Julian Joseph crested to international prominence on the wave of the historically aware, rhythmically hip jazz renaissance of the 1980s. More recently he has concentrated on composition and he hasn’t released a piano-trio CD since 1996. Though hardly a jazz absentee, Joseph’s headline spot midway through Ronnie Scott’s week-long celebration of the piano trio marked a welcome return to the spotlight.
With long-term drummer Mark Mondesir and slightly rough-at-the-edges new recruit Jasper Hoiby on bass, Joseph organised a mass of detail into a strong linear narrative. Laden with improvised riches and firm-fingered fluency, it fully justified Joseph’s equal-status billing with genre heavyweights Cyrus Chestnut and Kenny Barron.
Joseph’s all-original first set began with hard-swung, awkwardly stepped harmonies evolving from tense rhythmic orthodoxy to a crescendo of percussive interplay. There was florid a capella piano, steep-banked modal workouts with jagged figures and broken riffs and a beautifully constructed walk through a landscape of chords, each one minimally voiced for maximum effect.
The second set started with the lounge-lizard swing of “Candlelight Supper and Moonlight Affairs”, a complex narration on sexual predation whose louche rhythms were periodically interrupted by an off-beam scamper. A rare cover followed, Milton Nascimento’s delicate “Travessia”, and then a downbeat rumination on the conflicting emotions of separation and hope. Evening highlight was the rumbustious finale that twisted and tweaked Gershwin’s “Nice Work if you Can Get It” into a long modal rumble capped by headlong, tension-building swing.
The opening set from Nikki Iles and her trio had a narrower focus on the legacy of the late Bill Evans – “Spring Is Here” and “Nardis” were among the tunes featured. Iles’ precise florets of melody, dense chordal tapestry, and shimmers of descending chords captured the style, and her strong inner swing added a personal touch.
Jeff Williams’ swish and swirl drumming and Sam Hutchinson’s counterpoint bass remained within the idiom but Iles was more adventurous with a spiky cover of Ralph Towner’s “The Glide”.
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