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Three piano evenings – April 20-24

April 28, 2011

A fine trio of gigs in the last week or so, starting with Freddy Kempf’s Beethoven concert at Colston Hall. This was the second of his three dates devoted to the complete piano concertos, and confirmed that No 4 is indeed the best (discuss). It certainly came across as brilliant-in-spite-of-total familiarity, which seems a good test to me. These have been absolutely straight, standard repertoire gigs, although he daringly played the second of his two concertos at the start of the second half this time, consigning the not especially interesting filler to the end – which made sense. I’ll miss the final date, which I rather regret. It will be a while before I want to sit still in a hall long enough to hear these live again rather than slump on the sofa listening to a CD, but it would have been good to hear the full set.

That was the first of another trio of piano gigs, sort of. Next up was Kit Downes’ sextet in the small hall at Colston. This was a great gig for anyone interested in what Britjazz can offer that is fresh, interesting, and beautifully wrought. Downes is unusually crafty in his choices and augmenting his regular piano trio with two reeds and a cello is a good example of his acuteness. Cello and bass means this still small group has a string section, when he wants, a reed section also, and a great sound when the cello doubles the bass clarinet. All allow him to realise the terrific compositions on their new CD to great effect. No surprise that a pianist should think orchestrally – he has an orchestra in front of him all the time. But Downes has a nice orchestral touch to go with his alternately probing/exuberant piano style. The music was sometimes melancholy and reflective, sometimes grooved heavily, but was unfailingly absorbing. Shame so few came to hear it – but Colston and jazz just don’t seem to go together at the moment. What is wrong with this city?

(Mike Collins was there too)

Smallish but appreciative crowd again the next night to hear an equally accomplished piano player – Jim Blomfield – who draws his inspiration from a similarly wide range of sources and styles. It was great to see him play a classic trio gig in a nice venue down at Future Inns Cabot Circus with a sensitive rhythm section and a good piano. He likes to play a lot of notes, but also delivered ballads with real feeling. And his own writing is vivid and varied – an old piece, Lullaby of Wasteland (which you can listen to here) was especially affecting. As local stalwarts go, Blomfield stands out as someone whose work compares with anyone in the UK but whose career has not led to a national profile. No reason why that couldn’t still happen though. This trio should really record, for starters.

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