I confess: I didn’t know the music of Martial Solal before I went to this gig. There’s no excuse really. A tiny amount of googling reveals both his reputation and accomplishments. He moved to paris in 1949 and joined a music scene energised by a visit by Charlie Parker, he played with Django Rheinhardt and so many others. So his history is woven into the development of this music. He wrote the music for Godard’s film A bout de souffle – enough to make a film buff breathless (sic). The way he strode onto stage belied his 82 years. When he struck the first few chords (and he does strike the piano!), the game of ‘sounds like’ takes on a different hue when you consider he was a contemporary of all those comparisons. So, is there something of Monk in those descending runs, jabbed chords and solos that develop motifs more than melodic lines, of Bill Evans in the richly harmonised passages embellishing the statement of themes? Perhaps, but more than anything, I don’t think I’ve heard anything quite like this and comparisons only say is here is someone steeped in the sounds and rhythms of post war jazz, but extraordinarily his own man. The material is standards (Caravan, My One and Only Love, Tea for Two, Green Dolphin Street, Cherokee), the treatment is anything but. The other remarkable actors in this drama were the brothers Moutin (Francois on bass and Louis on drums). They gave every appearance of thinking with Solal so that their interventions and accompaniment stopped, started and rushed of in new directions as if the trio were the perfect three legged race competitors on a randomly changing obstacle course. Each piece would start with a rumble in the bass, a florrid arpeggio or two, dissonant stabbed chords that turned into a vamp if the fancy struck – a familar phrase would appear, hinting at the standard that was being dismantled in front of us, then perhaps they would launch into a straight walking, grooving turn round the changes with Solal excercising his very contemporary jazz chops. On other occasions, odd phrases provided the material for more flourishes and embellishments before selecting another one to play with, sometimes stretching the time, stopping and starting, sometimes grooving away. And Martial can get down with the kids – a seriously mangled Cherokee in the encore appeared to morph into a funky version of So What. This was extraordinary stuff and Solal was the imperious, imposing, creative force driving it. The Moutin brothers were breathtaking in the responsiveness and fluency. What an evening!
Martial Solal Trio, Bath Festival, The Pavilion, Sunday May 30th