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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.


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