GERARD COUSINS PROJECT
Guitarist Gerard Cousins was a popular visitor to the Festival in 2017 when he led a sextet at the Guildhall which undertook an intriguing re-imagining of the classic 1969 Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”.
Locally born Cousins is a highly accomplished classical guitarist who studied the instrument at the University of Leeds and at the Enschede Conservatorium in the Netherlands. Since 2005 he has released four albums of solo guitar music on his own record label. As well as exploring the conventional classical and Spanish repertoires he has also investigated the folk music of his native Wales, most notably on the album “Hiraeth” released in 2010.
It was to the Welsh folk repertoire that he turned to today in the company of a scaled down Project featuring tenor saxophonist Dan Newberry and pianist Andy Nowak, both of whom had been members of last year’s larger ensemble.
The intimate setting of The Muse proved to be ideal for Cousins’ primarily acoustic music, albeit with Nowak deploying, by necessity, an electric keyboard. The gig was notable for being held on young saxophonist Newberry’s 20th birthday.
The idea of marrying jazz with Welsh folk music is not entirely new and has recently been successfully explored by the group Burum, led by trumpeter Tomos Williams and previous visitors to Brecon Jazz Festival themselves.
Whereas Burum prefer to place the folk melodies into a modal jazz context the Cousins trio tended to adopt a more chamber jazz approach, adapting the source material rather less radically but still giving it a distinctive jazz flavour.
The trio commenced with an adaptation of the traditional tune “Lisa Lan”, dubbed by Cousins “Lisa Lan Goes East” as the trio brought a touch of the Middle East to the music via Newberry’s tenor and Cousins’ nylon strung acoustic guitar. Nowak punctuated the piece with a passage of solo piano and also engaged in thoughtful dialogue with Cousins’ guitar.
The well known hymn tune “Gwahoddiad” is a piece that Cousins has played as a solo guitarist for years. It lost none of its charm here in a trio arrangement that began with a passage of unaccompanied guitar but also included a series of melodic exchanges between Newberry and Nowak. The saxophonist’s subsequent solo then saw him subtly stretching the fabric of the familiar melody.
“Ar Lan y Mor” (or “Down By The Sea”) also commenced with a passage of solo guitar that exhibited both classical and folk influences and demonstrated Cousins’ phenomenal technique with some almost prehensile fingering. Nowak’s keyboard subsequently took over the melody as the rushes of breath through Newberry’s tenor sometimes seemed to replicate the sound of surf.
A sparse arrangement of a 7th century Welsh lullaby included an introductory dialogue between guitar and piano in which the notes almost seemed to hang in the air. As the tune developed we enjoyed a tenor solo from the increasingly assured Newberry before the piece concluded with a passage of unaccompanied piano.
An all too short set concluded with “The Dove”, a beautifully melodic piece that recalled some of Jan Garbarek’s Nordic folk influenced recordings. There was something of the Norwegian’s sound in Newberry’s plaintive tenor in a piece that also included unaccompanied passages of guitar and piano.
Although more modest in scope than last year’s “Silent Way” explorations this subtle and thoughtful set was very well received by an attentive crowd at The Muse. It’s very possible that the locally based Cousins may well return again next year with a fresh Project to explore.