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Brecon 2010

This year saw Brecon Jazz ring the changes with the Hay Festival team choosing some of the bright young stars of British modern jazz to form the backbone of the festival. Some stellar names from the ‘World Music’ camp headlined and there were as well outstanding international artists from Europe and USA, ‘a phoenix year’ , to quote the organisers.

I couldn’t make Friday as we had the marvellous 5 Go Swing at Torfaen Jazz Club but I’ll start by thanking the huge generosity of Peter ‘Santa’ Florence in kindly offering the Adamant Band, (a fixture for 25 years at the festival but not this year), tickets to events they wished to see. I wished it was Christmas and Santa delivered.

I arrived, parked up and arranged to meet a mate to pick up tickets. Mrs Parper was already in watching the Tubby Hayes tribute so I caught a few numbers from the door at the back of the Market Hall. Hard swinging, ripping big band sounds from this troupe gathered together by Simon Spillett, a noted authority on Hayes, and Dave Bishop. Paul Morgan on bass made Mrs Parper drool and the transparent but god-like frame of Peter King glittered during a slow ballad, the name of which I forget (note to self-write things down there and then sieve-head!), rapturous applause duly ensued the master’s performance. Spillett lives and breathes Hayes and torrents of notes pour at breakneck speed from his powerful tenor. Tickets in pocket I headed to Christ College and the Roland stage…

Phronesis had already started their set so I sneaked into a packed-out Roland stage, Mrs Parper already there, in a trance. The next hour of my life was filled with some of the best improvised trio interplay I’ve ever seen. They were performing tracks from their latest release ‘Alive’ which features tunes from the previous 2 albums Organic Warfareand Green Delay. Mesmerizing playing from all three musicians, leader Jasper Hoiby, Ivo Neame and Anton Eger. From the angular, driving funkiness of Abraham’s New Gift featuring glued-together melodic lines from Hoiby and Neame interspersed with crackling,  propulsive percussion from Eger. Eight Hours reminded me of the Debussy and Ravel-like nature of some Bill Evans’ work, with added rhythmic complexity. Love Song’s stark, bitty opening grows into smoother Eastern-influenced melodic fragments and again, the unison playing of Hoiby and Neame was watertight. Untitled#2’s dreamy lyrical theme makes way for yet more driving but elegant ensemble work. Phronesis are a veritable towering equilateral triangle of a trio, no voice more prominent than the other, what a start they were to my BreconJazz, catch them if you can.

After some spectacularly good fish and chips, I and Mrs Parper headed for the cathedral to catch a glimpse of trumpeter Matthew Halsall. Halsall's album Sending My Love met with critical acclaim from some DJs and his easy-listening brand of modal jazz is uncluttered and harks back to Miles' Kind of Blue cool-school. Lilting silky soporific themes and Nat Birchall's soaring soprano on top of fish and chips caused Mrs Parper to dig me in the ribs as the swirling rhythms sent me into a light slumber, (albeit for a good 3 seconds before said rib-dig).

30 minutes later I was back at the Roland Stage to see Portico Quartet. These four young men make an incredible sound incorporating electronics and hang-drums (like  steel pan UFOs) as well as reeds, drums and double bass.  Danceable grooves and a melange of influences from gamelan orchestras to Steve Reich and Philip Glass and Coldplay and Radiohead create a unique sound that has catapulted the band to the forefront of nu-jazz. Tunes like Clipper and Line enchanting both young and old. Layer upon layer of electronic and acoustic soundscapes drenched the audience in a sea of sonic charm. I had a blast and will certainly catch them again.

Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club cooked up a treat in the Market Hall with young and old members having a ball. Old boy Guajiro Mirabal still playing notes with snow on, relative youngster Jesús 'Aguaje' Ramos MD and trombone, Manuel Galban on guitar and Barbarito Torres on laud ensuring the crowd's toes were tapping for the entire set. Idania Valdez and Carlos Calunga taking the vocals until La Grande Dame Omara Portuondo took to the stage. Electrifying triple trumpet riffs and incessant exotic rhythms made this a fiesta of latin joy.

Lastly, down to the Theatre Brycheiniog to catch the last 45 mins of Kyle Eastwood. Wicked bass playing on acoustic and electric, funky and slick. Eastwood gives a modern reworking of the classic Big Noise From Winnetka, (the composer of which- Bob Haggart, I met). Was mightily impressed with Graham Flowers’ pyrotechnic fingerwork on trumpet.

All in all a marvellous Saturday of fabulous music and a veritable buzz around the gig venues.

I couldn’t help noticing how empty the street s appeared though.


After some terrific coffee from the courtyard of the cathedral the service started at 10. The Adamant Brass Band crashed in with ‘When The Saints’ and I have to say we must look a sight but the singing was fairly woeful for an opening number as more were intent on watching us parade than singing! Due to the stage set up we had to snake our way to the appointed sitting place. The band played along with the hymns during the service (and if any readers were there and can remember what they were, let me know ;-)). We led out with ‘Over In The Glory Land’ and played a couple more in the courtyard. Duly, we marched up to the Castle Hotel and partook of the stellar selection of Breconshire Ales the gaffer had racked up in the beer tent. After our set, which, as we were sat down, was probably the most musical session we’ve ever done as a band (its a pain jazzing and marching, and being a bloke, multitasking isn’t our thing), I headed back to the cathedral with my mate Baron von Blowpipe and bumped into Baji (below) and Saiph from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble outside the Hotel, they said they’d heard us and we ‘wuz cool man’.

First on was Amrit Sond who provided incredible fingerstyle guitar with tapping and slapping techniques to colour his compositions. He was followed by Nik Linnik and Roland Chadwick, shredding Al Di Meola/Paco De Lucia style, particularly the final track with Nik Linnik blistering through the changes and demonstrating technique influenced by De Lucia.

I caught a snippet of Bombay Baja which are a UK-based Indian wedding band and added a real splash of colour to the event but I have to say the jazz content was minimal in what I heard.

After sampling some of the fabulous tastes at the True Taste Wales stand I headed up to the Market Hall to catch the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. This octet delivered such high-octane pumping brass tunes with a solid funking drummer and howitzer-sousaphone that the majority of the Market Hall were on their feet within minutes of the start. The whole set was high-energy rasping, ass-shaking dance music and the crowd loved them!

After a short wait for Mrs Parper who as usual, was customarily tardy, we went to see Andy Sheppard. I have a couple of mates who know Andy but apart from hearing a few tracks on CD and knowing his band won the Schlitz competition 300 years ago, I knew little about him. After this gig I Spotified him and listened through the playlist. Sheppard’s band consisted of Arild Anderson-bass/electronics and a stunning technician, as is John Parricelli (guitars), Kuljit Bhamra on tabla and percussion and Eivind Aarset on guitar and electronics provided a range of colours and washes that was beyond the conventional jazz landscape. Machine-gun tabla and swirling electronics cushioned Sheppard’s thoughtful and often deeply moving compositions through poignant melodies, dense textures and uplifting chord sequences. His sinuous but huge-toned soprano just joyful on La Tristesse Du Roi , Arild Anderson soloing like a happy king. Other highlights for me included We Shall Not Go To Market Today and the truly majestic Dancing Man and Women. A delightful sumptuous gig.

If there was one complaint, it was that the extremely loud band playing at the Boar’s Head bled across the river into the final bars of Andy’s gig and spoilt the delicate quiet ending, grrr.

The final gig was grand master flash Hugh Masekela. Big fat-toned flugel, dancy African fusion beats, as political as always. John Cameron Ward delighted Mrs Parper with his vocal/guitar unison singing- ‘an angel’. The rest of the line-up contributed to a truly joyful and fitting end to a tour de force of a festival.

Hats off to Sarah Dennehy and the programming committee!

On a closing note, perhaps just a little more from the first half of last century would bring more Moldy Figs and traddies back in, and add a broader balance to the festival? I don’t mean to go backwards from here, but as much as the Guildhall hosted some of the older styles as part of the fringe, I don’t think Acker Bilk and Scott Hamilton were enough main-festival programme representation of the older styles of jazz that helped shape the music we heard over the weekend. There are some world class old and mainstream-style practitioners out there  and I’m sure ticket sales would be up again if the festival catered for the more ‘silver surfer’ generation as well as turning youngsters on to the older idioms of jazz if there were a few more diamond performers from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s styles .

All in all a fabulous feast of music and I’m already looking forward to next year.



Saturday At The TJS gig

On the hottest day in decades, when lots of folk would possibly head for the park or the beach at Barry Island and get an instant sun tan, the music fest went off and we covered it . In blistering temperatures the TJS mini-fest kicked off with a set by Jim Barber, Jon Goode and Damian Pugh, nice. Jon’s bass funkingly clear and Damian’s propulsive drums allowed Dr Barber to flex his fingers over classics like I Hear A Rhapsody and There Is No Greater Love as deftly as  a butterfly hovering over a flower. His execution is full of rhythmic impetus, flying right-hand runs and chunks of chords in a style echoing characteristics of  Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson.  I then ran over to see The Bryn Davies Quartet, a  bunch of schoolkids playing some fantastic music; Bryn, Scott, Andy, Frank and Ben play some classics like Yardbird Suite, Chameleon, Canteloupe Island, Georgia etc., given these kids are 16, they make a terrific sound and the future of improvised music in the local area is clearly safe. Following Jim’s trio, terrific guitarist Richard Jones strummed  and sang his way through some classic blues and bluegrass tunes like Sleepy John Estes’ Diving Duck Blues, Curtis Mayfields People Get Ready,  Shady Grove, as well as an incredible version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, looking around at the audience as he played it I spotted nearly everyone had a smile on their face, I hope he records it.

After Bryn Davies, trombonist Gareth Roberts’ quartet came on and to a small but perfectly formed audience and belted out great readings of Lapwish Blues, In a Mellow tone, There is no greater Love, Angel Eyes, Recorda Me and introduced us to the the flugelbone or marching trombone, basically a curled up valve trombone. Gareth has a super sound and bags of technique and it was treat to witness some all-too-rare ace modern trombone-playing.

The Good Ol’ Spit & Dribble Jass Band cranked up the trad angle with some rumbustious and rowdy ensemble playing. To have Keith Little on piano was a delight and newcomer Clive Johnson on clarinet, soprano and alto played as if he’d been with the band years. Heavy-Duty treatment was applied to Salutation March, Louisi-an-i-a, Algiers Strut, Lily of The Valley, How Great Thou Art and other early jazz standards whilst a raucous but softer touch was applied to a delicate rendition of Winin’ Boy Blues and a gentle reminder of the late great Bob Gribble came when the band played Breeze in his memory.

Over at the Hearth, the sublime Mike Britton and Erika Lyons floated through classics Here’s That Rainy Day, I Fall In Love To Easily , I Love You,  500 Miles High etc, each tune showcasing Mike’s phenomenal technique and classy sound. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else do that swooping thing he does, flying up and down the fretboard over diminished arpeggios and other sumptuous chord voicings, bliss. Back at Sebastopol, Paul Keddle’s Calling Card cranked their way through a set of punchy rock and country blues with Steve Shipmans harmonica punctuating Paul’s vocals.

Following Mike and Erika were newcomers Grumpy Old Guitarists, I didn’t manage to catch their set as I was running around like a proverbial azure-derriered fly. I did however get collared by Jim Hodges who told me to book them at the club soon!

Finishing the night at the Hearth ere John Paul Gard’s Pedalmania with Ben Waghorn on saxes and Eddie John at the drums. This organ trio is the epitomy of cool and JPG’s Hammond swirls and whoops through the funkiest laid-back grooves and charges through hard-hitting blues-laced swing. Ben Waghorn is simply one of the finest reed players in the UK, dazzlingly flawless technique, huge-toned and brassy, ideas come pouring out of his horn in a endless flow of invention. Eddie John’s drumming simply blew my other half away as she stayed to watch the whole set, I had to nip back to get Jay Phelps on the stage. I did however catch a couple of the numbers when Richard Jones guested with the band for the second set, breathtaking playing from all four musicians and apparently it got even hotter as they played into the night, serves me right for putting two top-notch artists on at the same time.

To head-up the festival, Canadian Jay Phelps, formerly of Empirical, took to the stage with Jim Barber, Erika Lyons and Mark O’Connor. Little did the audience know what they were in for. A quite spectacular display of pyrotechnic trumpet-playing the like of which the club has never seen before. Blues Walk,  I’ll Remember April, What’s New, Hot House, Caravan, I Remember You, Body and Soul, Well You Needn’t, and one other frighteningly fast tune I can’t remember the name of and it’s doing my head in. Phelps’ range of timbres is approaching Lester Bowie’s in him being able to elicit the most breathy, hushed tones through sweet and elegant to declamatory burning power. He possesses technique capable of fizzling speed and a rhythmic accuracy that leaves you in awe. Young Jamie Brownfield and myself had the opportunity to play with the master and we had enormous fun flying through Oleo to finish the night. Allin all, some fantastic music, lovely weather and enough people to cover our outlay. Roll on September…
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