Review: Wall2Wall, Abergavenny




Nigel Jarrett experiences frenetic musicianship, rising young players and more at the 11th annual Wall2Wall festival organised by Black Mountain Jazz

All hail to Dave Jones, South Walian pianist and distinguished contributor to Jazz Journal. He might not have been a headliner at this year's Wall2Wall festival at the Melville Theatre but he helped buttress a fair amount of it: to be exact, four hour-long stints in the bar accompanying, respectively and respectedly, vocalist Debs Hancock, trumpeter Ceri Williams, saxophonist Glen Manby and the bassist Ashley John Long (pictured right). No-one ought to apply the word "accompaniment" to making good musicians sound better, despite the conventional amount of me-to-you delegation of responsibility; his duo with Long, though, an association already preserved on disc, was a partnership.

Being a Welsh festival, Wall2Wall naturally has a Gwalian flavour. Pianist Guy Shotton, who was part of vocalist Becki Biggins's quartet (Biggins pictured below left by James Hacker) at the festival dinner on the first night, is a graduate of Cardiff University's music department and Long teaches at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The RWCM&D runs a much-lauded jazz course, of which saxophonist Daniel Newberry is a product as are the other members of his quintet bar Shotton and Long. Another of its graduates is vocalist Rachel Sutton, who was at the festival with her quartet, regaling it with her mixture of glamour and sassiness. But it was possibly her training as an actor that enabled her to articulate emotions requiring both warm and feisty deliveries. Among several notable pianists at the festival was hers – Roland Perrin (formerly with Dudu Pukwana and Brotherhood of Breath) – and among some notable drummers her quartet's Paul Robinson. Like Debs Hancock assessing the emotional weight of each song she performed, and Biggins giving them a celebratory blast, Sutton also endows each number with its own character by personifying it as the individual likely to be expressing its sentiments.

Songs were also sung by Newberry's trumpeter Thom Voyce, a case of a student musician keeping all his options open, and violinist Ben Holder, who arrived as if flung off a tornado with his quartet. Holder, classically trained at the Birmingham Conservatoire, is like a whirling dervish on stage: one propelled out of some mad spinning device. He's "all of a go" as they say in SE Wales, to the extent that his supercharged performances can hover uncertainly between virtuosity and high comedy. That said, comedy of the clowning sort (Gillespie, Armstrong, Cab Calloway) has sadly disappeared from jazz. As to the singing, he did it while playing the piano – a nice version of Georgia On My Mind – while jokingly professing not to like jazz violin. You knew what he meant. The piano-singer who might have stolen the show was Dale Storr with his Sounds Of New Orleans. A Yorkshireman who lives musically in the Crescent City and can retail all the elements that go to make the barrelhouse tradition, he chose to feature the little-known James Booker, a troubled spirit whom he and others in the know regard highly. There were musical tributes to him in Keep On Gwine and nods towards other Storr heroes such as Dr John (Such A Night, Dorothy), and Jessie Hill (Sweet Jelly Roll).

Trumpeter Enrico Tomasso (pictured right by Bruce Lindsay) has a New Orleans link too. As a child he met, through his father, Louis Armstrong, who gave him tips. The Tomasso quartet presented a Swing Til You Bop feature that didn't actually embrace Parker-Gillespie but settled on harbingers of change such as John Kirby, Charlie Shavers (Undecided), and Coleman Hawkins, especially the last’s Bean Soup, written on the changes of Tea For Two (Newberry's band had played Scrapple From The Apple, based on the sequences of Honeysuckle Rose). Pianist Colin Goode's version of Earl Hines's Blues In Thirds was a showpiece, pipping by only a bar's length Steve Lodder's wide-ranging contributions in the Alison Rayner Quintet. The festival’s upright did sterling service all weekend; Jones brought along his trusted keyboard. ARQ continues to be a model of how to maintain in live performance the groove and tight coordination of ensemble, as well as the wit and humanity, of Rayner's concepts, without once diffusing at the edges. Deidre Cartwright (guitar) and Diane McLoughlin (saxes) continue to fire the uptempo numbers with drummer Buster Birch.

No chance of Tony Kofi and The Organisation travelling on anything other than a straight road, their integrity secure before a capacity Saturday night audience and its arrival led by Kofi's baritone sax, not a standalone solo instrument one readily associates with hard-bopping. The quartet was mainly promoting its album Point Blank, released the day before, in which a simple but effective arrangement of McCoy Tyner's Search For Peace was positioned as both respite and thing of beauty. The way Kofi, by default on his own admission, has dragooned the bari into service as the reed in a band that holds it all together at length and unaccompanied by any other blown instrument, was an object lesson. With drummer Peter Cater, organist Pete Whittaker and guitarist Simon Fernsby, it was concentrated collectivity of Rayner's sort but less complex and with different associations, Kofi's being his admiration for the composers and musicians he admires, such as Pepper Adams (Bossallegro), Pat Martino (Cisco), and Horace Silver (Summer In Central Park).


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