Tommy Smith trio+ Kit Downes trio Review / BritJazz Festival Round-up

Review: Tommy Smith/ Arild Andersen/Paolo Vinaccia plus Kit Downes Trio- Ronnie Scott’s

The BritJazz fortnight at Ronnie Scott’s has been a decided success.
Ronnie Scott’s has been rewarded for putting on BritJazz with a full house every night. This can only lead to one conclusion: please can it be repeated on a regular basis?!

I went for the final evening of the fortnight. The opening set was from the Kit Downes Trio with Callum Gourlay (bass) and James Maddren (drums). This trio has an album coming out on Basho, launch date 14th September. Downes played exceptionally, beautifully. I have heard the Kit Downes trio in the past functioning more as a democracy, where to my ears the emphasis appeared to be on mutual respect, on each voice getting heard, on each musician having his space. But at Ronnie’s, Downes was playing out more, letting his right hand really sing: it sounded like a completely coherent unit. All three players relaxed into the tricky grooves. They were taking the rhythmic complexity of Downes’ tunes completely unde their skin and into their stride. I found the gradual intensity-build in the opening number Jump Mintzi Jump particularly compelling; the audience appeared to take the group to its heart right from the beginning. A delicate, lyrical rendition of Don McLean’s Vincent also worked very well. I shall look forward to hearing the album, now in the knowledge that Downes’ trio has already grown and developed further in the short period since it was recorded. Onwards or upwards who cares, there’s definitely momentum here.

The main act was Tommy Smith’s trio with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen and Italian / Oslo-based drummer Paolo Vinaccia. Most of the music was from the group’s ECM album Live at Belleville. And the most meaty part, with which the set started, was Arild Andersen’s composition , the four part suite Independency, commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905, written for this trio, and recorded on the Belleville CD.

“We’ll see you at the end,” was Smith’s tease as the group embarked on its journey. This is music composed for a decidedly serious purpose, and played with serious intent. Hymn-like melodies were solemnly intoned both by Smith and Andersen in the first part; the second was the most angry and free, with explorations of multiphonics, multi-tracking, and deep thrums from Andersen; the third felt to me like a film score with its shifting vistas; the fourth started as a jazz march, developing and eventually leading to a quiet fade. A lot to absorb at one sitting.

Vinaccia (above) has exceptional freedom and mobility about the drum kit and draws on a rich palette of sound. I have not heard Tommy Smith’s venture into Nordic ECM territory before. But there is no question that after four years, as with everything he does, he occupies the territory as convincingly and completely as he has absorbed, say, the slow Ellington ballad, or Yemeni music. Andersen on Yamaha Electric Upright Bass and electronics was masterly.

There was a celebratory feel about the whole final festival evening, of challenges faced and successfully met, together with the knowledge that one never stays still: there are new ideas to absorb, new places to go. That’s jazz. And that’s also the spirit of Ronnie Scott’s.

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. I was there too, and indeed both trios were very good. It was a joy watching James Maddren, on the first trio, playing in such a transported way, like in trance; their stuff was really exciting. What really impressed me however was the dynamism and efficaciousness with which Andersen, Smith, and Vinaccia moved from calm soundscapes to wild sounds scenarios, dominated by outbursts of drums, up-tempos, visceral echoing sax-sounds, and cosmic-deep double-bass. Their pieces included various melodic sequences, with traditional music influences, but kept us always on the edge for the unexpected, which, when it arrived, touched our innermost feelings, I would say our most primal ones. No doubt! They really know how to capture your attention. Really amazing! To bee seen!

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