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Matt Ridley Trio with Jason Yarde.

Matt Ridley Trio with Jason Yarde, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2013.


by Ian Mann

November 11, 2013


Ian Mann enjoys the music of bassist and composer Matt Ridley's Trio plus special guest saxophonist Jason Yarde. He also takes a look at the excellent new album "Thymos".

Matt Ridley Trio with Jason Yarde, The Hive Misic and Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2013.

I first heard the playing of Matt Ridley back in 2009 when the talented young bassist performed at the Assembly Rooms, Presteigne as part of a trio led by pianist Will Butterworth, a show reviewed elsewhere on this site. Ridley then moved on to work with the late, great pianist and composer Michael Garrick (1933-2011) and has a continued involvement with the Lyric Ensemble, a group fronted by singer Nette Robinson and saxophonist Tony Woods dedicated to keeping the “poetry and jazz” aspect of Garrick’s music alive. He is also part of the MJQ Celebration quartet alongside pianist Barry Green, vibraphonist Jim Hart and drummer Steve Brown, a unit that pays homage to both the music of the MJQ and Michael Garrick. Ridley has also toured internationally as part of a band led by pianist Darius Brubeck, son of the jazz immortal Dave Brubeck.

Now in 2013 Ridley has emerged as an outstanding composer and band-leader with the release of “Thymos”, his magnificent new album for fellow bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. Credited to the Matt Ridley Trio the record features a core group of Ridley, pianist John Turville and drummer George Hart. It also features memorable guest contributions from Jason Yarde on saxophones, Attab Haddad on oud and Vasilis Sirikis on percussion. The album explores Ridley’s fascination with Middle Eastern music, something that has resulted from his collaborations with Haddad and Azeri violinist Sabina Rakcheyeva. The distinctive artwork is by Azeri artist Kabira Alieva and the album is enhanced by a typically professional Whirlwind Recordings production with New York based engineer Tyler McDiarmid at the heart of the process.

The trio has undergone a few personnel changes during the course of its existence with drummer Sirikis and pianists Kit Downes and Arthur Lea passing through the ranks in earlier days. For the current tour Hart has been replaced by Nick Smalley and Yarde is guesting throughout the tour. With this in mind Ridley has written a batch of excellent new material specifically designed to feature Yarde and tonight’s show was a fascinating mix of album material and as yet unrecorded items. Ridley hopes to record a follow up album as a quartet sometime during 2014.

It was gratifying to arrive at The Hive and discover that the event was very well attended, I’d estimate somewhere between fifty and sixty, more than enough to generate a warm atmosphere in distinctly chilly venue - outside it was a particularly raw and cold November night. As ever at The Hive this was a listening crowd who were prepared to absorb themselves in Ridley’s highly personalised, often complex blend of jazz and world influences.

Yarde plays on three tracks on the new album including Ridley’s “Homage to Kenny Wheeler” which opened the show and featured a marathon soprano solo from the saxophonist above the complex rhythmic interplay of Ridley, Turville and Smalley.

Six of the album tracks were recorded with a core trio and Yarde left the stage as Ridley, Turville and Hart played two album pieces and a beautiful new ballad. “Theme And Variations” explored complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas in an accessible way and revealed the soloing talents of Ridley and Turville.  As a soloist Ridley combines a huge, supple tone with a strong melodic sensibility and his features both live and on record are consistently full of interest. Meanwhile Turville is one of the most versatile pianists around and was more than capable of making effective solo and ensemble statements on his Technics electric keyboard. Even so it was still a source of regret that the grand piano hired by Liam Noble for his gig here in October had returned whence it came.

Ridley explained that “Siamese Twins”, which opens the “Thymos” album draws on ideas first explored by the avant garde serialist movement and that the title represents a conjoining of ideas.
In reality the piece wasn’t as dry as one might suspect and was still enjoyable for all its complexities. The opening piano and drum dialogue, Turville’s subsequent solo and Smalley’s closing drum feature were all highlights of this demanding but rewarding piece.

The new ballad, as yet untitled, brought a welcome touch of lyricism with a gently flowing solo from Turville and a resonant but melodic bass feature from Ridley. Both were enhanced by the subtly detailed drumming of Smalley who deployed small percussive implements (shakers etc.), brushed cymbals and gently atmospheric hand drumming to good effect. It was the second time I’d seen Smalley perform in under a week, he’d been drumming with guitarist Ryan Williams’ Flashmob quartet at Dempsey’s in Cardiff the previous Wednesday. The Ridley trio required a different approach with Smalley using extra percussive devices including effective use of darbuka on some of the more obviously Middle Eastern numbers. 

Yarde returned for a the segue of “Siddhartha” and “The River”, pieces which appear consecutively on the album and which were inspired by the writings of Hermann Hesse. “Siddhartha” began with a passage of solo piano before erupting into a turbulent section evoking a distinct Middle Eastern influence with Ridley taking the first solo. In his introduction the bassist explained that the band try to play this section harder and faster every night and this was certainly apparent in a series of dazzling piano and soprano sax exchanges. Smalley’s drums provided the bridge as Yarde left the stage for the trio to perform the sparse but achingly beautiful ballad “The Bridge” with Ridley’s sensitive, melodic and highly lyrical bass solo the highlight. Taken together the two pieces represent Siddhartha’s struggle and subsequent resolution and they brought the metaphorical curtain down on an excellent first half full of good music and good ideas.

The second set featured Yarde more extensively as the group played the other two album tracks on which the saxophonist appears plus a selection of the new material specifically written for the quartet. The opening “Sari Gelin” was a Ridley arrangement of a traditional tune from Azerbaijan which translates as “Bride In A Yellow Dress”. Here the Middle Eastern influence was at its strongest yet with Yarde adopting a particularly distinctive sound on soprano saxophone. He began by gently meditating and probing above the patter of Smalley’s hand drums before erupting into a stunning solo deploying multiphonics and circular breathing techniques. The recorded version also features a striking contribution from Attab Haddad on oud.

The title of “Mental Cases” was inspired by a poem by Wilfred Owen, an appropriate choice for a performance on the evening preceding Remembrance Day. Here Yarde soloed effectively on soprano above the insistent grooves laid down by Ridley, Smalley and Turville with the pianist also taking the opportunity to impress with a sparkling solo. This was a piece that seemed to owe less to the Middle East and more to the Downtown Scene in New York. 

Ridley took the title “Lachrymose” from a line in the Sebastian Faulks novel “On Green Dolphin Street”. “I like to collect words” the composer explained, “this one means on the edge of tears”.
The tune itself was less doleful than the title might suggest with Yarde elegantly stating the theme on soprano and with Turville and Ridley contributing typically melodic and lyrical solos. 

Next came another new piece, as yet untitled. Ridley explained that he and Turville sometimes play it as a duet if the venue has a grand piano, indeed they performed it in that format the previous evening at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool. Tonight we had the full band version with the bass and piano duo introduction giving something of the flavour of the alternative treatment. The tune was an atmospheric ballad with a song like construction and some sections featured a charming blend of delicately brooding soprano teamed with Ridley’s bowed bass.

The evening concluded with “Hijaz”, a piece written by Sabina Rakcheyeva and arranged by Ridley. Here arco bass blended with Yarde’s alto on the intro (the recorded version features Haddad’s solo oud) before the full band kicked in with hard driving, rhythms providing the springboard for solos from Ridley, Turville and Yarde, the later emoting powerfully above the hypnotic, mantra like grooves of his colleagues. The album version includes a percussive stand off between Sirikis and Hart.

There was to be no topping this and although the hoped for encore never materialised the quartet earned a generous reception from the attentive Shrewsbury crowd. The numbers were well up on some of the other dates on the tour and Ridley and his colleagues professed themselves well pleased with the evening’s proceedings.

Meanwhile the album itself is highly recommended. It’s perhaps ironic that the title track, “Thymos”, an attractive, highly rhythmic piano trio piece was one of only two album cuts not heard this evening. The other is the concluding “Outro”, an item that is essentially a feature for Ridley on solo bass.

“Thymos” is an impressive début and represents a substantial artistic statement from the talented Mr. Ridley. Readers are directed both to the album and to the remaining tour dates listed below;


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