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Jim Blomfield Trio - Wave Forms and Sea Changes Rating: 3-5 out of 5 All fans of contemporary jazz piano should look out for the highly inventive and fiercely independent Jim Blomfield. He's much more than just a good "regional musician".

Jim Blomfield Trio

“Wave Forms and Sea Changes”

(Pig Records PIG 005)

Since 2009 I’ve enjoyed the playing of Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield, both live and on album and in a variety of musical contexts. I’ve reviewed three albums featuring Blomfield’s playing in a small group context on recordings led by saxophonists Kevin Figes and Pete Canter and trumpeter Andy Hague. Live I’ve witnessed Blomfield perform at Colston Hall with the Bristol based Resonations Big Band, for whom he is one of the principal composers, as well as with various smaller ensembles at the Queens Head in Monmouth, most notably Figes’ quartet.

Blomfield is an exciting and imaginative player on both the acoustic and electric versions of his chosen instrument and he occasionally adds the sound of the organ to the Figes quartet. Blomfield is also a skilled composer and released an earlier album “Peaks and Troughs” which featured pieces for his Latin flavoured septet Septimbre alongside a set of compositions for a quartet that featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s best known jazz export.

For the last three years or so Blomfield has focussed on the trio format, honing his craft in the company of bassist Roshan “Tosh” Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, one of the most in demand musicians on the West Country music scene and, like Blomfield, a member of the Kevin Figes Quartet. The trio’s first album release has been keenly anticipated and it appears on old friend Figes’ Pig Record label. The front cover features one of Blomfield’s two young sons, both of whom suffer from a severe form of autism. Caring for his boys has forced Blomfield to put music on the back burner on occasions, arguably one of the reasons why this talented musician and composer is not more widely known.

Blomfield’s personal circumstances inform his often complex writing and he also cites a diverse range of musical influences from his early classical training through his involvement with Latin music to contemporary jazz and rock. A roll call of inspirational figures includes Brad Mehldau, McCoy Tyner, Eddie Palmieri, The Bad Plus and Radiohead, an eclectic mix whose very different presences make themselves heard in Blomfield’s music in an all original programme. 

The album begins with “Return Of The Easton Walk” which merges lively Latin rhythms with more avant garde ideas as Blomfield reaches under the lid on the intro. There’s some terrific rhythmic interplay between all the members of this fiercely interactive and receptive trio and some exciting, wonderfully percussive soloing from Blomfield. This is an invigorating, wildly exciting start with the musicians handling the complexities of Blomfield’s writing with considerable aplomb. Contrast comes via Wijetunge’s stunning solo which makes use of both arco and pizzicato bass.

“N Trance” maintains the energy levels. Blomfield is an inventive pianist who plays with intensity and imagination. In a live contest he really attacks the keyboard and constantly seeks to challenge both himself and his audience. His exhilarating flights of fancy usually end up delighting his audiences too. “N Trance” offers more in the way of dynamic contrast than its predecessor but Blomfield’s solo is still typically feverish and there is also an extended feature for the excellent Wijetunge, for me an exciting new bass discovery. The ensemble passages embrace moments of flowing melody, all driven forward by Whitlam’s crisply imaginative drumming.

A change of pace for the evocative “Sea Changes”, a reflective, atmospheric miniature featuring slow, sustained piano chords and the glacial shimmer of Whitlam’s cymbals.

The lengthy passage of solo piano that introduces the episodic composition “Now And Zen” combines an element of playfulness with a spirit of rhythmic and harmonic adventure. Quirky and adventurous it’s a good summation of Blomfield’s overall approach. The sparkling second section represents more conventional contemporary piano trio jazz with all three musicians on the top of their game. There’s then another passage of bravura solo piano before a concluding trio section in which the musicians gradually build up a head of steam and lock into some fiercely contemporary grooves. “Now And Zen” represents a breathless but exhilarating musical white knuckle ride that combines dazzling playing with idiosyncratic humour. Thrilling stuff.

“Pier Pressure” picks up on the energy generated by “Now And Zen” and runs with it. Here the Bad Plus influence is particularly apparent (think E.S.T., GoGo Penguin and Neil Cowley too) as Blomfield deploys both acoustic and electric piano sounds, Whitlam lays down powerful rock derived rhythms and Wijetunge’s muscular bass fills in any holes. Blomfield swoops all over the keyboard on his solo as Whitlam slams out insistent rhythms behind him. Once again this is a piece that can be divided into sections, a central section is more obviously jazzy, closer to bebop than hip hop, before the rock rhythms return for the finale with Whitlam drumming up a storm.

“Rum Thing” offers little in the way of respite,  but once again there’s a joie de vivre about the music as Blomfield continues to demonstrate a high level of pianistic inventiveness and his colleagues produce some propulsive, Latin influenced contemporary grooves. Wijetunge impresses with a big toned, highly dexterous bass solo and there’s also something of a feature for Whitlam in the tune’s closing stages.

With its brushed grooves “The River Runs Deep” presents a slightly more reflective approach, the flowing melody reflected by the title. There’s a song like quality about an arrangement that frames excellent solos from Blomfield and Wijetunge, the latter demonstrating his versatility through his melodic and lyrical approach to his bass feature.

“Minor Minus” is a relaxed groove oriented piece that blends jazz and rock rhythms in typically invigorating fashion. Blomfield’s breezy invention is augmented by features for Wijetunge and the engagingly busy and restless Whitlam.

“Impermanence” is another brief, impressionistic interlude in the style of “Sea Changes”. It acts as an introduction for the closing “Sail” , a flowingly lyrical piece that eventually mutates into a Latin influenced groove (here we sight the influence of Eddie Palmieri). The excellent Whitlam features prominently in this section of the piece as Blomfield reveals his mastery of Latin idioms.

“Wave Forms and Sea Changes” is an impressive statement from Blomfield and his trio. This is a highly interactive unit that takes its cue from the leader’s qualities of energy and invention. It’s an album that perhaps belies its title, in the main this is a high energy album full of strong grooves and fiery, highly imaginative playing executed with an extraordinary level of technical skill. There’s a sense that this trio really enjoy making music together, relishing the risks and the technical challenges offered by Blomfield’s writing. In this regard they remind of the hugely popular bass led trio Phronesis, one of my favourite bands so this represents a considerable compliment.

If there’s a criticism about “Wave Forms and Sea Changes” then it would be a lack of variety, the more reflective moments tend to be very brief and some listeners may find the trio’s high energy approach a bit overwhelming, a little more light and shade wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nevertheless this is a hugely exciting trio, one that I’ve not actually seen perform live although I’ve witnessed both Blomfield and Whitlam ( the latter a revelation on this recording) in other contexts. Hopefully this is something I will be able to put right later this year. Meanwhile all fans of contemporary jazz piano should look out for the highly inventive and fiercely independent Jim Blomfield. He’s much more than just a good “regional musician”.

Wave Forms and Sea Changes

Jim Blomfield Trio

Monday, February 03, 2014

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Wave Forms and Sea Changes

All fans of contemporary jazz piano should look out for the highly inventive and fiercely independent Jim Blomfield. He's much more than just a good "regional musician".

Jim Blomfield Trio

“Wave Forms and Sea Changes”

(Pig Records PIG 005)

Since 2009 I’ve enjoyed the playing of Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield, both live and on album and in a variety of musical contexts. I’ve reviewed three albums featuring Blomfield’s playing in a small group context on recordings led by saxophonists Kevin Figes and Pete Canter and trumpeter Andy Hague. Live I’ve witnessed Blomfield perform at Colston Hall with the Bristol based Resonations Big Band, for whom he is one of the principal composers, as well as with various smaller ensembles at the Queens Head in Monmouth, most notably Figes’ quartet.

Blomfield is an exciting and imaginative player on both the acoustic and electric versions of his chosen instrument and he occasionally adds the sound of the organ to the Figes quartet. Blomfield is also a skilled composer and released an earlier album “Peaks and Troughs” which featured pieces for his Latin flavoured septet Septimbre alongside a set of compositions for a quartet that featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s best known jazz export.

For the last three years or so Blomfield has focussed on the trio format, honing his craft in the company of bassist Roshan “Tosh” Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, one of the most in demand musicians on the West Country music scene and, like Blomfield, a member of the Kevin Figes Quartet. The trio’s first album release has been keenly anticipated and it appears on old friend Figes’ Pig Record label. The front cover features one of Blomfield’s two young sons, both of whom suffer from a severe form of autism. Caring for his boys has forced Blomfield to put music on the back burner on occasions, arguably one of the reasons why this talented musician and composer is not more widely known.

Blomfield’s personal circumstances inform his often complex writing and he also cites a diverse range of musical influences from his early classical training through his involvement with Latin music to contemporary jazz and rock. A roll call of inspirational figures includes Brad Mehldau, McCoy Tyner, Eddie Palmieri, The Bad Plus and Radiohead, an eclectic mix whose very different presences make themselves heard in Blomfield’s music in an all original programme. 

The album begins with “Return Of The Easton Walk” which merges lively Latin rhythms with more avant garde ideas as Blomfield reaches under the lid on the intro. There’s some terrific rhythmic interplay between all the members of this fiercely interactive and receptive trio and some exciting, wonderfully percussive soloing from Blomfield. This is an invigorating, wildly exciting start with the musicians handling the complexities of Blomfield’s writing with considerable aplomb. Contrast comes via Wijetunge’s stunning solo which makes use of both arco and pizzicato bass.

“N Trance” maintains the energy levels. Blomfield is an inventive pianist who plays with intensity and imagination. In a live contest he really attacks the keyboard and constantly seeks to challenge both himself and his audience. His exhilarating flights of fancy usually end up delighting his audiences too. “N Trance” offers more in the way of dynamic contrast than its predecessor but Blomfield’s solo is still typically feverish and there is also an extended feature for the excellent Wijetunge, for me an exciting new bass discovery. The ensemble passages embrace moments of flowing melody, all driven forward by Whitlam’s crisply imaginative drumming.

A change of pace for the evocative “Sea Changes”, a reflective, atmospheric miniature featuring slow, sustained piano chords and the glacial shimmer of Whitlam’s cymbals.

The lengthy passage of solo piano that introduces the episodic composition “Now And Zen” combines an element of playfulness with a spirit of rhythmic and harmonic adventure. Quirky and adventurous it’s a good summation of Blomfield’s overall approach. The sparkling second section represents more conventional contemporary piano trio jazz with all three musicians on the top of their game. There’s then another passage of bravura solo piano before a concluding trio section in which the musicians gradually build up a head of steam and lock into some fiercely contemporary grooves. “Now And Zen” represents a breathless but exhilarating musical white knuckle ride that combines dazzling playing with idiosyncratic humour. Thrilling stuff.

“Pier Pressure” picks up on the energy generated by “Now And Zen” and runs with it. Here the Bad Plus influence is particularly apparent (think E.S.T., GoGo Penguin and Neil Cowley too) as Blomfield deploys both acoustic and electric piano sounds, Whitlam lays down powerful rock derived rhythms and Wijetunge’s muscular bass fills in any holes. Blomfield swoops all over the keyboard on his solo as Whitlam slams out insistent rhythms behind him. Once again this is a piece that can be divided into sections, a central section is more obviously jazzy, closer to bebop than hip hop, before the rock rhythms return for the finale with Whitlam drumming up a storm.

“Rum Thing” offers little in the way of respite,  but once again there’s a joie de vivre about the music as Blomfield continues to demonstrate a high level of pianistic inventiveness and his colleagues produce some propulsive, Latin influenced contemporary grooves. Wijetunge impresses with a big toned, highly dexterous bass solo and there’s also something of a feature for Whitlam in the tune’s closing stages.

With its brushed grooves “The River Runs Deep” presents a slightly more reflective approach, the flowing melody reflected by the title. There’s a song like quality about an arrangement that frames excellent solos from Blomfield and Wijetunge, the latter demonstrating his versatility through his melodic and lyrical approach to his bass feature.

“Minor Minus” is a relaxed groove oriented piece that blends jazz and rock rhythms in typically invigorating fashion. Blomfield’s breezy invention is augmented by features for Wijetunge and the engagingly busy and restless Whitlam.

“Impermanence” is another brief, impressionistic interlude in the style of “Sea Changes”. It acts as an introduction for the closing “Sail” , a flowingly lyrical piece that eventually mutates into a Latin influenced groove (here we sight the influence of Eddie Palmieri). The excellent Whitlam features prominently in this section of the piece as Blomfield reveals his mastery of Latin idioms.

“Wave Forms and Sea Changes” is an impressive statement from Blomfield and his trio. This is a highly interactive unit that takes its cue from the leader’s qualities of energy and invention. It’s an album that perhaps belies its title, in the main this is a high energy album full of strong grooves and fiery, highly imaginative playing executed with an extraordinary level of technical skill. There’s a sense that this trio really enjoy making music together, relishing the risks and the technical challenges offered by Blomfield’s writing. In this regard they remind of the hugely popular bass led trio Phronesis, one of my favourite bands so this represents a considerable compliment.

If there’s a criticism about “Wave Forms and Sea Changes” then it would be a lack of variety, the more reflective moments tend to be very brief and some listeners may find the trio’s high energy approach a bit overwhelming, a little more light and shade wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nevertheless this is a hugely exciting trio, one that I’ve not actually seen perform live although I’ve witnessed both Blomfield and Whitlam ( the latter a revelation on this recording) in other contexts. Hopefully this is something I will be able to put right later this year. Meanwhile all fans of contemporary jazz piano should look out for the highly inventive and fiercely independent Jim Blomfield. He’s much more than just a good “regional musician”.


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