(Basho Records SRCD 48-2)
The last time the British pianist made a solo album there was a Tory Prime Minister in No.10 Downing Street and he wasn’t leading a coalition government. It was John Major. I’m not suggesting any connection. When Noble strides deadpan through Lerner and Loewe’s Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, I’m fairly certain other things are on his mind.
That choice of the My Fair Lady classic is typical of this pianist’s originality, of his wide-ranging tastes and of his ability to bring his singular and increasingly well-honed musical character to bear upon his choices. Other songs included here range from Joe Zawinul’s Directions to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ Six White Horses to Edward Elgar’s Salut D’Amour.
Then there are the more natural jazz standards, like Round Midnight, There Is No Greater Love and Body And Soul. On these Noble keeps the rhythms fairly straight and the harmonies reaching out far and wide, though the listener is rarely in danger of getting lost for very long – Noble’s excursions have a logic to them. One can feel a deep understanding of the jazz tradition at work here – I’ve never thought he sounds particularly like anyone other than himself, but maybe if I’m pushed the name of Jason Moran comes to mind, another pianist who refers further back than Herbie.
And the subtle effects he gets from the piano – whether dampening the strings or in the way he strikes the keys – are fascinating. Listen to a pianist thinking of banjos – that’s what you get in Six White Horses.
There are also some intriguing Noble originals interleaved here, most of them short and concise, like linking fragments. The longest is I Wish I Played Guitar, a note-crammed 2:31 of swirling figures and RSI-inducing rapid, percussive playing.
There is lovely programming at work here, too, the niggling urgency of I Wish… followed immediately by the quiet, loving reflection perfectly suited to the title of Paul Simon’s Tenderness.
I hope it’s not 20 years before we get another solo piano treat like this from one of the most interesting – and – yes, let’s use the cliche – under-rated pianists in 21st century jazz.
- Liam Noble is playing a solo set and then with some young local musicians tomorrow night in Birmingham. It’s at Cafe Costes in Newhall Street at 7.30pm. There is more here.
Categories: CD review