The first ticketed event of the day was held in the lounge of the Ty Helig Guest House and featured a performance by jazz guitarists Trefor Owen and Andy Hulme.
The proprietors of Ty Helig are keen supporters of both Brecon Jazz Club and the Festival and regularly play host to musicians and others associated with the Festival. The guest house lounge, packed out with around forty listeners, proved to an intimate performance space well suited to the jazzy musings of these two highly proficient guitarists.
Guitarist and educator Owen, who runs the North Wales Jazz Club, is an old friend of the Festival and led a quartet at the Guildhall as part of the 2016 Festival. Manchester based Hulme was part of that group and has long been one of Owen’s main collaborators, including Owen’s group Shades of Shearing, a quartet dedicated to exploring the music of the late pianist and composer George Shearing (1919-2011) that also includes vibraphonist Paul Sawtell. Hulme also works regularly as part of the quintet led co-led by trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and tenor saxophonist Liam Byrne, another group that appeared at the 2016 Festival.
Owen’s roots lie in bebop and the ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound citing Charlie Christian, Barney Kessell, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery as significant influences, plus Pat Martino from a slightly later jazz generation. He and Hulme played solid bodied ‘arch top’ electric guitars on a programme that gently explored a series of jazz and bebop standards with a particular emphasis on tunes associated with Shearing.
They commenced with Jimmy Van Heusen’s “I Thought About You”, which set the tone for the performance, the two guitarists sharing soloing duties pretty much equally with each man providing sensitive and subtle chordal accompaniment for the other.
Owen described “East Of The Sun West Of The Moon” as being played “in the spirit of Shearing” and deployed the close harmonies associated with Shearing’s style that saw a second instrument, usually guitar or vibes, doubling the pianist’s melody line. Here the two guitarists delivered the melody in tandem before diverging to deliver their individual solos.
Besides the jazz and bebop staples Owen and Hulme also undertook an effective exploration of a composition that Owen described as “a pop song that lends itself to jazz”. This proved to be “Saving All My Love For You”, a huge hit for Whitney Houston that made perfect sense in the hands of these two expert guitarists as they delivered it as a highly convincing jazz ballad.
The duo then explored Brazilian styles with a performance of Luiz Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnaval” (also known as the theme song to the film “Black Orpheus”). They also returned to South American shores later in the set with an elegant reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive”.
The Shearing sound was investigated again on “How About You” with both guitarists delivering slippery, elegant bebop inspired solos as well as dovetailing effectively elsewhere.
Henry Mancini’s rarely heard “Dreamsville” was delivered as a languid ballad and was a lovely and unexpected set highlight.
A lively “Lullaby of Birdland”, written by Shearing himself and performed in his style, raised the energy levels once more before the duo closed out the set with the jazz standard “Time After Time”. This represented a final opportunity to enjoy Owen’s lithe, agile soloing with its distinctive chord patterns, his style contrasting neatly with Hulme’s smoother, but equally fluent, cadences.
This was an enjoyable and absorbing performance by two masters of mainstream jazz guitar and represented a good start to an excellent day of music.