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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Cheltenham Jazz Festival: Vula Viel @ Parabola Arts Centre – May 5


Bex Burch (gyil); Ruth Goller (bass guitar); Jim Hart (drums).
(Review by Steve T)

I'd heard that Vula Viel - pronounced Vi-E-l - had shrunk to a trio since I saw them at the Scarborough Jazz Festival a few years back. I wasn't sure how that would work and read somewhere they were diminished a little, but was encouraged when Jazzwise gave their new album 4 stars; just one less than A Kind of Blue.


I couldn't remember the line-up from Scarborough and, when checking the credits on the first album didn't help, I asked the lady herself after the gig. She confirmed they were a quintet featuring bass synth, two drummers and sax. Here they had a fantastic busy drummer and, since the gyil (Ghanaian xylophone) is essentially a percussion instrument - and they displayed what seemed incredibly complicated interplay between the two - I heard no need for another kit man.

However, I definitely think a sax would have filled it out as it occasionally seemed one dimensional, repeated bass features and lots of drumming, if anything, drawing attention to the fact that they were essentially a woman down.

Not that I didn't enjoy it, and the threat of some ethnicity and some sisterhood is always a compelling argument in persuading Mrs T to agree. I'd already suggested she download/stream/ whatever the new album format, but apparently, her phone needed charging so it was a CD to the rescue again. 

Bex is extremely charismatic on stage, loosening up and limbering up ‘til she's bouncing around her instrument like a prize-fighter, her hair bobbing in double time. Most of the set was drawn from the new album, though they did dip into the debut and this would be the one I would recommend first.

At Scarborough, her introductions were interspersed with tales of her time in the African village where she learned to build and play her instrument, but here she seemed reluctant to do so, restricting it to one mention towards the end. I've no doubt her enthusiasm, commitment and passion is undiminished, so she shouldn't shy away from it since the dialogue actually helps bring the music to life.

I look forward very much to their arrival at one of the venues in the North East, but I think she may reconsider filling out the sound with reeds: soprano or flute, maybe with a baritone as well; or something from the guitar family, violin or cello. The possibilities are endless. 
Steve T.


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