Review: Matt Ridley Trio – Thymos Album Launch at Pizza Express Dean St.

Matt Ridley Trio – Thymos launch
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 1 October 2013. Review by Matthew Wright)

In these times of austerity, audiences like a bargain. In Thymos, the confident and ambitious début album from bassist and composer Matt Ridley, launched at Pizza Express on Tuesday 1 October, they almost have three albums in one. There’s a trio, in which Ridley is accompanied by pianist John Turville and drummer George Hart; a quartet, in which they are joined by saxophonist Jason Yarde; and two tracks exploring the modal and rhythmic elements of Middle-Eastern music featuring oud virtuoso Attab Haddad and (on the album, though not at the launch) Vasilis Sirkis on percussion.

As well, of course, as the eclectic approach to genre and instrumentation, the defining feature of Ridley’s music is its sophisticated polyrhythm, at which the audience marvels as at a very difficult jigsaw that despite appearances can be combined to a coherent whole. “All of my stuff ends up in 15 somehow,” Ridley explained to the audience, and a fluttering, overlapping three- and four-time could be heard questing through several pieces.

The trios were lovely, and display Ridley’s rhythmic flights to great effect. Subtly but with a muscular swiftness of movement, Ridley’s bass danced pizzicato around Hart’s dextrous patter, while Turville hopped and skipped among them, crossing the harmonic ‘t’s as he went. The three instruments have beautifully complementary timbres, and balance one another very effectively.

Yarde’s arrival disrupted this fascinating, if gentle, conversation. A soloist of massive technical and interpretative ability, he offered cascades of notes, bubbling over one another like a geyser, and creating, in place of the trio’s gentility, a much more argumentative mood, with the instruments taking a turn to have a querulous outburst. Sometimes, as on ‘Siddhartha’ or ‘The River’, this created music of great dynamic energy; occasionally, though, in quieter passages, as on ‘Lachrymose’, the bass and piano seemed to get in one another’s way.

The oud tracks, ‘Sari Gelin’ and ‘Hijaz’, changed the mood again, and Yarde’s tone, energetic and disruptive in the quartet, became sweeter but slightly mind-bending, combining sublimely with the oud, its tone pungent with modality. For ‘Hijaz’ Yarde switched to alto for a more forceful sound, as an edgier, angrier oud combined powerfully with Yarde’s screaming scales and a meltdown drum solo from Hart to complete an explosive climax.

Live, the gradual accumulation of players and styles is exhilarating. It creates a strong sense of narrative, as the gig builds to its mesmerising finale. As an album, it can’t help feeling just a touch like a sampler, more effective as a demonstration of the (genuinely very wide) range of Ridley’s compositional and performing talents than a unified statement of musical ideas. That’s mainly noticeable because each of the ideas is so potent. (The oud, in many ways like the kora, which is also making its way into the repertoire, makes a superb jazz instrument, with its distinctive, acoustic sound able to cut through brass and amplified guitars.)

There’s scope for a whole album for each of these formations. Ridley should have the courage of his convictions, and the patience to see each one through. They’d definitely be worth waiting for. 

Categories: miscellaneous

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