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Will Butterworth Trio

Live: Assembly Rooms, Presteigne, Powys 04/04/2009


by Ian Mann

April 07, 2009


Superb young piano trio explore a well chosen programme of standards and originals

Following his acclaimed appearance at the Assembly Rooms in November 2008 the return visit of pianist Will Butterworth to the Presteigne venue was an eagerly awaited event. Once again the performance was arranged and hosted by Tony Walton of Tigerfish Promotions and another reassuringly large audience was in attendance to witness another excellent evening’s music making.

Butterworth’s previous Presteigne show featured something of an all star line up with the pianist joined by saxophonist Jake McMurchie (of BBC Jazz Award winners Get The Blessing) and drummer Dylan Howe. This time he chose to play with a more orthodox piano trio in the form of bassist Matt Ridley and drummer Jon Scott. These young musicians are still relatively unknown but both are supremely talented and should become increasingly prominent figures on the UK jazz scene. In fact this was my second sighting of Scott in a little over a fortnight. He had also occupied the drum chair with the Ivo Neame Quartet at Much Wenlock, a show also reviewed on this site.

Butterworth is a rarity among the younger breed of British jazz musicians in being largely self taught, most of the others have trodden the music college route with London’s Guildhall particularly prominent. As a result he has developed a distinctive style albeit one heavily influenced by his favourite pianists Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. With Ridley and Scott citing Mehldau Trio members Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy as favourites on their respective instruments it was no surprise that the music on offer tonight owed much to the methodology of Mehldau and his groups.

There was the same questing, probing spirit as Butterworth and his colleagues leisurely explored a well chosen programme of standards and occasional originals.

With no support act the trio were able to improvise at length and did so to optimum effect over two absorbing sets. The concert was being recorded with a view to potential future CD release and the audience, having been appraised of this fact listened attentively throughout. You could literally hear a pin drop during the performance other than at those moments of rapturous applause. The cabaret seating had been replaced with rows and the bar remained closed during both sets which helped this process immensely.

“Alone Together” began with Butterworth in solo mode at the Assembly Room’s magnificent Steinway. The sound balance throughout the evening was excellent with just the right amount of volume for the sympathetic rhythm team of Ridley and Scott. They supported Butterworth magnificently here and also featured strongly themselves in what proved to be a highly democratic unit, heavy on genuine group interaction. Ridley quickly proved himself a dexterous soloist shadowed by Scott’s drums and the percussionist also enjoyed a few breaks.

“A Child Is Born” was introduced by Ridley’s solo bass, the young player’s strong, almost prehensile fingers conjuring a huge tone from his instrument. The trio once again demonstrated that questing spirit and an enormous harmonic sophistication as they probed the architecture of the tune. 

Butterworth’s solo piano provided the bridge as the trio segued into Ornette Coleman’s “When Will The Blues Leave?”, a composition that also featured in the November performance. Butterworth’s percussive piano, here echoing Thelonious Monk was initially prominent before Ridley and Scott took over the reins with an inspired bass and drum dialogue. Ridley again showed his precocious talent with some stunning high register work around the neck of the bass. There was a playful air about their treatment of this item that contrasted well with the choked intensity of what had gone before. 

Butterworth’s own “Dum, Dum Dum” was a highly melodic piece in the style of Keith Jarrett, one of his primary influences. Indeed Butterworth’s approach at the keyboard sometimes recalls Jarrett, hunched and almost physically involved with the instrument he emits the same kind of feverish intensity. Mercifully he eschews the kind of vocal tics that many Jarrett listeners (including Mr Walton and myself) find so irritating.

The first set closed with “I Thought About You”, another piece building from a solo piano intro and including a magnificent dialogue between piano and drums.

The general consensus during the interval was that the first half had been very good indeed. My friend Sarah who has a grounding in classical music detected the influence of Debussy and Ravel in Butterworth’s playing. Her husband Sheridan, a Dexter Gordon/Coleman Hawkins man enjoyed it but felt that apart from the Ornette number it didn’t swing enough.

In swing terms the second half certainly picked up on the first. The opening “Everything I Love” introduced an element of swing and included lengthy solo features for both Scott and Ridley. The bassist’s solo was badly timed as he found himself competing with the church clock striking ten! It was all rather ironic given the efforts of the audience to keep quiet and I hope it doesn’t spoil the CD release. Leave it in, that’s what I say. It’d never happen at Ronnie’s or the Village Vanguard.

Ridley’s solo bass acted as the bridge as the trio segued into his own composition “Gymnopedie 381”. This beautiful, atmospheric piece was blessed with a gorgeous melody and was arguably the high spot of the entire evening. With Butterworth’s rich chording, Ridley’s resonant bass and Scott’s sublime soft head treatment at the cymbals the music seemed to hang on the air. This was haunting, memorable music and deserves to find it’s way on to record. Add Satie to the range of influences-and maybe should I mention the “cinematic quality” of the music with a rhythm section of Ridley/Scott.

A swinging “Lullaby Of Birdland” altered the mood completely with Butterworth throwing in both Latin and classical flourishes as well as a healthy helping of Monk.

Butterworth’s own “Bill’s Will” ( an Evans reference, perhaps) included Scott’s hand drums and Ridley’s arco bass. The leader’s rippling, all encompassing, two handed style was shown to it’s best effect with Scott also coming to the fore on some decidedly odd meters. In his most abstract moments Butterworth’s playing even recalled Keith Tippett. Ridley’s dark hued arco bass returned for the outro. 

The trio concluded the second set with a blues, the old Charlie Parker flag waver “Now’s The Time”. This certainly swung with more Monkish piano from Butterworth and yet another amazing solo from the remarkable Ridley.

The audience were delighted ad called the trio back for an encore which proved to be “Someday My Prince Will Come”

Once again Butterworth had charmed the Presteigne audience. The second half had been even better than the first and had definitely provided Sheridan with his missing swing ingredient.

Let us hope that the proposed album actually comes to fruition. Obviously it will represent a fabulous souvenir for those of us that were there but these three young musicians are sadly under represented on record. Butterworth has a solo piano album out on the Music Chamber label and Ridley has recorded with Darius Brubeck, son of the more famous Dave.

These young guys are serious talents and far more than just the sum of their influences. All have the potential to be major figures in the music. Check them out if you can. Both Will and Jon have myspace pages detailing their upcoming gigs.

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