(Kings Place Hall One. 9th October 2016, London Piano Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)
Julian Joseph proved a sympathetic choice to conclude the inaugural London Piano Festival series at King’s Place. The festival programme had featured works by the sort of composers jazz players tend to dig: Scriabin, Bach, Liszt. Joseph is an accomplished classical concert pianist as well as a jazz bandleader and broadcaster. As a player and a composer he comfortably straddles a harmonic coloration drawn from classical music and a deft lyricism rooted in jazz.
The pianist opened this solo piano concert with tunes by Gershwin, Porter, Ellington and Monk, before revealing the he’s been ‘buttering us up’. The meat of the concert is a set of five U.V. Consolations responding to Liszt’s six Consolations and written in memory of his mother.
“My mum’s favourite set of pieces was Liszt’s Consolations – very simple, very elegant and with the reputation that Liszt has for being able to eat up a piano, literally; these simple vignettes show the kind of melodicism and the other side of his gargantuan talent.”
Liszt’s Consolations are familiar but fathomless, delicate but unshakeable. Liszt is a pianist’s pianist, and the third Consolation is a staple classical encore piece. Joseph’s new Consolations recall Liszt’s gossamer lyricism but clad it in dexterously shifting styles moving through classical chromaticism into jazz balladry, with smoky impressionistic passages and darker places deepening Liszt’s emotional cruces.
If Liszt knows how to ‘eat up a piano’, so too do Ellington and Monk, two giants who as both composers and players certainly knew how to ‘eat up a piano’. In Joseph’s account of the standards as much as in his originals and his response to Liszt, he positions himself convincingly in this honorable lineage. Joseph’s take on Blue Monk in particular makes a healthy meal of Monk’s spicy lyricism, baking it into Joseph’s rich chordal padding. That’s how you eat up a piano.