New Orleans Streets Re-visited: Bass12

A taste of New Orleans, if not of its climate, came to Abergavenny when Bass12 gave Chaka Khan and more the NO street-band treatment

Bass12 at Black Mountain Jazz, the Melville Theatre, Abergavenny, 29 May 2022. Photo by Kasia Ociepa

Not all nostalgia-driven jazz in Britain rekindles the New Orleans revival in 1940s America and 1950s Europe. Some of it goes back to the Crescent City itself in the form of crackling brass and hearty male vocals, with not a banjo in sight.

For listeners who might have thought Bass12, the eight-piece bundle of street-band joy from Cardiff, were out of step in playing Blue Monk by the modernists Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey, there was a lesson to be learned. The chart is a favourite with current marching bands in Louisiana.

Lesson one, then, was that they still play New Orleans jazz in New Orleans, where not even a city – lesson two – transformed by tourists can stop its musicians from picking contemporary musical fruit. Mark Fortnum and Jack Mac (saxes), Joe Bentley and Tim West (trumpets), Peter Richards and Chris Davis (trombones), Will Marston (sousaphone), and Ryan Thrupp (drum kit) pulled in plenty of appropriate material from later years, including Sexual Healing (Marvin Gaye), Ain’t Nobody (Chaka Khan and Rufus), Superstition (Stevie Wonder), and Caravan (Duke Ellington, his trombonist Juan Tizol and, if required, lyrics by Irving Mills). Blue Monk, after all, is a 12-bar blues.

Strong on structural riffing and call-and-response tropes with choral vocals and instrumental solos thrown in, the boys performed expertly the trick of making tight discipline and good order sound spontaneous, muscular and oven-ready – well, the heat was always turned up.

As the leaders readily acknowledged, without Thrupp to beat time and tempo with current licks and Marston to belch that essential bass footfall, the front six might not have stayed afloat, especially for the good-time feeling required by the blues-rock number Yo Mama Don’t Dance (Loggins and Messina), Drink A Little Poison Before You Die (Grayson Capps) and two numbers – Do Watcha Wanna and Feel Like Funkin’ It Up – associated with another brazen outfit, the Rebirth Brass Band. And, of course, the saints went marching in towards the end, jostling with some Spice Girls lyrics.

A full BMJ house warmed to the gig, but probably, like the band itself, felt displaced from the sunny al fresco environment to which both belonged. Certain it was that when the band finally stepped on to the narrow dance floor between performers and audience and wove a modest path through the throng, it was trying valiantly to match an ambience much to be desired.

Bass12 at Black Mountain Jazz, the Melville Theatre, Abergavenny, 29 May 2022