Review: Ben Creighton Griffiths and Duski
Nigel Jarrett visits Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny to hear Creighton Griffith's jazz harp and Duski's extended sonic exploration
Celebrated historic figures in Welsh jazz are relatively few. There's Dill Jones, and some might claim Bill Evans, descended from a transplanted "Taff" in New Jersey, as one of their own.
Contemporary names with national or international kudos include Gwilym Simcock, Huw Warren, Ian Shaw and Geoff Eales. Then there's bassist Paul Gardiner, who runs a gold-credit jazz course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, its alumni including Dave Stapleton, musician and founder of Edition Records.
The club scene is active north and south and (the presently sidelined) Brecon Jazz once made the writer Miles Kington observe that his decision to return to London from Wales coincided with the march of jazz musicians in the opposite direction.
Many of these Gwalian factors came together in Black Mountain Jazz's final gig of 2016, a double bill featuring acoustic-electric harpist Ben Creighton Griffiths (pictured above right) and the band Duski, here in its foursome version without the guitars of Dan Messore. It marked a year for the Abergavenny club in its new home at the Melville Theatre, Penypound, where even the interval music in the bar was provided by a former RWCM&D student – the gifted saxophonist Martha Skilton, this time at the venue's upright piano and catching the ear with Debussy, Erroll Garner and others. Creighton Griffiths had also played in September as an in-betweener at the club's annual weekend festival, Wall2Wall, clearly doing enough to warrant re-booking as a main act.
The harpist came hooked up to a Nord keyboard minimally employed as an overdub device. Like jazz played on other unusual instruments, jazz on the harp has to overcome novelty status; in this Welsh context at least it was a reason for patriotic rejoicing. Creighton Griffiths does enough to convince that the harp can be a jazz vehicle. As a child prodigy he began with classical repertory. For this appearance and among others, he played a section from a jazz suite he'd written and which is included on his latest album. Where the harp is concerned - in any category - less is always more, so rounded is the instrument's personality. This is best illustrated on the album, where the drumming is an unnecessary adjunct. Still, full marks to the lad for his persistence, adventurousness and missionary spirit.
Bassist Aidan Thorne, Duski's leader from behind, is also a product of the RWCM&D and on this showing head of a thoroughly inventive band able to create live the kind of music one might associate more readily with the studio. Most of the lengthy items performed included a deal of extended sonic exploration between bookended and beautifully crafted intros and codas. It was very much held together and moderated by Mark O'Connor's relaxed authority at the kit, expanded spatially and funkily by keyboard player Paul Jones and cheer-led by some stupendous barking, braying and ululating – as well as lyricism - from tenor saxophonist Greg Sterland. Thorne encouraged the band's fondness for ambient musing, best demonstrated in a composition inspired by David Lynch's cult movie Twin Peaks. Duski's sets shows originality, quality and productive collaboration. If I were a club secretary, I'd book the band without delay.
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