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Eddie Gripper

Eddie Gripper Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 13/06/2023.

by Ian Mann

June 14, 2023


As a trailer for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival this had been a highly successful evening but the musical performance by Gripper and the trio was an event and a triumph in itself.

Eddie Gripper Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 13/06/2023.

Eddie Gripper – piano, Ursula Harrison – double bass, Patrick Barrett-Donlon – drums

The latest event in the run up to the 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival was this ‘Club Night with a Difference’ held at Brecon Jazz Club’s regular venue, The Muse Arts Centre. Billed as incorporating ‘Festival Preview, Quiz & Nibbles’ it also featured a superb musical performance by pianist and composer Eddie Gripper and his trio.

The event followed hot on the heels of the free ‘Brecon Jazz Festival Taster Day’ which had been held just a few days earlier at two outdoor venues just off the town centre. The ‘Taster Day’ featured two musical performances by the Debs Hancock / Eddie Gripper Duo and the NPTC College Big Band.
A more comprehensive account of the ‘Taster Day’ can be found here;

The voice and piano pairing of Hancock and Gripper had focussed on standards material largely sourced from the ‘Great American Songbook’. Tonight’s return visit saw Gripper performing with his regular working trio and presenting music from his acclaimed début album “Home”, which was released on the Ubuntu Music record label earlier in 2023.

Reviewing the album The Jazzmann observed “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”.

It seems that I wasn’t the only one to be impressed by “Home” with the album attracting similar praise from other jazz bloggers, Gripper’s fellow musicians (among them among them pianist Warren, bassist Yuri Golubev and saxophonist Alex Merritt) and most significantly, the highly influential Jazzwise Magazine.

Writing for Jazzwise reviewer Peter Jones awarded the album four stars and an ‘Editor’s Choice’  recommendation. He too commented upon the maturity of twenty two year old Gripper’s approach and the quality of his writing. He also praised the playing of Gripper’s similarly young trio colleagues, bassist Ursula Harrison and drummer Isaac Zuckerman.

The Jazzwise review has certainly helped to open doors for Gripper, who will be touring the album in early 2024 and has found gigs much easier to come by as a result, with the official album launch scheduled to take place at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London.

Tonight’s event presaged all this and introduced Gripper’s new working trio, with Gripper and Harrison joined by the impressive new drummer, Patrick Barrett-Donlon. The American born Zuckerman has returned to the US after a few years of living and studying in Cardiff. Barrett-Donlon proved to be a more than adequate replacement and is already a fully integrated member of the trio. It would appear that Gripper and Barrett-Donlon are long time associates, so perhaps this is not so surprising.

Originally from the Cotswolds Gripper is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Cardiff University, where he studied with the great Huw Warren. He is still based in that city and is a busy and popular presence on the South Wales Jazz scene with strong links to the Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny, which is co-run by Debs Hancock. He has played at BMJ’s club nights and festival on a number of occasions with musicians including drummer Alex Goodyear, bassist Clem Saynor, vocalist Marvin Muoneke and saxophonists Alex Clarke and Dan Newberry. Hancock was present in the audience tonight to watch Gripper performing his own music with his own band.

Prior to the musical performance Lynne Gornall presented a preview of the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival that first examined the history of the event, which began in 1984, making this year’s Festival the fortieth! The ‘virtual’ and ‘hybrid’ events of 2020 and 2021 were touched upon, with 2022 representing a return to near normality.

The 2023 Festival will have a theme of “Revival, Reunion and Renewal” and will commence on Sunday August 6th in a marquee at the Brecon County Showground. “Jazz at the Marquee” represents the follow up to last year’s inaugural “Family Jazz & Dance Day”, a collaboration between Brecon Jazz Festival and Brecon County Show.

This year’s renamed event will take place in a bigger marquee with enhanced facilities and the line up will feature the Rachel Hayward Swing Band, the Salsa septet Fiesta Resistance and the ten piece soul / funk band Funkyard. The emphasis still remains on family, dance and fun.

The main Festival weekend will take place over the weekend of 11th / 12th / 12th August at various locations around the town with the featured artists including guitarist Edison Herbert, saxophonist Emma Rawicz and the American vocalist LaVon Hardison. Images of the performers were projected onto the screen at The Muser as part of this audio visual presentation.

The ‘Main Weekend’ will also feature free music on the streets of Brecon and a free to attend jazz and tap dance event in St. Mary’s Church featuring dancer Annette Walker and renowned jazz bassist Gary Crosby.

The 2020 ‘Virtual’ Festival featured a hugely successful online concert featuring the voice of LaVon Hardison, singing from her home studio in Seattle accompanied by Cardiff based pianist Jim Barber and his trio, recorded together at Ratio Studios in Merthyr Tydfil. 2023 will see Hardison and the Barber trio performing together on the same stage, a “Reunion” of sorts. Hardison will also perform a big band concert with members of the Monmouth Jazz Orchestra, directed by trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts. Tonight’s presentation also included Youtube footage of Hardison singing with her own band, the performances including a jazz arrangement of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (which sounded very different to The Clash) and the jazz standard “It’s Only A Paper Moon”.

The 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival will then extend into the weekend of August 19th and 20th and will include live performances by Hot Club Gallois and by tango pianist Juliet Iglesias. A number of films about jazz will be screened at the town’s Coliseum Cinema.

One of the most exciting live performances of the entire Festival promises to be the one by pianist and composer Zoe Rahman and her all star octet at Theatr Brycheiniog on the evening of Sunday 20th. Rahman’s new album, “Colour of Sound”, which is due to be released on July 7th 2023 features an octet and we will be among the first to hear the new material performed live. The Brecon date precedes the official album launch gig at Kings Place, London in September. As a long time admirer of Rahman’s music I’m really looking forward to this one.

The legacy of the ‘Covid years’ is not forgotten and the Festival will end in the bar at Theatr Brycheiniog with a livestream performance, ‘The Baroness & Monk’, by the duo of vocalist Zoe Gilby and pianist Terence Collie direct from the Riverside Arts centre in Sunbury-on-Thames.

Full details of the 2023 Brecon Jazz Festival and links to purchase tickets can be found at

Following Lynne’s presentation local pianist Mike Chappell, a great friend of the Club and Festival, presented an informal jazz quiz that featured picture and audio rounds and which referenced many of the jazz greats of the past, with a particular emphasis on some of those that had played at Brecon.

It was informative and fun and not too serious, which suited some so called ‘jazz experts’, who might otherwise have made fools of themselves in a more formal quiz situation. Lots of interesting jazz snippets emerged, I certainly wasn’t alone in being unaware that both Buddy Rich and Oscar Peterson were among a number of famous instrumentalists to have also recorded a vocal album. Both sounded like pretty decent singers, to be fair.

Eddie Gripper didn’t take part, but he did take a look at the questions afterwards and impressed with the breadth of his jazz knowledge. His love for the music is broad and genuine.

This evening’s ‘Club Night with a Difference’ also included a cold buffet supper provided by Brecon Jazz Club and prepared by Country Kitchens of Brecon. The food was delicious, with vegetarians particularly well catered for.

Suitably fortified we were at last ready for the musical performance by Eddie and the trio, who opened with an imaginative arrangement of “How Deep Is The Ocean”, which gave the much loved jazz standard a contemporary edge and resonance. It was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Gripper, who was playing the upright acoustic piano that had served Rachel Starritt so well when she played here with her trio back in March. The pianist was joined by Harrison on bass and Barrett-Donlon on drums as he took the first solo, handing over to Harrison who played variations of the song’s melody during the course of her solo. Barrett-Donlon then weighed in with an impressive drum feature that exhibited an innate musicality.

The trio then turned to the “Home” recording and the opening track “Before The Storm”. This featured another gentle solo piano introduction, with Gripper’s softly rippling arpeggios joined by the sound of Harrison’s bow before Barrett-Donlon’s dramatic cymbal strikes threatened to ruffle the sense of repose. Gripper’s lyrical but expansive soloing, allied to Barrett-Donlon’s finely detailed drumming, sometimes reminded me of an ECM recording. The dynamic twists and turns alluded to previously were much in evidence and the performance included an excellent double bass solo from the impressive Harrison, one of those young musicians who seem to get better and better every time you see them. All in this was fine piece of contemporary European piano jazz.

Gripper spent part of 2022 travelling in the US and wrote the as yet unrecorded “Oceans Avenue” in Los Angeles. Inspired by one of his piano heroes, Oscar Peterson, this playful piece had more of a mainstream feel and included solos from both Harrison and Gripper. Barrett-Donlon again made the transition from brushes to sticks as the momentum of the music increased and closed the piece out with a drum feature that saw him exchanging ideas with the leader.

From the album repertoire came “Castle”, a piece that originally came about as the result of Gripper adding to a previously written introduction. The arpeggiated intro was played solo, evolving into a dialogue between the composer’s piano and Harrison’s melodic bass, the duo finally joined by brushed drums. Gripper’s solo began in gently ruminative fashion, before becoming more extrovert and expansive, with Barrett-Donlon again graduating to sticks.

“Someone To Watch Over Me” featured another imaginative arrangement as Gripper and the trio put a contemporary slant on this much loved standard. Again introduced by a passage of solo piano this performance was notable for the high level of interaction between the members of the trio, and particularly the exchanges between Harrison and Barrett-Donlon, and then between the drummer and the leader.

The title track from the “Home” album was written at Christmas 2021 and celebrates the virtues of ‘home’ and the warmth of family relationships. The duo introduction featured the sounds of Gripper’s piano and Harrison’s bowed bass, the sounds of Gripper’s simple piano arpeggios and Harrison’s grainy arco bass forming an effective combination. The mood subsequently lightened with the addition of drums and Gripper’s adoption of a Jarrett like vamp, the joyousness of which seemed to speak of that ‘warmth of home’. His subsequent solo was supported by the sounds of pizzicato bass and brushed drums, the performance culminating in a brushed drum feature from the excellent Barrett-Donlon.

The last piece from the album to be played was “A Song Unsprung”, which was introduced by the drums and evolved into an intensely rhythmic performance with Gripper soloing expansively and percussively. It was a more forceful rendition than the recorded version and the performance also included solos from Harrison and Barrett-Donlon. It may be Gripper’s band, but he’s a democratic bandleader who allows his colleagues plenty of opportunities for self expression, opportunities that both Harrison and Barrett-Donlon took with considerable aplomb.

The deserved encore was a rarely heard Charlie Parker blues “Au Privave”, the trio’s vigorous rendition notable for the exchanges between Gripper and Harrison and the two drum features from Barrett-Donlon that virtually bookended the piece.

This represented the end of a highly successful evening at a swelteringly hot Muse. Gripper had CDs of “Home” for sale and business seemed to be hearteningly brisk. He had presented the show with charm and confidence and the playing by all three musicians was excellent. Gripper can now be considered to be a genuine rising star within the British jazz firmament as a whole, I’ve never seen Harrison play better and Barrett-Donlon represented an exciting new discovery. Gripper’s original material was thoroughly convincing in the live environment and the trio’s imaginative treatment of their chosen standards was also genuinely impressive.

As a trailer for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival this had been a highly successful evening but the musical performance by Gripper and the trio was an event and a triumph in itself.






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