by Ian Mann
March 06, 2023
One of the best début recordings I have heard for a long time. Gripper is a multi-faceted writer and his compositions are full of delightful and unexpected twists and turns.
(Ubuntu Music UBU0133)
Eddie Gripper – piano, Ursula Harrison – double bass, Isaac Zuckerman – drums
Eddie Gripper is a young pianist and composer born in the Cotswold town of Burford, Oxfordshire.
He studied jazz under the tutelage of the great Huw Warren at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, graduating with First Class Honours in 2021.
Gripper is still based in Cardiff and has begun to establish himself on the jazz scene in South Wales and the South West of England. Thanks to his RWCMD connections I’ve always tended to think of him as a ‘Welsh’ musician and I have been fortunate enough to see him perform live on a couple of occasions at Black Mountain Jazz events in Abergavenny.
In November 2022 he appeared as part of the BMJ Collective, the ‘house band’ at BMJ’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Led by drummer Alex Goodyear and also featuring bassist Clem Saynor the Collective accompanied vocalist Marvin Muoneke in one of the stand-out performances of the Festival. My account of that event can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
In January 2023 Goodyear, Gripper and Saynor returned under the BMJ Collective banner for a regular club event as part of a quintet fronted by the saxophonists Dan Newberry, another RWCMD alumnus, and Alex Clarke, a former BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year finalist. This was another hugely successful event with the presence of a capacity crowd inspiring the young band to deliver some brilliant playing. It has been suggested that this initially ‘one off’ collaboration could actually develop into something more permanent. My account of that memorable evening can be found here;
As part of my Wall2Wall Festival coverage I cited Gripper as “an exciting new local discovery” and suggested that it would be “intriguing to see him coming back to BMJ on a club night as the leader of his own group”. The quality of his playing, and particularly his soloing, suggested that he had more to offer rather than just being part of a ‘rhythm section for hire’.
At that time I was totally oblivious to the fact that Gripper had already recorded his own album of original material. “Home” was recorded in June 2022 at Fieldgate Studio in Wales by engineer Andrew Lawson and officially released on March 3rd 2023.
Gripper’s début features him leading a trio comprised of two other RWCMD graduates, drummer Isaac Zuckerman and bassist Ursula Harrison. The latter is the daughter of Paula Gardiner, head of the Jazz Faculty at RWCMD and herself an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, best known as a double bassist, and also a composer and bandleader.
Gripper says of the recording;
“This record encapsulates a very important moment in my life – the exact moment where the line was crossed from wanting to write to needing to write. The past few years of my life have been particularly turbulent. Amongst all the personal experiences that have inspired the creation of this record, the idea of enjoying what you have while you have it and cherishing that fondness is the most significant. As a band, we can certainly relate to this notion. At the time of recording the three of us were imminently due to go our separate ways for the indefinite future – with Ursula to Newfoundland and Isaac to Portland, Oregon, USA.”
The album features seven original compositions, the pieces drawing inspiration from Gripper’s interest in different genres of music, among them jazz, folk and electronica, as he explains;
“Each track is a journey through time and space – beginning and finishing at a familiar and comforting destination before moving onto new or subtly developed ideas. The trio breathes together as one homogeneous sound, with individual players taking to the spotlight to elaborate on their own interpretations of the music at hand.”
Gripper dedicates the album to the memory of his late grandparents John and Annie and his sadness at their passing informs the album as a whole as his liner notes explain;
“This album really appeared out of the blue for me. I wasn’t writing music with the intention for one track to lead into the next, nor was an overarching theme explicitly devised beforehand, but somehow everything fell into place and became abundantly clear as time went on. This music came from a fond place within my heart during an extended period of unprecedented change in my life, of mourning and grief, withdrawal and solitude. Despite the obvious juxtaposition this record shines light on the growth and nostalgia that follows a disturbance to the peace of a tranquil and happy life. It was almost written out of necessity, a now obvious expression of my thoughts and feelings during this time. I think that the vulnerability and passion behind this music is what really ties it together, that the idea of of that that you took for granted never lasts forever. I hope that you enjoy ‘Home’, creating this record has been a humbling experience, both artistically and personally, and I am excited to finally share this music with you all”.
Gripper was initially classically trained, a fact that helps to explain his lightness of touch at the piano. His approach has invited several admiring comparisons to the playing of Bill Evans while Gripper himself has also referenced the influence of fellow pianists Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Esbjorn Svensson, Shai Maestro and his former mentor Huw Warren. On “Home” his playing seems more ‘European’ than ‘American’ in terms of both style and sensibility.
The album commences with “Before The Storm”, with Gripper’s gentle piano arpeggios evoking an appropriate sense of calm. American born drummer Zuckerman’s cymbal splashes and other percussive details evoke the splash of raindrops, before the music gradually gathers momentum with Gripper delivering a flowing solo, supported by Zuckerman’s crisp, bright, finely detailed drumming and Harrison’s grounding bass. It’s a piece packed with a delightful series of dynamic twists and turns and as the energy dissipates once more we enjoy a melodic and highly dexterous double bass solo from the excellent Harrison.
The bassist also features prominently on the following “Castle” as she takes the first real solo, following straight on from Gripper’s piano intro. Once again she exhibits the virtues of a great dexterity combined with a strong melodic sensibility. Gripper then takes over to solo in flowingly lyrical style at the piano while Zuckerman again delivers a wealth of percussive detail, whether playing with brushes or with sticks. Once again the piece moves through a series of distinct phases incorporating a series of stylistic and dynamic changes. Gripper is an intelligent writer who brings a rich variety to his compositions, but without abandoning their inherent mood or structure.
Introduced by Harrison at the bass “A Song Unsprung” exhibits a gentle lyricism before Gripper stretches out more expansively with a flowing solo. Zuckerman largely deploys brushes, his playing becoming more energetic as Gripper’s solo gathers momentum. There’s also an extended bass feature for Harrison in a democratic trio that sees the leader affording his colleagues plenty of space in which to express themselves.
The album’s family theme finds expression in the title of “Mum’s Best Friend”, a shorter piece based around an engaging piano motif and again featuring a memorable contribution from Harrison.
“Lament” signals a change in style. Ushered in by Gripper reaching inside the piano to strike the strings it is more freely structured and suitably sombre, with Gripper and Harrison engaging in beautiful, melancholic dialogue as Zuckerman sits out. The depth and spaciousness of Harrison’s playing suggests an acoustic Eberhard Weber. Then there’s a passage of unaccompanied piano, suggestive perhaps of the ‘solitude’ referenced in Gripper’s album liner notes, before the piano / bass dialogue is resumed, with Harrison temporarily taking the lead at one juncture. Overall it’s a supremely beautiful piece and the emotions behind it are obvious.
The title track is actually one of the album’s shorter pieces and features Harrison picking up the bow for the first time, creating a droning backdrop for Gripper’s piano arpeggios and Zuckerman’s drum and cymbal embellishments. The mood subsequently lightens as Harrison puts down the bow and the music takes on an air of joyousness and celebration, with Gripper taking the lead above a shuffling bass and brushed drum groove.
The album concludes with “To The Moon” a beautiful solo piano piece that expresses the love inherent in the title.
Gripper’s début album has already attracted a compelling amount of critical praise from my fellow jazz bloggers and his playing and writing has also attracted the endorsement of his fellow musicians, among them Warren, bassist Yuri Golubev and saxophonist Alex Merritt.
Gripper is still only twenty two and all of these commentators, whether musicians themselves or not, have spoken of the astonishing maturity of both his playing and his writing. On the evidence of this recording they are fully justified in doing so and for me this album represents one of the best début recordings I have heard for a long time. Credit is also due to Harrison and Zuckerman, who both play with a similar level of maturity, this allied to supreme technical skill. Congratulations are also due to engineer Andrew Lawson who captures every nuance and detail of the music in a commendably pinpoint mix.
The sentiments behind the music are obvious but although an overall mood is maintained throughout that doesn’t mean that the music lacks variety. Gripper is a multi-faceted writer and his compositions are full of delightful and unexpected twists and turns.
This is an album that deserves to establish him as an exciting new presence on the UK jazz scene as a whole, reaching out beyond his South Wales / SW England heartland. Future releases will be very keenly anticipated.
Here at The Jazzmann we like to say “we know how spot ‘em” and Gripper is another who falls into that category. It’s a shame that he won’t be able to tour this music with Harrison and Zuckerman, but he could always recruit Goodyear and Saynor to the cause. I’d love to them performing a set of Gripper’s own music at Abergavenny.blog comments powered by Disqus