Sam Leak’s ‘Adrift’, 18th May 2018

Sam Leak, piano

Simon Read, bass

Dave Smith, drums 

‘Adrift’ is the title of a suite composed by Sam Leak, which featured in the second set, but the entire gig might more accurately have been described as ‘The Art of the Song.’ Whatever the character and tempo of the individual numbers, the emphasis throughout was on the lyrical quality of the material. The scope of the shrewdly chosen and sequenced repertoire reflected this—a couple of early Keith Jarrett numbers; a Pat Metheny tune; the old Charlie Parker standard, ‘Scrapple from the Apple’—combined with Sam’s own compositions and other material to provide a compelling, underlying coherence to the overall performance. There was an emphasis on the harmonic structures and the logic of the melodies which means that nothing was rushed, compacted or lost in pyrotechnic displays. That said, there was no shortage of hard-driving music-making either, but everything seemed anchored to a commitment to the beauty of the compositions.

What was most notable about Sam Leak’s technique is that even with right-hand flourishes the equal of any accomplished jazz pianist, nothing was suspended or sacrificed for the sake of a display of skill. That could be read as ‘cautious’—but it wasn’t: it was an artistic choice—and there’s no doubting that it was more difficult to sustain and achieve than the causal listener might suppose. The culminating expression of his approach occurred in the second set when he played a hymn tune—the kind of ‘standard’ not generally heard in jazz clubs. A bold choice in prospect, but it seemed utterly fitting only a few bars in: The evenly-paced, sonorous chords drew the audience in, with the same kind of familiarity as a blues sequence. And from there, bass and drums gently moved the music on into something that was probably jazz—not that anyone cared about what to call it.

And for all the attention given to the signing qualities of the material, there was still a good deal of variety, including what can best be described as chamber jazz; a few numbers that would have had Ornette Coleman on his toes; and familiar, swinging piano trio jazz.

Simon Read on bass was notable for his wonderful melodic displays—again, no need to put the bass through its paces, but a desire to wring the maximum feeling from each song. Each of his solos sounded heart-felt.

Dave Smith’s drumming was phenomenal—most obviously for his energetic, ever-shirting patterns of beats, accents, and splashes of colour, but also because he was so musically attuned to his partners that even at his most ferocious, his sound seemed to throw the melodic line into relief. ‘Fast and furious’ he certainly managed on a few occasions—and a visual treat it was, too—but even then, he was never ‘adrift’ from the music.

The inexhaustible possibilities on the all-too-familiar piano trio were renewed once again through this gig. If you have a chance to see this trio, don’t miss it. Those in attendance needn’t be told.

© J.Whitman

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