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John Crawford

Room for Dancing

by Ian Mann

May 02, 2024


Intelligent original compositions in a predominately Latin style combine with well chosen covers, with the pop and rock material often given a distinctive Latin twist.

John Crawford

“Room for Dancing”

(Elsden Music)

John Crawford – piano, backing vocals, Shirley Smart – cello, Guillermo Hill – guitar, Alec Dankworth – double bass, Simon Pearson – drums, Andres Ticino – percussion

Eleonora Claps – vocals, Linley Weir – vocals, Andy Hamill – double bass, Jansen Santana – percussion

Born in London of English/Spanish parentage pianist and composer John Crawford has grown up with a love of Latin and South American music.  He has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on a regular basis and his two previous solo albums “Ulia River of Time” (2013) and “Times and Tides” (2016) are both favourably reviewed elsewhere on this site.

He has also been featured as a member of the group -isq, led by vocalist and songwriter Irene Serra and also featuring bassist Richard Sadler and drummer Chris Nickolls. Live performances and recordings by this quartet are also reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Crawford’s skill and versatility as a pianist has resulted in him becoming a regular member of groups led by the cellist and composer Shirley Smart. Again numerous recordings and live performances featuring Smart’s groups appear on these pages. Smart returns the favour by being part of the core group on Crawford’s new album.

The pianist has also featured on these pages as a member of groups variously led by vocalists Katriona Taylor and Clare Foster, saxophonist Hannah Horton and drummer Tristan Banks.

But all this is merely scratching the surface. Crawford has appeared on over thirty albums across a variety of music genres and in 2013 was nominated for an Independent Music Award. His knowledge of Latin piano styles has led to him co-authoring the book “Exploring Latin Piano” with fellow pianist Tim Richards. Further music books have followed, including “Brazilian Piano Collection”  and “Piano Globetrotters”.

He has worked with a whole host of leading names in the field of Latin music and was a founding member of the popular band Grupo X.

Others with whom he has worked include vocalist Ola Onabule, trumpeter Shanti Paul Jayasinha, guitarist Jorge Brava and Portuguese singer-songwriter Rui Veloso. He has also recorded with the bands Us3, Vida Nova and Club Brasil.

Crawford has also performed with a veritable ‘who’s who’ of British jazz musicians and has also played on a broad variety of pop and rock sessions. The full list of musicians with whom he has worked is too extensive to reproduce in full here but can be found on the bio page at his website

“Room for Dancing” places a greater emphasis on vocals than Crawford’s previous solo recordings, although both of the earlier albums also featured singing. The new album is dedicated to the memory of drummer Simon Pearson who sadly passed away prior to its release.

In the main the personnel are musicians with whom Crawford has had long and productive associations. Hill and Ticino performed on both of Crawford’s earlier albums while Pearson, Claps and Weir all featured on “Times and Tides”.

The programme features a mix of Crawford originals and a carefully chosen selection of covers, drawn from a broad musical spectrum.  The album artwork features paintings by Crawford’s two young daughters, more about them later.

A number of the pieces are performed in unusual time signatures, including the opening track “Maite’s Dance”, a dedication to one of those daughters. The piece is played in 11/8, causing guitarist Hill to remark that Crawford’s album is the most technically demanding recording that he has yet played on. This piece features the core group (minus Smart) and displays Crawford’s mastery of Latin piano styles as Pearson, Ticino and Dankworth tackle the rhythmic complexities with apparent ease. There’s a more introspective passage of unaccompanied piano mid-way through the tune, this followed by a lively closing section distinguished by the fluent soloing of Crawford and Uruguayan born guitarist Hill plus an exuberant percussion feature from Ticino.

This is followed by “Elena’s Dance”, Crawford’s dedication to his other daughter. Again performed by members the core group Latin rhythms and timbres predominate once more in another piece that combines rhythmic complexity with an element of playfulness. The distinctive sound of Smart’s cello, both bowed and plucked, is added to the equation and the whole tune is underpinned by Crawford’s recurring eight note piano motif. It’s a fascinating and absorbing amalgam of chamber music and Latin elements.

Crawford’s composition “Club del Campesino” was originally written for two piano players (four hands) and published in “Grooves for Two”, a compilation of similar pieces edited by fellow pianist Nikki Iles. This arrangement represents something of a showcase for the brilliant Shirley Smart, whose melodic, passionate bowing is accompanied by the Latin rhythms of the leader’s piano and Ticino’s percussion. The latter is also featured as a soloist before handing over to Crawford, with Smart returning towards the close. Crawford has explained that he has always seen this as an ensemble piece.

There’s a change of direction as the voice of Eleonora Claps (Crawford’s wife) is added on a Latin style arrangement of the song “Things”, written by the American multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Lewis Cole. Claps is a bandleader herself with two full length albums to her credit, “Stars” (2015) and the recently released “10PM” (2024). I intend to take a look at the latter in the near future. In the meantime Claps’ sweet and confident singing of Cole’s song is complemented by a fluent double bass solo from the excellent Alec Dankworth, another musician with a thorough knowledge of Latin music styles and once the leader of his own ‘Spanish Accents’ group.

The song “Blossom” was written by the singer, pianist and composer Adriana Vasques, a musician with whom Crawford has previously worked. It appeared on Vasques’ 2020 album “Tactus” and is re-worked here in instrumental form in a 5/4 arrangement, with Smart’s cello leading the way. Smart’s melodic playing is complemented by an elegant electric guitar solo from Hill and by the vibrant rhythmic accompaniment provided by piano, bass, drums and percussion.

The Billy Joel song “And So It Goes” features the second vocal contribution from Claps in an assured interpretation that is performed as an intimate duet with Crawford. The pianist plays it straight ahead, eschewing the Latin flourishes for something more straightforward and lyrical. Between them the pair deliver a hauntingly beautiful performance that works superbly in this pared down format.

The 11/8 time signature returns in an arrangement of “Polegnala e Todora”, written by the Bulgarian composer Philip Koutev (1903-82) and originally a choral work based upon a traditional Bulgarian folk melody. Introduced by Hill on guitar it combines tricky time signatures with memorable melodies and sees Dankworth’s bass taking the melodic lead during the course of a vigorously plucked solo. Pearson’s drums are also featured as the other instruments drop away, his neatly constructed solo episode leading into a rousing ensemble section, this followed by a gentler finale featuring the sounds of piano, bass and drums.

The song “Track”, written by Lewis Taylor and Sabina Smyth, was originally recorded in 2017 by vocalist Linley Weir. When it was decided that the song was not suitable for Weir’s own album, Crawford, who together with Pearson, had, played on the session asked if it could be included on his recording. Also featuring bassist Andy Hamill and percussionist Jansen Santana the song fits in well with the rest of the “Room for Dancing” material.
The piece features Weir’s soulful contralto vocals, firstly with piano accompaniment only and subsequently with the backing of the full band. There’s more of a pop / soul sheen about the overall production, but room is still found for a slyly probing piano solo from Crawford.

“Elena’s Dance” re-emerges in a very different guise in the form of a remix by the London based producer and musician Andrea Tripodi.  It’s a skilful and sensitive re-working and although the piece sounds very different to the earlier version it is still extremely effective. The album as a whole is produced by Greg Dowling.

The album concludes with “Bow and Codeine”, Crawford’s dedication to his musical colleague Shirley Smart. “When I hear Shirley play I feel that her music can wash away any pain” he explains. Naturally the piece features Smart’s cello prominently, alongside piano, bass, drums and percussion. It also sees the return of Latin-esque rhythms as Crawford and Smart share the solos, in addition to combining effectively during the ensemble passages. Smart also combines effectively with Dankworth in a series of short bowed cello / pizzicato bass episodes, one of which actually concludes the album.

“Room for Dancing” fits well into the lineage of Crawford’s two previous albums and, with the exception of a rather lukewarm review from Peter Vacher in Jazzwise magazine, it generally seems to have been well received. There’s a lot of music here embracing a variety of musical styles, but with Crawford’s love of Latin music always a major factor. As ever with Crawford there is much to enjoy as intelligent original compositions in a predominately Latin style combine with well chosen covers, with the pop and rock material often given a distinctive Latin twist. Tripodi’s remix brings yet another flavour to an already eclectic mix.

The standard of the playing is excellent throughout and the album represents a fitting memoriam to the late Simon Pearson, who makes a significant contribution to the success of the album.

John Crawford is a highly talented pianist and composer who has developed a style that is very much his own. I’ve been lucky enough to meet up with him at numerous gigs and he’s a genuinely nice person in addition to being an excellent musician. In jazz terms he’s difficult to categorise and almost too versatile for his own good, but nevertheless I hope that this album does very well for him.



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