by Ian Mann
September 11, 2017
Latchin, Farmer and Morrison bring a youthful energy to old virtues and the three musicians sound as if they’re really enjoying themselves, even when they’re exploring the most familiar of material.
Gabriel Latchin Trio
“Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio
(Alys Jazz AJ 1501)
Gabriel Latchin is a London based pianist and composer who has hitherto been best known for his role as an in demand sideman. One of his most prestigious engagements came in December 2016 when the American bassist, composer and band-leader Christian McBride selected him as an accompanist at a major one off event at London’s Wigmore Hall, a concert that also featured the voice of opera singer Renee Fleming.
Others with whom Latchin has worked include saxophonists Ronnie Cuber, Jean Toussaint, Grant Stewart and Alex Garnett, vibraphonist Nat Steele and vocalist Salena Jones. He has also played with large ensembles such as the London Jazz Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
As a young teenager Latchin was introduced to the piano by his grandmother, Dorothy Paton and turned onto jazz by the playing of Oscar Peterson. Initially Latchin followed an academic career, graduating with a first class honours degree in economics from Edinburgh University. After performing on the Edinburgh jazz scene he moved to London to study jazz piano at the Guildhall School of Music, again graduating with first class honours. His musical mentors include leading pianists such as Aaron Goldberg, Peter Martin and David Berkman plus guitarist Peter Bernstein and saxophonist Grant Stewart.
After taking some time out to start a family the father of two has returned to the jazz scene with a vengeance with the release of his first solo album, which was actually recorded in 2014. Latchin has said of the project; “It’s time to step out of the shadows. I wanted to create new arrangements of classics and offer my own compositions”
Joining Latchin on his début in the classic ‘piano trio’ format are bassist Tom Farmer, best known as a member of the bands Empirical and Dice Factory, and drummer Josh Morrison, the regular drummer for the acclaimed vocalist Stacey Kent.
Latchin’s liner notes for the album cite his piano heroes as Peterson, Cedar Walton, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Nat King Cole, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Hank Jones, Phineas Newborn, Barry Harris, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner – all the greats in other words. Other musical influences include saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Billy Higgins.
Given Latchin’s influences it comes as no surprise to find that his début album is an unashamedly straight-ahead affair, even the album artwork tips a hat in the direction of Bill Evans. The programme features four Latchin originals alongside the pianist’s arrangements of seven well known jazz standards.
Latchin’s own writing is very much in the mainstream of the jazz piano tradition as typified by the bouncy original “Carlora”, which opens the album. Dedicated to Latchin’s parents the title is a portmanteau word honouring the towns they were brought up in, Carlisle, England and Dora, Iraq. Latchin’s liner notes make reference to the tune being inspired by the writing of Phineas Newborn - “particularly his use of contrary motion and arpeggios in tenths”. Whatever the technicalities it’s a splendidly rhythmic piece that swings powerfully while also exhibiting considerable melodic and harmonic sophistication. Latchin’s left hand is a notably significant component, perhaps not surprisingly from a man who was playing left hand boogie woogie bass lines on the piano as a nine year old. But his right hand soloing also sparkles on this lively introduction which also features a bass solo from the consistently excellent Farmer.
“It Had To Be You”, written by Isham Jones and Gus Khan, boasts a playful arrangement, again full of plenty of harmonic and rhythmic sophistication. The piece is something of a feature for drummer Morrison, who moves between brushes and sticks as the music requires and enjoys a number of lively breaks in the middle of the tune. There’s also some delightful dialogue between Latchin and Farmer in the latter stages of the piece.
As the opening two pieces have shown this is a particularly tight and well balanced trio who clearly enjoy playing together. “Lover Man”, written by Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez and James Sherman now presents a gentler side of the band in a ballad arrangement featuring Latchin’s lyrical soloing allied to sympathetic rhythmic support with Morrison again moving between brushes and sticks. There’s a gentle building of momentum during the tune in an arrangement that maintains the trio’s levels of inventiveness and sophistication and never descends into over-sentimentality.
Latchin’s notes inform us that the bebop melody to the original “Off the Latch” is based around the chord changes to Frank Loesser’s “Slow Boat to China. Introduced by Morrison’s drums the piece is a vigorous, bop inspired work out with some sparkling interplay between the three musicians. Latchin’s darting piano runs are well supported by the swinging rhythm team and there are also plenty of opportunities for Farmer and Morrison to express themselves with some vivacious bass and drum exchanges.
Billy Strayhorn’s enduringly popular “Lush Life” is the first of two solo piano performances. The composition has always exerted an uncanny fascination for jazz performers, particularly pianists. Latchin brings a lyrical, classically inspired approach to the piece that is quite lovely.
“The Strayhorn masterpiece ‘Lush Life’ gives my tortured classical self a chance at the piano chair” remarks Latchin by way of explanation.
The Latchin original “Trane Hopping” has its origins in a Guildhall compositional exercise as Latchin explains;
“The class was set an assignment to write a blues a week. ‘Trane Hopping’ has its origins in that first draft. The title reflects the jump in harmony from a ‘Giant Steps’ type of blues progression to a more modal second half”.
It’s another spirited performance, again introduced by Morrison at the drums, and the piece includes some excellent interplay between drums and piano before Latchin takes flight in more conventional fashion. The second half of the tune also includes features for double bass and drums in this commendably democratic trio.
“If I Only Had A Brain”, written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg is famous for its inclusion in the film “The Wizard of Oz”. Latchin muses “perhaps it should have been titled ‘If I Only Had Cedar’s Brain” as he pays homage to the late Walton. The trio’s performance begins with a gently reverential passage of solo piano before Farmer and Morrison enter to impart an easy swing around which Latchin structures his fluent Walton inspired pianistics. There’s also a delightfully melodic solo from Farmer, neatly framed by Latchin’s sparse piano chording and Morrison’s subtly brushed grooves.
The trio romp through Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ At The Savoy” in a suitably animated boogie woogie style with that prodigious Latchin left hand working overtime. His right is pretty busy too and continues to dazzle as Farmer’s rapid bass walk and Morrison’s crisp drumming provide an unstoppable rhythmic momentum.
Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love” is given an intriguing arrangement that features some subtle interplay between Latchin and Farmer. The piece begins quietly and coyly before gathering momentum and developing an easy swing as it progresses with Latchin’s playing becoming increasingly playful.
The second solo piano piece, “Can’t We Be Friends”, written by Paul James and Kay Swift, is very different to the first. Latchin cites the influence of early piano greats such as Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines on the performance which begins quietly but develops into a bluesy, stride style arrangement. There’s a relaxed quality about the playing and Latchin makes the whole thing sound effortless.
The album closes with Latchin’s “Blues For Billy” which the composer dedicates to the late, great American drummer Billy Higgins (1936 -2001). Latchin cites Higgin’s playing on albums by Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Cedar Walton and others as a great influence. The tune itself has echoes of the hard bop era with which Higgins was associated, it’s loping grooves the framework for excellent solos from Latchin and Farmer and a final Higgins-like cymbal flourish from Morrison.
“Introducing” is an unashamedly ‘old school’ recording and Latchin wears his many stylistic influences on his sleeve. In some respects the pianist is a bit of a throwback to a previous era but in the current jazz climate he represents something of a dying breed. ‘Straightahead’, ‘Mainstream’, ‘Classic’ Jazz, call it what you will, needs players like Gabriel Latchin if it is to survive in the 21st century.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this album. I was initially tempted to dismiss it as “just another standards session” but there’s a skill, vitality and verve that lifts the performances above this. Latchin, Farmer and Morrison bring a youthful energy to old virtues and the three musicians sound as if they’re really enjoying themselves, even when they’re exploring the most familiar of material.
The standard of the musicianship is excellent throughout and this is enhanced by the crispness and clarity of a mix by the team of producer Latchin and engineers Dick Hammett and Simon Hendry.
Latchin’s leadership début has already received favourable reviews from my fellow bloggers London Jazz News and Bebop Spoken Here and one suspects that Latchin will continue to be an increasingly in demand musician, both as a sideman and a leader, in the years ahead.
Meanwhile the Gabriel Latchin Trio will be performing live during 2017 as listed below;
THU 14 SEPTEMBER
All Saints Church, Hove, UK
SAT 16 SEPTEMBER
The Bear Club ,Luton, UK
SUN 17 SEPTEMBER
Norden Farm Centre for The Arts, Maidenhead, UK
MON 18 SEPTEMBER
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, UK
THU 21 SEPTEMBER
Jazz @ Future Inns,Bristol, UK
For more details please visit;
From Gabriel Latchin via email;
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I just wanted to write to say thank you for taking the time to write a review of my album. Special thanks for being so kind and it clearly took some time. I thought it was a great piece. I appreciate the support and hope to meet properly soon.