Fergus McCreadie – Cairn
(Edition EDN1165. CD Review by John Bungey)
It’s tough to stand out as an up-and-coming piano trio. Record labels the world over turn out a stream of albums by technically excellent young keyboardists all dreaming of a slot at Ronnie’s, the Blue Note or maybe just the Dog and Duck. And then there’s the weight of history: can your efforts hold a candle to Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard or Art of the Trio Vol 3?
Fergus McCreadie, however, is getting himself noticed. As well as being an accomplished improviser, the pianist celebrates a rarely visited influence – Scottish folk – in his work. Cairn follows up his trio’s debut, Turas, which won best album at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2019. Cairn develops on that album’s template – a lyrical jazz style with a Gaelic tinge (growing up in Clackmannanshire, McCreadie was a teenage bagpipe player). It might sound an ungainly mix but the trio convincingly create distinctive and powerfully melodic music.
After the ruminative opening – a delicate tune rising above a Highland mist, perhaps – the beguiling title track has the bouncing bass riff, sense of joy and restless drumming of EST. David Bowden‘s bass moves to the fore but this is a team effort where no one grandstands. Across Flatlands builds to an ecstatic climax over an insistent left-hand groove before the multi-section Jig – the centre-piece here – travels from Gaelic fireside to New York jazz joint and back. Stephen Henderson‘s incendiary drumming stokes the flames.
More Gaelic borrowings in the delicate swirl of Tree Climbing. An Old Friend is straightforward and bittersweet and the closing Cliffside again explores a distinctive tune over a propulsive cycle of left-hand chords. If Jig doesn’t raise the roof, this is reserve ammo.
McCreadie has said Keith Jarrett is his big hero but Esbjörn Svensson is evident here too. There’s more of a European folk/classical approach than American hard bop, while themes often have the directness of pop music. Of course, a large EST-sized hole still exists in the live European jazz scene since Svensson’s death in 2008 – this immensely listenable trio might just help to fill it.