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Kevin Lawlor Trio

Kevin Lawlor Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/02/2020.

by Ian Mann

February 12, 2020


An excellent show that featured some fine playing from all three participants and which served notice of Lawlor’s abilities as both drummer and composer.

Kevin Lawlor Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/02/2020.

Kevin Lawlor – drums, Dave Jones – piano, Ashley John Long – double bass

Tonight represented my first visit to Brecon Jazz Club for some time, having missed the November club night as I was at London Jazz festival and the December and January events due to adverse weather conditions, specifically localised flooding.

On a dry but distinctly chilly February evening it was good to be back, but this time the logistical concerns were related to the band. The Irish drummer, composer and bandleader Kevin Lawlor had been obliged to wait for Storm Ciara to subside before taking the ferry across the Irish Sea to join South Wales based musicians Dave Jones (piano) and Ashley John Long (double bass) for a short tour of Welsh jazz venues.

It had been touch and go as to whether he would make it. In the event the ferries had started running again on the morning of today’s gig and Kevin was on the early morning boat, travelling with a large contingent of Welsh rugby fans who had been stranded in Ireland following Saturday’s international, which had resulted in a comfortable victory for the Irish. It all made for an interesting journey.

Born and based in the town of Wexford Lawlor studied jazz in Dublin, Salzburg and New York before returning home to take up the post of Director of Jazz at County Wexford School of Music where he is also the resident drum tutor. He also helps to curate the jazz programme at Wexford Arts Centre.

In addition to his role as an educator Lawlor is also a busy performer who leads his own groups as well as collaborating with visiting international jazz musicians. One of his most fruitful alliances has been his decade long association with Dave Jones and it was Lawlor’s appearance on Jones’ excellent 2012 album “Resonance” that first brought his drumming to my attention. Jones subsequently returned the compliment by guesting on Lawlor’s impressive leadership début “Exodus” (2013). The pair continue to perform together and Lawlor’s drumming can also be heard on Jones’ quartet recording “Live At AMG”, released in 2014.

Jones also appeared on Lawlor’s second album recording, 2015’s “Eight”, simply named for the fact that the recording has eight tracks, mainly Lawlor originals. The album also included guest contributions from Scottish tenor saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski.

Lawlor’s latest release is 2019’s “Last Of Days Of Summer”, which features him in the company of a young all Irish quintet featuring Adam Nolan (tenor sax), Pat Molitor (keyboards), Colm Lindsay (guitar) and Jack Rufus-Kelly (bass).

All three of Lawlor’s current album releases are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Lawlor has played with many of Ireland’s leading jazz performers as well as musicians from Canada and Finland. He has also worked with other musicians from the UK and in February 2019 undertook a short tour of Ireland as part of a trio led by British guitarist Chris Montague.

Tonight’s performance comprised of a mixture of Lawlor originals and jazz standards, the latter focussing on the compositions of well known jazz pianists, among them Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea and Bill Evans. Lawlor recently organised and played a series of three themed concerts at Wexford Arts Centre under the generic name “Raising Standards”, one of which explored the “Art of the Piano Trio” and included some of tonight’s arrangements. Other themes included “Saxophone Greats” and “modern popular music with a jazz sensibility”, the latter played by the modishly named APK Trio (Lawlor, Molitor and guitarist Alex O’Keeffe).

Long has worked regularly with Jones and appears alongside Lawlor on the pianist’s “Live At AMG” release. The easy and already well established rapport between the members of the trio was apparent from the outset as they eased themselves in gently with “Talk To Me”, Lawlor’s first ever composition, a tune dating back to 2006 that subsequently appeared on the “Exodus” album. With the leader deploying brushes the first solo of the evening came from Long on melodic double bass, followed by Jones, displaying an admirable lyricism at his electric keyboard. Lawlor eventually moved to sticks as the momentum of the piece began to build as Jones soloing became more expansive. This represented an excellent start and served notice of Lawlor’s abilities as both drummer and composer.

Next up was a lively reading of the Keith Jarrett composition “Bop-Be”, the pianist’s updating of the bebop tradition and the title track of a 1977 album that proved to be his last for Impulse! Records and his last with his ‘American Quartet’ featuring saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. Tonight’s performance featured the inventive piano soloing of the ever resourceful Jones, a truly virtuoso double bass solo from Long and a sparky series of drum breaks from Lawlor.

Also from the ‘piano trio’ repertoire came Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana”, which saw Lawlor draping a cloth over his snare drum to muffle its sound. A distinctive drum pattern is at the hear of the piece, a quality that first attracted Lawlor to it, and which saw him comparing it with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”. Following the leader’s unaccompanied drum intro we enjoyed an introductory piano solo from Jones before Long took over the melody at the bass, subsequently extemporising around it as he delivered another stunning solo. Finally Lawlor enjoyed a series of drum breaks, with that cloth still remaining in place on the snare.

Lawlor and Jones are due to record a new album in March at Hellfire Studios in Dublin, in the company of two other Irish musicians on guitar and bass. A piece scheduled to appear on that recording is “Little Ones”, a new Lawlor composition written for his two year old son and for a new addition to the family who is currently ‘on the way’. This paean to fatherhood possessed a relaxed groove but was not devoid of rigour, with gently lyrical passages punctuated by more animated episodes as as the piece progressed through typically fluent and imaginative solos from Jones and Long to a powerful closing drum feature.

The first set concluded with the trio romping through Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing”, introduced by Lawlor’s military style drumming and featuring the ongoing dialogue between the leader’s drums and Jones’ piano. Like all the best trios this group is a superbly integrated unit and the interplay between the three instrumentalists was inventive and highly interactive throughout.

Set two commenced with an arrangement of the Chick Corea composition “Windows” with Lawlor’s crisp, hard driving drumming fuelling virtuoso solos from Jones and Long. As I’ve written many times before bass solos are never boring when Long is around and much of his soloing tonight featured dazzling playing up around the bridge of his instrument.

Lawlor revealed a gentler side of his playing with his deft and colourful brush work on the Bill Evans composition “Peri’s Scope”, another piece that had featured as part of the “Raising Standards” piano trio repertoire. Solos from Jones and Long were followed by a series of brushed drum breaks. Lawlor is a skilled colourist who rarely resorts to the obvious rhythms and his alert responses to the playing of his bandmates was impressive throughout.

Introduced by Jones at the piano the familiar standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” was treated to a highly imaginative Latin-esque arrangement whose odd-meter grooves provided an excellent illustration of Lawlor’s rhythmic inventiveness. Typically adventurous excursions from Jones and Long were followed by a full on drum solo from Lawlor that combined rhythmic dexterity with considerable power.

A shorter second yet concluded with the riff based quirkiness of Lawlor’s original composition “Red Sail”, another tune scheduled for the forthcoming album. Jones took the first solo, stretching out in expansive fashion before handing over to the impressive Long. Lawlor enjoyed a final series of drum breaks in a series of exchanges with Jones that saw the pianist cheekily sliding in some Thelonious Monk quotes.

Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club encouraged the trio back for a deserved encore which proved to be a version of the much visited standard “Autumn Leaves”, here providing final final soloing opportunities for all three musicians.

I’ve always been a fan of Lawlor’s playing and writing and although I’d previously seen him performing with Jones’ quartet at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in 2014 this was the first time that I’d seen him leading his own band. He and the trio certainly didn’t disappoint, although personally I’d have preferred it if there had been a slightly greater emphasis on original material.

Considering that Lawlor had been up since the early hours of the morning this had been an excellent show that featured some fine playing from all three participants and which was warmly and affably presented by the leader.

The trio will play again tonight (12/02/2020) at the Queen’s Head in Monmouth and tomorrow at Café Jazz in Cardiff.

The new album featuring Lawlor and Jones will be keenly anticipated but in the meantime Lawlor’s Facebook page suggests that a new album called “Stramash”, featuring his young Irish quintet, will be available as from March 2020. After giving “Last Days Of Summer” a spin while writing this article I’ll be looking forward to that one too.

Finally good luck to Dave Jones for the London launch of his new quartet EP “Is That The Time?”, which will take place at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho, London on the lunchtime of Saturday February 22nd 2020. Ticket link here;

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