Review: Larry Willis / David O'Rourke Quartet at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Larry Willis, Stephen Keogh, Jeremy Brown
Pizza Express Jazz Club.March 2014
Photo Credit: Melody McLaren

Larry Willis / David O'Rourke Quartet
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 13th March. Review by Frank Griffith)

Jazz Legend, pianist, Larry Willis made a rare visit to London leading  a quartet that brought much glee to an ample crowd at Soho's finest  basement jazz venue, Pizza Express. The exemplary talents of Irish  guitarist, David O'Rourke (who has been resident in NYC since 1983) and fellow Irish drummer, Stephen Keogh, were joined by top British bassist, Jeremy Brown.

Their set consisted of a wonderfully varied mixture of classic  standards and Willis originals. These included Children of Harlem (where Willis grew up), a lyrical jazz waltz that developed into a  driving modal excursion exploiting Willis' improvisatory expressions.

His "To Wisdom the Prize" also modal in nature was eloquently  introduced with a solo piano foray that included nods to Nat King  Cole's "Nature Boy". Not surprising as Willis' 1992 Steeplechase CD "Unforgettable" was a dedication to ballads associated with Cole.

The uptempo Dietz/Schwartz classic Alone Together kicked off the set with a fetching arrangement by Willis. It juxtaposed a lyrical stating of the first eight bars of the tune then was followed by a jagged rhythmical answering phrase thus providing an effective contrast for the listener of this well worn chestnut.

David O'Rourke's rich and mellifluous guitar tone was showcased  wonderfully on his solo rendition of A Certain Smile from the self-titled 1958 film: Composed my Fain/Webster it was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis and Mr O'Rourke gave it his own unique jazz  treatment. If that wasn't enough, he cannily inserted quotes from  London By Night in the closing passages. It seemed an appropriate celebration of the Dublin-born guitarist's début performance in this great city.

The sterling basswork of Jeremy Brown scored highly including many  fine solos as well as the driving yet sensitive percussion talents of  O'Rourke's longtime musical pal, Stephen Keogh. In addition to his playing, Willis' warm and gently manner  with the audience with his "fireside chats" went a long way to establishing a memorable dynamic. He encouraged the  punters to buy a CD with the caveat that "if you don't like it then  give it to someone that you DON'T like."

The quartet is resident at the club through Saturday and Mr  Willis will also be appearing there on Sunday, the opening night of  the annual Steinway Festival.
More information / tickets HERE

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