The latest in the Creative Innovation Centre’s series of Sunday lunchtime jazz gigs (for people whose taste for good music wins out over their hunger for a roast and three veg and a snooze in front of the TV) featured vocalist and brass-player Muoneké, the self-styled “young man with an old soul”. Not to mention a rich voice, a bass-baritone with a three-octave range and low notes that reverberate in your chest cavity, and a warm and winning way of putting over a song.
I asked him if the singing or the instruments came first. “The singing. When I was about six years old I was singing with my church kids’ choir, then when I was about 11 years old my voice matured quite rapidly and became very deep quite quickly. I stopped singing for a while and played keyboards for a few years, then when I was 15 I made my first official public performance at a charity variety competition at school, singing Fly Me To The Moon, the Frank Sinatra version, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I picked up the trumpet when I was 18, so I’ve been playing it for nine years, come October. A couple of years ago I was very basic, but each concert I do I count as live practice and I always want to try something new, and I go into every song with an open, blank canvas. I visualise it as painting with the trumpet.”
His band has been evolving for the best part of six years now, and he says it has gone from strength to strength. “It’s taken a while to find the people that I feel at home with, and that are also very reliable, that I can count on to do the job and do it well. We all work together very well. These are some of the most in-demand musicians in the south of England. It’s a joy to play with them. They offer such professionalism and joy at the same time.” I and, very evidently from their reactions, the rest of the audience, would endorse that assessment.
“This is the first time I’ve played properly with Paul Francis, our bassist. I met him at a jazz jam in Bridgwater a few weeks ago. I called him up only a few days ago and asked him if was available, and he came down, not knowing any of the original stuff I play, and he played it excellently. He’s a great bass player in his own right. Richard Llewellyn, a great guitarist, plays in many jazz outfits in Somerset and the surrounding area, and Ryan Thrupp, the drummer, plays with anybody and everybody in the jazz world in this part of England.”
The choice of songs for the CICCIC gig was pretty much a who’s who (or what’s what) of Great American Songbook classics but the second set ended with a couple of his own lively compositions: A Flat For Two and Love Is The Only Way, both of which stood up very well in the distinguished company. There were also some less-often-visited standards, including A Kiss To Build A Dream On, and some seemingly odd but actually effective programming decisions, such as the medley of proto-hippie Eden Ahbez’s enigmatic Nature Boy and What A Wonderful World. (Muoneké did a creditable vocal Satchmo impression on When You’re Smiling, by the way.)
The band members’ performance fully justified Muoneké’s praise of them, both in their crisp and cohesive accompaniment and their own fluent solos. The leader’s style on trumpet and flugelhorn is, in this context, appropriate in its pre-bop elegance and lyricism, like his vocal phrasing. Apart from a couple of scat episodes and some Cab Calloway-type call & response fun with the crowd on Talking About Love it was the sumptuous texture, expressiveness and depth of his voice rather than any showy vocal acrobatics that most impressed the audience. I joked that his lowest notes made Billy Eckstine sound like a soprano and he laughed. “That’s a compliment because I love Billy Eckstine.” He is an admirable legatee of the Eckstine and Nat King Cole heritage to add to his own personal characteristics.
Marvin Muoneké Quartet, CICCIC, Taunton, 30 July 2023