Friday, September 14, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Full of imaginative compositions and technically brilliant playing it's an album that deserves to get Marshall noticed. A strong statement from the trio.
Dominic J Marshall Trio
(F-ire Presents F-IRECD 62)
Any release that bears the mark of London’s F-ire Collective is pretty much guaranteed to be interesting but this album from the young British pianist and composer Dominic J Marshall represents something exceptional. Marshall studied classical music for ten years under the tutelage of his father before undertaking the jazz course at Leeds College of Music. In 2010 he relocated to the Netherlands to study for his Masters at the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam graduating with honours in 2012. A regular award winner he has received guidance from such luminaries as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Parks, Dave Douglas, Gerald Clayton, Brad Mehldau and Ambrose Akinmusire.
Marshall self released his début trio recording “The Oneness” (with bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Ruben Steijn) in 2011, a recording I’ve yet to hear, but it’s this brilliant new album that should help to establish his reputation with UK audiences. For “Icaros” Marshall has assembled a new trio featuring two of Holland’s leading young exponents on their respective instruments, bassist Tobias Nijboer and drummer Kaspars Kurdeko, originally from Latvia. Whereas “The Oneness” included outside material from composers as diverse as George Shearing, Nick Drake and Thelonious Monk “Icaros” is comprised entirely of Marshall’s original tunes prompting F-ire’s Ipek Foster to remark “brilliant compositions”. No arguments there, in fact everything about “Icaros” exudes class from Pablo Amaringo’s distinctive artwork to the pinpoint mix by engineers Lex Tanger, Chris Weeda and Darius Van Helfteren (the album was recorded at the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam).
Although the album takes its title from the medicine songs sung by the Shamans of the Amazonian rain forests it inevitably sounds very different. Marshall’s compositions are melodically strong and highly rhythmic drawing on contemporary piano trios such as E.S.T., Neil Cowley Trio and Phronesis as well as the composer’s classical background. The tunes are full of stimulating, often complex ideas but are always immediate and accessible. All three musicians are prodigious talents and the standard of musicianship is superb throughout. As Marshall’s liner notes explain the comparison with the songs of the Shamans reflects a shared attitude and artistic approach rather than a shared methodology. Marshall is clearly a deep thinker and something of a polymath, he quotes artists from other disciplines as influences in a list that includes J Dilla, Hermann Hesse, Joan Miro, Alejandro Jodorowsky and J.S. Bach.
Whatever the theory the music sounds wonderful, beginning with opener “Loose In Your Atmosphere”, a spirited introduction to the voices of the band that mixes E.S.T. style grooves with mercurial keyboard runs and other twists and turns. Marshall’s own contribution is consistently bright and inventive, the imaginative Kurdeko conjures an impressive variety of sounds from his kit and Nijboer is a flexible bass player who anchors the whole thing effectively.
Less frenetic but no less enjoyable is “Pointer” which combines strong grooves and melodies with a flowing lyricism and highlights the talents of both Marshall and bassist Tobias Nijboer.
The lovely “Smile For Us” begins a genuine ballad performance, unfolding slowly around Marshall’s gently hypnotic piano figures before gaining momentum with the addition of Nijboer’s bass and the quiet busyness of Kurdeko’s drums. The mood is then one of playful exuberance as the trio joyously cut loose in the second half of the tune culminating in something of a feature for the excellent Kurdeko.
The opening of “Sphere” comes as something of a surprise as Nijboer plays a walking bass line and the trio edge closer to conventional jazz swing. More traditional in feel than much of what has gone before the piece serves as another reminder of Nijboer’s talents as the bassist takes an impressive solo, his tone large and supple. Marshall also impresses with an expansive solo above the propulsive grooves of his colleagues. The feel of the piece plus its title suggest that it may be intended as a tribute to Thelonious Monk.
The nine and a half minute “Ojos La Pastora” is arguably the focal point of the album and is almost symphonic in its scope. A pensive opening features piano and bowed bass before the piece opens up to embrace Marshall’s probing solo above complex odd meter grooves. Later there’s a kind of Latin exuberance about Marshall’s playing with Kurdeko again featuring strongly. The piece concludes with a return to the flowing lyricism encountered elsewhere.
“Makarska” has an easy charm and offers Nijboer a further opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a soloist. This is a tight knit and highly interactive trio. Both Nijboer and Kurdeko make substantial contributions to the success of the music.
“The Way Of The Dinosaurs” has something of the rhythmic drive and quirky humour of the Neil Cowley Trio, indeed the title may be a cryptic reference to Cowley’s composition “Dinosaur Die” from the “Loud, Louder, Stop” album or perhaps Cowley’s penchant for perching a toy dinosaur on top of his piano during live shows. In any event this good humoured piece allows drummer Kurdeko the chance to shine with some colourful playing.
The hooky “Alongside Aliens” also seems to owe something to Cowley with Kurdeko again prominent with an impressive display. He’s an energetic and imaginative performer who brings much colour and vitality to the group.
“No Umbrella” slows the pace at least temporarily with Marshall’s elegant solo piano intro. Bass and drums add memento with Nijboer again given the chance to shine. Kurdeko’s drumming is typically crisp, quirky and imaginative and Marshall combines classical technique with an improviser’s inventiveness.
The closing “The Basement” begins with the sombre sound of piano and arco bass before erupting into a powerful groove which hold sway throughout much the rest of the track. Marshall’s playing is dense and feverish as Nijboer and the busy Kurdeko maintain the energy levels. The piece concludes by coming full circle with Nijboer again making use of the bow.
“Icaros” represents a strong statement from Marshall and the trio. Full of imaginative compositions and technically brilliant playing it’s an album that deserves to get Marshall noticed. He’s a fluent improviser and soloist and a gifted composer who combines melody and rhythm into a seamless and satisfying whole. His two colleagues support and interact with him brilliantly and both put their own individual stamps on the music. “Icaros” exudes youthful confidence, audacity and vitality and should hold considerable appeal to all fans of the contemporary piano trio, particularly admirers of E.S.T., Neil Cowley, Phronesis (there’s something of Anton Eger about Kurdeko’s crisp and exuberant playing) and The Bad Plus. The only conceivable criticism of “Icaros” is the lack of genuine ballads although having said that the music is often moving. Something to be addressed next time out perhaps?
Let’s hope Marshall gets the chance to come back to the UK and play some gigs with this supremely talented young trio.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.