If musicians titled their gigs as they do their recordings, this performance would have been called, ‘The Art of the Song.’ Any jazz musician worthy of the name can turn a familiar song inside out, producing clever variations and inversions on well-known themes, compressing or stretching the tempo, adorning it with inventive chord sequencing and startling runs. Although this performance was a far cry from ‘back to basics’—(we had wonderfully inventive playing from all three members of the band)—the evening was devoted to getting to the heart of the songs rather than adopting them as springboards for the further reaches of improvisation. The trio’s beautiful rendering of ‘Soul Eyes’ alone was worth the price of admission.
The set list largely comprised jazz standards—numbers remarkable less for their familiarity than for their expressive character; material to which the band devoted meticulous care as well as energetic and uplifting playing. They were even able to invest that old chestnut, ‘Autumn Leaves’ with vitality and surprise.
Pianist Gareth Williams never settled into a single style of playing; for each number, he seemed to find a unique approach, with the variation he brought to his left-hand technique particularly notable. The emphasis was on depth and feeling rather than speed and complexity—though we had a bit of that, too, during which that remarkable drummer Martin France came to the fore. He’s fascinating to watch as well as to hear; and on the quieter numbers, his sensitivity and responsiveness were yet another measure of his musicianship.
Bassist Calum Gourlay is a virtuoso player, with his support everything anyone could hope for, but one of the pleasures of both sets was hearing him invent counter-melodies which complemented Gareth Williams’ spacious playing perfectly. And bringing three of the numbers still closer to their roots—and to the listeners’ hearts—Gareth sang, in a relaxed and wholly unaffected way, perhaps much as many of us imagine ourselves doing (had we the talent). Oh, and while playing the piano with precision and delicacy. But as another familiar tune would have it, we did at least leave with a song in our hearts.
J Whitman 09.04.2016