On Twitter a few days before Brecon Jazz Festival, Mercury Prize nominees Roller Trio promised they would be playing all our favourites at their gig at the Guildhall on Saturday night. So they started with Deep Heat, Roller Toaster and The Nail That Stands Up and then played us a few new tracks that had no name but had been saved by their recording engineer as Doris and I hope their new album has a track called Doris, there is something direct and no-nonsense about this band. My notes refer to Dalek music. This is music that Daleks would like if given half the chance. It is exciting, edgy, overwhelming, physical and above all, tuneful. They are fabulous, like a workout with no effort.
No old favourites for Phronesis earlier that afternoon. An excited full house at the Theatre (the queue to get in snaked for several hundred yards) were mesmerised by a set of new compositions, at least five of which had never been heard before outside of rehearsal. The set list included the sinister Urban Control, the haunting Lost Nomads, Life to Everything, the affectionate Herne Hill, Fraternal, Behind Bars, Fly on the Floor, two others with no name and an encore of Suede Trees. If we were guinea pigs for new sounds, we passed the test, the buzz afterwards was ecstatic. There were unmistakable signs of the wisdom and confidence gained from world touring, a vast auditorium-filling sound produced with seemingly minimal obvious effort, so relaxed is their partnership. Did I detect more arco than previously from Jasper? It felt very lyrical at times. There was an almost pastoral feel to one of the compositions. Now we all have to wait, patiently, til November when these gems will be recorded at the Cockpit and released on Edition Records.
The contrast between well estabished and new continued on Sunday – trumpet player Laura Jurd gave us a very complex and confident set at the Cathedral. The Cathedral’s acoustics provided the ideal place for her clear sound and for John Surman who followed. The John Surman Trio – a supergroup comprising Chris Lawrence on bass and John Marshall on drums – treated us to a largely improvised set of compositions inspired by the Cathedral and sunshine. The jewelled light from the stained glass and the cavernous space prompted huge, dark and sometimes scarey sounds, like vast flocks of birds speeding across a dark sky. The compactness of John Marshall’s technique (ex Soft Machine and Nucleus) produced lots of noise with minimal movement, an interesting comparison with powerful drummer Luke Reddin-Williams of Roller Trio whose theatrical gestures were as eye catching as they were effective.
My festival ended with another supergroup, the Anglo-American The Impossible Gentlemen, whose confidence and good humour provided the perfect prelude to leaving Brecon. We heard tracks from their upcoming album Internationally Recognised Aliens. I preferred their quieter compositions, notably the beautiful Ever After by Steve Swallow and Gwilym Simcock’s bluesy Barber Blues. which I had heard before, with Lighthouse in the same venue last year. If anyone can play a piano and make it look as if he is skimming across hot coals it is Gwilym. He is quite breathtaking and very engaging. And that was the magic of Brecon.