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REVIEW: 2 Pianos, 6 Pianists at The Other Palace (2018 EFG LJF)

From left: James Pearson, Nikki Iles, Dave Newton and (backs to camera)
 Jim Watson, Gareth Williams, Jason Rebello
iPhone snap by Sebastian
2 Pianos, 6 Pianists
(The Other Palace, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

A person would have to be in a very bad mood not to enjoy this hugely from start to finish. Six top-drawer pianists revelled in two adjacent grand pianos. Their delight in this opportunity was palpable: the chance to enjoy the free-flowing interchanges that jazz musicians are accustomed to, but each on their own instrument for once.

The set-up was simple. Three pairs of pianists played two brief solos, then a duo each. Gareth Williams and Nikki Iles – fresh from her own big band gig the night before – began. Williams offered a fluid standards medley, Iles essayed Johnny Mandel’s Seascape in dedication to her late mother-in-law, and her own Tideway, then the duo picked up the Bill Evans cues from Seascape to gorgeous effect.

Next up Jim Watson and Jason Rebello, Rebello’s solo Pearl a genuine jewel and the duo punching out Well You Needn’t before indulging in exuberant exchanges that used more notes than Monk played in entire shows.

“Follow that?” sighed Dave Newton who responded by opening the final pairing by leaving generous space between the notes, before some good-humoured jousting with James Pearson to round off 90 minutes of rousing pianism.

Post interval saw extra piano stools and a silly-but-irresistible finale involving all six pianists playing in a two-minute relay, then all together. This needed the lowest common denominator to work – so they fell back on I’ve Got Rhythm (allowing reference to as many other Rhythm changes tunes as they could work in) and Take The A Train, and an encore that, inevitably it felt, saw, everyone pounding out some rent party piano on a never-ending blues.

The musical highlights had already been scaled in the first set(s), but it would have been a shame not to carry the logic of the afternoon to its final destination. A small corner of the Festival, but a genuinely festive event all round. And a lovely reminder of the strength in depth of mainstream-to-modern pianism in the UK. Promises to do it again next year were solicited, and given. I’ve already begun assembling my fantasy piano team for 2019.

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