Pianists at LJF: Martial Solal, Tom Cawley’s Curios and Geri Allen. November 2010.

Next up was Frech pianist Martial Solal in a solo gig. This was one of my wild cards, and I’m very glad I went. In the refined setting of the Wigmore Hall, Solal played a fascinating set of standards. He took a theme, dissected it, and then took off in all sorts of new directions, time and time again, in ways which reminded me of his compatriot Michel Petrucciani in his approach to the music, if not his playing style. This was quite dense music – Solal filled all the space – and it was not easy to identify what he was playing: in the interval, the people sitting behind me ran off a list of tunes they had heard, none of which I heard! What I heard over the two sets included Autumn Leaves, My Funny Valentine, Autumn Leaves, Caravan, Round Midnight, Well You Needn’t, In A Sentimental Mood, Satin Doll and All The Things You Are. Solal barely spoke to the audience, and at times it felt a bit like a classical recital – perhaps because of the venue. But there was also something very personal about Solal’s music: it was like he was sharing some secrets with us. He was brought back for several encores, joking before the third “…I like to play the piano!” This gig was a joy as Solal explored these tunes for all he was worth leading us down unexpected byways. Marvellous stuff.

After a (well deserved…) night off, two more pianists featured in a double bill. (I wrote this gig for LondonJazz in greater depth.) First came Curios, a British trio featuring pianist Tom Cawley. Curios’ music left lots of space; Geri Allen’s just the opposite, as she filled every moment with notes. She had name checked Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner, and the influences were clear. This was one of my “experimental” gigs – I’d seen Allen before, but never solo, and she was performing in collaboration with a filmmaker. It wasn’t wholly successful, but it was very interesting. The music felt very intense; the encore, based on music by Charlie Parker, was lighter and more playful.

Before the main gig, I caught a free duo set by Scots saxophonist, flautist and piper Fraser Fifield and guitarist Graeme Stephen. Whilst their roots were clearly in traditional Scottish music, they were also improvising. Fifield’s piping sounded like a heavily peated whisky – this was heady stuff. I liked it so much I bought the CD!

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