Live Review: Bonsai at New Generation Jazz

New Generation Jazz: Bonsai

The Verdict Brighton

Friday 26th July, 2019

On another steamy Brighton night The Verdict Jazz Club welcomed the highly praised quintet Bonsai to The New Generation Jazz stage. Formed in 2014 and originally named Jam Experiment, this group of young musicians have been mentioned by many in the same breath as Michael League’s Brooklyn based Snarky Puppy, one of the most successful jazz fusion acts on the planet. For Bonsai it has been a busy time, having recently released their second album Bonsai Club on the Ubuntu record label, appeared on BBC radio, performed at The London Jazz Festival and completed a European tour in 2018 that included Berlin, Rome and Prague. Their Verdict performance was number ten of a twenty one gig UK tour which has already included their new album launch at The Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. The band are rapidly making progress towards the summit of the UK jazz pyramid as they proved to an enthusiastic Verdict crowd on the night. The line up is something of an unusual one which along with the fact that most of their numbers are originals composed by band members helps them produce a very personal and unique sound. The leader Dominic Ingham plays electric violin, as well as handling both the lyrical and wordless vocals on some numbers. His brother Rory, who has also played alongside “A” lister’s Dave Holland, Chris Potter and others, plays amplified trombone and was the winner in the Rising Star category at the 2017 British Jazz Awards. Ex-Truro chorister Toby Comeau is not only a very fine pianist, he also adds great colour to the band’s performances through his imaginative use of the electric keyboards. On bass guitar is Joe Lee who is the bedrock of the group as well as being a fine soloist. Johnny Mansfield is one of the sharpest and most creative drummers you are likely to come across, he runs his own successful group Elftet and is a recipient of The Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize for emerging talent.

The night was a heady mix of eclectic and creative sounds over two fifty minute sets from a band who perhaps were the very first to be clad in shorts on this stage despite the fact that the air conditioning system in the club also put on a rare and faultless performance. The opening number Quay from the new disc, set the scene for most that was to follow with a calming overall ensemble sound and the soloists emerging from time to time. We were soon to be treated to the ethereal sound of the leader’s voice on his own composition Bonsai Club. He uses his voice very as an instrument within the mix, the tonality being somewhere between Chet Baker and Mose Allison. The imaginatively titled Hop The Hip Replacement benefited from a fine opening solo piano passage, plucked violin and the trombone electronics set to reverb.
It was an astonishing and joyful journey. There is a wonderful village in Devon named Appledore which was the title of a fine ballad written in its honour and largely performed by pianist Toby Comeau whose contributions on both the acoustic and electric instruments were the key to the overall success of the night. It was a heady and satisfying first set, but as with many other Verdict sessions of recent times the bar was raised even higher after the interval. Following Johnny Mansfield’s medium paced swinger BNJC we were treated an astonishing wordless vocal showcasing the leaders high falsetto voice on the Joe Lee composition The Crescent. He truly has a unique talent in this department which sets the band apart from many other fusion based outfits. This band love their quirky titles, none more so than the highlight of part two, the lengthy Itchy Knee. The tune bears a simple repeated motive that is shared by all and showcased both the considerable solo skills of Joe Lee on electric bass plus some almost Keith Jarrett- like vibes on the grand piano from Tony Comeau. Get It On Target was a light-hearted and well rehearsed encore from a great band who have fun on stage, do not take themselves too seriously and have a front man whose additional skills in the genre of standup comedy add contrast and variety to their imaginative playing and audience connection.

Words: Jim Burlong

Photos: Anya Arnold

Rory Ingham, trombone; Dominic Ingham, violin, vocals; Toby Comeau, keyboards; Joe Lee, bass; Jonny Mansfield, drums.