Preview: Cowherd / Pattitucci / Blade / Cardenas at Pizza Express


PREVIEW Jon Cowherd with John Patitucci, Brian Blade and Steve Cardenas, by Alison Bentley


Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London. Thurs. 9th, Fri. 10th Aug. 8.30; Sat. 11th Aug. 7.30 & 10.30 (Support: Espen Eriksen Piano Trio)

Who could resist? Pianist Jon Cowherd's first major outing as a bandleader in such starry company. Cowherd is an incredibly busy and versatile musician, composer and arranger -these gigs are part of a European tour devoted to his own modern jazz compositions, a brief space in his breathless schedule as a sideman.

He tours with Cassandra Wilson (he's written arrangements for her gigs with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra). He's a regular with country singers Roseanne Cash (Johnny's daughter) and Alyssa Graham (he's produced albums for her). He's worked with musicians as diverse as Iggy Pop, Joni Mitchell, and Kurt Rosenwinkel.

I was first struck by Cowherd's fine playing on Lizz Wright's Salt album where he's a brilliant and sympathetic accompanist. But he's very self-deprecating - he felt he had to go back to studying classical piano for nine years before being confident enough to emerge as a bandleader, and make his mark under his own name. He plays with expressive virtuosity- gorgeous voicings, bluesy gospelly phrases, complex classical influences, flurries of notes. At times he almost plays free. It's very engaging, firmly in the tradition, yet highly original, and it'll be exciting to hear him play his own Mercy project (due out on a forthcoming CD).

Cowherd studied and worked in New Orleans. He met drummer Brian Blade, a fellow student there, in 1988, and they've played together ever since- notably in the Brian Blade Fellowship Band, a vehicle for their fine compositions and symbiotic music. Blade's in demand with Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Wayne Shorter and Bill Frisell, to name a few.

Guitarist Steve Cardenas hails from New York. With his Shinola-era Scofield-ish sound, Cardenas has worked with Joey Baron, Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow and Ben Allison, as well as Paul Motian.

John Patitucci has played with everyone, but is perhaps best known for his work with Chick Corea. You may have seen him in London with Wayne Shorter and Danilo Perez, or the London Sinfonietta playing Mark-Anthony Turnage's compositions. He's won an unimaginable number of polls and awards. He's a strong, communicative performer.

It'll be a treat to hear these stellar musicans in such an intimate venue. In Patitucci's words: 'Jon's music for me...always touches me in my heart.' Don't miss it- if jazz were an Olympic sport, this band would win a gold.

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