by Ian Mann
March 04, 2018
"Reset" sees Nowak continuing to hone his musical vision and develop an increasingly individual group sound. It's an album that should help to establish the trio further on the national jazz scene.
ANDY NOWAK TRIO
Andy Nowak is a Cheltenham born pianist and composer based in Bristol who is an active presence on that city’s jazz scene. His trio, often shortened to the modish abbreviation A.N.t. has been a presence on the jazz circuit in the West of England and South Wales since 2005, undergoing a number of personnel changes in that time. Former members include bassist Will Harris and drummers Scott Hammond and Andy Tween.
The current edition of the band features bassist Spencer Brown and drummer Steve Davis. Brown has been with the trio for some time and features on the group’s excellent début album “Sorrow And The Phoenix” which was released in 2016 and which includes Tween at the drum kit. “Reset”, partly funded by a Kickstartet campaign, features the current edition of the trio with Davis behind the traps.
As the A.N.t. abbreviation suggests the trio’s music is strongly influenced by E.S.T. with Nowak also citing Keith Jarrett and GoGo Penguin as other important contemporary influences. Further inspirations include Oscar Peterson, Hiromi and Brad Mehldau while Jason Rebello has voiced his admiration for “Sorrow And The Phoenix”.
In 2016 I saw the Nowak/Brown/Tween trio give an excellent, if rather poorly attended, performance at Brecon Cathedral as part of that year’s Brecon Jazz Weekend. Nowak relished the opportunity to play the Cathedral’s beautiful Bluther grand piano and the sound balance was exquisite throughout. The event had been poorly publicised and it was unfortunate that more people didn’t take the opportunity of hearing this well balanced trio at their best.
After the show I treated myself to a copy of the “Sorrow And The Phoenix” album and was again impressed both by Nowak’s writing and by the quality of the playing. This was a recording that stood up very well in the home listening environment as well as acting as a souvenir of a highly accomplished concert performance.
Nowak’s Brecon experience certainly didn’t put him off the place. He was to return in 2017 in a sideman capacity playing keyboards with guitarist Gerard Cousins’ Project paying homage to the seminal Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”. He was also heard in a more mainstream context playing piano with the Slice Of Jazz Big Band.
Like its predecessor “Reset” acts as a showcase for Nowak’s writing featuring seven original compositions by the pianist plus his arrangement of the American traditional song “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor”.
The album commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano as Nowak introduces “Safety In Numbers”, an enjoyable slice of contemporary piano trio jazz with Brown and Davis both playing significant roles in the creative process. Although inherently melodic the piece also allows Nowak plenty of room to stretch out explore which he does on a lengthy solo that combines percussive note clusters with a flowing melodicism. Brown and Davis respond with solid but highly adaptable grooves. Both are highly attuned to Nowak’s vision making this a finely balanced and highly interactive trio.
“Fracture” also commences with Nowak solo, his arpeggios leading to a bustling, energetic, highly rhythmic piece that has evoked favourable comparisons with the music of Phronesis. However there’s still an agreeably relaxed feel about Nowak’s solo as his piano dances above the buoyant grooves generated by Brown and Davis. The piece also offers something of a feature for the drummer as he roams his kit creatively, underpinned by the leader’s insistent piano vamp.
Outside of jazz Nowak’s influences include Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and Captain Beefheart. The track “What A Moon Can Do” is not inspired by Billie Holiday, as the title might suggest, but by the good Captain’s “Moonlight on Vermont”. It’s urgent E.S.T. like grooves capture something of the Captain’s manic energy and allow Nowak the opportunity to stretch out supported by Brown’s muscular bass and Davis’ busy, insistent drumming. Once more the drummer is given his head with a colourful and inventive drum feature in the latter stages of the tune as Nowak again adopts a supportive role. Hitherto I’ve been used to hearing Davis in more avant garde contexts alongside performers such as bassist Dave Kane and pianists Matthew Bourne, Alexander Hawkins and Django Bates so it’s interesting to hear him in a relatively more orthodox setting.
“Prelude” represents a welcome change of mood and pace. It’s another composition that begins with the sound of arpeggiated solo piano, this time hinting at Nowak’s classical upbringing and the acknowledged influence of J.S. Bach. The piece also features the melodic bass playing of London based Spencer Brown who first came to my attention as a member of the band Porpoise Corpus, led by pianist and composer (and sometime bassist) Dave O’ Brien. Brown has also worked with guitarist Kristian Borring, saxophonist Josh Kemp and vocalist Alexander Strong,
“Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” is a classic, much covered piece of blues/Americana “composer unknown”. The inspiration for Nowak’s slowed down, supremely imaginative arrangement came from a version by the veteran bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. The trio’s thoughtful, sombre take on the tune is strangely beautiful and moving with the leader’s sparse piano combining effectively with Brown’s melodic bass pulse and Davis’ gentle but imaginative brushed drum colourations.
Piano and double bass introduce “Syrinx” with Davis, in colourist mode, subsequently joining the gently unfolding conversation. The mood changes abruptly as Nowak instigates a punchy groove which Brown and Davis quickly buy into to create an E.S.T. like vibe with Nowak’s forceful left hand rhythms locking in with the rhythm section. The pianist later becomes more expansive,, delivering a series of darting, fleeting melodies above the propulsive rhythms. Having lulled the audience into a false sense of security with the impressionistic intro this piece is ultimately all about the groove.
The title track initially promises to explore similar territory with a vibrant, highly rhythmic intro but Nowak subsequently steers the music into more melodic, lyrical waters with Brown delivering an excellent solo on double bass that effectively combines that instrument’s melodic and rhythmic qualities. The leader then takes over with a flowingly expansive solo that surfs the buoyant grooves generated by his colleagues. The opening theme is then revisited towards the close.
The album concludes with “Dawn”, a suitably uplifting piece introduced by Nowak’s solo piano. The tune’s beguiling, song like melodies elicit another exceptional bass solo from Brown while Davis’ neatly detailed brush work is also a delight. The music becomes more dynamic as Nowak solos at length, culminating in something of a drum feature for Davis before completing the arc and slowly fading away.
The album was recorded at Fieldgate Studios near Cardiff with Andrew Lawson engineering and his contribution to the success of the album should not be underestimated. The clarity of the mix ensures that every sonic detail can be heard and appreciated.. The piano sound is particularly lustrous.
“Reset” builds upon the success of “Sorrow And The Phoenix” and sees Nowak continuing to hone his musical vision and develop an increasingly individual trio sound. Arguably it’s a little derivative at times but the quality of the playing more than makes up for that. A.N.t is a well balanced unit and Nowak and his colleagues can be proud of an album that should help to establish them further on the national jazz scene.
As they did with “Sorrow And The Phoenix” the trio will be embarking on an Arts Council supported tour of the UK during April, May and June 2018. Dates listed below. For further details please visit http://www.andynowaktrio.com
RESET TOUR 2018 -
March 25th - Hen & Chicken, Bristol
March 29th - SVA, Stroud
April 10th - Brecon Jazz Club
April 11th - Jazz Cafe, Cardiff
April 19th - Span Jazz, Narberth
May 2nd - Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth
May 6th - Milestones, Lowestoft
May 11th - Bebop Club, Bristol
May 18th - Bridport Arts Jazz Cafe
May 21st - North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
May 23rd - Speakeasy, Torquay
May 24th - Ram Jam Club, Kingston
May 25th - Jazz Stroud
June 1st - Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
June 2nd - Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
June 4th - Kenilworth Jazz Club
June 14th - Jazz @ Future Inns, Bristolblog comments powered by Disqus