Catching breath after a great summer…
Here are some pictures from Brecon Jazz 2013
Wales meets Naples in Brecon Cathedral (photo by Brian Payne)
Quercus also at the Cathedral (photo by Tim Dickeson)
Wales meets Brooklyn with Jim Black at the Catle Hotel (Photo by Robert Meyrick)
And a great review by Ian Mann of the Wales meets brooklyn gig (originally here)
WORLDWIDE WALES 2 – WALES MEETS BROOKLYN
The second of two international collaborations featuring artist in residence Huw Warren this lunchtime event took place in the surroundings of the newly refurbished Castle Hotel, now happily restored as a festival venue.
This rare meeting between Welsh pianist Warren and the Seattle born, Brooklyn based Jim Black promised to be one of the most interesting events of the festival. The versatile Warren moves easily between the worlds of jazz and folk and was scheduled to appear again later in the day alongside jazz saxophonist Iain Ballamy and folk diva June Tabor as part of the trio Quercus. Warren has also been a key member of the group Perfect Houseplants and has also produced a series of quirky but enjoyable solo albums for the Babel label including “A Barrel Organ Far From Home” and “Hundreds Of Things A Boy Can Make”. He has paid homage to the great Brazilian maverick composer Hermeto Pascoal on the album “Hermeto +” (Basho Records).
Black meanwhile, is one of the leading lights of New York’s “Downtown” scene, a serial collaborator who has worked in bands fronted by trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonists Tim Berne and Ellery Eskelin as well as leading his own groups Pachora, Human Fell and the celebrated AlasNoAxis. I’m most familiar with his playing from his work with another Transatlantic collaboration the Anglo-American group Big Air featuring a British contingent of Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Steve Buckley (reeds) and Oren Marshall (tuba) together with American duo of Black at the drums and Myra Melford on piano. The quintet’s splendid album for Babel is reviewed elsewhere on this site as are Big Air performances at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and London’s Vortex Jazz Club. I saw the Cheltenham show and was hugely impressed by Black’s contribution so I was particularly keen to see him play again. It seemed I wasn’t alone, the ballroom at the castle was commendably full with many musicians present in the audience including Iain Ballamy plus drummers Mark O’Connor and Lloyd Haines, both of whom were eager to catch a glimpse of a man they look up to and regard as one of the best in the business.
I’m pleased to report that Black didn’t disappoint. This turned out to be one of the best gigs of the festival, an event made all the more enjoyable because nobody knew exactly what to expect. Warren and Black were set up facing each other, the stage layout facilitating the free exchange of ideas. These two experienced improvisers were accompanied by the young double bassist Huw V Williams, a recent graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I’ve seen Williams perform before with the RWCMD big band and also in a variety of small group contexts but nothing had prepared me for the enormity of his contribution here. On what must have been a very big gig for him he acquitted himself superbly, not only acting as the anchor between Black and Warren but also bringing plenty of himself to the proceedings.
The pre gig publicity offered “an eclectic mix of original tunes and impro” and the first item combined both featuring a free form intro of scraped percussion and interior piano scrabblings before the spacious melody of Warren’s “The Beginning Is Also The End” emerged, this later combined with Hermeto Pascoal’s exuberant “San Antonio”, the latter the vehicle for a joyously tumbling Warren solo that certainly grabbed the audience by the lapels. Williams’ bass feature retained their attention, fluent and inventive it was far more than just a token cameo. Meanwhile Black’s drumming was pleasingly idiosyncratic with the American’s distinctive grooves frequently driven by the unusual combination of one stick and one brush. Black is a puckish figure who takes great delight in his playing and rarely plays the obvious thing. Like Anton Eger of Phronesis he’s a busy but innately musical drummer who often finds himself the centre of attention, a role he clearly relishes. Black is relentless, but in a good way, he’s always looking for new ideas, sounds, textures and rhythms. Warren later revealed that he’d played with both Black and Williams before but that this was the first time they’d actually worked together as a trio. This seemed almost impossible to believe such was the level of interaction and instant rapport between the members of the trio.
Inspired by the writing of Irvine Welsh Warren’s “Where The Debris Meets The Sea” from his “Hundreds Of Things…” album was just as fine, the dialogue between Warren and Black like an animated conversation between two old friends, lively, sparky, sometimes confrontational but always conducted with total mutual respect. Over the course of what are in fact two interlinked pieces we heard Black’s imaginative use of hand drumming techniques above Warren’s insistent piano arpeggios, moments of bone crunching low end piano dissonance and finally a ballad like coda with Williams soloing above Warren’s hymn like chords and Black’s subtle drum colourations exemplified by the inventive use of cymbal ticks.
Black’s output as a leader has been distinguished by his innovative use of Balkan and other world rhythms plus his imaginative use of electronica. His tune “Protection” was a good example of his fiercely intelligent music with Warren’s delicate solo piano introduction gradually mutating into a fiery three way conversation full of rhythmic and harmonic complexities.
On agreeing to Warren’s request to be part of this trio one of Williams’ conditions was that one of his own tunes should be included in the festival set. His piece, simply entitled “Glyn” more than held its own in this company. The composer introduced the tune on solo bass combining both pizzicato and arco techniques before soloing in more conventional jazz piano above Warren’s delicate high register, almost glockenspiel like, piano. However there was more to this piece than mere prettiness as the trio gradually increased the tension laying down accreting layers of greater rhythmic and physical intensity and creating a juggernaut that was only appeased by an unexpectedly lyrical coda. This was an impressively mature piece of writing that drew more great playing from this exceptional trio and which was extremely well received by a highly appreciative audience.
The next piece was unannounced and it’s possible it may even have been fully improvised with Warren laying down a rapidly repeating piano figure with Black offering eloquent commentary from every corner of his highly personalised drum kit, his cymbal work strikingly intelligent and imaginative. More conventional features for piano and drums followed as the trio maintained their high standards.
Black’s “Terror Toe” closed the set on a surprisingly lyrical and melodic note with Williams being featured extensively on the bass.
A delighted audience called the trio back for a well deserved encore, Warren’s “All Is Sound”, which saw them ending as they began first exploring the avant garde with Williams’ grainy arco bass and Warren’s impromptu “prepared” piano. Black’s drumming varied from furtive brushed shufflings to full on explosions and also incorporated the eerie sound of bowed cymbals, something of a Black trademark it would seem. At one point both Black and Williams were using bows on their respective instruments, not something I can recall witnessing before. Once the storm had played itself out Warren played the set out with a luminous solo piano coda.
With its mix of strong tunes from all three participants, superb playing all round and a genuine sense of fun and experimentation this was a set that fulfilled its promise and more. The unconventional but hugely imaginative Black was a revelation and his Welsh colleagues rose to the challenge magnificently. I’d been quietly hopeful but the quality of this performance easily exceeded my expectations. Definitely the highlight of a very good day and right up there with Phronesis as gig of the festival. I might just give this the nod as it came as such a delightful surprise.
Note to self; must check out more of Jim Black’s recordings, especially his albums as a leader.
The gig with Huw Williams and Jim Black was recorded so a track or 2 will be available soon!