by Ian Mann
August 25, 2021
Starritt is a considerable pianistic talent who seems set for a successful parallel career in both the jazz and classical spheres.
Rachel Starritt Trio, Livestream for Brecon Jazz Festival 2021.
Rachel Starritt – piano, Clem Saynor – double bass, Alex Goodyear – drums
This performance was recorded at The Muse Arts Centre in Brecon during the summer of 2021 and was screened at the same venue on August 1st as the opening event of the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival.
Unsighted since her birth in 1994 Rachel Starritt is a young pianist from Bridgend who has studied both jazz and classical music at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, where she is still a post-graduate student. She has also studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and at the Conservatori Liciu in Barcelona. Her jazz tutors have included such jazz piano greats as Nikki Iles and Huw Warren.
Starritt pursues parallel careers in the classical and jazz worlds and is a member of the British Paraorchestra. As a classical musician she has performed internationally but her love of improvisation has drawn her increasingly towards jazz and she currently leads a jazz trio featuring the talents of RWCMD graduate Alex Goodyear (drums) and current RWCMD jazz degree student Clem Saynor (double bass).
The trio performed a set for the 2020 Brecon Jazz Festival, recorded remotely at the homes of the three participants. A review of this performance can be found as part of my 2020 Festival coverage here;
The success of the trio’s remote performance led to my suggestion that they might be invited to Brecon to perform at a regular Brecon Jazz Club night at some point in the future. I guess that this 2021 performance, recorded in person at The Muse, was essentially the equivalent of this in these Covid times.
Since 2020 Starritt has become a great friend of Brecon Jazz Club. In addition to her musical abilities she is also an accomplished linguist who is fluent in several languages, among them Welsh, Spanish, French and Italian. At the 2021 Festival she has frequently appeared as an announcer, introducing acts in both Welsh and English, sharing these duties with violinist Heulwen Thomas.
On 8th August 2021 Starritt performed a short solo piano interlude between two lengthier sets from the trio of trumpeter Gethin Liddington, tenor saxophonist Dan Newberry and her former piano tutor Huw Warren. Full coverage of this day’s events can be found here;
Starritt possesses an impressively wide knowledge of jazz standards and today’s set from The Muse featured an entirely different tune selection to the 2020 ‘Virtual’ performance. All of the chosen pieces were arranged by Starritt specifically for this trio and for this Festival. The leader was featured playing an upright acoustic piano and the event was filmed and recorded by Festival partners Ratio Studios from Merthyr Tydfil. The quality of the audio and video was excellent throughout with two different camera angles, allowing one to fully appreciate the details of the playing, and particularly Starritt’s work at the keyboard.
The trio commenced with a distinctive Starritt arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird”, introduced by Saynor at the bass and featuring Starritt’s unusual staccato piano phrasing. The hugely talented Saynor then performed an extended unaccompanied bass solo before Goodyear’s drums entered the equation and the trio began to swing in a more orthodox fashion. Starritt demonstrated her impressive jazz piano technique with a sparkling solo, supported by Saynor’s propulsive bass lines and Goodyear’s crisp drumming.
At the conclusion of the piece Starritt made a point of thanking Saynor for his “driving swing” and “rhythmic drive”, and rightly so. Saynor has studied under such bass virtuosos as Yuri Goloubev and Dudley Phillips and is clearly an enormous talent, a fluent and dexterous bassist with a large and luminous tone. His rapport with Starritt was consistently impressive. Although Saynor is yet to graduate his is a name that I expect to hear a lot more of in the future.
Saynor was also prominent on the next item, Starritt’s arrangement of Miles Davis’ “So What”, sourced from the classic 1959 album “Kind Of Blue”. The classic introductory bass motif was played at a faster tempo than usual and formed the basis for the opening dialogue between Saynor and Starritt. With the addition of Goodyear’s drums the piece again acquired a more conventional groove with Starritt’s fluent piano solo followed by a further feature for Saynor’s bass, culminating with that familiar bass hook once more.
Next came fellow pianist Horace Silver’s composition “Strollin’”, with Starritt’s arrangement taking its inspiration from a version recorded by saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Counted in by Goodyear at the drums the trio invested this blues steeped tune with an admirable energy, with Saynor taking the first feature before handing over to Starritt for a particularly dazzling solo piano solo as the intensity levels continued to rise.
With the trio in need of a comparative breather in the wake of their exertions Starritt now called a ballad, an arrangement of the song “Cry Me A River” with the pianist taking inspiration from vocal versions recorded by Julie London and Ella Fitzgerald. Starritt’s unaccompanied piano introduction was appropriately lyrical and the piece featured Goodyear deploying brushes for the first time. Even so the trio couldn’t resist subtly raising the energy levels as Starritt’s piano playing became more impassioned and Goodyear’s brush work correspondingly brisk. The earlier sense of lyricism was eventually restored with Saynor’s melodic double bass solo.
The trio rounded things off by raising the tempo and the temperature once more with a playful, Latin style arrangement of the George Gershwin song “Who Cares, As Long As You Care For Me”, introduced by Goodyear at the drums and with Starritt delivering some of her most joyous playing of the set.
It may well still be that this trio will return to The Muse to play in front of a real live audience, but until then we still had this excellent livestream performance to enjoy. Starritt is a considerable pianistic talent, whose star will surely continue to rise in the jazz firmament.
Meanwhile Goodyear and Saynor work together regularly as a rhythm section and proved to be highly responsive partners. I recently caught up with them at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival at a themed concert charting “The Journey of Trad” from “civil war songs to post depression laments”, an event held under Goodyear’s leadership. Review here;
I have also enjoyed Starritt’s playing in the real live environment recently. This was at an event called “The Vibration Continues”, held in the South Transept of Hereford Cathedral and performed by a piano duo featuring Starritt and Cara Tivey, the latter a composer and session musician who worked with Blur around the time of the celebrated “Parklife” album.
Taking its title from a Rahsaan Roland Kirk album “The Vibration Continues” featured Starritt on the Cathedral’s magnificent Bluthner grand piano with Tivey on a Nord electric keyboard. It was a combination that worked surprisingly well as the duo performed a series of compositions and improvisation inspired by the spaces and artefacts within Hereford Cathedral. Starritt has attended the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford and thus has an affinity for the city and the Cathedral. Following the concert a retiring collection was held in aid of the RNCB.
The performance consisted of eleven separate pieces, or movements if you will, that straddled the boundaries between jazz and classical music and between composition and improvisation. The programme included an arrangement of the Kirk song “Volunteered Slavery” but the audience treated this as a classical performance, remaining silent between ‘movements’ and only applauding at the end of the ‘suite’.
The music was perfectly suited to the space which had inspired it and I was particularly impressed with Starritt’s mastery of the acoustic possibilities of the grand piano, her approach being almost orchestral in conception. I attended as a ‘punter’ but this was a performance that exceeded my expectations and I would love to hear her playing grand piano again, whether in a jazz or classical context.
Perhaps even more than her jazz performances at Brecon this outing on a ‘proper’ grand piano marked Rachel Starritt out as a substantial musical talent who seems set for a successful parallel career in both the jazz and classical spheres.
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