REVIEW: David Gordon Trio - Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band at the 606 Club

L-R: Paul Cavaciuti, David Gordon, Jonty Fisher 

David Gordon Trio
(606 Club, 30th September 2015. Review by Alison Bentley)

Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band is the title of the David Gordon Trio’s forthcoming CD. Russian composer Scriabin died 100 years ago, around the time Russian émigré Irving Berlin wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band for Tin Pan Alley. The trio were performing Gordon’s arrangements of pieces by Scriabin and others, bringing together elements of modern jazz and ragtime, and Latin tunes from the era.

The first Scriabin piece was his Prelude for left hand, (op.9 no.2, renamed Prelude for both hands.) Gordon’s singing piano sound took us into a melancholy rubato as the bass sketched the arpeggios. A fast Latin tempo emerged, like Corea playing Romantic music, Paul Cavaciuti’s drums echoing the piano phrases. Gordon is an accomplished classical pianist and was putting the rhythm first here, with a fiery Russian feel.

The trio’s e-flyers show the original sheet music to Alexander’s Ragtime Band, with the trio’s photos replacing Berlin’s, and the exquisite humour carried through into their version of the song. With authentic ragtime beats, the trio sang new words by Gordon- the Swingles meet Flanders and Swann. (‘In our dotage we tend to do strange things,’ joked Gordon.) They really did sing the notes of Scriabin’s dissonant ‘mystic chord’ in the middle of the song before mutating into boogie woogie and a minor rumba- all huge fun. The </ Prelude op. 51 no. 2 (renamed Scriabin’s Depressed) took energy from a simple bass pedal from Jonty Fisher which allowed for some complex, delicate cymbals work lightening the dark harmonies. There was some very Russian drama in the tightly-controlled dynamics as a Latin groove developed. It wasn’t always clear where one solo ended and another began and it didn’t seem to matter, as they played together so seamlessly.

Tres Lindas Cubanas, a 1915 Cuban danzón by Antonio María Romeu lifted the mood, with its simple, joyful harmonies, loping bass lines and taut drum sounds. Scriabin’s Mazurka op. 25 no. 3 became a Brazilian choro, slow and melancholy with cymbal sweeps that seemed to last forever and yearning bass lines that developed into a thoughtful solo from Fisher.

Scriabin’s original op. 74 no. 2 (here Praeludium Mysterium) has Schoenberg-like dissonance, which the trio exploited to the full (taking us ‘into the land of the weird’, as Gordon put it.) Their CD version has e.s.t.-like electronic effects, where the cymbals sizzle from ear to ear, and distorted sounds from guitarist Calum Heath. The live version conjured an eerie mood redolent of Michael Wollny: the bass rumbled funkily like an impending storm, the piano strings struck from within like flashes of lightning.

Two of Gordon’s tunes from their ‘Second Language’ CD opened and closed the first set: Greenland and Salsova. The first was funky with a touch of Corea’s Spain. The cymbals accented the crest of each piano phrase beautifully. Salsova, a ‘Hungarian Gypsy ragtime salsa’, had the audience cheering their sheer virtuosity.

Improbable Hip, or Prelude op. 67 no. 2, wrought one of the greatest changes to the original presto movement. The chords descended darkly over speedy bop drumming and running bass. Crashing McCoy Tyner-esque chords punctuated the powerful swing. The mood changed again in Francesco Canaro’s El Pollito, its striding tango piano lines underscored by the bass, recalling Piazzolla. Mazurka op. 25 no. 4 (or River) was moody, with drifting Bill Evans-like piano, while George L Cobb’s Russian Rag (based on Rachmaninov’s C# minor Prelude) was irrepressible fun with call and response between piano and drums. Gordon’s English Isobars, from an earlier album, was so absorbing, I realised I’d stopped analysing and was just caught up in the music, as it blended with the Romantic intro to Nuances (op. 56 no. 3). The trio kept the pace moving: suddenly Gordon was on sparkly melodica, Fisher on acoustic bass guitar playing rock and roll bass lines, and Cavaciuti on tamborim, all singing bop harmonies. The instruments (but not the energy) had shrunk, and the effect was very funny. Back to the piano and some Monk-ish Latin dissonance, a funky, groovy take on Debussy’s Cakewalk. The strongly rooted bass held the tension as piano and drums sparked off each other.

Gordon’s solo Passinha (an exquisite choro by Pixinguinha) seemed to draw together the Latin, classical and jazz themes of the evening, and the audience was silent with concentration. Scriabin’s op. 8 no. 12 (the ‘Famous Etude’) danced from tango to fast samba, with sparkling montunos drawn straight from Scriabin’s lines behind the powerful drum solo. They concluded with Gordon’s folk-edged Mister Sam, the first tune the trio ever recorded. The written details had become indistinguishable from the improvisation, as the trio have played together for so long- the music has become intuitive.

It was an evening of good feeling, and tremendous musical skill at the service of powerful emotions; jazz, Latin, ragtime and classical.

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud

LINK:  50th birthday interview with David Gordon

The CD by the David Gordon Trio, Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band is released on 11 December 2015 on Mister Sam Records.

1 comment:

  1. I was there and can only agree wholeheartedly with this review.