For the next week, Ronnie Scott’s lays bare the intricacies of unadorned rhythm sections with nightly double-bills as part of the International Piano Trio Festival. The piano trio is a jazz evergreen, but, as this opener showed, it forges new musical relationships that larger ensembles may later follow.
London-based Zoe Rahman and French-American Jacky Terrasson pull together many influences into intimate jazz and create unfolding soundscapes that dart off at angles. Rahman, though, is more overtly global and focuses on family and friends, whereas Terrasson creates an idiosyncratic fantasia from the common stock of popular song.
Rahman’s set was loosely based on her Mobo Award-winning CD Kindred Spirits and, like that album, referenced her Bengali/UK heritage. “Family History” moved from a Bengali musical mode to stately dance, while “Conversation with Nellie”, inspired by her grandmother, hinted at Irish jigs. There was the scampering free jazz of “Red Squirrel”, written for musicians Rahman befriended in Sweden, and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Contusion”.
Rahman held it together with a strong personal vision, a core style based on the percussive pedals of modal jazz and a tightly arranged rhythm section. Each piece witnessed many changes, and Mark Lewandowski and Gene Calderazzo on bass and drums marked every one.
In contrast, Terrasson based his entire set on a populist repertoire ranging from “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Smile” to a Michael Jackson triptych and Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”. Each piece was deconstructed, conjoined with others and scattered into fragments with a shape-shifting velocity that bassist Stéphane Kerecki and drummer Lukmil Perez not only followed but actively contributed to.
Like the veteran pianist Ahmad Jamal, Terrasson plays to extremes. Surges of rhythm and crashing low-register thumps evaporate into gentle lullabies and barely audible, high-note tinkles. Light-touch, free-flowing jazz suddenly stops for a two-bar silence and ballads explode into fury. His opening gambit stretched a two-note fragment from “My Funny Valentine” into a full-blown epic that included “Beat It”, delivered with the fragile edge of the Jackson original. For more than an hour, Terrasson dazzled with his dynamics and invention, delivered a barely audible cover of Abdullah Ibrahim’s gently rhythmic “Sotho Blue” and then encored with a rip-roaring makeover of Brubeck’s “Take Five”.