REVIEW: Neil Yates – Tunes from the Chimneys: A Jazz suite for Wales (Premiered at the Llandudno Jazz Festival)



Neil Yates – Tunes from the Chimneys: A Jazz suite for Wales
(Llandudno Jazz Festival. Premiere performance/festival commission, 29 July 2018. Review and photo of Neil Yates by Jon Turney)

An ambitious commission for artistic director Neil Yates crowned the fourth edition of this charming boutique festival. Yates, as others have before him, turned to Dylan Thomas’ poetry for inspiration. His special conceit was to listen to Thomas’s own readings, extracting melodic shapes from the rise and fall of the poet’s voice.

These were transformed into a nine-part suite premiered on Sunday, rewarding the faithful late-night audience after a full three-day programme of top-flight British jazz on the picturesque North Wales coast. Yates’ work, scored for an octet including the brilliant Welsh electro-acoustic harpist Ben Creighton-Griffiths, explored moods set by a line or two from each poem. This worked beautifully, especially on Do Not Go Gentle, and the similarly sombre And Death Shall Have No Dominion. There was a remarkable slow-building tenor threnody here from Art Themen, as well as stand-out solos elsewhere from Creighton-Griffiths, and Geoff Eales on piano, and excellent contributions from Paula Gardiner on bass, Gwyn Evans on trumpet and Liam Byrne on tenor sax.

The leader, playing his fourth set of the weekend, graced his own pieces with a succession of beautifully varied improvisations, on muted and unmuted trumpet and flugelhorn. The entire suite, from the opening There was a Saviour to the closer I Have Longed to Move Away, was cleverly orchestrated, and is a notable addition to the modest catalogue of worthwhile jazz responses to the spoken word - one that surely deserves to be heard again

Last thought: This is the third jazz suite inspired by Thomas, D. that I know of. Yates convinces that he remains a worthy touchstone but, still, other Welsh poets are also available. Now Wales grows richer in jazz players, and festivals, maybe some broader reading will follow for future jazz-poetry cocktails?

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