Cards on the table time: I’ve known Gary Brunton for a long time, since university in fact, but I haven’t seen him since 1988, shortly before he decamped to Paris to further his career as a jazz musician. He’s still there and he still is, and this is his latest album.
Inspired by family, life events and his Uni years in Wales, Trên Dydd is the ‘Day Train’, a brighter vision than the ‘night’ variety more commonly associated with jazz. Since moving to France, Gary has travelled far and wide and played with many luminaries of the jazz world, and these experiences inform the music and performances on Trên Dydd. The album features a quartet set up for most of the tracks, made up of highly experienced players with well over 200 years of playing between them, two pianists sharing the load across the album.
The propulsive nature of the train is immediately in focus on Energy Master Loc as horn and piano lead over the brisk and undulating rhythm section. You can almost hear the sleepers rolling by under the wheels. The change in pace to the melancholy family tribute of Brother Stuart, with Gary’s bowed and then plucked double bass as the centrepiece, is stark yet rewarding and underlines the breadth of touch and tone deployed across the album. The night shift at a smoky club comes into view with François Jeanneau’s mournful sax, Gary’s personality shining through amid the sensitive accompaniment.
The upbeat numbers like Brew Ten, dedicated to Gary’s late father, and Dirty Bebop feature a swinging group of musicians working almost telepathically, and it’s a joy to listen to. For those who might think otherwise, jazz isn’t all wanky solos and a bunch of guys playing different tunes at the same time. All of the playing here is on point, everyone aware of the environment and what the others are doing, and the results speak for themselves. There are many memorable themes and melodies that I’ve been humming along in my head, adding a jaunty spring to my step.
The enigmatic solo bass piece So, what’s happening at Christmas? displays Gary’s formidable mastery of his instrument, with great poise and timing, extended into the duet with saxophone on Magyar Mayhem, the mayhem kicking in as the piece becomes more frenetic in the later stages. Bendigedig, taken from the fabulous Welsh word meaning ‘blessed’ or ‘wonder’, is another lovely solo bass piece, the video beautifully set against a backdrop of Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsular, one of my very favourite places…
Bendigedig leads into a relaxed and homely take on the Welsh national anthem in Land of My Fathers, You Dig. Gary clearly has so much enthusiasm for Wales and its music, and it’s admirable for this kind of content to come from a kid from Burnley. If I were to hear this whilst abroad (in Paris, for example!), it would immediately make my eyes damp with rose-coloured visions of home.
There’s a stalking quality to Burnley or Bethlehem, referencing Gary’s hometown and the importance of family in making these places special. It’s moody and intriguing as saxophone again leads the group through juxtaposing vistas.
Jonquilles brings France and Wales together in the French word for daffodil, Emil Spanyi’s beautifully delicate and spacious piano leading into a stately swaying rhythm, reminiscent of a light breeze through fields of flowers. Up Pendle has a cheekier feel, successfully suggesting a jaunty ascent of the Lancastrian hill, drummer Andrea Michelutti highlighting the tricky bit.
There’s a swinging strut to the enigmatically titled Half a Polo, with Paul Lay’s piano asking the questions, and Good Shalt Prevail is a fitting and uplifting conclusion to what is a fascinating listen.
Trên Dydd is an immediately likeable and warm album that holds the attention throughout and delivers many exciting moments from a set of musicians who gel together beautifully, feeding off each other’s input. The personality of all of those involved shines and it’s the human quality that allows the music to truly fly, taking us on a journey through Gary’s life. The piano and saxophone leads are particularly distinctive and compelling, Jeanneau belying his 88 years!
I’m no expert when it comes to jazz, but I know what I like and this is right up there with my favourites. Gary knows a thing or two about composing and arranging, and also gathering the right people to get the most out of his pieces – and they know exactly what to do. This music is screaming to be heard live, and I hope to have that opportunity when Gary plays live at this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival in August.
01. Energy Master Loc (4:41)
02. Brother Stuart (4:42)
03. Brew Ten (3:31)
04. So, What’s Happening at Christmas? (1:20)
05. Magyar Mayhem (4:55)
06. Burnley or Bethlehem (6:16)
07. Bendigedig (1:26)
08. Land of My Fathers, You Dig (1:51)
09. Dirty Bebop (4:29)
10. Jonquilles (5:02)
11. Up Pendle (4:59)
12. Half a Polo (3:35)
13. Good Shalt Prevail (4:40)
Total Time – 51:27
Gary Brunton – Double Bass
François Jeanneau – Soprano Saxophone
Andrea Michelutti – Drums
Emil Spanyi – Piano (tracks 1,3,6,10,11 & 13)
Paul Lay – Piano (tracks 2,8,9 & 12)
Record Label: Juste Une Trace
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 19th May 2023