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Andrew McCormack Trio + Rob Barron Trio at Pizza Express Holborn (EFG LJF 2021)

Andrew McCormack Trio + Rob Barron Trio
(Pizza Express Live Holborn, 19 November 2021. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins

Andrew McCormack Trio. Photo by Martin Hummel

Early on in Andrew McCormack’s set on the last Friday of the London Jazz Festival, electricity seemed to crackle in the air and the thought ‘this is going to be a good night’ flashed across the mind of this listener. The trio had dropped into what sounded like an endless turn-around at the conclusion of Clementine Dream, a pretty, waltzing original of McCormack’s. A lovely springy pulse emanated from the locked bass and drums of Joe Downard and Joel Barford; McCormack spooled out phrases and lines, generating momentum and an intensifying response from the rhythm section. It was acoustic piano trio jazz ‘in the zone’.

Ubuntu Records boss Martin Hummel knows a good thing when he hears it, and the evening was a gig showcasing two of his rapidly evolving and high quality roster of artists, Andrew McCormack’s trio had gone first, Rob Barron was to follow later.

McCormack’s palette ranges wide. Fake News was a post-bop burner, bass and drums catching all the inflections and stabs in the angular, riff-like theme, that provided a platform for an intense sotto voce drum solo after a volcanic work-out from the leader. A reinvention of Sting’s Fragile took us into different territory with a cycling sequence settling into a driving groove. The set closed with Prayer for Atonement, all flowing arpeggios and elegant, yearning melody, the exploratory, probing solo building to a climatic episode with a tumult of drums over a pounding riff from the piano. The set was repeatedly lit up the McCormack’s flow of ideas and compositional sense in solos, building tension, excitement and emotion by turns.

Rob Barron Trio. Photo by Martin Hummel

There was a short break before Rob Barron’s trio took the stage and immediately grabbed the attention with an elegant take on the standard All The Way. Barron has a way with melodic, chordal riffs that embellish melodies, act as counterpoint or momentary diverting commentaries. It’s a device he used elsewhere along with re-working harmony and creating pleasing shifts and slides in the flow.

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Pure Imagination got the treatment and a pulsating take on My Foolish Heart with a liquid, even quavered groove, courtesy of Jeremy Brown on bass and the subtle, nudging energy of Josh Morrison’s drums. This trio is a beautiful thing, the instinctive empathy of long association makes every piece glow with energy, and every graceful, rhythmic feint seamlessly elegant. The ballad A Time for Love was a pin drop moment as that empathy meant space and pauses built intensity and feeling.

They closed the set with Lingua Franca, a Barron original, a nod to the common language of jazz sprung from the soil of bop. A breezy groove, punctuated with stops and skips, a mazy theme and they were off, Barron burning away, with crisp darting runs, teasing and bending the harmony, rounding off an absorbing and satisfying set.

This evening was a real treat. Two great sets from top drawer trios.

Andrew McCormack (L) and Rob Barron. Photo by Martin Hummel

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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