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Eddie Gripper

Eddie Gripper Trio, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 25/01/2024.

Photography: Photograph by Carl Freeman

by Ian Mann

January 29, 2024


A highly satisfying performance that incorporated some excellent writing and playing and a wealth of interesting outside material. A good start to the trio’s extensive UK & Ireland tour.

Eddie Gripper Trio, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 25/01/2024.

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

Tonight was the first date of an extensive UK & Ireland tour that will see pianist and composer Eddie Gripper continuing to build on the success of his debut album “Home”, which was first released in March 2023.

Entirely comprised of original material “Home” appeared on the Ubuntu record label and was 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, a previous visitor to Music Spoken Here. 

Originally from the Cotswolds town of Burford 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”, which revealed him to be an intelligent and multi-faceted composer as well as a highly accomplished instrumentalist.

Gripper’s album featured his then regular working trio with Ursula 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 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;

The current tour seeks to capitalise on that ‘buzz’ and sees Gripper and his colleagues taking their music to the national jazz audience and beyond. Prior to this evening 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.

The trio’s live shows typically feature a mix of compositions from the “Home” album and a mix of well chosen outside material, including jazz standards, more recent material from artists such as Chick Corea and Michael Brecker and a couple of inspired arrangements of pop and rock songs. This evening proved to be no exception, although initially I had expected there to be a greater focus on Gripper’s original compositions.

The evening commenced with an item from Gripper’s repertoire that I hadn’t heard before. This was introduced by Harrison at the bass, picking out a familiar motif that proved to be the Oasis song “Wonderwall”, here given a subtle jazz / blues makeover by the members of the trio. Gripper was playing a Nord Grand electric keyboard, which for the purposes of this review I’ll refer to as a ‘piano’. Having ushered in the song Harrison took the first solo, followed by the leader at said piano.

The first piece from the “Home” recording was album opener “Before The Storm”, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano, with Gripper subsequently joined by the atmospheric sounds of Harrison’s bowed bass. Barrett-Donlon’s dramatic cymbal splashes threatened to signal the arrival of the titular storm as the piece began to develop slowly, with Barrett-Donlon’s exquisite brush work now a significant feature. Harrison put down the bow to deliver a dexterous and melodic pizzicato solo, before helping to establish a subtly funky groove that provided the platform for Gripper’s pianistic explorations as the music began to gain energy and momentum, this eventually dissipating as the piece concluded with the unaccompanied sound of Harrison’s double bass. Like many of Gripper’s compositions this was a piece with a strong narrative arc that incorporated a beguiling series of unexpected twists and turns.

The next piece was an outside item, a re-harmonised but still swinging version of the jazz standard “Bye Bye Blackbird”, again introduced by a passage of solo piano. Bass and drums were subsequently added as Gripper continued to develop his solo, before handing over to Harrison for a particularly well received bass feature. Barrett-Donlon then enjoyed a series of lively drum breaks as he traded fours with Gripper.

Chick Corea’s composition “La Fiesta” is a popular tune among jazz musicians, but the 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. An atmospheric ‘free jazz’ style intro featured the low register sounds of Barrett-Donlon’s mallet rumbles and Harrison’s bowed bass, before Gripper eventually picked out the familiar melodic motif, deploying it as the platform for his piano solo.

Harrison and Barrett-Donlon then left the stage as the first half closed with a solo piano performance of “To The Moon”, Gripper’s delightful dedication to the memory of his late grandmother. As Gripper explained much of the music on “Home” was inspired by his own life experiences, including the sadness of bereavement. Also played solo on the recording this was a lyrical, elegiac piece that managed to convey a sense of space, even when performed on an electric keyboard.

For the second set Gripper established a pattern of “one of mine” followed by “not one of mine”. First we heard the album track “Castle”, introduced by solo piano and later featuring Harrison’s melodic double bass and Barrett-Donlon’s delicate brush work. Both Harrison and Gripper were featured as soloists as the music slowly and subtly gathered momentum, with Barrett-Donlon eventually switching to sticks. Nevertheless the music remained innately lyrical and tasteful, exhibiting something of an ‘ECM sensibility’.

The Cedar Walton composition “Martha’s Prize” exuded an air of joyousness and a subtle funkiness as the piano and bass exchanges between Gripper and Harrison developed into a more expansive solo from Gripper, with Barrett-Donlon’s crisp drumming helping to provide the necessary momentum.

From the “Home” album Gripper’s composition “Lament” has recently been re-harmonised and was performed by Gripper and Harrison as a piano / bass duet. The piece was ushered in by Harrison at the bass, with Gripper responding from the piano as the pair continued to exchange ideas. The closing section saw Harrison taking up the bow, the cello like melancholy of her playing a perfect reflection of the tune’s title.

Barrett-Donlon returned as the trio increased the energy levels, his drums ushering in a spirited performance of “Spherical”, a tune written by the late, great saxophonist Michael Brecker (1949-2007) for the 1992 album “Return of The Brecker Brothers”. This was a highly rhythmic performance that also included solos from Harrison and Gripper, in addition to a further drum solo from Barrett-Donlon.

From the “Home” album “Mum’s Best Friend” was another highly personal original composition written to commemorate the loss of a family pet. This was a particularly engaging piece, centred around the leader’s piano motif and with Harrison’s bass playing prominent in the arrangement throughout. Her delightfully melodic solo was followed by a succinct drum feature from the excellent Barrett-Donlon.

Gripper expressed his love of the music of singer-songwriters in general and of Paul Simon in particular. The fact that Simon has collaborated with such great jazz musicians as Michael Brecker,  bassist Ron Carter and drummer Steve Gadd also represents a significant factor with regard to his love for Simon’s music. Gripper’s arrangement of Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” was ushered in by Harrison at the bass, with Gripper later embarking on an expansive piano solo, underpinned by Harrison’s bass and Barrett-Donlon’s brushed drums.

The performance concluded with a performance of the title track from the “Home” album. An atmospheric intro featured the sounds of bowed bass, soon joined by piano and brushed drums. Another piece to be centred around an arresting piano motif tonight’s performance featured solos from Gripper and Harrison, plus a brushed drum feature from Barrett-Donlon.

A small but enthusiastic audience gave the trio an excellent reception and they remained on stage to deliver a well deserved encore in the form of the jazz standard “Someone To Watch Over Me”. Gripper’s florid solo piano introduction was followed by a gently swinging rendition of the tune with brushed drums underscoring fluent solos from piano and double bass.

All in all this represented a good start to the trio’s tour with the audience enjoying an interesting and varied programme. All of the album tracks were featured except “A Song Unsprung”, which remained defiantly ‘unsprung’. This, I suspect, was by accident rather than design. Given the overall “one of mine” / “not one of mine” theme it should probably have occurred in the first set between “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “La Fiesta”.

No matter, this was still a highly satisfying performance that incorporated some excellent writing and playing and a wealth of interesting outside material.

My thanks to Eddie and the trio for speaking with me afterwards. Eddie tells me that he has already written some material for the next album and that this will be premiered later on in the tour. I’m hopeful that some of thie new tunes will be in the set list when I next catch up with the band at Kidderminster Jazz Club in early March.

For full details of the “Home” tour dates please visit Eddie Gripper’s website;


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