REVIEW: Jacky Terrasson, Zoe Rahman and Reuben James at the Ronnie Scott's International Piano Trio Festival

Jacky Terrasson Trio/ Zoe Rahman Trio / Reuben James Trio
(Ronnie Scott's. 4th August 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The inaugural seven-day Ronnie Scott's International Piano Trio Festival got under way in front of a full house last night. Matthew Wright, in his preview for us, got it absolutely right. “Unparalleled variety within a single week.” That is indeed what it's all about.

That much was clear from the first two acts I heard last night. In fact, the very first sounds I heard of this festival took me completely, joyously by surprise. Arriving late (sorry), I heard Zoe Rahman's group attacking the free, angular tune Red Squirrel with real aggression. Zoe Rahman may be one of the most civilized and friendly and best-loved musicians on our scene. Her recent ventures may have included a charming live duo recording with George Mraz, and diplomatically directing the Commonwealth Jazz Orchestra up in Scotland, and (congratulations!), the birth of her first child five months ago, but in the trio context she is capable of responding to Gene Calderazzo's fire, venom and brutal attack with an equal anger. Mark Lewandowski has only just graduated from Guildhall School, but in some senses had already finished the course before he started. His solo on Mário Laginha's Há Gente Aquí was sonorous, fluent, delivered with the presence of a bassist who has already earned his place as an indispensable part of our scene.

Jacky Terrasson has popped into London a couple of times in the past year. He was in the hi-jinx of the JATP goings-on at Milton Court during the 2013 London Jazz Festival (which did get one review) and he was in the Institut Francais series back in April. This was, however, his first appearance at Ronnie Scott's for eighteen years.

Terrasson has presence and theatricality and his performance brimmed with good ideas. A highlight was the last number before the encore, Abdullah Ibrahim's Maraba Blue in a mesmerically quiet less-is-more performance. He has also thoroughly absorbed Ahmad Jamal's style and virtues, and updated them and gone beyond them. He bandleads with restless energy, sometimes spurring his rhythm partners on with a lassoo-ing motion with the right hand. Musically I was finding myself thoroughly nourished by at least the following FIVE things:

- Romanticism – he started with a beautifully voiced My Funny Valentine .

- Humour – he tried out My Funny Valentine in the major, with a broad conspiratorial grin... and later juxtaposed a strutting Michael Jackson Beat It with a music-box version of the theme from Harry Potter.

-  Bi-tonality - he was taking Milhaud's concept to the extreme: take a bass riff with its own self-standing motoric predictability, and then superimpose Smoke Gets in your Eyes on it, and then let them sort it out.

- Rhythmic games -  Charlie Chaplin's Smile, capriciously unable to make its mind up if it wants to be in five or in nine.

If all this sounds dry and dull, it isn't: Terrasson wins over the crowd too.

Terrasson lives in New York, but spends a lot of time in Europe, and has trios for each side of the Atlantic. His European colleagues are one of the very top French bassists Stéphane Kerecki - whom we interviewed in 2010 - who lays down every groove with real authority, and drummer Lukmil Perez Herrera whose efforts to function as an indispensable part of the texture, not to overshadow were just wonderful. Towards the end, in the exuberant Charlie Chaplin Smile, he was invited, encouraged even, to show whether he had a hooligan tendency, but what he gave was controlled power.

The trio's final gesture, the encore, was a deliciously Gallic paradox: Paul Desmond's Take Five – but in four.

Terrasson's trio are on again tonight, opposite Phronesis. The Ronnie Scott's International Piano Festival has accidentally ended up with the French tricolour flying over both ends of the week. As they say on Air France (I just love that phrase!) “Armature des toboggans.” Michel Legrand will be in the house on from Friday.


The late set which followed was by the astonishing pianist Reuben James, accompanied by bassist Mark Lewandowski (back on stage again) and Moses Boyd on drums.

Watched by a sizeable late-night audience including Jacky Terrasson who was standing at the bar (no pressure!), James rose to the occasion with a magical hour that ranged from the energy of Horace Silver's The St Vitas Dance to Ellington's desolate Solitude. He saved the best for last: a wonderful Bags' Groove that explored the blues with a rocking passion.

James has now been around long enough to be recognised as more than simply a talented youth. Last night, he showed confidence, style, humour and skill; and above all, a love for jazz that - without compromise - connects with his own generation.

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