by Ian Mann
March 30, 2011
The combination of strong melodic themes allied to an enquiring improvisational spirit should ensure that there's plenty here to enjoy for most jazz listeners.
Will Butterworth Trio
Edinburgh born, London based pianist Will Butterworth has become one of the most featured artists on these web pages, mainly due to his willingness to venture out into the sticks to appear at the Welsh border towns of Presteigne, Abergavenny and Hay-On-Wye. He’s been a known quantity in these parts for some time but now it appears that the rest of the jazz world is catching up with “Hereafter” attracting a glowing review from Selwyn Harris in the April 2011 edition of Jazzwise magazine.
Amazingly “Hereafter” is Butterworth’s first recording in the conventional piano trio format. His (very good) eponymous 2007 début was a disc of solo piano recordings and this was followed in 2010 by a bold re-imagining of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” in a duo setting with drummer Dylan Howe. However most of Butterworth’s live appearances have been in the trio format and it’s good to have this aspect of his playing documented at last.
Now aged thirty Butterworth brings the even younger members of his regular working trio to this date. Drummer Peter Ibbetson is a composer and bandleader in his own right and bassist Adam King is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best young players on the circuit having worked with such seasoned musicians as saxophonists Peter King (no relation as far as I’m aware) and Alan Barnes. The more experienced bassist Marcus Penrose, with whom Butterworth has also worked regularly, replaces King on three of the eight tracks- “he brings a different feel” explains Butterworth.
The beautifully photographed artwork (by Chris Henley) suggests that the music may be in the pastoral ECM vein but there’s a robustness about Butterworth’s playing that goes beyond that. Although steeped in the classical tradition he’s largely self taught but has nevertheless developed an astonishing technique that places an almost equal emphasis on the workings of his left hand. It’s something that proved to be particularly useful on the demanding Stravinsky Duo record but there are also plenty of challenging harmonic and rhythmic ideas on this new recording. Ibbetson, King and Penrose respond well to the pianist’s promptings and as Butterworth explains the emphasis is very much on “trying to achieve a sense of collective improvisation and to try and maximise interaction”. This they do very successfully on a programme comprised mainly of Butterworth originals but also containing one piece from the pen of Ibbetson plus a couple of jazz standards.
The album begins appropriately with Butterworth’s “Introduction”, a brief but highly melodic passage of solo piano that acts as a prelude for the delights to follow.
“All Our Thoughts” also possesses a pleasing melodic theme which provides the jumping off point for a tightly controlled trio performance that still leaves space for self expression, such as on King’s early bass solo. Ibbetson drums with great sensitivity, on one gig that I saw he was far too loud but there are no such difficulties here. Butterworth’s thoughtful playing recalls the romanticism of Bill Evans or perhaps that of classical composers such as Debussy or Chopin.
“Everything I Love” is an extended deconstruction of the Cole Porter standard, building from gentle solo piano beginnings to adventurous trio explorations of harmony and rhythm with Penrose fulfilling the bassist’s role. Butterworth’s playing is much more abandoned here, stretching out joyously in the style of Keith Jarrett, there are even some Jarrett-like vocal exhortations buried deep in the mix. Penrose and Ibbetson also enjoy features allowing them to demonstrate their considerable capabilities.
“Lie Of The Land” with King back in the fold features one of Butterworth’s most beautiful melodies and incorporates a fluent and resonant solo from the talented young bassist.
Ibbetson’s “Sketch For William S” takes the trio into the world of abstract ECM style balladry. The composer’s drums sometimes feature in the foreground deploying subtly shifting accents and an exquisite cymbal touch. Butterworth expounds fluently around him with the whole thing anchored by Penrose at the bass.
King’s bass opens Butterworth’s “The Workshop” and remains a grounding presence throughout. It’s another strong melodic statement from Butterworth but one that allows plenty of room for expansion as he gently probes the tune, faithfully shadowed by Ibbetson.
Butterworth dedicates the album to his late stepfather, the luthier Norman Reed. I suspect that the title track may also have been written for him. Like much of the album it’s a flawless blend of overt romanticism and improvisational gristle. The simple melodicism of the opening theme gives way to a vigorous,spirited improvisational tussle between Butterworth, Ibbetson and Penrose before eventually coming full circle.
To close the trio of Butterworth, Ibbetson and King offer a stately ballad reading of the standard “I’m Through With Love” with Ibbetson’s delicate brushwork and King’s deeply languid bass the perfect foil for the lush romanticism of Butterworth’s piano. This is the most straight ahead item in the repertoire and ends the album on an unashamedly romantic note.
This long awaited trio album is probably Butterworth’s best so far. It’s certainly his most accessible and the combination of strong melodic themes allied to an enquiring improvisational spirit should ensure that there’s plenty here to enjoy for most jazz listeners.
The trio (with King on bass) are touring throughout April 2011 and beyond and I’d urge everybody reading this to check them out if you can (I’ll be off to the Presteigne date as usual). Will Butterworth is steadily becoming an increasingly important presence on the UK jazz scene.
Tour dates are shown below;
April 14th Café Jazz, Cardiff
April 15th Torfaen Jazz Society
April 18th Vortex…..supporting Mark Turner and Baptiste Trotignon
April 19th Dempseys Cardiff
April 21st Teignmouth Jazz club
April 23rd Olivers Jazz club Greenwich
May 3rd The Forge Camden…The actual Album Launch!
June 11th Cloisters Café Saint Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield
July 22nd The Fleece Chelmsford.
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