Rory Ingham's Jam Experiment were Friday's opener, their set hampered by sound distortion [the only time this happened], reed and EWI man Alexander Bone assertive, the lines complex and at times, difficult to distinguish. Bad luck on them. No such caveats for vocalists Emma Holcroft and headliner Clare Teal (top), accompanied by the Swingtime Big Band. Teal offered us her inner Ella and how well she did it, swooping in and out of the melodic line with aplomb, the band nailing these Nelson Riddle and Billy May charts. Tight section playing: decent solos. Good for them. And Clare. The Australian trio Trichotomy invoked the lamented EST in their mesmeric, minimalist patterns and clever interplay. They also divided opinion.

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When Seamus Blake (above) took the stand at 11.00am on Saturday, he confessed the last time he'd played at such an ungodly hour it had been after staying up all night. That said, his tenor work here was simply magnificent, thoughtful, ordered and muscular. His UK compatriots Ross Stanley on organ and drummer James Maddren can have hardly ever played better. The trio's version of 'God Only Knows' was elegiac, ecclesiastical almost, and wholly memorable. A stunning set. Less so for me, The Train & The River with trombonist Jeremy Price, reedman Andy Panayi and guitarist Jez Franks recreating Giuffre's music, which seemed merely pallid by comparison. Derek Nash, he of all the saxophones, will have never contemplated 'pallidity' for he's a bundle of creative energy, his acoustic quartet in almost delirious form, pianist Dave Newton finding every quirky response you [or he] could imagine, with bassist Geoff Gascoyne and drummer Clark Tracey like blood brothers in swing.

Southport usually offers a discovery or two: this time it was French trumpeter Fabien Mary with his quartet. The dapper-looking Mary plays pristine bebop trumpet, his long lines and unhurried phrasing doubtless influenced by Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell but carried off with a kind of calm assurance that allows the full measure of each song to be explored and recast. His guitarist Hugo Lippi was similarly impressive.

Alan-Barnes-Octet-at-Southport-Jazz-Festival-Robert-Burns

Young singer Ben Cox kicked off Sunday's sessions, his cheerful persona and engaging vocal stance somewhere between Harry Connick and Curtis Stigers, is utterly engaging. Great band too, with pianist Jamie Safir the standout. The afore-mentioned Price, the Birmingham Conservatoire's head of jazz, fronted their new Ellington Orchestra, concentrating first on 1940s material before tackling the 1966 Far East Suite in its entirety, with star pianist John Turville invited to handle Duke's piano passages. Daunting perhaps but here accomplished with élan and authenticity. Names to watch: clarinetist Samantha Wright, trombonist Josh Tagg, and stalwart bassist Josh Taylor among others. Festival favourite Alan Barnes (above) is a Southport regular, this time appearing with a classy octet plundering selections from his many suites. For my money, the latest, written for the Grimsby Fishing industry, produced some of the most memorable melodic twists and turns. Late on, the North's finest, guitarist Mike Walker and tenorist Iain Dixon produced a bustling set, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Steve Brown business-like in support, they deserved an earlier slot. Next year's dates: 1-4 February 2018. Note them now.

– Peter Vacher

– Photos by Robert Burns

Julia Biel Trio make moves at the Minerva Theatre

The performance area at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester is like a small Roman amphitheatre. Many people would be intimidated by this intimate arena but Julia Biel's signature big boots seemed to be the grounding influence that allowed her to open up to vulnerability and not cave in.

Gladiator style, they took her from the grand piano to the electric guitar and back several times. She was joined by clarinettist, saxophonist and co- producer of her newest album Love Letters and Other Missiles, Idris Rahman on bass. Patrick Illingworth (who also plays in the jazz and roots band Soothsayers, founded by Idris and whose lead vocalist is also Biel) was on the drums. Their already established rapport was evident during the instrumental section of 'We Watch the Stars', where they relaxed and played off one another. Her lyrics were elevated by a voice that could make DIY shelf assembly instructions sound emotional. There was a Nina Simone flavour to the lower registers, which had a breathy reed-like quality. This could be heard in ballads like 'When the Sun Goes In' and 'Nobody Loves You Like I Do', whose melodies had surprising and beautiful twists.

When playing a funked-up version of Nina Simone's 'Feeling Good', however, her voice was distinctly hers. Her upper register was more focused and trumpet-like with textures in between. A former Perrier Jazz Vocalist of the Year winner, she is versatile enough to incorporate other styles of music into her songs like the happy-go-poppy 'Emily'. The repetition of a good phrase like in 'Wasting Breath' worked really well. As a stripped back trio, the harmonies for this song had to come from somewhere, and as a charming surprise, Illingworth made his debut as a backing singer, with bassist Idris joining in too.

– Tina Blower (story and photo)

Pianist Dave Drake Finds Common Ground At The Meeting House, Sussex University

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Manhattan's New School Of Jazz was set up to nurture the well of the jazz tradition as it springs straight from the source; in an age where jazz has increasingly sought the security of an existence on campus, New School remains one of the first and best, and the number of applicants far exceeds the available places. Brighton homeboy Dave Drake has made the journey from local jam sessions, to NYJO alumnus, to New School student, and now returns to his hometown to present a concert of solo pieces.

Sir Basil Spence's dramatic modernist architecture provides a suitably elevating backdrop; a chequerboard of rough concrete and gently glowing stained glass. The concert is entitled 'A Common Ground" and all profits are to go to the Jo Cox Memorial fund. Without waiting for the applause of the crowd of friends and supporters to die down, Dave strides across to the piano, sits and starts playing in a single motion. A tocsin of plangent chords announce a pastoral melody, like Vaughan Williams as filtered through Keith Jarrett. Dave isn't afraid of a simple, appealing tune, but also delights in unexpected shifts of rhythm and register – jagged handfuls of notes drift like petals tossed over deep still pools of bass. The next piece is more overtly rooted in the language of 20th century jazz, with a swaggering left-hand motif somewhere between art house and barrel house. Any lingering idea that the event might capsize under the weight of it's own importance is dispelled as Dave recites an affectingly artless poetic tribute to his little bro, to whom 'The Little Warrior' is dedicated. Again the minor key melody is simple and direct, but there's an angularity or awkwardness, embraced to form an essential part of his artistic character, that's extremely compelling and extirpates any trace of the saccharine. He hits the keys with a tremendous force, especially high up in the right-hand register, drawing a strident, chiming tone from the piano that's all his own. 'Guns in the Hands of Men' references the Black Lives Matter movement; a rising tide of sonorous chords against a right-hand tremolo create a dramatic effect reminiscent of Meldhau. 'Devotion' has a powerfully plaintive theme that takes flight into thrilling cascades of 16th notes, with the feeling of a spontaneous improvisation.

There's further stylistic explorations in the second set – 'Daisaku' is lyrical and swinging. 'Bucharest' has traces of Chopin and Debussy, alternating calm and dissonance to wildly romantic effect, and 'Turning Poison Into Medicine' presents garlands of melody, beautifully executed and controlled. A true internationalist, Dave presents an incongruously wide range of influences, from Soka Gakkai Buddhism to Rudyard Kipling via a recitation of 'If', to a tribute to the late Doudou N'Diaye Rose that attempts to capture some of the rolling polyrhythms of West Africa, before finishing with a rollicking stride piece for an encore, yet the strength of his personal vision ties them together into a compelling whole. There's a powerful sense of his need to communicate and share his musical vision in the most positive way possible, set against a backdrop of awareness of the rapidly increasing stresses and strains at work in the wider world as the 45th US President takes office. The gig is being recorded; an album should be forthcoming before long so watch out for it.

– Eddie Myer
– Photo by Lisa Womsley
 

WorldService Project mash it up with mince pies at the Vortex

Dave Morecroft patrolled the Vortex in a military tunic and a scary clown mask, complete with fluorescent spiky hair, dishing out mince pies baked freshly that afternoon by bassist Arthur O'Hara. Raphael Clarkson brewed discordant trombone textures lathered in effects, duelling Harry Pope's break-neck drumming. The second evening of the WorldService Project's two-night Christmas residency was in full flow.

Performing tracks from For King & Country, released earlier this year, the quintet opened with 'Flick the Beanstalk', in which anthemic choruses were interrupted by twee skipping horn lines. But it wasn't just bluster and circus tricks: metric hocus-pocus came as standard and razor-sharp unison stabs punctuated what would have otherwise seemed like unbridled mayhem. Morecroft was chief architect of this organised chaos, providing chromatic hooks and cluster chords on his keyboard, and breaking into high-tenor melody vocalisations.

Tim Ower was unstoppable on sax – roasting through some astonishing solo work – but the heart of the action came from Pope's incandescent drumming and the bass playing of O'Hara. WSP were playing stadium-sized punk-jazz, barely contained within the walls of the venue. In 'Small Town Girl' from 2013's Fire in a Pet Shop, Morecroft donned a keytar and strode into the centre of the stage; a cross between Herbie Hancock and a tormented jazz incarnation of Slash.

Elsewhere, 'Go Down Ho'ses' had a carnival melody which clung desperately to its cavorting drum and bass accompaniment, and 'Fuming Duck' employed all the punch of heavy metal, but with joyously complex harmony and meter. Appropriately, for a group dressed in various forms of service uniform, the set ended with 'Barmy Army' – an unhinged electro-swing number, which began with marching band snare drum, before lolloping into an incendiary polka.

– Jonathan Carvell

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