CD review

John Pearce – Just Friends

John Pearce – Just Friends
(JCP001. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Bristol-based violinist John Pearce makes his CD debut with this delicious collection of jazz performances, standards brought to life by exciting playing, some imaginative choices and a top-class band.

Pearce has been around on the scene in Bristol and the South West for some time now, and it’s a great pleasure to see him finally emerge from the recording studio and go public with this eagerly awaited set of ten tunes. The song choices are for the most part familiar, but the music produced by the quartet here fairly sparkles. Pearce started off as a classical violinist and proclaims David Oistrakh as one of his favourite players. This classical background really comes through in his playing, always sensitive with a beautiful tone which allows the slower passages to really sing out.

The title track opens proceedings, taken at a good lick and with a neat head arrangement that immediately brings the band together with some lively exchanges. Pianist Dave Newton, no stranger to these pages, gets the task of responding immediately to a looping violin break and responds in kind. Newton’s neat and well-formed performances, both comping and soloing, really feed off Pearce’s energy, bluesy phrasing and spirit, making the whole album fizz.

Moving into the waltz Alice In Wonderland from the Disney film of the same name, Pearce performs a delightful soft opening with piano which moves into the theme, taken very expressively with a classical sensitivity to the tiny pushes and pulls which make a really first-rate performance. The bass and drums join as the solos begin, with Pearce again taking the lead and engaging a cheeky nod to Honeysuckle Rose. The closing bars feature some lovely very high notes from the violin, which in less capable hands would be dangerous territory but never fear – Pearce renders them finely with precision and musicality.

Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring is one of the standout tracks. The theme statement is followed by the band dropping into rocky half-pace territory for a Dave Newton Fender Rhodes solo – funkiness personified. Pearce joins, vocalising along with his lines over some solidly bouncing drumming from Ian Matthews, perhaps best known for his time with rock band Kasabian in the early 2000s. Matthews lists Tony Williams, Buddy Rich and Mitch Mitchell amongst his influences and he clearly enjoys the jazz setting here.

You Don’t Know What Love Is is another treat here – the ballad is underpinned by some great double bass work from Will Harris, before Pearce launches into a solo cadenza to close the piece, giving another chance to enjoy his fine musical sense and double stopping technique. It’s very notable that through the album the technique, while ever-present, doesn’t ever interfere with the musical statement and intent. Pearce walks a fine line here with skill.

It’s taken me this far to touch on four tracks, and you’ll have to get hold of the album to discover the other six. There’s bossa in the shape of Jobim’s Só Danço Samba, excitement with a Sergio Mendez-ish take on Ellington’s Caravan, balls-out swing with Stompin’ At The Savoy (also featuring a Will Harris bass solo). The album closes with a full-speed assault on Lester Leaps In, Matthews shouting the introduction and taking some cracking drum breaks.

This is an outstanding debut from a very fine musician. We might hope that Pearce’s next venture into the studio might build on this to perhaps feature some takes on a wider repertoire (he says he’s a Chick Corea fan, which might be one starting point). In the meantime do get out to see John Pearce on the album tour, which starts at Soho’s Spice Of Life on Wednesday 18 September 2019 before moving on to Bristol, Bath and other points in the south west. Attention promoters – this band is really worth considering for your 2020 programmes!

LINK: Find out more about John Pearce and the album on his website.

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