Ben W plays a rich style of piano: big chords, orchestral flourishes, parallel octaves, stride, and more. To me it was a Euro-style (he’s a student of Paul Grabowski) and his classical training was evident. Ben Vanderwal was a fascinating drummer, more an accompanist than a rhythm keeper. He would switch drums and cow bells, rolls and patterns, sticks and brushes and mallets continually, perhaps every 4 bars, perhaps more often. This was a rich landscape of percussive sounds to accompany Ben W’s complex and varying style. There were 4/4 passages and solos in there too, but they would be interspersed with odd added bars or be reformed as a totally different styles. Des White provided lots of bass solos, but he was also a foundation supporting all this variation, but seldom with just a walk or a simple pattern, although there were one or two of these in there too.
The changes were organic. They were responsive to jazz, latin and other music history so they were self-evident and not jarring. But change there was, lots of it. It was an attentive audience, and Ben commented on it. But I think a large part of that came from the richness of the music on offer, and the calm, friendly and intelligent way that Ben spoke between tunes. This was a night of contemplation, and of rich engagement and exploration from young but surprisingly mature players. So it was a special night at Hippo’s. Ben promoted his new CD several times during the night, and highlighted its success as a runner up in the Bell Awards. Given this show, I expect it’s quite a journey.