CD review

Brian Kellock Trio (BK3) – “Think About It!”

Brian Kellock Trio (BK3) – Think About It!
(Thick Records. Digital download review by Mark McKergow)

BK3 album coverVersatile pianist Brian Kellock gets the band back together on this fizzing trio recording, displaying a huge range and close empathy with his long-term and increasingly dispersed fellow travellers.

Legendary improviser Lee Konitz used an exercise to teach flexibility of playing by imagining a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is ‘the tune’ and 10 is ‘as far out as possible’. Then he might ask the student to play a chorus at ‘2’, followed by one at ‘5’, then one at ‘8’, and so on. The point was, of course, to help performers get out of their standard rut of improvising mostly and unthinkingly at just one of these levels, leaving the others under-explored. I have no idea whether Brian Kellock ever participated in such an exercise, but his playing fully exemplifies it. The most exciting aspect of these seven new tracks is the way in which all the musicians roam around this kind of scale, often with dramatic shifts within each performance.

The line-up we hear on Think About It! with Kenny Ellis on double bass and John Rae on drums has been together for decades, initially as the rhythm section for the seminal Scottish band, the John Rae Collective, as long ago as 1988. The trio recorded Live At Henry’s in 2002, winning Best Album at the BBC Jazz Awards. Kellock also carried off Best Instrumentalist in 2011 and continued in a wide-ranging role, performing and recording duos with saxophonist Tommy Smith and also vocalist/pianist Liane Carroll (their Live at the Lampie is well worth a listen). He was awarded Best Instrumentalist at the Scottish Jazz Awards last year with his solo album Bidin’ My Time. Work with this trio has been stymied by John Rae’s move to New Zealand, but he was tempted back a couple of years ago for a recording date and is now behind the release of this album and two others on his New Zealand-based Thick Records.

The seven tracks here are all standards, some more standard than others. The performances, on the other hand, are anything but standard. East of the Sun opens the album with what appears to be a double bass and drum solo duet with a little piano chording behind; the piano becomes gradually more assertive as the others compete, before a sudden four-bar solo break releases Kellock into his own solo. It’s tension and release on a massive scale, as if someone had stretched a bungee from the towers of the Forth Bridge and then let it go. Kenny Barron’s Voyage lets the bass and drums even further off the leash, with Ellis on fine form and Kellock exploring some outer limits but never leaving the tune’s gravitational pull completely.

The trio’s take on Hoagy Carmichael’s classic The Nearness of You is a highlight.  Having explored the spectrum in the direction of ‘out’, the tune is taken at perhaps the slowest tempo I’ve ever heard on any jazz record, somewhere south of 40bpm, with extra bars added in case there isn’t enough space. Kellock leads a pitch-perfect expression of ‘the tune’ with spine-tingling precision, taking close to four minutes to simply say what needs to be said with breathtaking confidence and control. Stella by Starlight, on the other hand, turns into a bass-led feature with imaginative percussion work and string-strumming from a trio who clearly love to be together and playing again.

I said that all the tunes are standards… by far the least standard is Song for the Rootabagas, a composition from New York drummer Matt Wilson which may possibly have something to do with a jazz festival in Illinois. Brian Kellock recorded it with Wilson at an Edinburgh Queen’s Hall concert a decade ago for a project which stalled – now we can hear this flag-waving swaggering anthemic number bringing the album to a fine close.

This is a riveting trio album which really explores the dynamics and possibilities of this classic line-up. It’s a shame that John Rae is so far away from us in the UK; I would love to see this group playing a leading role at Ronnie Scott’s Piano Trio week. However, now that Thick Records is getting off the ground we can perhaps hope to hear more from all concerned.

LINK: Think About It! at Thick Records 

LJN covers the UK launch of Thick Records in October 2020

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