Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

June 11, 2024


Ian Mann enjoys the new album from pianist and composer Richard Fairhurst's trio plus their recent live performance at Clun Valley Jazz in Bishop's Castle, Shropshire.

Richard Fairhurst Trio

“Inside Out”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0161)

Richard Fairhurst – piano, Dave Whitford – double bass, Tim Giles – drums

A new album release from the British pianist and composer Richard Fairhurst always represents an exciting and significant event. “Inside Out”, which is due for release on Friday 14th June 2024 features his long running trio with bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Tim Giles and the group are currently on the road, touring in support of the new recording which is available on LP, CD and digitally.

Last Saturday, 08/06/2024, I enjoyed an excellent live performance by the Fairhurst Trio at Clun Valley Jazz at the Sparc Theatre in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire. The set included material from the forthcoming album plus some of the trio’s favourite tunes by composers such as Bill Stewart, John Taylor, Horace Silver and Paul Bley. But more on that later. The quality of that gig, plus the fact that the trio are currently on the road has prompted this slightly early review.

Fairhurst (born 1975) is a musician who has been on my radar for a long time. He made his recording début for Babel Records in 1995 when he was barely out of his teens heading a group he called The Hungry Ants. That first Hungry Ants album featured a guest appearance by saxophonist Iain Ballamy, one of Fairhurst’s early champions.

Impressive as the first album was the next two Ants albums “Formic” (1998) and “Myrmidons” (2001) were even better as Fairhurst continued to develop as both writer and player. Inspired by another early influence, Django Bates, he developed a distinctive touch on both Rhodes and synthesiser to complement the piano skills that had brought him the Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Pianist of the Year Award in 1994.

I saw Hungry Ants play a hugely enjoyable afternoon set at the 1999 Cheltenham Jazz Festival in the cellar of the town’s Subtone venue. It’s frightening to think that that show took place a quarter of a century ago!

Fairhurst was back at Cheltenham in 2003 with an expanded sextet line up (he’d dropped the Hungry Ants band name by then) to perform music commissioned for the Jerwood Rising Stars programme. Another excellent performance was enjoyed not only by myself but also by a Mr. Django Bates who was attending the festival with his family even though he wasn’t actually playing that year. The music eventually found it’s way on to record in the form of the album “Standing Tall”, another worthy addition to Fairhurst’s impressive catalogue of recordings for Babel.

Fairhurst recorded two albums in a duo format with Tom Arthurs (trumpet, flugelhorn). Both “Mesmer” (2007) and “Postcards From Pushkin” were beautiful recordings and both appeared on the Babel imprint. “Postcards From Pushkin” is reviewed here;

Fairhurst was also involved in another duo collaboration, this time in conjunction with his fellow pianist, the late great John Taylor (1942 – 2015). The partnership between Fairhurst and Taylor began in 2010 and the music on the album “Duets” (Basho Records) was recorded in 2013. It was particularly poignant that the recording was officially released  on August 7th 2015, just three weeks after the sudden, tragic and totally unexpected death of John Taylor by heart attack when performing at the Saveurs Jazz Festival in Segres, France.

Fairhurst and Taylor were due to launch “Duets” at the Jazz Piano Summit at the Purcell Room in London on September 9th 2015. The event effectively became a tribute to Taylor with a congregation of superb pianists, many of them former students of Taylor, gathering to pay homage. The line up included Fairhurst, Gwilym Simcock, Michael Wollny, Liam Noble, Tom Cawley, Kit Downes, John Turville and Tom Hewson plus guest saxophonist Trish Clowes.

My review of the “Duets” album can be found here;

Unusually for a jazz pianist it took a considerable time for Fairhurst to record in the conventional ‘piano trio’ format. The band Triptych featured the Danish born bassist Jasper Hoiby and the American drummer Chris Vatalaro, both of whom were based in London at that time. The album “Amusia” (Babel, 2010) represented an impressive debut but the expected follow up never actually materialised, due in part to the phenomenal success of Hoiby’s own trio Phronesis. My review of “Amusia” can be found here;

Fairhurst was sidelined by illness in 2016 but following his recovery was more focussed on playing than ever. In 2018 he formed his current trio with bassist Dave Whitford and his old friend and musical associate Tim Giles, once the drummer with Hungry Ants.

The new trio quickly developed an instinctive and impressive rapport and began to gig on a regular basis. The pandemic impaired the group’s progress in terms of live performance but it did allow Fairhurst more time in which to compose original music for the group.

The trio eventually went into Livingston Studios in 2022 to record “Inside Out” with the assistance of engineers Marcus Locock, Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann. The material includes nine of Fairhurst’s original compositions plus two pieces by the late, great Carla Bley, “Vashkar” and “King Korn”.

Fairhurst says of the new recording;
 “The album is the culmination of how the music and the trio have evolved together. I’ve always been drawn to the sonic blend and warmth of the acoustic piano trio and the many possibilities for exploration it creates. The concept behind this record was to bring together my own compositional style and explore the world of free improvisation that I have become increasingly drawn to. There are structured composed pieces with intricate harmonies, melodies and rhythmic complexities, with each track reflecting unique facets of my musical journey. Inside Out represents where I stand creatively as a pianist and composer to date. When we play as a trio there is always a sense of exploration and freedom within the music and this feeling is what makes this band, and this record, a special one for me.”

The album commences with “Ash Catcher”, which combines Fairhurst’s gift for melody with complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas. A Steinway International Artist since 1998 Fairhurst is a superb technician and in Whitford and Giles he has empathic musical companions who are more than capable of responding to his sophisticated musical ideas. Fairhurst’s compositions rarely deploy straight 4 / 4 swing but this is a highly interactive rhythm team adept at responding to the rhythmic and metric challenges.

The brief “Eclipse” features gently rippling piano arpeggios with the crystalline sounds of the piano complemented by Giles’ exquisite touch on drums and cymbals. Set up facing each other on the stage at Bishop’s Castle the ongoing dialogue between Fairhurst and Giles was crucial to the success of the trio’s music, with Whitford frequently playing the role of anchor or mediator.

“Uplift” develops more gradually, but with the dialogue between piano and drums again crucial as Giles’ delivers another finely nuanced performance behind the kit. Fairhurst’s lightness of touch at the keyboard is reminiscent of both John Taylor, still a huge source of inspiration for him, and Bill Evans. Gradually the momentum of the piece begins to build with Fairhurst soloing more expansively as Whitford and Giles combine to supply the necessary propulsion.

“Figments” was first recorded by the Tryptych group on the “Amusia” album. Once again it’s one of the album’s more forceful items here played in an arrangement that incorporates rapidly accelerating / decelerating phrases before settling on a more groove based approach as Fairhurst solos at length above a complex rhythmic backdrop, with Giles drums ticking like the mechanism of a Swiss watch. Then it’s back to the darting stop-start phrases, now delivered with an even greater urgency. It’s thrilling and invigorating stuff and owes something to the style of Phronesis.

The brief title track is both atmospheric and loosely structured, perhaps reflecting Fairhurst’s growing interest in free improvisation. There are elements of extended technique from both piano and bass, while Giles’ ongoing drum commentary with its cymbal chimes and shimmers is also an integral musical component.

Introduced by Giles at the drums “Vashkar” is the first of the Carla Bley pieces. Written in the early 1960s for her then husband, the pianist Paul Bley, Carla’s piece is based around a simple melody, but one that offers a myriad of possibilities for improvisers. Here Fairhurst probes deeply and thoughtfully, shadowed by Whitford’s grounding bass and Giles’ ongoing drum commentary, delivered via a combination of sticks, mallets and bare hands. It’s also the first piece to feature a bass solo from the excellent Whitford.

Fairhurst’s writing has often incorporated a very English whimsicality rooted in the post Loose Tubes style of British jazz as pioneered by his former mentors Ballamy and Bates. There’s something of that in evidence in the pastoral lyricism of the gently quirky “Farms” as Giles’ brushes delicately shadow Fairhurst’s luminous piano melodies.

Unaccompanied piano introduces “Flyby”, with Fairhurst’s darting phrases providing the cue for Whitford’s rapid bass figures and Giles’ busy, relentlessly bustling drums and percussion.

“King Korn”, the album’s second Carla Bley composition, also dates back to the 1960s and was originally written for Paul. Fairhurst and his colleagues approach it from a different direction, but the results are no less successful. It’s a more energetic piece than its companion but is still an excellent vehicle for improvisers as Fairhurst stretches out at length, soloing feverishly above a busy backdrop of bass and drums. Once again Carla’s piece provides a soloing opportunity for Whitford, who seizes the chance with relish. This is one of the most energetic performances on the album, with the trio really building up a head of steam.

The eerie shimmer of Giles’ percussion introduces “Sunset”, another piece that sounds largely improvised and which includes the sound of bowed bass and dampened piano strings. This is an atmospheric, loosely structured piece that sees the trio making effective use of space and pure sonics.

The album concludes with “Open Book”, a more formal composition that commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano and which progresses gradually following the addition of double bass and brushed drums. That spirit of pastoral English lyricism is there once more on a piece that places the focus on atmosphere and beauty rather than complexity.

As an album “Inside Out” does indeed fulfil Fairhurst’s ‘mission statement’ for the record as those “intricate harmonies and melodies and rhythmic complexities” combine with moments of pure beauty and with atmospheric improvised moments that suggest potential areas for further musical exploration.

When I realised that I would be seeing a live show by the Fairhurst Trio around the time of the album release I toyed with the idea of reviewing the gig and alluding to the album. As it turns out I’ve ended up doing things the other way round, largely because the live performance didn’t place the sole focus on promoting the album. Yes, several of the pieces were played, but so was a whole lot of other stuff. It was all highly enjoyable and featured some terrific playing with Fairhurst enjoying performing on the Sparc Theatre’s acoustic upright piano. Seeing it performed live made one appreciate the sheer complexity of some of the material, although it never sounded ‘difficult’, largely thanks to Fairhurst’s ongoing gift for a strong melody.

The programme was comprised of;

Think Before You Think (Bill Stewart)
Vashkar (Carla Bley)
Weimar (John Taylor)

Ash Catcher
King Korn (Carla Bley)
Fish Magic (Richard Fairhurst, from “Amusia”)
Peace (Horace Silver)
Figments – incorporating Eclipse

When Will The Blues Leave (Ornette Coleman, inspired by the Paul Bley version)

My thanks to Richard, Dave and Tim for inviting me into the Green Room for a chat at the interval and again after the show. A real privilege. Thanks, guys.

The Richard Fairhurst Trio are still on tour with dates as follows;


11 June - The Vortex, Dalston, London (album launch)

13 June - Corn Exchange Jazz Club, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

28 June - 1000 Trades, Birmingham

More information at;






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