REVIEW: Kirk Lightsey Trio at Crazy Coqs (2017 EFG LJF)

L-R: Kirk Lightsey, Steve Watts, Dave Wickins

Kirk Lightsey Trio 
(Crazy Coqs. 12 November 2012. Second night of two. EFG London Jazz Festival 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

People do like to have a good old moan about all the things in jazz festivals that aren’t really jazz; here was the antidote. The jazz connections don’t run deeper than with Detroit pianist Kirk Lightsey. And whereas he is often to be heard working with singers, this trio context – where he is able to use all his resources of humour and delay and varied articulation and sheer joy at the keyboard – is something special. He completely filled Crazy Coqs for a two-night residency. I was very pleased to catch the second night. Here are the jazz things that Kirk Lightsey brings:

Jazz history: Four guys from the school orchestra at Cass Technical High School in Detroit shared a locker. Kirk Lightsey played clarinet in the orchestra. In the cellos was Ron Carter, there was also Hugh Lawson (later Yusef Lateef’s pianist) and the fourth was a member of the bass section called…. Paul Chambers.

Delay: Lightsey tells a story from the time, five years in total, that he was in Dexter Gordon’s quartet. (in this interview from last year). “Dexter would figure out how late to come into a club. ‘Where’s long tall?!’ they’s ask… and would arrive just at the point where punters were about to claim their money back…” And that morphs almost naturally in the interview about how Dexter would play behind the beat, and how he would earn his standing ovation. Put Kirk Lightsey in charge of a tune like Wayne Shorter’s Fee Fi Fo Fum, and that is exactly what he does. How long can the pause be held and stretched after that rising arpeggio? Listen to the way Kirk Lightsey does it…

More history: He was taught by Gladys Wade Dillard, who also taught Alice McLeod (later Coltrane), Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris.

Laughter: Kirk Lightsey remembers in the interview the first time he met Hank Jones, in New York rather than Detroit, and where Jones was already a first-call pianist for radio shows, but Lightsey laughs as he remembered that he earned the great pianist’s respect for having singer Damita Jo’s complete set memorized in his head, to the point that it was actually the senior figure, Jones, who bowed to him. The inimitable infectious Lightsey laugh sets in at 24:30. And just keeps on going. Such is also the positive energy and delight he brings to the bandstand.

Communication: The trio – with Steve Watts and Dave Wickins – works brilliantly together. Maybe because of all his work with singers, Kirk Lightsey is a player who loves to throw in disrupters and challenges, interjecting rhythmically – I was thinking of the way that wonderful South African singer Dorothy Masuka hits a cross-beat like that – and it takes players of real class, authority and experience to pick up every one of those challenges and to respond. What Watts and Wickins also do very well is to match all the textural variety from light and almost inaudible to what Lightsey modestly calls “banging on a piano”.

Blues: Before Lightsey played McCoy Tyner’s Blues in the Corner, the pianist put his hand on his heart and said: “It’s in there. Let’s play some blues.” It certainly is.


Goodbye Mr Evans. (Phil Woods)
In Your Own Sweet Way (Brubeck)
Pee Wee ( Tony Williams)/Heaven Dance (Kirk Lightsey)
Blues On The Corner ( McCoy Tyner)
Habiba (Kirk Lightsey)
Spring Is Here (Rodgers & Hart)/ I’m Old Fashioned (Johnny Mercer)
Freedom Jazz Dance medley
Pinocchio (Wayne Shorter)
Temptation (Herb Brown & Arthur Freed)
F.J.D. (Eddie Harris)
Encore: Fee Fi Fo Fum (Wayne Shorter)

Categories: miscellaneous

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