Jim Blomfield Trio – Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)
(Pig Records PIG009 CD Review by Jon Turney)
Bristol-based pianist Jim Blomfield, widely admired in his home city, isn’t as well-known elsewhere as he deserves. Jazz players typically build an audience through relentless touring. But, as the notes to his second piano trio release relate, Blomfield fits his musical explorations of jazz, classical, electronica and sound design alongside family life with two autistic sons. That’s probably not compatible with life on the road.
It’s no bar to great studio work, though, and here he weaves autobiographical elements into the music – the creak of a playground swing, a boy’s non-verbal exclamations – to create a set of pieces with impressive range and depth, and real emotional force.
It’s not a concept album, but the mood is often informed by Blomfield’s decades-long immersion in the “chaotic, fascinating, unfathomable, messy, isolating, disturbing” world of autism, which nonetheless yields moments of “strange beauty”. Several pieces convey a feeling of achieving calm against the odds that anyone will relate to.
That’s an important aspect of the recording’s success. The music has outgrown its origins, as it needs to, and works fine without any knowledge of the background. The elements that extend it beyond the classic piano trio – field recordings, beats, synthesised sounds – are used sparingly. Blomfield and his bass player and studio wizard co-producer Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge find just the right touch for each piece. All the compositions are by the pianist except for an achingly beautiful slow arrangement of Robert Schumann’s Intermezzo.
That’s one highlight in a very varied set. Others include the anthemic ballad Every Way OK, which gathers power as it goes, and the long, aptly titled Mellow Drama which moves from delicate keyboard rumination through more extrovert flourishes to rocking interludes and back to a more conventional jazz piano solo exploration.
Once again, light touches of field recording enhance the piece. Along with the others, and the CD overall, it combines disparate elements into an emotionally satisfying whole, testament to Blomfield’s skill as a composer as well as a player. Like the session leader, Wijetunge on bass and the versatile Mark Whitlam, the busy Bristol drummer seen of late in Iain Ballamy’s quartet, are open to a whole range of contemporary influences. Their contributions complement his nicely, whether the mood is gently melancholic, as on the vignette Stillness in the Sadness, emphatically upbeat, like Lung Rebellion, or a nicely judged mix of the two on the closing Buddha in the Barcode. Together, they have developed into one of our most rewarding contemporary piano trios, as this recording amply demonstrates.
Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk. Twitter: @jonWturney