John Turville at the Hive, Shrewsbury, Saturday 23 January 2010
Review by Ian Mann (www.thejazzmann.com)
Shrewsbury is a comparatively easy destination for me but surprisingly this was my first visit to The Hive, a small but thriving arts centre that plays host to the Shrewsbury Jazz Network. SJN promote one gig a month there, usually on Saturday evenings with the programme alternating between locally based musicians and nationally known names. I was made most welcome by the hard working SJN team and will endeavour to return to cover some future events.
The Hive has a small music room and for tonight’s concert an audience of around 50-60 were seated cabaret style, pretty much filling the room and making for a good, listening atmosphere. A small licensed bar in the foyer dispensed drinks at very reasonable prices. All the ingredients then for an enjoyable evening’s jazz and Mr. Turville and his colleagues didn’t disappoint.
Smartly clad in uniform black the young trio consisted of the album personnel of Turville (piano), Chris Hill (double bass) and Ben Reynolds (drums). They proceeded to delight the audience with a selection of material from “Midas”, the occasional new tune, plus a selection of well chosen standards and jazz classics. The only draw back was that the venue doesn’t have a grand piano and Turville was forced to deploy an electric keyboard-a Technics P50 to be precise.
At first things sounded slightly disorientating as the keyboard sound was coming from a speaker behind me and the bass and drums from the stage. Once I’d got used to this rather unorthodox stereo arrangement it wasn’t so bad and the skill of the players and the quality of the material quickly overcame any technical misgivings I might have had.
The trio began appropriately enough with Turville’s “First Flight”, the opening track of the new album. A powerful number it exhibits a propulsive contemporary groove courtesy of Turville’s left hand figures and Reynolds’ neatly energetic drumming. Turville took the first solo of the night followed by the impressive Hill who demonstrated a huge tone and great dexterity. He’s a player who covers the whole range of his instrument in his playing, his fingers all over the neck of the bass.
Turville’s tribute to one of his piano heroes introduced a more lyrical element to the proceedings. “Waltz For Bill Evans” began with a solo keyboard introduction before sympathetic support came from Hill and Reynolds, the latter showing his sensitive side with some delicate brushwork. After a typically wide ranging solo from Hill, Turville and Reynolds entered into something of a dialogue, the first of many between the pair over the course of the evening.
The third tune from the album “Albaicin” is named after a district of Granada in the vicinity of The Alhambra. The version here opened atmospherically with Turville’s keyboard intro shadowed by the gently rolling thunder of Reynolds’ soft head mallets. Turville’s solo included some fleeting right hand figures but the real highlight came in his dialogue with Reynolds, the drummer’s stickwork dancing inventively and colourfully around the pianist’s steady left hand vamping.
The Radiohead tune “Scatterbrain” (from their “Hail To The Thief” album) had the younger members of the audience nodding their heads in approval and getting into some of the spiritedly rhythmic passages. SJN have a policy of allowing under 16’s in for free, a policy to be encouraged so long as it remains economically viable. Introduced by Hill’s solo bass the piece quickly gathered momentum with Turville soloing in Jarrett like manner over the powerful pulse laid down by Reynolds and Hill, the bassist also featuring again with another outstanding solo. Radiohead are an increasingly popular band for jazz musicians to interpret with Brad Mehldau’s deconstructions particularly influential on contemporary pianists.
A new Turville composition “Pharaoh Ant” continued the mood into the interval with it’s cerebral funk groove and features for all three musicians. The title comes from a “pest of the week” sign Turville spotted on the wall of a pesticide factory beside London’s North Circular. An engaging first half full of dazzling musicianship was enthusiastically received by a delighted Shrewsbury audience.
After a break which saw the trio leave the building in search of a rapid repast the second set began on cue with a delightful version of the title track from the new album. On record “Midas” features the wordless, Norma Winstone like vocals of the singer Brigitte Beraha. Even without her voice the trio version was captivating, Turville and his colleagues bringing out the romance and beauty of the melody. Hill’s sensitive bass solo and Reynolds’ subtle percussion shading provided the perfect foil to the leader’s impressionistic piano work.
Turville has spent a good deal of time playing tango with musicians of the calibre of expatriate Argentinian vocalist/guitarist Guillermo Rozenthuler. Here he played a tango written by British saxophonist Tim Garland for a performance at Coventry Jazz Festival that featured both Turville and Garland. Based on an earlier piece by Astor Piazzolla the title roughly translates as “Mothers Of The Disappeared” and refers to a particularly shameful period of Argentina’s political history. This was reflected in the savagely clipped tango rhythms, staccato bowed bass and martial drumming, all these elements combining to give a threatening, militaristic air to the music. Essentially a protest song without words the piece also carried echoes of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.
One of Turville’s primary influences is the great British pianist John Taylor. Here Turville paid tribute to his mentor with a joyously swinging version of the other JT’s “Ambleside Days”, a tune Taylor wrote in homage to Zeffirelli’s Jazz Club in the Lake District town of Ambleside.
Two contrasting Turville originals, both sourced from the album “Midas” completed the set. “All Around Us”was relaxed and lyrical and featured yet another exquisite solo from the excellent Hill.
The more forceful “Hand Maid” was a feature for the extraordinary talents of the brilliant Reynolds. The scintillating piano/drums dialogue of the album track was extended into a lengthy solo drum passage in which each of Reynolds’ limbs seemed to be working independently of the other. This was mesmerising to watch but there is more to Reynolds’ playing than mere technique. Throughout the evening his delightfully detailed drumming was responsive, intelligent and flexible. I was impressed,previously I’d only seen him flailing away with the avant skronk group Fraud but tonight his immaculate contribution had something of the musicality of the great Martin France, John Taylor’s drummer of choice.
The Turville Trio is very much a democratic unit with a high degree of interaction and the three players were constantly watching each other and exchanging ideas. It’s the sort of group where a modish communal name might be suitable but as Turville later explained this wouldn’t be totally appropriate as all the original material is his plus the fact that deps (Mark Hodgson for Hill, Tim Giles for Reynolds) will be used on one or two dates of the tour. Mind you it has to be said that that’s a pretty impressive sub’s bench.
“Hand Maid” proved to be something of a crowd pleaser and the enthusiastic Shrewsbury audience bayed for more. “A blues or a tango?” enquired Turville. In the end they went for a blues, a John Coltrane piece that even the trio couldn’t remember the title of. It was certainly authentically bluesy and included extended features for all three musicians with Reynolds bringing the house down again with another stunning display of co-ordination. The crowd still wouldn’t let them go so they ended up playing a tango as well, a delightful version of Kenny Wheeler’s “Sly Eyes.”
This highly talented young trio certainly got SJN’s 2010 programme off to a great start. I was hugely impressed by all three musicians who all fulfilled the promise shown on the album. I’ve docked a half star for the absence of a proper piano as I’m sure Turville would sound even better on a genuine acoustic grand. But catch this band live if you can, they’re all excellent performers, and if you can’t make it the album “Midas” is highly recommended.
For more news of local jazz events, visit Ian Manns’ excellent website: www.thejazzmann.com