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by Ian Mann

November 07, 2011

/ EP

A highly promising snapshot of a young piano trio with bags of potential.

Claire James Trio


(Efpi Records)

This young piano trio are part of the Manchester based Efpi Collective, home to Beats & Pieces Big Band, HAQ, Trio 265 and others. Pianist and composer Claire James cites British greats such as John Taylor, Nikki Iles and Zoe Rahman as influences on her style and her trio has played at the Manchester Jazz Festival, supported the Kit Downes Sextet in Liverpool and played at the BBC Proms Plus series at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Her Efpi label mate guitarist Anton Hunter predicts that the trio are “going to be huge”; that remains to be seen but it’s immediately clear from this début EP release that the trio have considerable potential.

Joining James on this four track EP are bassist Stewart Wilson and drummer Jim Molyneux, like James former students at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. The four pieces are all composed by Claire James although the trio’s live repertoire also includes an arrangement of Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” suggesting that the work of Brad Mehldau can be added to the list of influences.

The EP opens with the title track, a highly competent slice of contemporary piano jazz that develops from James’ opening solo piano to encompass numerous changes of pace and rhythm. The influence of Zoe Rahman’s rhythmic drive is immediately apparent but there’s also something of Taylor’s lyricism too. Wilson contributes a brief but fluent bass solo and Molyneux is quietly energetic throughout. It’s a very promising start.

“St. Mawes” begins atmospherically with dampened strings and interior scrapings before an attractive piano theme emerges with James in dialogue with the rich hues of Wilson’s bowed bass.
Wilson switches to pizzicato and back again as the piece slowly unfolds, a highly lyrical depiction of the Cornish village of the title.

James clearly likes to write pieces inspired by her travels and “Marrakech” is a more spirited affair that sometimes owes something to the more grooved based approach of E.S.T. or the Neil Cowley Trio. Nonetheless the piece also has its lyrical moments including a highly lucid bass solo from the impressive Wilson. Molyneux is also prominently featured on a piece that must surely be something of a live favourite.

The closing “Io” emphasises the trio’s lyricism, developing episodically from James’ lengthy solo piano intro through Wilson’s pensive, deeply resonant bass solo to a sumptuous, richly melodic main theme coloured by Molyneux’s sensitive brush work. Finally the piece comes full circle to conclude with a further brief passage of solo piano.

Co-produced by Beats & Pieces leader Ben Cottrell “Lines” is a highly promising snapshot of a young piano trio with bags of potential. The EP covers a lot of ground over the course of its four tracks and it is immediately clear that Claire James, in addition to her pianistic skills, is also a composer of considerable promise. There’s enough here to suggest that the trio’s first full length album recording should be well worth waiting for.

In the meantime the Claire James Trio play the 2011 London Jazz Festival as part of an Efpi Records showcase on November 15th 2011 at The Forge, Camden alongside label mates HAQ and Trio Riot. Details below;

Tuesday 15 November 2011
LONDON The Forge
3-7 Delancey St
0207 383 7808

£8 + bkg

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