DOMINIC J MARSHALL TRIO
21st February 2015
“A highly interactive unit full of adventurous harmonic and rhythmic ideas. Marshall is a formidable keyboard technician and also a composer of some stature.”
A very generous review by Ian Mann
The music of the young pianist composer Dominic J Marshall first entered my consciousness in 2012 with the release of the outstanding album “Icaros” on the F-ire Presents label.
This was followed by the similarly assured “Spirit Speech” on the Seattle based Origin Records in 2014.
Both albums revealed Marshall to be both a formidable keyboard technician and also a composer of some stature. His pieces are full of clever ideas sourced not only from the worlds of jazz and classical music but also from the more contemporary realms of hip hop and electronica. Working under the name DJM Beats he has established a parallel career and a different fan base with a series of recordings in the hip hop style.
Still only in his mid twenties Marshall studied classical piano for ten years under the tutelage of his father before completing the acclaimed Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music, a fertile breeding ground for young contemporary jazz musicians. He then relocated to the Netherlands to study for his Masters at the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam, graduating with Honours in 2012.
Marshall now divides his time between the Netherlands and the UK and recorded both “Icaros” and “Spirit Speech” with Amsterdam based musicians. However tonight’s performance featured him with his UK trio of bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner, both fellow Leeds graduates. The two Sams are no strangers to the Hive having appeared here only a month ago as members of saxophonist (and Leeds alumnus) Matt Anderson’s well received Wildflower Sextet. Both acquitted themselves well with Anderson’s group but the more open nature of the trio setting allowed these talented musicians greater opportunity for self expression and in this context one could gain an even greater appreciation of their considerable technical abilities.
Vicary had played acoustic double bass with Wildflower but here he played a five string electric model, similar in shape to the one deployed by the great Steve Swallow. The lack of a piano at The Hive entailed that Marshall was playing a Roland FP-7F electric piano but even on this his abilities as both a player and a writer shone through. The all original programme was comprised mainly of as yet unrecorded pieces, fresh compositions that were mostly written in the summer of 2014. The quality of these suggested that Marshall’s next jazz album release will be well worth waiting for.
Opener “Windermere”, inspired by the scenic beauty of the Lake District, quickly established the trio as a highly interactive unit full of adventurous harmonic and rhythmic ideas. Although Marshall’s keyboards were inevitably at the heart of the group sound and were essentially the lead instrument this was very much a collective performance with the emphasis on the trio as a single entity. Conventional jazz solos were relatively scarce and the twists and turns of Marshall’s writing ensured that this far from a regulation head/solos/head session.
The episodic “80 Campbell Road” covered a lot of stylistic ground. A solo piano intro gave way to a melodic theme with a wistful/nostalgic feel about it. However when Gardner put down his brushes and picked up his sticks the music moved to harder edged territory based on riffs and grooves and vaguely reminiscent of E.S.T.
Marshall’s adventurous keyboard solo above the complex but muscular rhythms was impressive and he subsequently informed us that somewhere along the way the music had segued “accidentally on purpose” into another piece entitled “Fictions”.
The autobiographical and often playful “Family Chronicle” then featured a beguiling mix of sunny keyboard melodies with a springy bass groove and crisp, propulsive drumming.
An enjoyable first set was completed by “Blue Lotus”, but whether the title referred to a flower or a racing car wasn’t made clear. You’d have known it was definitely the latter if it had been a Tom Cawley tune! Or then again maybe it was a reference to Marshall’s favourite Chinese restaurant.
In any event the tune fairly sprinted along, a tight, riffy, hard grooving piece featuring a feverish solo from the composer whose total absorption in his playing was expressed by his occasional singing along to his solo Keith Jarrett style and by standing up at the keyboard in moments of high excitement. Marshall’s outpourings were fuelled by Vicary’s urgent bass groove and Gardner’s relentless polyrhythmic flow, the latter eventually rounding off the piece with a rousing drum feature. A high energy finish to an excellent first half.
The second set was, if anything, even better. Confident that the crowd were now on their side the trio seemed more relaxed and ready to stretch out even further. It’s to the credit of Hive audiences that they’re prepared to support adventurous young jazz musicians playing original music. This is no staid provincial jazz club with a membership that only wants to hear the same hoary old standards. It’s good to see the promoters, Shrewsbury Jazz Network, being rewarded for their adventurous booking policy with sizeable crowd numbers and even better to see that those audiences are both attentive and appreciative. Under the guidance of an enterprising committee this is one jazz club that is positively thriving.
And so to the music beginning with “Elephant Man”, a Marshall composition inspired by David Lynch’s film. A jerky, stop-start solo piano introduction set the scene leading to an extended Marshall solo underpinned by Vicary’s elastic bass grooves. Marshall’s writing managed to capture something of the awkwardness of his subject but also found room for pathos during the tune’s more reflective moments.
“Leaves Dance” also featured the leader’s keyboards prominently on an expansive solo but this was also a highly interactive group performance, the rapport between the players reflected in sly nods of the head and knowing glances as the trio improvised at length.
Marshall is an ambitious composer who is inspired by a wide range of subjects. The epic “Ta’s Vibration” was inspired by Egyptian Mythology and the idea of the world being created by a sound. Introduced by a piano and bass dialogue, this later augmented by Gardner’s mallet rumbles the piece unfolded slowly , gradually building in intensity to become highly rhythmic as bass and drums intertwined with Marshall’s vigorous left hand figures. The pianist’s subsequent solo maintained the energy levels and we were later informed that this had been another accidentally purposeful segue, the title of the second piece, “Free Palestine” suggesting a degree of political engagement on behalf of the young composer.
“White Nights” was inspired by a visit to St. Petersburg in the summer of 2014 and combined hard grooving, riff driven passages interspersed with more reflective episodes. These included a passage of liquidly lyrical Steve Swallow style bass from the excellent Vicary before a grooving closing section, those grooves in some decidedly tricky time signatures.
The supportive Shrewsbury crowd had clearly liked what they had heard and summoned the trio back for an encore. Marshall took the opportunity to get in a plug for his recordings before the trio played “Enter The Void” from the “Spirit Speech” album. Gardner opened the proceedings with a deftly controlled hand drum introduction, eventually taking up his sticks and combining with Vicary as Marshall embarked on a lengthy solo, again standing up at the keyboard as the music gathered momentum. But it fell to Gardner to round things off with a powerful drum feature above an underpinning bass groove and Marshall’s piano comping.
After the gig Marshall informed me that he had enjoyed his visit to Shrewsbury, a town with which he has a vague family connection, but was also looking forward to the trio’s performance at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club the following night, a venue with a “proper” piano. With respect to the Hive I bet they sounded even better there, I’d be keen to read a review of that event if anybody from the London Jazz News team was able to get along to it.
Nonetheless the gig at the Hive was as good as it possibly could have been given the circumstances with Marshall winning himself a lot of new fans and the two Sams continuing to endear themselves to the Shrewsbury jazz public with some more excellent playing.
I treated myself to a copy of the cassette only release “Cave Art”, credited to the DJM Trio which finds Marshall, Vicary and Garner tackling twelve hip hop covers, instrumental versions of tunes by famous hip hop artists. Marshall plays both electric and acoustic keyboards and Gardner relishes the opportunity to slam out some meaty beats. It’s all very enjoyable and really rather good, but overall I still prefer the trio’s jazz output.
Meanwhile Gardner leads his own Samadhi Quintet, a group featuring both Marshall and Vicary plus Polish saxophonist Krzystof Urbanski and percussionist Sam Bell. Their début album “The Dance of Venus” will be released on the F-ire Presents label in March 2015 and I will be taking a closer look at this in due course. Sam Gardner was kind enough to provide me with an advance promo copy so my thanks to him for that.