22 August 2012

Ball of string

The piano trio is an absolutely standard format but I haven’t heard it much recently. It was good to catch Leonie Cohen at the Gods with her take on it. Leonie had me thinking along several lines: the Jewish folk song tradition; the conversational nature of the jazz piano trio; the space and harmony and tone of Chick Corea playing his own folk tradition; the cross-pollination that’s evident in the musical dedication.

Firstly, the Jewish folk tradition. Leonie introduced the gig with a folk song translated as Jerusalem of gold, a sweet and seductive bluesy number. Then later a take on Hava nagila. Leonie is a composer, so this was a twisted take on this popular theme, with the melody contorted around a few 5/4 bars, then settling on 4/4s then into a settled latin groove for solos. Hugh Fraser introduced this with harmonic slides. It was Hugh’s lithe bass playing that had me thinking of the conversational nature of trios. He mimicked some piano lines, walked and laid down ostinatos, but it was the subtle but lively speech of his accompaniment and solos that reminded me of Eddie Gomez and so inevitably of conversational trios. This was an eminently equal opportunity outing. They all took frequent solos and they all introduced tunes, so this was a particularly equal offering. Toby Hall’s vocalising and noise-making also reminded me of conversation, if at a more earthy level. Certainly, his soloing was also consuming, strongly spoken with commitment and, I thought, heavier on skins than cymbals. When he wasn’t following charts with eagle eyes. Leonie was a story-teller to my ears. Never blistering, staccato and searching with some satisfying solo structures, sometimes punctuated or open, and with a crunchy e-piano tone. It was in Hava nagila with its latin middle that I heard the touches of Chick Corea with similar harmonies and that Rhodes tone.

But Leonie’s a composer and there were a string of originals. Two dedications to her parents, written on their 70th birthday: 70 for her father with a solo drum intro; 21 for her mother with a solo bass intro. Several dedications to literature or authors: Sound of water was dedicated to saxist/author James McBride’s Colour of water (and subsequently recorded by him); Five sisters was written after reading Helen Garner’s autobiographical True stories; Joy was dedicated to the late Joy Fisher who was a piano teacher to Leonie. There’s something communal and modest and respectful in dedications that recognise the value of artistic borrowings and influence, but jazz is essentially a modest art in its recognition of work and genius. Then there were some jazz tunes: the supreme ballad In a sentimental mood and the joyous romp of C-jam blues and even a medley of Bye bye blackbird and the Beatles’ Blackbird (singing in the dead of night..). One listener described it after the gig as a ball of string, unwinding and wound back, and it appealed to me. Melodies that called and responded, tunes that were introduced then unwound before return, references and traditions. And a gentle and revealing conversation. Nice one. Leonie Cohen (piano) led a trio with Hugh Fraser (bass) and Toby Hall (drums) at the Gods.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
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