REVIEW: Martial Solal Trio at Theater Münster (WDR 3 Jazzfest 2016 opening night)

Curtain call for Louis Moutin, Martial Solal and François Moutin

Martial Solal Trio
(WDR 3 Jazzfest 2016 opening night. Theater Münster. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The 88 year-old jazz piano legend Martial Solal made the same gesture twice last night, at about the half-way point in his programme. He shut the lid of the Steinway, and then quickly re-opened it. It’s just one typical example of his playful, teasing, and above all elusive sense of humour. It might not be advisable to think too hard about what it might actually mean, because once you do, all sorts of lugubrious possibilities come to mind: there clearly will come a point in his life when the piano lid will close for good, or when he knows he has said everything he wants or needs to say musically. But in the meantime, his virtuosity is completely intact, he has a new record out just within the last year, he clearly still has a lot to say, and every note of it is worth catching.

The introduction from the stage by Götz Bühler was a good reminder of quite what a unique figure Solal is. He has been the composer of thirty-five film scores including Godard’s classic Breathless / A Bout de Souffle; he was one of the very first Europeans to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963; he has made classic recordings, notably a two-disc live recital from 1993, Martial Solal Improvise Pour France Musique.

I had previously heard Solal in London in solo recitals at Kings Place and the Wigmore Hall (links below), and in a duo with Stefano Bollani, but not in this formation, a regular and long-standing trio with the drummer Louis Moutin, and Louis’ twin brother, the New York-based bassist François Moutin. Their stage set up is old-school, the Oscar Peterson formation where the bassist is parked behind the pianist’s left shoulder, and the drummer is obliged to work with a view of Solal’s back. It means that both brothers have to be alert to the constant challenge of keeping up with Solal’s every whim.

And they do. It a task that which they both clearly enjoy, and they perform not just reverentially but with constant smiles going back and forth between them. Numbers are seldom announced in advanced, they are just launched straight in. The repertoire is of originals, always with sudden switch-backs, where the pianist takes his younger compatriots off on a Tom-and-Jerry chase, and of some standards.

The trio perform in the classic Oscar Peterson formation
My One and Only Love, dedicated to Solal’s wife had the tune elongated with notes repeated and circled, and also moved off into abstraction – as is Solal’s way, and seemed like an emotional heart to the set. There was a breakneck Sonny Rollins Oleo, and as an encore Jerome Kern’s The Last Time I  Saw Paris.

It was a shame that Theater Münster wasn’t sold out to hear him, but those who did witnessed one of the very great masters of piano jazz in irrepressible form.

LINKS: Review of Martial Solal / Stefano Bollani duo at the Barbican in 2011
Review of Martial Solal at Wigmore Hall in 2010
Review of Martial Solal in June 2009 at Kings Place
Interview with John Fordham from 2010

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. Maybe he's moving into conceptual art? When David Tudor premiered Cage's 4'33″ in 1952 he closed the piano lid at the start, reopening and closing it again to mark moving between the three movements. Most performers seem to play it with the lid open. I'm not sure which approach is more poignant: the finality and political suggestiveness of the closed lid, or the ineffable sadness of the exposed but untinkled ivories like the shadow of lost love.

  2. This man, Martial Solal, is a genius – nothing short.
    I feel he must be the greatest single jazz musician alive!!

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