Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Eddie Gripper

Eddie Gripper Trio, Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2023.

Photography: Photograph of Eddie Gripper sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

October 02, 2023


In addition to his maturity as a musician and composer the way in which Gripper presents his shows also exhibits a wisdom beyond his years. A great way to start the 2023 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival.

Eddie Gripper Trio, Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2023

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

The opening night of the 2023 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival saw Black Mountain Jazz presenting a performance by the young Cardiff based pianist and composer Eddie Gripper and his regular working trio.

Gripper has become a great friend of BMJ and Wall2Wall and appeared at the 2022 Festival as part of the BMJ Collective, the ‘house trio’ that accompanied vocalist Marvin Muoneke. The trio also featured bassist Clem Saynor and drummer Alex Goodyear and my account of that excellent performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;

In January 2023 Gripper, Saynor and Goodyear returned under the BMJ Collective banner as they accompanied twin saxophonists Alex Clarke and Dan Newberry on a regular BMJ Club Night. This was another hugely successful and very well attended event and is reviewed here;

Gripper has also worked regularly with jazz vocalist and BMJ stalwart Debs Hancock.

Originally from the Cotswolds town of Burford Gripper is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Cardiff University, where he studied with the great Huw Warren. He is still based in the Welsh capital and is becoming an increasingly busy and popular presence on the South Wales jazz scene.

Gripper has since come to the attention of the national jazz audience thanks to the release of his debut album “Home” for the Ubuntu Music imprint in March 2023.

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. Comprised entirely 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.

Reviewing the album shortly afterwards I was struck by the astonishing maturity of both the playing and the writing. Gripper is still only twenty three and clearly has a very bright future ahead of him. Awarding the album four stars and a recommendation I 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”.

The full review can be found here;

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 Warren, bassist Yuri Goloubev and saxophonist Alex Merritt) and, perhaps 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 Gripper’s approach and the quality of his writing. He also praised the playing of Harrison and Zuckerman.

Following graduation the American born Zuckerman returned to the States and his place was taken by Patrick Barrett- Donlon, a long time Gripper associate. The new look trio performed at Brecon Jazz Club in June 2023, performing a slightly truncated set as part of a Brecon Jazz Festival Preview event. Review here;
Eddie Gripper - Eddie Gripper Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 13/06/2023. | Review | The Jazz Mann

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. Meanwhile August 2023 saw the trio perform a very successful album launch event at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London, a performance favourably reviewed for Jazzwise by Tom Spargo.

The Brecon Jazz Club event proved to be something of a ‘taster’ for tonight’s more substantial Festival performance. Playing a similar programme to the one that they had performed at the ‘Pizza’ tonight’s show featured two lengthy sets that included all the material from the “Home” album, plus a jazz standard, pieces by three esteemed contemporary jazz composers (Keith Jarrett, Cedar Walton, Michael Brecker) and an inspired cover of a Paul Simon song.

The trio eased their audience in gently with a performance of the jazz standard “How Deep Is The Ocean”, with Gripper playing the Melville Centre’s upright acoustic piano. An extended solo piano introduction set the scene as Gripper and his colleagues probed deeply into the structure of the tune, their exploratory approach revealing fresh insights and unexpected contours. The performance included a double bass solo from Harrison and a drum feature for Barrett-Donlon, whose understated but sympathetic performance saw him graduating from brushes to sticks as the music developed and gathered momentum.

From the “Home” album “A Song Unsprung” was the first composition to be written for the record. Introduced by Barrett-Donlon at the drums the tune began vigorously before subsiding into a gentle lyricism, with a strong focus on melody. An expansive piano solo from Gripper was followed by a melodic double bass solo from Harrison and a somewhat quirky drum feature from Barrett-Donlon.

This is a highly democratic trio and the choice of outside material reflected favourite pieces that all of the band members like to play. The first of these was Keith Jarrett’s “Country”, a tune from Jarrett’s classic 1978 ECM album “My Song”, recorded with Jarrett’s ‘European Quartet’ featuring saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. Gripper and the trio revelled in the melodic beauty of Jarrett’s composition and more than did it justice, with Gripper’s unaccompanied piano intro leading to more expansive solos from himself and Harrison, with Barrett-Donlon wielding brushes almost throughout.

Gripper’s own composition “Before The Storm” opens the “Home” album and was another piece to be introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano, this time punctuated by the dramatic sounds of Barrett-Donlon’s cymbal splashes, evoking the sounds of heavy rainwater. Like many of Gripper’s compositions this was a piece that embraced numerous twists and turns and changes of dynamics and featured the gentle piano / drum dialogue between the leader and Barrett-Donlon, followed by the melancholy sounds of Harrison’s bowed bass melody. This was a piece that was particularly well received by the Abergavenny audience.

In a well programmed set Gripper and the trio continued to mix originals with outside material and to vary the mood from piece to piece. Next up was Chick Corea’s complex but celebratory “La Fiesta”, with Gripper and his colleagues delivering a bravado performance of the piece and tackling its technical challenges with considerable aplomb. The late, great Corea has been a huge source of inspiration for Gripper and his colleagues.

The material on “Home” has all been written in the past two years and is reflective of Gripper’s personal experiences during this time. These have included bereavement and the loss of his beloved grandmother. Tonight the first set concluded with “To The Moon”, the final track on the “Home” album and a piece dedicated to the memory of the composer’s grandmother. Harrison and Barrett-Donlon left the stage as Gripper performed this poignant and beautiful solo piano piece, ending the first half of the performance on a reflective note.

Unaccompanied piano arpeggios, subsequently joined by Harrison’s melodic double bass, introduced “Castle”, the first number of the second set. Originally titled “Ricochet” this Gripper original forms part of the “Home” album repertoire and was notable for the lyrical and expansive solos of both Harrison and Gripper.

The trio increased the tempo as they enjoyed playing the Cedar Walton composition “Martha’s Prize”, a lively and highly rhythmic piece that sometimes featured Harrison’s bass taking the lead.

From the “Home” album “Lament” was performed as a double bass and piano duet, with Barrett-Donlon temporarily sitting out. Harrison’s bass introduced the piece, answered by Gripper’s piano, and the pair’s melodic exchanges were a constant delight throughout a hushed and truly beautiful performance.

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 another highly rhythmic performance that included solos from Harrison and Gripper in addition to a further drum solo from Barrett-Donlon.

Gripper had clearly put a lot of thought into the structure of the programme, speaking of the importance of “Yin and yang” as the trio continued alternate fast and slow pieces and outside material with the pianist’s originals. Next up was “Mum’s Best Friend”, another highly personal composition written to commemorate the loss of a family pet. This was a short, but beautiful and engaging piece, centred around the leader’s piano motif and featuring the delightfully melodic bass playing of Harrison.

It was Harrison’s bass that introduced an imaginative instrumental arrangement of the Paul Simon song “Still Crazy After All These Years”, with Barrett-Donlon’s brushed drums underpinning Gripper’s increasingly florid piano explorations. Gripper spoke of his admiration for Simon’s gift for melody, an aspect of his writing that is sometimes overlooked due to his outstanding talent as a lyricist.

The trio returned to the album repertoire to conclude with the title track. Written during a return “Home” for a family Christmas this was a piece that embodied all the warmth and intimacy that such an occasion suggests. The leader’s lyrical piano soloing was augmented by an imaginative brushed drum feature from Barrett-Donlon.

The quality of the trio’s performance was reflected by the fact that after the show Gripper sold all of the copies of the “Home” CD that he had with him and was taking orders to be sent out in the post. In addition to his maturity as a musician and composer the way in which he presents his shows also exhibits a wisdom beyond his years. He’s an articulate, intelligent and informative communicator and the very real and personal inspirations behind his compositions resonate with audiences.

Of course it’s not just about Gripper, both Harrison and Barrett-Donlon play key roles in a well balanced and highly democratic trio. Gripper is a generous bandleader and both made their soloing opportunities count.

The quality of tonight’s performance suggested that 2024 will be a big year for Gripper as he takes his music to jazz venues all around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The high standards that he has set for himself in terms of playing, writing and presentation will continue to serve him well and I predict that the trio will make a lot of new fans on their forthcoming tour. Eddie Gripper is a huge talent and a genuinely nice guy. I wish him every success in what promises to be a lengthy and fulfilling musical career.

A great way to start the 2023 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival.


blog comments powered by Disqus