by Ian Mann
February 27, 2013
"Live in London" confirms McCormack's promise as one of the UK's finest jazz pianists. He combines a healthy respect for the tradition with an equally refreshing grasp of contemporary developments.
Andrew McCormack Trio
“Live in London”
(Edition Records EDN 1037)
Andrew McCormack (born London 1978) is one of Britain’s best young jazz pianists but remains a musician who is still somewhat under valued in his own country. McCormack is a player with an international reputation who has worked extensively with American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood as well as composing and orchestrating film scores for Kyle’s famous father Clint Eastwood. McCormack’s movie credits include Clint’s “Flags Of Our Fathers”. “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Changeling” plus the John Cusack film “Grace Is Gone”.
McCormack’s UK jazz career began as a member of Tomorrow’s Warriors and he has been a prolific sideman with an impressive array of British, European and American artists. I have seen him make outstanding contributions to live shows by violinist Chris Garrick, saxophonists Jean Toussaint and Denys Baptiste and the late trumpeter Abram Wilson.
Since 2009 McCormack has worked as part of an acclaimed duo with saxophonist Jason Yarde producing the albums “M Y Duo” and “Places And Other Spaces”, the second of which is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. In 2011 I saw the duo play an all too brief support set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as they opened for Michel Portal’s group at the London Jazz Festival. The duo has been one of McCormack’s main creative outlets over the last few years and rightly so, both their albums and live performances have been very impressive with McCormack and Yarde demonstrating admirable levels of rapport allied to supreme technical ability.
Perhaps McCormack’s relatively low profile is due to the fact that he hasn’t recorded in the classic “piano trio” format since 2005 with the release on Dune Records of the album “Telescope”. Recorded with Polar Bear bassist Tom Herbert plus drummer Tom Skinner the album made quite an impact at the time with McCormack subsequently winning the “Rising Star” category at the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards. “Live in London” represents an overdue and very welcome return to this format and was recorded at London’s 606 Club in the company of a new trio featuring bassist Chris Hill and drummer Troy Miller. McCormack and Miller have worked together previously in Jean Toussaint’s quartet, meanwhile I’m familiar with Hill’s playing from his work with pianist John Turville’s trio.
From the outset “Live in London” makes it clear that the new trio is a pretty formidable unit. McCormack is a highly versatile pianist, he may possess the necessary receptiveness and lyricism to work effectively in the duo with Yarde and be adaptable enough to work with Kyle Eastwood’s more fusion orientated group but he’s also an inspired improviser with a prodigious sense of swing. The new album offers a superb overview of his talents in a programme comprised largely of McCormack originals.
Opener “Antibes” draws on McCormack’s classical background and begins with lyrical ECM type balladry with McCormack supported by Miller’s admirably sensitive hand drums and cymbal shimmers. Miller later solos more expansively and forcefully but without ever losing the shape and essential lyricism of the piece. Miller continues to provide impressive support, his interjections now more atmospheric and dramatic. The enthusiastic applause at the end of the piece is a measure of just how much the 606 audience enjoyed it.
“Junket” unfolds in similar fashion from McCormack’s opening arpeggios through Miller’s delicately brushed grooves and Hill’s fluent and dexterous bass solo. McCormack then takes time to stretch out, gradually building and releasing the tension. Miller’s contribution is again excellent, parachuting drum explosions into the more animated moments, offering tender embellishment at others. Whenever I’ve seen him in the past (variously with Toussaint, Roy Ayers and Soweto Kinch) he’s been something of a powerhouse, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him play with such sensitivity and variety as here - the glorious opportunities offered by the trio format I suppose.
The serpentine lines of “Two Cities” initially suggest something of the intellectual ferocity of Brad Mehldau but the trio also bring a more relaxed, swinging feel to the music as the piece progresses prior to a spiky free jazz coda.
There seems to be some confusion with the running order on my promo copy as McCormack’s “Medina” comes next (the track listing suggests that it should be Ray Henderson’s standard “Smoke Gets In You Eyes”). Instead we find McCormack improvising feverishly above an insistent North African rhythm featuring Miller’s extensive use of foot operated cow bell (shades of Partikel’s drummer Eric Ford). It’s impressive and invigorating stuff.
By a process of elimination track five, billed here as “Medina”, must actually be McCormack’s “Tunnel Vision”, another piece of darting melodic lines and bravura piano soloing above brisk bass and drums. There’s also an extended feature for the excellent Miller which harnesses something of his latent power and hints at his knowledge of contemporary beats and grooves.
“Bye Bye Blackbird” eventually weighs in as track six with McCormack introducing the piece with a passage of solo piano, the familiar melody eventually kicking in with the introduction of bass and brushed drums. It’s a thoroughly contemporary, harmonically adventurous take on the tune that gradually builds momentum and adopts an impressive swing. There’s a lively bass solo from Hill above McCormack’s gentle comping and the patter of Miller’s brushes that eventually leads to a lyrical coda.
Next comes the album’s other standard, a reflective ballad version of Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” with McCormack at his contemplative and lyrical. Hill and Miller offer sympathetic support, the former with gently resonant bass lines and a suitably melodic and understated solo, the latter with delicately detailed brushed drums.
It’s appropriate that the record should conclude with a piece entitled “Epilogue”. However McCormack’s tune is no gentle album closer, instead the trio attack its grooves with relish with McCormack soloing exuberantly above the bustling rhythms. The piece also features a barnstorming drum feature from the consistently excellent Miller.
“Live in London” confirms McCormack’s promise as one of the UK’s finest jazz pianists. Here, in the company of a superlative rhythm team, he combines a healthy respect for the tradition with an equally refreshing grasp of contemporary developments. Elements of all the jazz piano greats among them Monk, Evans, Tyner, Jarrett, Hancock and Mehldau can be discerned in his playing alongside a sizeable classical influence but McCormack has been on the scene long enough to have forged his own identity and on this evidence can very much be regarded as his own man. Let’s hope he keeps this band going gets further opportunities to record in the classic piano trio format.
It represents a curious decision by Edition to make this excellent album available only as a digital download although I believe Andrew has physical copies available for sale at gigs. The set was also filmed and a video download is also available.