Cardiff-based pianist Eddie Gripper reflects on the life events that inspired his exceptional debut album: “This music comes from a very deep place in my heart”. Album feature by John Bungey:
For some musicians, lockdown was a career void – the age of the snow diary, filled only with box-sets or bread-making or too much YouTube. Not so for one young piano player who was studying music at Cardiff University with Huw Warren when his course was sliced in half by Covid 19.
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Out of the great shutdown came the inspirations for Eddie Gripper’s debut album, Home. “You could say lockdown was a massive benefit. It gave me the time to really hone my skills.
“That’s when I really got in the woodshed, so to speak, and started to think about the way I wanted to play; who my influences were. I was diving into the albums of Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett, and also the singer-songwriters at the more complex end of popular music – Paul Simon in particular.”
Home is a remarkably mature-sounding trio album from a pianist who is still only 22. Its seven self-composed tracks are light on their feet – strong melodies propelled by subtly shifting rhythms – as the spotlight switches between players. The feel is more European than American – richly atmospheric rather than groove-centred.
“A lot of people have drawn comparisons with the music of Esbjörn Svensson or some of the Scandinavian ECM artists, and – though not European – Avishai Cohen and Shai Maestro.
“But I do relate to quite an English sensibility as well – I’m heavily influenced by folk melodies, as well as Huw Warren’s music and the records by Perfect Houseplants.”
The pieces were composed over two years before the idea of an album came up and reflect a time of dramatic change in Gripper’s life. “This music comes from a very deep place in my heart,” he says.
The pianist, who grew up in the Cotswolds (“a country boy”) found himself in a new city setting out on the path to becoming a professional musician. “Then I experienced a tragic string of bereavements [including the death of a beloved grandmother] and other changes in my family situation that made me realise you can’t take anything for granted.”
The music was Gripper’s response, documenting “the exact moment where the line was crossed from wanting to write to needing to write”. Gripper went into the studio with bassist Ursula Harrison and an American drummer, Isaac Zuckerman. The drummer is now back in Oregon, so Harrison, plus a new recruit, will tour with the pianist next spring.
What also makes Home striking is that its composer is relatively new to jazz. “I was classically trained – piano was originally my second instrument after trumpet. I was always aware of jazz but never really listened to it properly or understood it, though I’ve always enjoyed improvising. It was only when I came to Cardiff – initially to study trumpet – that I started to take jazz seriously.”
With university ensembles he performed the music of John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler. He sat in with Iain Ballamy, Jason Rebello and John Patitucci. “That’s why I got hooked; I got the jazz bug.”
If the release of the album is hogging Gripper’s time at present, he also teaches and works with the Welsh singer Angharad Jenkins. “That music is in the folk sphere but my side of the writing is still very influenced by jazz. It’s got a core of improvisation straight through the middle of it.”
Building a career in music is, of course, not for the faint-hearted. “It’s about 150% time and effort to start with and about 10% return.” But his dad’s advice, he says, has been an inspiration: “Make sure you’re doing something you love and hope it pays the bills later.” His father is an antiques restorer with a sideline as rock keyboardist.
Gripper is confident his debut album will resonate with audiences. “Everyone can relate to the feeling that you’ve lost someone you love, but after time and after healing you know that those special times with them will always be an important part of who you are.
“That’s what this record is – me coming to terms with that. And also me becoming an artist. I feel I can finally justify myself as an artist.”
Home is released by Ubuntu Music on 3 March.
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LINK: Home on Ubuntu Music