CD REVIEW: Adam Fairhall – Friendly Ghosts
(Efpi Records. Review by AJ Dehany)
Adam Fairhall is a great example of an outside player who plays inside. Raised in Cornwall and resident in Manchester, he is pianist in Nat Birchall’s Coltrane-inspired band and piano-preparer in free improvisation sextet The Spirit Farm. He is one of the pool of musicians including drummer Johnny Hunter who are associated with but never profess to completely belong to the Manchester scene. His debut solo piano album Friendly Ghosts is released on that scene’s inspiring independent Efpi label run by Beats & Pieces Big Band leader Ben Cottrell.
Friendly Ghosts has a lightness of touch, an abundance of invention, and a twinkling sense of mischief that make it an absolute scream. Pine Apple Rag slices Scott Joplin’s rag tune into piña colada. Egyptian Fantasy imbues a sibylline original with the ‘Spanish tinge’ of early New Orleans music. There’s some unabashedly postmodern thinking going into Fairhall’s gustaceous redigestions of boogie woogie, ragtime, ballad and New Orleans styles. By foregrounding the most fake-book elements of these ideas he deepens the dive into spontaneous elements, with a raucous sense of performative rather than academic deconstruction that goes beyond pastiche.
KT Boogie opens with dense digging at the low end of the piano leading to a broader conception celebrating the ‘Katy Line’ of blues lore and his two year old daughter Kate. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You is the closest to the ‘straight jazz playing’ of the ballad songbook, with enjoyable command and clear chops developed from significant experience as a sideman. Typically, Restaurant Music’s reflective mixture of Messiaen and Cecil Taylor gives way to Blue Square’s off-kilter blues.
The energy and exuberance of the performances springs from wow to how when you realize that the album was recorded live— on a solo piano progress around the North of England in 2014. The excellence of the sound, an invisibly-produced blend of warm piano and subtle ambience, comes in part from fantastic instruments on the two nights from which the album’s selections are drawn: the Steinway at St Ann’s in Manchester and the Kawai at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle.
The aptly named New Great Northern Stomp takes off from Chicago Blues legend Otis Spann’s eponymous Boogie Woogie, and drags us careening up the rippling route across the Peak District toward Manchester, clipping past the reservoirs at Woodhead and Crowden and almost certain death at the parish of Tintwistle or Glossop. Along the way you hear Northern accents: not the voice itself, but that quality of irreverence that nonetheless attends deep respect. The quality of pastiche is not strain’d.
Friendly Ghosts is available from Efpi Records: