Nicola Farnon – double bass and voice
Piero Tucci – piano and sax
Phil Johnson – drums
The piano trio is such a staple of jazz that it takes a moment to adjust one’s expectations to something that’s apparently the same, but musically wholly different. Yet for all that Nicola Farnon was clearly centre-stage and the focus of attention, this was still a wonderful, and indeed extended, showing of the variety that three musicians can bring to a well-worn form.
The first thing to note is that for sheer musical pleasure, there was little to choose between Nicola’s playing and her singing—both were splendid. Her voice has a pleasing huskiness, while still being able to deliver sustained, high notes with strength and clarity. Many of her numbers were peppered with vocalisms and embellishments—(no, not only scat singing)—occasionally for comic effect, most often to underline one form of passion or another in the lyrics. She was also a remarkably physical bass player—it seemed at times that the bass was tucked into her, while she swayed, shook her head and seemingly, laughed from the sheer pleasure of it. And she had a stage persona to match, which quickly captivated and held the audience.
Nicola is also a fine song-writer—numbers that would slip in nicely at the end of the Great American Song Book; and in the second set, her blues, ‘The Way It’s Gotta Be,’ was a highlight of the evening. The words and music could have been plucked from the blues canon going back many decades; and the delivery was wholly in the idiom, too.
A singer-bass player is unusual enough, but when Piero Tucci turned in his seat from playing accompanying piano and started in on a tenor saxophone solo—a hard-edged but beautifully lyrical turn of the melody line—we seemed a long way from ‘piano trio.’ And so we were. There was nothing to be gained by trying to discern at one juncture or another who was accompanying whom—conventional it wasn’t, but for all of their individual sparkle, these three musicians still played as a wholly integrated trio. What was remarkable about Piero’s playing was how varied and adaptable it was—and on both instruments. For any aspiring musicians in the audience, this was confirmation that there really isn’t any justice in this world, that one musician should be able to play show-stopping solos on two such different instruments.
The largest part of both sets was very upbeat, with Phil Johnson’s drums driving everything forward; and although his accompaniment was discerning and careful, he also had a good line in explosive turns, especially in his crowd-pleasing solos.
It is to the considerable credit of all three musicians that although they could also have delivered a very entertaining evening of light music, this was clearly jazz—creatively demanding and superbly played. They also knew a thing or two about responding to an audience. By the end, we would have followed them anywhere