Review: Jason Rebello Group feat. Pino Palladino
(Ronnie Scott’s, Sat. 9th Mar. 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)
Pianist Jason Rebello: self-effacing brilliance. Wayne Shorter championed his music, and in 1990 produced the first of Rebello’s albums when he was only 21. Rebello disappeared from the scene for a couple of years, spent time in a Buddhist monastery, and emerged as sought-after sideman. He’s been recording and touring regularly with luminaries like Sting, Jeff Beck and Manu Katché.
This gig reached back into his career, and forward with new work written recently for a forthcoming album. The instrumental tunes had erudite intertwined themes, played often in unison by Rebello’s piano and Paul Stacey’s guitar. The style’s familiar from his first album, A Clearer View. But this band is freer and funkier, with overtones of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. In Silver Surfer (from the second album), Pino Palladino’s bass was the band’s heartbeat. He sat very still, his long fingers barely moving on the bass’s neck: no solos, just unadulterated rhythm. At times just one bass note underpinned convoluted Zappa-esque themes: a perfectly-placed, indescribably groovy note. You could hear why he’s in demand by everyone from D’Angelo to John Mayer. The tunes were beautifully-arranged: the rockiness here increased to a climax, followed by a gentle section; Rebello’s yearningly lovely Fender Rhodes solo left you wanting more. The complexity of the writing was almost masked by the strength of the groove.
Two new tunes, The Wrong Question and Without a Pedal, opened the gig with quickfire runs (a little like the Brecker Brothers’ Skunk Funk). All the instruments put the groove first. With his huge sound and splashing cymbals, Jeremy Stacey sounded like a drummer and percussionist all in one. Paul Stacey, as well as playing tricky heads in unison with the keys, soloed with Mike Stern-ish jazz-rock energy. (The brothers have worked extensively with rock bands like Oasis). The second tune was quite dark at times, with its uneasy harmonies, but still managed to be uplifting. It was a tribute to Rebello’s approach to improvisation, and his solo was a wonderful example of fluidity and naturalness. He’s talked of the importance of putting aside previous ideas of perfection, being lost in the music- being vulnerable, and allowing something you don’t necessarily understand to come out.
Rebello loves soulful vocal jazz (he’s recorded with Incognito’s Jocelyn Brown) and Joy Rose’s voice was strong and clear, scatting wordlessly with piano as a frontline instrument over acid jazz grooves. Her intonation was immaculate. She stood poised calmly, singing, ‘In your mind there’s a place you can run to..’ with sweet gospelly tones. The audience loved it. Rebello has talked of the importance of keeping a childlike openness, and his boyish enthusiasm for his newly-restored Moog Synthesiser was infectious. The panoply of sounds brought Weather Report to mind. He played expressive arpeggios in In the Thick of It, with its intricate time changes, as Rose’s high lines united with Palladino’s deep bass tones. Rebello’s arrangements of jazz and soul standards are striking and unexpected. His catchy piano riffs introducing Compared to What (the laid-back Roberta Flack version) drew the listener in, defusing the song’s anger with a bluesy backbeat and Clapton-influenced guitar solo.
Rebello is like a band all by himself when he plays solo. Parts of Chaka Khan’s fiery Love Has Fallen On Me combined acoustic piano with Rose’s Aretha-like gospel-edged vocals, recalling their 1995 duo album. Rose’s belting sound is perfectly controlled, never strained, quite thrilling. The biggest cheers of the evening were for this and Rebello’s iconic 1994 hiphop arrangement of Summertime (Rebello: ‘My big hit!’). It sounded as original as ever with its melodic minor inflections and fervent soul vocals.
Rebello, with his disarming charm and passion, brought together intricate modal jazz, tricky interlocking riffs and harmonies, rock, soul and funk into an irresistible fusion. And the good feeling lasted for days.