Joey Calderazzo Trio
(PizzaExpress Jazz Club. 12 November 2023 – both houses. Live review by Charles Rees)
American pianist and composer Joey Calderazzo alongside British bassist Orlando le Fleming (based in New York for many years, now living in the UK again) and American drummer Donald Edwards concluded an almost three week tour of Europe at PizzaExpress Jazz Club (Soho) on Sunday night as part of the 2023 EFG London Jazz Festival. Up until arriving in London, they had toured as a quartet with alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, making this their first performance as a trio in presumably some time.
Matters were complicated by a series of travel delays that caused the trio to arrive only thirty minutes before the curtain call, forcing them to play the first of the two shows without a soundcheck. There was some visible frustration from the performers as they worked things out on the fly, but as far as the audience was concerned, the music was highly engaging and enjoyable. Calderazzo’s composition “The Oracle”, a waltz that has become something of a cult classic since its release in 2000, stood out in particular. The audience’s familiarity with the tune was palpable and one could sense an atmosphere of elation as he played the opening phrase.
On the other hand, their rendition of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” earlier in the set was quite conservative by Calderazzo’s standards, hardly utilizing the chromaticism his improvised lines are typically characterised by. That is not to say it was inadequate in any way, but rather just a little surprising. There were a few moments during the earlier set that maybe even suffered from a lack of inspiration at times. But the performance was still of a high standard and, at the end of the day, inspiration is not a limitless resource… especially at the latter end of a lengthy tour. In the absence of what was to follow in the next set, it really felt that what had just been witnessed was out of this world.
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But from the first note of the later set, the mood felt different. Calderazzo opened with a lengthy but engaging solo piano introduction to “Nothing Personal”, one of the tunes he played often as part of Michael Brecker’s band (he was just 22 years old at the time!). Now aged 58, hearing him play that tune live with his own band was a real treat and highlight. They also revisited, among other things, “The Oracle”, which lived up to the earlier rendition. The band as a whole had really clicked by this point, with Orlando le Fleming and Donald Edwards providing all Calderazzo needed to reach higher and higher. The three of them combined reached heights that at times truly mesmerised.
Calderazzo seemed in his element by this point. He had spent much of the night playing on the prototype of a new model of Rhodes keyboard – the very prototype that has already seen live action from the likes of Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper. He had clearly fallen in love with the instrument and made sure to let the audience know how much he was enjoying it. There were some quite unique moments in an earlier solo where he made full use of the opportunity before him, alternating between the piano and the Rhodes; in a sense, trading with himself. However, he did somehow break a note on the keyboard later on, much to the amusement of everyone watching.
The evening had a special conclusion as Calderazzo welcomed a guest to sit in with the band: London-based alto saxophonist Sean Payne, explaining that the 23-year-old had been recommended to him by none other than Susan Brecker (the widow of Michael Brecker). A former finalist of the original BBC Young Jazz Musician as well as the Michael Brecker International Saxophone Competition, Payne took to the stage with confidence and played a blistering solo on “The Mighty Sword”, another Calderazzo original. Perhaps most impressive of all was that they had not had the opportunity to play before, or in Payne’s case even warm up… not that it showed. It was a touching, not to mention exciting, conclusion to an appearance in London from one of jazz’s finest.