16th November 2012
I think it is worth pointing out at the beginning of this review that the amount I know about Jazz could easily be scribbled on the back of a postage stamp. So, for all the Jazz heads out there – I’m sorry, this is not going to be helpful. It is less a review of Enrico Pieranunzi and more a ponderance on my entering the world of ten minute improvisations and supposed beard stroking.
As mentioned in the last issue of Rhubarb Bomb, Wakefield Jazz is an institution the city should be proud of, having celebrated its 25th birthday this year. The quality of the stuff they put on is phenomenal. Tonight, Enrico is a great example of this. He has just played
and now finds himself in a northern club, by a bowling green. This is only one of four UK dates for
the incredibly well renowned performer and catches like this are common for
Wakefield Jazz. It’s truly amazing.
Any apprehension you may have about visiting a ‘Jazz Club’ can comfortably be left at the door. A perfect image for Wakefield Jazz’s standing in the city can perhaps be found as you walk through the main door and see a huge, beautiful gleaming black piano stood in the middle of what is basically a Working Men’s Club. In keeping with the traditions of the latter, the atmosphere is very social and welcoming and the bar busy.
Enrico takes to the piano with two other band members; a bassist and drummer. And this is where Jazz begins to show itself as the opposite of everything I feel I know about music. For a start, I am informed that Enrico met the rest of his trio at 18:30 this evening, when he arrived. Doors were at 19:30. Yet a quick one-two-three, one-two-three and they are locked in and on their way.
It would make sense if they were knocking out some twelve bar blues. Naturally I spend the first ten or so minutes trying to ascertain if there is any recognisable structure. There isn’t to my ears, yet I know there must be, as the double bass player is intently following some sheet music, though he never turns the page. The drummer is away, lost in some other world, pulling the greatest Jazz face I’ve seen; like trying to relieve five days of constipation whilst occasionally suffering from terrible jolts of sciatica. He is smiling once the song is complete, so it can’t actually be that bad.
But the songs. It’s gets tricky here. I’ve never considered it but I guess the reason I go to watch bands is for the songs. Have they got good songs? The performance is probably secondary. But here, the main selling point is the skill and ability of the performers and the actual songs (but not the music) are secondary. Here, Enrico plays a range of tracks that are well known (again, not to me) as something akin to Jazz standards. It means nothing to me, but clearly his skill is the way he reinterprets them in his own way. Further pleasure is the way his band then react off his improvisations and add their own elements to it.
I am informed that audiences will come down purely if there happens to be a good drummer in a band’s lineup. Such is the reverence with which these people are held. There’s a great moment in one number when the song is seemingly winding down, with just Enrico noodling around. Then he does something. I don’t know what (I’m later informed he switched it to Bebop…) but a huge grin covers the bass player’s face. He can see the clever thing his band mate has done. The grin mutates into a furrowed brow as he consults his notes. And before you know it, the drummer and him have dropped back in to this new style, the band clearly enjoying the challenge and experience of playing with a great pianist.
Moments like this stand out. There is a tendency for the audience to clap randomly in the middle of songs. I guess something awesome I didn’t notice happened. A lot. But it shows the audience is very engaged and very appreciative. I wish more audiences were like that.
The first set last for an hour, and it goes surprisingly quickly. The second sets at the club usually last the same; Enrico wrapped it up after 45 which I have to say felt about right for me. A degree of repetitiveness had crept in, but it has to be said; this is not just something that happens with Jazz! It’s a long time for any performer to keep things fresh.
The second set had the two highlights for me; a performance of a track he wrote himself (the only of the night) as a film score for Cinema Paradiso and a solo performance of a classical piece by a 17th century composer who’s name I cant remember. I am told afterwards that classical composers were the jazz musicians of their day. Initially, the music wasn’t written down, so each performance would be unique. Once they were actually scored, the music became set in stone and turned into what we now know as classical music. Tonight, Enrico took the composers work and improvised his own twists to it, much as the original chap would have done. It was a nice change of pace, and a good education too.
So I’ve learnt there is joy to be had in Jazz. My first experience was a rather traditional and ‘safe’ one, but done to the highest standard. It was a very engaging experience and I found myself simultaneously trying to concentrate very hard on what was happening whilst also trying to let myself go. You can do both, which was what I always enjoyed about Mogwai, to be honest. At its core it is simple, but beyond that, there is so much going on.
Probably because all I was hearing stood against my accepted ‘norms’ for music, part of me craved to hear Mogwai's Ex-Cowboy, probably because it could provide me with what I wasn’t getting here; clear dynamics, upsetting volume, a sinister mood, powerful performances and an emotional response. Instead, tonight I got virtuoso performances, a generally buoyant, playful mood and some slightly impenetrable structures and dynamics. Impenetrable for now, that is. It’s great to find something new, something you don’t understand. I will be back to Wakefield Jazz; it’s a different kind of night out, a different experience and a different approach to music, done incredibly well. I seem to get shot down in flames for daring to say such incendiary things as this, but I am going to say it anyway; step out of your comfort zone, try something new!