by Ian Mann
November 30, 2022
There is plenty of variety within the music, but still a readily recognisable group aesthetic, and the quality of the playing and writing is excellent throughout.
David Gordon Trio
(Mister Sam Records)
David Gordon – piano, melodica, harpsichord, Rhodes keyboard, virginals, Oli Hayhurst – double bass, Paul Cavaciuti- drums
David Gordon is very much a ‘Renaissance Man’. He’s an extremely accomplished pianist and also plays a variety of other keyboard based instruments, including the accordion.
Classically trained on both piano and harpsichord the highly adaptable Gordon divides his time between the worlds of classical, jazz and tango and commands considerable respect within each of his chosen fields. Frequently there’s a degree of intersection as in the group Respectable Groove, a kind of cross between an early music ensemble and a jazz group with Gordon playing harpsichord. He’s also got degrees in mathematics and logic - this is one very clever guy.
He’s also one of the few nationally known jazz musicians to have performed in my home town of Leominster, once with his trio and once with the tango/gypsy group Zum. I’ve also seen him play elsewhere as a member of bands led by violinist Christian Garrick and saxophonist Theo Travis.
Gordon has a number of other projects on the go, including a collaboration with vocalist Jacqui Dankworth. Other projects with which he has been involved include the London Tango Quintet, the baroque ensemble L’Avventura London, Blurred Lines with violinist David Le Page and the RipRap Quartet, a jazz and poetry project led by the Australian saxophonist Kevin Flanagan. He has also been part of Sacre, a two piano project with John Law.
However his most prolific outlet is his trio which has recorded six previous albums, two of which are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.
The Gordon Trio featuring drummer Paul Cavaciuti and the Danish bass player Olé Rasmussen visited Leominster in 2007, just before the advent of The Jazzmann. I remember an enjoyable evening of contemporary piano jazz with much of the material drawn from that trio’s 2005 recording “Angel Feet” (Zah Zah Records).
2013’s “Speaks Latin”, was a witty and intelligent look at the world of Latin music based on the folkloric traditions of South America. This was recorded by a trio featuring Cavaciuti and bassist Jonty Fisher and is reviewed here;
In 2015 the same trio, with some assistance from guest guitarist Calum Heath, released “Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band”. The album marked the hundredth anniversary of the death of Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915), the innovative Russian born pianist and composer.
For the album recording Gordon took the imaginative step of looking at musical developments that were happening contemporaneously with Scriabin such as Jelly Roll Morton’s experiments with ragtime, blues and the famous ‘Spanish Tinge’ all of which led towards the development of what we now know as jazz. Meanwhile in Paris Claude Debussy was absorbing the influences of early jazz and tango and in New York the Russian emigre Irving Berlin was perfecting his songwriting craft and churning out hits on a regular basis.
Although these musical developments occurred in relative isolation and largely independently of one another Gordon brought them all together on the album, exploring the connections in a way that made a project that could appear to be contrived seem perfectly natural. Full review here;
Gordon has always sought to bring seemingly disparate strands of music together, particularly jazz and classical, and this mission continues on “Pachyderm”, a recording that introduces a new trio line up with Gordon and Cavaciuti joined by new bassist Oli Hayhurst, a vastly experienced musician who has worked with pianist Zoe Rahman, saxophonists Julian Siegel, Tim Whitehead and Sam Crockatt, guitarists Hannes Riepler, Blake Wilner and Chris Allard, trumpeter Hugh Pascall, vocalist Georgia Mancio, violinist Faith Brackenbury and many others.
The music is recognisably jazz but draws inspiration from baroque music and particularly from the music of J.S.Bach.
‘With regard to the title of the album and the music contained therein Gordon comments;
“The music draws together various strands: it’s a tribute to my late father, whose memory and wisdom were widely known to be pachyderm-like. Two of the more extended pieces ‘Il Filo’ and ‘Snapshots’ are adaptations of the movements of a recently-commissioned concerto for accordion, guitar and orchestra. And my dad loved the music of Bach and quietly approved of the way I would adapt it into my own compositions”.
The album commences with the aforementioned “Il Filo”, here arranged for piano trio. Introduced by the sound of unaccompanied piano arpeggios the addition of bass and drums sees Hayhurst shouldering the melodic duties for a while before Gordon takes over once more with an expansive piano solo. The piece moves through several distinct phases during its near nine minute duration and includes other passages which see Hayhurst’s bass returning to the fore. Cavaciuti’s deft brush and stick work is highly responsive throughout as the composition embraces a variety of dynamic contrasts and navigates numerous twists and turns. Gordon plays a B model Steinway and his classically honed lightness of touch is apparent throughout the recording.
On the face of it the gently swinging “April Fool” has more of an orthodox jazz feel about it, although the performance still owes something to Bach with Gordon sometimes hiding his influences in plain sight. The piece shows just how tightly integrated the trio is with each member an equal partner in the creative process. Hayhurst delivers another virtuoso performance at the bass, but his brilliance is matched by that of Gordon and the busy, nimble Cavaciuti.
The title track is both a nod to Gordon’s late father and a reference to extinction and nature-loss, a theme reflected in Calum Heath’s album artwork. The music commences with unaccompanied piano, with Gordon sounding as if he is playing ‘inside the lid’. He’s later shadowed by bass and drums with Cavaciuti playing the role of colourist within this highly atmospheric and impressionistic trio performance. The level of group interaction is again high, but this time in a more subtle and sensitive manner. There’s an underlying melancholy about the music that reflects the two strands of the subject matter.
“Brandy For Four” is another of those swinging jazz pieces with allusions to Bach. Gordon and Hayhurst share piano and bass solos and the leader is also featured on melodica, which brings something of a Gallic flavour to the proceedings.
The lengthy “Goldberg Variations Variations” is a more obvious homage to Bach and was written for a planned collaboration at a festival in Norway with the great German pianist Michael Wollny, another musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps. The performance includes a passage of solo drumming from Cavaciuti that emphasises his melodic approach to the kit, whilst also highlighting his controlled power. It’s thoroughly absorbing and far removed from the conventional jazz drum solo. Gordon solos on piano and is also featured on harpsichord and melodica as the piece ebbs and flows through several distinct phases. Hayhurst’s melodic and highly dexterous bass playing is showcased with another solo feature, underpinned by sparse piano chording and gently brushed drums. This is followed by a more up-tempo sequence featuring Gordon’s darting, percussive piano runs and the increasingly dynamic work of the rhythm section, with Cavaciuti coming to the fore again, alongside that melodica.
“Snapshots” is a second piece from Gordon’s accordion and guitar concerto, again re-arranged for piano trio. It’s a vigorous adaptation that includes more virtuoso soloing from the leader on piano and Hayhurst on double bass. Cavaciuti isn’t forgotten and adds a distinctive drum feature, while Gordon stirs a little more harpsichord into an already heady mix.
“Tom’s Midnight Prelude” is another nod to Bach, delivered in the style of a jazz ballad with Hayhurst’s melodic bass more or less on an equal footing to Gordon’s piano as Cavaciuti provides sympathetic brushed drum accompaniment.
“Shifting Baselines” is another title that references extinction and nature-loss. It’s a piece that stirs yet more keyboard sounds into the mix as Gordon features on Rhodes and virginals in addition to the Steinway. It’s quirky, playful piece that variously finds the leader soloing on melodica, Rhodes and virginals, alongside features for Hayhurst and Cavaciuti. The wide variety of musical sounds is perhaps intended to portray the diversity of life in the natural world.
The album concludes with the softly elegiac “Mi-Fa”, which emphasises the gentle and lyrical side of this exceptional trio. Thoughtful piano playing and melodic bass soloing are enhanced by finely detailed and delicately nuanced drumming. It’s music that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording and it emphasises the delicate strengths of this extremely well balanced trio. Elsewhere the interaction is more vigorous and swinging, demonstrating this trio’s skill and versatility.
All of Gordon’s piano trio recordings have a theme and character of their own and this excellent album is no exception. There is plenty of variety within the music, but still a readily recognisable group aesthetic, and the quality of the playing and writing is excellent throughout. The trio are also well served by the engineering team of Spencer Cozens, Matt Butler and Gareth Williams.
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