‘Live at The Verdict’ – Frank Harrison Trio

FrankHarrison_Verdict

IN APRIL 2014, acclaimed British jazz pianist Frank Harrison launched his latest studio album, Lunaris – a work I described then as an “anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, possessing an overriding sense of equanimity”, created with the new trio line-up of Dave Whitford (double bass) and Enzo Zirilli (drums).

During each evening of the Lunaris launch tour, Harrison set up his own digital recorder to capture a personal record of their gigs. After replaying the session from The Verdict, Brighton, it was decided to release five of the extended tracks as a free download (or as a CD which includes an excellent ten-minute bonus number). The resulting Live at The Verdict album, Frank freely declares, is ‘lo-fi’ – but, once acclimatised to that sonic zone (which exudes the excitement of a live feed), it’s a beautiful account of the freedom and conviviality to be found in this trio’s live performances.

The animation of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned (from Lunaris) becomes enhanced in this setting, Harrison brightly improvising and then passing the baton to Whitford and Zirilli who, individually, are equal to the challenge, and appreciated by the audience. The ambience of this recording conjures memories of great jazz gigs we’ve been privileged to be a part of – the thrill of the unexpected, the marvelling of the very real musicianship unfolding before our eyes. Harrison’s own Flowing at Rest (from the Sideways album) enjoys the space to slowburn, with Whitford extemporising broadly and eloquently; and Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz strides out to the easy-going pace of Whitford and Zirilli, with Harrison glittering (as he so often does) at the upper extremities of the piano before prompting a four-square percussive solo display from Zirilli – absolute magic!

Cole Porter’s Everything I Love swings with unabashed abandon, an irresistibly cohesive display from the whole trio who intuitively track every next move, Harrison inviting deft solo explorations from his drummer; and jaunty, familiar standard Tea for Two is unusually reinterpreted as a restrained, ornamented ballad with glorious echoes of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. Bonus track Autumn Leaves (recorded live in Oxford) appears as never before, introduced by a resonantly top-end percussive bass display from Whitford. ‘Name that tune’ contenders would struggle with this contemporary twist of the Joseph Kosma favourite – testament to Harrison’s spirit of retaining tradition yet imaginatively reinventing as, with clarity, he solos brightly and dextrously. This track alone is worth Harrison’s modest CD price tag, Zirilli’s toms working overtime and Whitford as nimble as ever. Evidence enough that this trio needs to be experienced ‘live’.

The Frank Harrison Trio’s Live at The Verdict is available as a free download or, for just £4.99, as a CD (with that bonus track). Just follow this link.

 

Frank Harrison piano
Dave Whitford double bass
Enzo Zirilli drums

Artwork by Andrew Walton.

frankharrison.net
verdictjazz.co.uk

Linus Records – LRCD03 (2014)

’21st Century Acid Trad’ – Pigfoot

Pigfoot cover

THERE’S A REAL KICK to this debut album from Pigfoot. Not content with trotting out faithful, modest versions of 1920s and ’30s jazz standards, this acoustic ‘trad. quartet’ scratches at their familiar surface to explore – as the title hints – surprisingly gritty, off-the-wall interpretations of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, and so on.

Founded in 2013, it turns out that Pigfoot’s anarchic line-up is an exciting who’s-who of contemporary jazz innovators – trumpeter (and founder member of Loose Tubes) Chris Batchelor; tubist Oren Marshall (to be found alongside Shabaka Hutchings in Sons of Kemet); that most influential and imaginative of pianists, Liam Noble; and drummer Paul Clarvis (find me a more expansive CV!).

It’s quite possible to imagine the odd incredulous snipe at their brash, seemingly-irreverent approach – perhaps whispers of ‘king’s new clothes’ or Bonzo Dog references (remember their wonderfully mocking late ’60s parody, Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold)?). But peel back the layers (see cover art), and there’s an unabashed and, I sense, affectionate desire to render these classic tunes in outlandish textures and colours to bring a freshness to them – and with that unexpectedness, they become increasingly absorbing. Indeed, I am now at the stage with this live recording – from London’s Vortex Jazz Club – that it’s difficult to eject it from the car CD player, such is the adroitness, humour and downright feel-good of these eight extended tracks.

Spencer Williams’ Basin Street Blues maintains its New Orleans origins, yet Liam Noble’s dissonant chords and Paul Clarvis’s deliberate, almost bumbling drum rhythms give it a fascinating edge. 12th Street Rag is positively outrageous with its haphazard tempi, although Oren Marshall’s steady, plodding tuba (plus a few liberties and a blustering solo) keeps some semblance of order, Chris Batchelor blasting melodies in various keys – perfect (or, happily, ‘imperfect’!). Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz rattles along impetuously, the improvisations becoming more and more jaunty and extreme until, ultimately, triple time breaks helplessly and wonderfully into Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour. Tennessee Waltz eases the pace, Batchelor stating its deep southern spiritual tune which Noble then carries away to extemporise in typically jarred invention (it works so well against fluttering drums and drawling tuba).

Gospel pairing Just a Closer Walk with Thee and His Eye is on the Sparrow teases with a fairly straight rendition, Batchelor’s bright trumpet melody eventually signalling disorder which includes a belting, bluesy tuba solo – and Clarvis takes full advantage of the mayhem before the four conclude ‘repentantly’. Pigfoot clearly revel in the Duke Ellington favourite Mood Indigo, disassembling it with ease, but never straying completely from its familiarity; Batchelor’s impressive muted and spurting trumpet techniques are a key feature. And there’s more than a touch of mischief to Sidney Bechet’s tangoing Petite Fleur – but the experience of these guys is evident as they hold it together with various random acts of rebellion.

1920s standard Nobody Knows You When You’re Down is a closing show-stealer. Batchelor’s forlorn, inebriated trumpet (“Once I lived the life of a millionaire, spendin’ my money, I didn’t care”) sets up this beautifully bold ten-minute slow blues, the quartet presenting a typically audacious and stoic response to its original themes of prosperity fail. The conviction and, yes, humour in this performance (especially Oren Marshall’s tuba) provides a suitably profuse conclusion to these fifty entertaining minutes of ‘acid trad’.

Released on 31 March 2014, with the quartet touring in the Autumn, this is a rollickingly great experience to seek out – it certainly brings a smile to my face. In fact, I happily concur with Bessie Smith – ‘Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer)’!


Chris Batchelor
trumpet
Oren Marshall tuba
Liam Noble piano
Paul Clarvis drums

Village Life – 131112VL (2014)