|Jef Neve at Kings Place, explaining the genesis of
Strayhorn’s Lush Life
Jef Neve solo
(Kings Place Hall Two. 10th March 2016. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
This concert was not what I was expecting, but it has certainly set me thinking. Belgian pianist Jef Neve plays the grand piano on a very grand scale. Neve’s way is to build the intensity, and to make big statements. Right at the beginning, there was a passage with the sustain pedal down, ramping up the textures which was reminiscent of the opening piano flourishes of the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand.Later, I kept noticing echoes of the “grand format” piano composers – Rachmaninov, Liszt and Medtner.
He has clearly now got used to playing big venues and outdoor stages. He plays his gigs amplified and brings a sound engineer with him, who at one point added some added ambient electronics which sounded like they were using the reverb. Close-up, and in a small hall, I have to say it was occasionally a tad overpowering.
In fact I noticed only one episode during the 80 minute set when Neve chose to stay completely clear of the sustain pedal, a great passage of stride-influenced hi jinx in Thelonious Monk’s I Mean You.To use the piano as a sustaining instrument, using tremolando to create dense textures is in a philosophcal sense to negate the essence of what a piano does. Neve seems to want us forget the fact that the dying of the sound startsat the very moment that the hammer strikes the key. Like this, perhaps.
That said, there were some poetic and delicate passages in the tune which has defined his solo piano playing in the past couple of years, his own composition Solitude. His elucidation of the theme and the delicious harmonic progressions of Lush Life was very affecting. And I admire the message that Neve brings about how important it is for music to play its role as a connector in humanity. His remarks about politicians who build their entire careers on fomenting mistrust, division and xenophobia – particularly in Belgium, but the resonances right here right now are very strong – were right on the money.
A thought-provoking concert.