Review: Matt Ridley Trio, featuring Jason Yarde at The Vortex

Lefto to right: John Turville, Matt Ridley, George Hart
Photo Credit: Jay Photography


Gig Review: Matt Ridley Trio, featuring Jason Yarde
(The Vortex, London, Mon. 22 April 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)


A sneak preview at the Vortex of music from UK bassist Matt Ridley's forthcoming CD, with fine band and compositions. Ridley’s a well-known sideman: he's kept busy by Darius Brubeck and the MJQ Celebration, among many. Ridley's own writing draws on modal jazz, minimalist composers, Middle Eastern melodies and free jazz. He's an imaginative soloist who also roots the band with strength and simplicity.

Kenny Wheeler is Ridley's favourite composer, and he wrote Homage to Kenny Wheeler using the chord sequence to Wheeler's Onmo. It was an uplifting piece with a tinge of melancholy. Jason Yarde's soprano drew repeated subtle shapes before exploding into abstraction. Like Wheeler, Ridley is fascinated by modal harmonies, using triads over bass lines to tease out unusual scales and tunes. Thymos (title track of the new album and Greek for 'spiritedness') had some dark disturbing modes, but Yarde's sweet, pure tone drew them together; above was the compelling melody, below was a storm of unpredictability. Several of Ridley's pieces gave the sense of being in several time signatures at once; here the complex piano lines drifted across the 5/4 bars- it felt like walking through a hall of mirrors.

Ridley is particularly influenced by minimalist Classical composers, naming Steve Reich and John Adams. The shifting rhythms of Siamese Twins were like waves, coming back to almost the same place each time- but not quite. Theme and Variations began with a Bach-like bass line, as befits the title, but as the asymmetrical 9/4 pulse evolved, George Hart's creative drumming filled the spaces between the deep bass and high piano. Hart focused on toms and snare, using cymbals as flashes of brilliance to illuminate the elliptical beats.

There was a streak of Romanticism in the music (not just Ridley's flowing locks and velvet poet's coat). It mostly came from John Turville's piano, which managed to be simultaneously cerebral and emotional. In Ebb and Flow, he negotiated the complex harmony effusively; after an exquisitely Bill Evans-like intro, he played repeated rich rhythmic chords, like John Taylor in Azimuth. (That other JT, whom Turville is perhaps most like). Hart trailed sticks across cymbals like numinous wind chimes. In The River, Ridley played the yearning melody with a singing vibrato, redolent of Charlie Haden's sound in his duets with Metheny.

Ridley has worked with oud player Attab Haddad, who introduced Ridley to Middle Eastern styles, such as the gentle Strange Meeting: a little like Wayne Shorter playing Rowles' Peacocks but with a haunting Eastern harmonised line for sax and piano. Siddharta had hints of Moorish Flamenco, or the Middle Eastern flavour of Avishai Cohen's writing- another of Ridley's heroes. Hart's drumming was constantly fascinating, hinting at Latin grooves, then gentle funk with subliminal cymbals, while sax and piano conversed in a rare-sounding language that you really wanted to learn. The swashbuckling encore Hijaz, with its driving quasi-Turkish motifs, propelled us into some thrilling free improv, Yarde's alto in particular experimenting at the edge of jazz.

The gig certainly whetted the appetite for the CD and tour to come. The audience's total concentration reminded me that the Vortex' founder David Mossman used to call it 'London's listening jazz club'. And it was.

Matt Ridley's album Thymos out on Whirlwind, Mon. 14 October and touring.

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