Review – Harold López-Nussa Trio, Julian Joseph Trio, Leon Greening Trio
(Ronnie Scott’s. International Piano Trio Festival. 7th August 2014. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
The three groups presented on the fourth night of the International Piano Trio Festival offered great variety and stylistic range, without moving a finger very far outside the mainstream. 31-year-old Cuban Harold López-Nussa led the first band on stage, and their magnificent music appealed to the body and the heart.
It was largely a family affair: the pianist’s brother, drummer Ruy López-Nussa, had penned the feel-good Guajira, and their uncle Ernan had conceived the Chopin-inspired Lobo’s Cha. All but one of the other selections was by the leader, including a bustling La Jungla, and Paseo which showcased the fast, clean bass playing of Yasser Pino.
There was unhurried spaciousness and a gorgeous feel to the legendary singer/guitarist Miguel Matamoros’ Olvido. Harold López-Nussa had sold all of his CDs the previous night; a small indication of his quality and popularity. He certainly deserves to be heard more widely.
Headlining the show was Londoner Julian Joseph. The first tune, My Brother – apparently in the “book” for ages but not yet recorded – set the pattern for several others. After a lengthy, unaccompanied piano discourse, bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Mark Mondesir joined the fray and provided razor-sharp accompaniment and a punchy motif that separated Joseph’s sure-footed runs, adventurous chording and mischievous asides. It was all refreshingly free from corny quotations and any obvious stylistic influence.
This trio played with the measured, gererally low-volume, authority that comes from long experience and understanding. Joseph and Mondesir have known each other for nearly 30 years and the spark between them was obvious. During Faith, they beamed glances across the stage in mutual appreciation (and, just maybe, the private acknowledgement of a minor mishap). Hearing them together is one of the enduring joys of British jazz.
The transition between the opening originals and a couple of standards was marked by an adaptation of Caravan. The old warhorse was transformed, sometimes beyond recognition: the familiar rhythm, the harmony, and even – eventually – the melody were all changed. Do Nothing till You Hear from Me carried on the Ellington connection, and was the “straightest” part of the set.
Few people will have been thinking of tonight’s star attraction as a short-notice replacement for the ailing Joe Sample, but once – as Joseph was considering what to do next – a wag in the audience suggested he play “Street Life”. His witty and apposite choice, in the end, was Nice Work If You Can Get It.
The humour continued with the occasional dissonance of H.T.B. (a phrase with a meaning that’s not generally complimentary), although this closing piece also had a joyful lyricism and attractivess that captured the essence of Joseph’s trio. I’d like to think that the acronym in this case refers to a group that is “hard to beat”.
After much of the audience had left, Leon Greening provided the most energetic music of the evening. Alongside Adam King and Matt Skelton, he was characteristically animated and flew through almost an hour of blues and bebop. Bobby Timmons’ One Mo’ started things off, and Dudley Moore’s Cornfield came as a surprise. The highlight was Tempus Fugit by Bud Powell; the perfect vehicle for Greening’s wonderful tension-building repetition and unstoppable swing.
The International Piano Trio Festival is clearly a winner. Here’s hoping it will become an annual fixture on the Ronnie Scott’s calendar.