The Vale Bar, Glasgow. 22nd April 2010.
The first thing I noticed on arriving at the Vale was that there was a set of keyboards on stage. Were Brass Jaw going to be experimenting with keyboards, I wondered? The second thing I noticed was that, since my last visit, the venue had acquired a stage. Not a very high one, just six inches or so above the floor, but nevertheless a stage. Unfortunately, another thing that had changed was that the hum from the bar refrigeration was much more noticeable – although that might just have been because I was downstairs rather than upstairs this time.
In the event, the keyboards belonged to pianist Pete Johnstone (not to be confused with the boogie-woogie Pete Johnson), who along with trumpeter Siobhan Duncan made up an unadvertised support act. They’ve both been Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year finalists in recent years, and although they’re not yet the finished article, they showed a lot of promise. In particular, I think it’s healthy that young trumpeters now seem to be much less in thrall to the Miles Davis approach to jazz trumpet than they were a couple of decades ago. (Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the Miles Davis sound, it’s just that there are plenty of other ways of going about things). Brass Jaw’s Ryan Quigley is, of course, about as un-Milesian as a trumpeter can get.
Brass Jaw’s own set consisted mainly of material from their recent Deal With It album plus an original called “Amber Gambler” and a version of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon”. What was noticeable was just how much the music has evolved since it was recorded. The album version of “Tin Tin Deo” was essentially a feature for Ryan Quigley; Thursday’s live version started with an extended tenor and baritone sax duet, then went into a collectively improvised section out of which emerged an equally lengthy alto and trumpet duet. “Charles Franklin Blues” – possibly the most Mingusy tune written by anyone other than Charles Mingus himself – gained a coda in which Paul Towndrow played a solo full of dramatic pauses over an incredibly long sustained note from the other three musicians. “Feel”, on the other hand, seemed much shorter live, consisting largely of a brief but excellent tenor solo from Konrad Wiszniewski. Allon Beauvoisin on baritone didn’t get as much solo space as the others, but played a key role in holding the whole thing together (as well as being the band’s main, though by no means only, arranger).
As well as being very good musically, Brass Jaw are also one of those bands who put on a good show. We might not have got the “strong language and scenes of a sexual nature” we were promised by the announcer, but they are definitely a band to see and not just to hear. It was interesting to see how much of the full-quartet music was played from written music and how much was spontaneously arranged. The band also came across as enjoying themselves, and this sense of fun helped boost the audience’s enjoyment. If you’ve not already seen Brass Jaw, I’d urge you to do so as soon as possible.
The band were filming this gig, so watch out for excerpts appearing on YouTube (and presumably their own website). In the meantime, here’s Siobhan Duncan playing Joyspring (not from this concert).
In the past I’ve always just linked to videos, but I thought this time I’d embed one directly in the page. Let me know if you’ve any problems viewing it.