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Eddie Gripper

Eddie Gripper Trio, Kidderminster Jazz Club, St. Ambrose Parish Centre, Kidderminster, Worcs. 01/03/2024.

Photography: Photograph of Eddie Gripper playing 'Delphina' by Pam Mann.

by Ian Mann

March 03, 2024


This was the sound of a well balanced trio, their rapport honed by a series of successful tour dates. Tonight’s show also represented an event of historic importance for Kidderminster Jazz Club.

Eddie Gripper Trio, Kidderminster Jazz Club, St. Ambrose Parish Centre, Kidderminster, Worcs. 01/03/2024.

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

Tonight’s performance by the Cardiff based trio led by pianist and composer Eddie Gripper represented an event of historic importance for Kidderminster Jazz Club.

At the February show featuring the Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Mario Bakuna and his percussion partner Satin Singh Club organiser Annette Gregory had informed us that she had secured an Arts Council grant that would enable KJC to purchase its own piano. Congratulations are due to Annette for her diligence and determination in securing this funding, the application procedure is notorious for being a particularly difficult and onerous process, especially for volunteer promoters.

Once the finances had been arranged jazz vocalist Gregory and her pianist and musical director John McDonald began looking for suitable instruments, with McDonald giving each piano a rigorous ‘road test’. Eventually they decided on a beautiful upright acoustic piano manufactured by the Chinese company Hailun and sourced from Broughton Pianos in the nearby village of Belbroughton. Annette has already given the instrument a name, ‘Delphina’, in honour of her late mother.

The first visiting musician to have the honour of playing ‘Delphina’ was Eddie Gripper, who was leading his regular trio featuring bassist Ursula Harrison and drummer Patrick Barrett-Donlon. The Kidderminster date was the latest in an extensive UK and Ireland tour that will continue until July 2024 and will see the trio visiting all corners of the British Isles. When I spoke to Eddie before tonight’s show he was excited about having recently played successful shows at two famous Scottish jazz venues, The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen and The Jazz Bar in Edinburgh.

The trio came to Kidderminster following another successful event at Smoky Joe’s in Cheltenham and the tour is obviously going very well. A bit of a buzz is continuing to develop around the Eddie Gripper Trio and an impressively sizeable crowd was in attendance at St. Ambrose to give the young trio a very warm reception for two sets that mixed Gripper’s originals from their debut album “Home” with a selection of well chosen jazz standards plus more recent compositions by some of Gripper’s piano heroes, notably Chick Corea, Michel Petrucciani and Oscar Peterson.

“Home”, released on the Ubuntu record label in March 2023, was comprised entirely of Gripper’s original compositions and represented a remarkably mature debut from the young pianist and composer, a recent graduate from the Jazz Course at Cardiff University, where he had studied with the great Huw Warren. It was an album that revealed Gripper to be an intelligent and multi-faceted composer as well as a highly accomplished instrumentalist.

Originally from the Cotswolds town of Burford, Oxfordshire Gripper is still based in Cardiff, as are his bandmates Ursula Harrison (double bass) and Patrick Barrett-Donlon (drum kit). All are busy presences on the Welsh jazz scene and prior to the release of “Home” I had already seen Gripper performing with musicians such as vocalists Debs Hancock and Marvin Muoneke, saxophonists Alex Clarke and Dan Newberry, bassist Clem Saynor and drummer Alex Goodyear.

In his capacity as a sideman Gripper had impressed as both soloist and accompanist, but nothing had prepared me for the brilliance of “Home”. The album featured his then regular working trio with Harrison on double bass and Isaac Zuckerman at the drums,  graduates of Cardiff University and of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) respectively. It was recorded in June 2022 at Fieldgate Studio in Wales by engineer Andrew Lawson, who deserves credit for a pristine sound mix that really emphasises the high quality of the writing and playing.  Following graduation the American born Zuckerman has returned to the States and his place at the kit has been taken by Patrick Barrett- Donlon, a Cardiff University alumnus and a long time Gripper associate. 

I gave “Home” a highly favourable review and a recommendation, and it seems that I wasn’t the only one to be impressed, with positive reviews appearing widely across the UK jazz media. Gripper’s fellow musicians among them among them Warren, bassist Yuri Goloubev and saxophonist Alex Merritt were also suitably impressed. The support of the highly influential Jazzwise magazine was particularly significant and there suddenly seemed to be a bit of a ‘buzz’ about this prodigious new, young talent.
My review of “Home” can be found here;

 Prior to the current tour I’d been lucky enough to see the current trio perform at shows in Brecon and Abergavenny, the latter a particularly impressive performance that formed part of Black Mountain Jazz Club’s 2023 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Both of these shows are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

I was also present for the first date of the 2024 tour at a Music Spoken Here event at the Marr’s Bar in Worcester. The crowd was smaller than tonight’s, although what the audience lacked in size it made up for with enthusiasm. In addition Gripper was obliged to play a Nord electric keyboard, but nevertheless this was still a hugely enjoyable show that featured several items that weren’t heard tonight, among them “Martha’s Prize”   by Cedar Walton and “Spherical” by Michael Brecker plus jazz arrangements of “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon. From the standards repertoire the trio also played an arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird”. My account of the Worcester show can be found here;

The trio introduced themselves to the Kidderminster audience with a performance of one of Gripper’s favourite standards, “Someone To watch Over Me”. Gripper introduced the piece at the piano, subsequently joined by double bass and brushed drums. Gripper began to put ‘Delphina’ through her paces with an expansive solo, with Barrett-Donlon switching to sticks as the music gathered momentum. Gripper is a generous leader who likes to allocate plenty of soloing opportunities to his colleagues. Harrison impressed with a typically articulate double bass solo before Barrett-Donlon enjoyed some brisk drum breaks during a series of exchanges with Gripper.

The first song to be sourced from “Home” was album opener “Before The Storm”. This was  introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano, with Gripper’s low end, left hand rumblings subsequently joined by the atmospheric sounds of Harrison’s bowed bass. Barrett-Donlon’s dramatic cymbal crashes threatened to signal the arrival of the titular storm as the piece began to develop, progressing via Gripper’s fluent piano solo and a second passage featuring the warm sounds of Harrison’s bowed bass. The piece incorporated a reprise of the opening section, again featuring Barrett-Donlon’s cymbal crashes, this leading to a hard driving passage possessed of an anthemic feel that was sometimes reminiscent of E.S.T.

Also from the album the Gripper original “A Song Unsprung” was omitted at Worcester but was played here. Gripper informed us that prior to the recording of “Home” he had written a number of songs, working in conjunction with a number of vocalists. “A Song Unsprung” represented his first all instrumental composition and here acted as a vehicle for all three musicians to demonstrate their impressive capabilities as soloists.

Chick Corea’s composition “La Fiesta” is a favourite tune among jazz musicians, but Gripper’s version was unusual in that it was inspired by a later recording of the tune made by a trio featuring Corea with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Gripper’s unaccompanied piano intro developed into a dialogue with Barrett-Donlon at the drums, with bassist Harrison acting as mediator. The lengthy tour has certainly helped to develop the already impressive rapport between the pianist and the drummer, with Barrett-Donlon’s busy, quirky drumming the perfect foil for the leader’s piano pyrotechnics as the trio delighted with their interpretation of Corea’s complex but popular and accessible composition.

Gripper was quick to praise fellow pianist Gwilym Simcock as a source of inspiration, the latter having provided the young Gripper with much useful advice. It’s possible that Simcock’s duo with bassist Yuri Goloubev may have helped to inspire Gripper’s composition “Lament”, which was performed here by the duo of Gripper and Harrison with Barrett-Donlon sitting out. This was a delightfully intimate performance with a genuine dialogue between piano and double bass in addition to ‘solo’ passages for each.

The first set concluded with Mum’s Best Friend”, another piece from the album and a highly personal original composition written to commemorate the loss of a family pet, Daisy the cat. An impressively tight unison introduction that featured Barrett-Donlon’s deft cymbal work led to an excellent bass solo from Harrison on a piece that alternated reflective and dynamic passages.

After a short break proceedings got under way again with the album track “Castle”, which was ushered in by Gripper’s arpeggiated piano intro. One of Gripper’s most accessible compositions this featured Harrison’s melodic double bass soloing and the leader’s own piano lyricism.

The loquacious Gripper enthused about the music of the remarkable French pianist and composer Michel Petrucciani (1962-99). The Petrucciani composition chosen by Gripper was “Cantabile”, the title an Italian musical phrase meaning “in a singing voice”. This also proved to be a highly accessible composition that mixed classical flourishes with a more earthy and funky gospel feel, sometimes reminiscent of the music of Keith Jarrett.

Harrison and Barrett-Donlon then left the stage as Gripper performed the solo piano piece “To The Moon”, a track from the album that is dedicated to the memory of Gripper’s late grandmother, Annie. As Gripper explained much of the music on “Home” was inspired by his own life experiences, including the sadness of bereavement. This was a tender, lyrical, elegiac piece that conveyed a sense of space and which was also possessed of a genuine beauty, qualities that were very much emphasised by ‘Delphina’.

Another of Gripper’s piano heroes is Oscar Peterson, and it was the Canadian’s composition “Hymn to Freedom” that brought Harrison and Barrett-Donlon back to the stand. This was ushered in by an extended passage of unaccompanied piano before Barrett-Donlon’s brushed,  military style rhythms transformed the piece into a kind of ‘gospel march’. The performance eventually ended in the same way that it had begun with a passage of solo piano.

Gripper has spoken of his love of the work of singer-songwriters. At Worcester he had paid homage to Paul Simon, tonight it was the turn of Joni Mitchell and the song “Both Sides Now”, another tune that has become something of a favourite among jazz musicians. I remember the Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson delivering a stunning solo version of this song at Wigmore Hall at the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. Tonight’s interpretation began with Barrett-Donlon solo, his mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers subsequently joined by Gripper’s sparse piano chording. As Harrison stated the familiar melody on double bass I was reminded of Danielsson, and wondered if she might have heard his version. Gripper subsequently took over at the piano and the music eventually segued into “Home”, the title track of the trio’s album and a composition written by Gripper at Christmas time in 2021. Inspired by returning home for the festive season it’s another highly personal piece, introduced here by the sounds of gently rippling piano arpeggios and the deep, atmospheric resonances of Harrison’s bowed bass. Gripper’s lyrical piano soloing was followed by a brushed drum feature from Barrett-Donlon as this delightful segue drew to a close, also marking the conclusion of the concert.

The combination of the trio’s music and Gripper’s personable and informative presenting style had endeared them to the Kidderminster audience and Annette Gregory had no difficulty in persuading them to play a well deserved encore. This proved to be a playful, swinging version of “Tea For Two”, which saw Gripper flinging his sheet music aside as he gave “Delphina” a proper work out, setting the hammers truly dancing. Harrison was also featured with the last of several excellent bass solos.

This was the sound of a well balanced trio, their rapport honed by a series of successful tour dates. It was an excellent turn out tonight for a young trio that were probably new to several members of the audience. With the aid of ‘Delphina’ the Gripper trio really delivered and the quality of their performance was reflected by the subsequent CD sales.

For KJC regulars it was a great to see the new piano in action for the first time and I was also pleased to see some school age children in the audience and really enjoying the music. Eddie was very appreciative and made a point of spending some time with them and their family, which was great. The move to Friday as the regular club night seems to have worked and audience numbers have markedly increased since the move to St. Ambrose, which is highly encouraging. All in all an excellent and memorable night all round.

The Eddie Gripper Trio are still on tour and details of forthcoming dates, plus ticket links, are available via Eddie’s website;


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