Photo credit: Jan Varley
Canterbury based pianist David Rees-Williams and his trio first turned heads nationally in the early 2000’s, when David’s arrangement of a Purcell piece was played on Radio 3’s In Tune. A series of albums has followed and the latest, Classically Reminded: Bach, was released on April 28th by Champs Hill Records. Mike Collins caught up with David to talk about the trio, his approach to bringing a jazz mindset to classical music and the new project.
LondonJazz News: You’ll be celebrating your trio’s 30th anniversary soon. How did that come about originally? How important has it been to have the same collaborators on your various projects?
David Rees-Williams: When I moved down here in 1985 with some friends, we opened a wine bar, a little place but it did have a grand piano. It went like a storm. Within a short space of time it became a magnet for other musicians. Tony Coe lived round the corner and became a regular, Jim Mullen came down, Alan Skidmore. It was during that time I met Phil Laslett (drums) and Neil Francis (bass). That became a regular feature. It developed and we got a bit of a reputation for doing cross over styles. In 2000 we recorded the Purcell and other things we’d become known for. It got played on Radio 3 and seemed to stop people in their tracks. We got a phenomenal response. We did a recording for Late Junction and it went on from there. Your sums are right! It is nearly thirty years.
LJN: It’s quite an achievement. The only other trio I can think of that’s gone for that long is Keith Jarrett and they’ve recently dissolved.
DRW: The thing is, the whole essence of it is, the fact that it is the same people. The fact that you morph through musical ideas and styles and you grow through it at the same time is a privilege. We’ve stuck together with it, because the rapport and the way it communicates has been unique. It’s great that it’s matured in that way. This latest disc is less progressive in some ways than previous discs on which I used Hammond and vibes for instance, this one is coming back to a purer basis really.
LJN: So let’s talk about that disc.
DRW: On some of the discs there’s more jazz elements than others. On this latest one, its more of a flavouring of the music. Its allowing the freedom of a jazz style or influence to explore more possibilities in the originals. For some while, we’ve been asked if we’d do a collection of Bach. Actually, that’s very close to my upbringing, I studied a lot of organ at school and college and was brought up on baroque music. For this disc, the purity of Bach was a very good basis.
LJN: You’ve said a few times this is purer than some of your previous explorations. Say a bit more about that.
DRW: Yes, in two ways really. One from the sound point of view, its just the acoustic piano bass and drums and the other side is that it’s the first time we’ve done an album which is based on one composer. There are a couple of Scarlatti sonatas on there. He fits in really well as palette cleansers between the more in depth Bach pieces, which are pretty cerebral.
LJN: Tell us about your approach. You don’t just play the piece as written.
DRW: Bach was great communicator and teacher. He was always telling people to think beyond what was written. He encouraged improvisation. He was always reharmonising chorales for different purposes. You can look further into the music and think ‘how would this have turned out if he was writing this today?’ So many of the tunes are fabulous ballads and wouldn’t be out of place in the Real Book.
LJN: Listening, I didn’t always know when the written Bach bit ended and you’d moved off.
DRW: That’s entirely it. In the past, when people have taken a classical theme and jazzed them, you hear a theme and a lot of jazz improvisation and the two don’t necessarily relate. What I try to do, is to allow the improvisation to morph directly from the original so it is pretty seamless. On a live concert of course, we can expand much more.
LJN: And are there plans to play live and tour the trio?
DRW: We’re playing in the JAM on Marsh festival in July( JAM on Marsh) and are currently booking a series of festival dates for next year. (pp)