Here comes London Jazz Festival – An eleven pianist route through the programme

Thud. The London Jazz Festival brochure’s audible arrival on my doormat hinted at the bewildering choice on offer.  Running to over sixty pages detailing the 10 days, 250+ gigs in 50+ venues,  where do you start if you want to look beyond some of the already sold out headliners? Well here’s a completely idiosyncratic set of choices based on my personal history with jazz.  Having fumbled and crashed around on piano for almost as long as I’ve been listening, pianists have often caught my attention.

First a list: Geri Allen, John Taylor, Jacky Terasson, Brad Mehldau, Danilo Perez, Enrico Pieranunzi, Tom Cawley, Marcin Wasilewski, Gwylim Simcock, Kit Downes, Reuben James.

They are all appearing at the festival although not necessarily under their own names, the list is in the order, very roughly, of when I discovered them and started listening to them.  Geri Allen an early one, never quite understanding what I was hearing just knowing it had a subtle blend of beauty and excitement in the context of superficially familar jazzy styles; John Taylor just took my breath away – the richness of the harmony was the first thing that grabbed me, and its never let me go; Jacky Terasson seemed to be able to play in any style but his sense of space and understatement always captivating. A one off album with Cassandra Wilson remains a favourite – whose inspired ideas was that? Brad Mehldau a unique new voice since I excitedly bought ‘Introducing’ and an early ‘Art of the Trio’ on a trip to New York (was that one when we saw Geri Allen at the Vanguard with Buster Williams wearing a blouse with sleeves too long and sitting on telephone directory… Geri Allen that is, not Buster Williams!…? Maybe). Danilo Perez, his music introduced to me by a friend and thinking I’d never seen anyone play with such freedom and passion when we saw the Motherland project at Ronnie’s and Enrico Pieranunzi, who I was convinced was an Italian John Taylor for a while so unlike anything I’d heard before, so rich a harmonic palette rooted in the jazz canon – maybe Bill Evans would sound like them if he’d been born later and in Europe. And then a new generation emerged, almost fully formed it seemed and I’ve listened to them explore and reveal new delights in all sorts of contexts, only Reuben James remains unrepresented in my CD collection. I’m sure that won’t last much longer.
Looking at their gigs in the programme,  the projects and bands they are appearing with are pretty varied (some clash), so they offer a satisfyingly wiggly route through large and small gigs, and all over London

Geri Allen – with ACS at the Barbican, part of Shorter Sunday (17th); John Taylor, with Kenny Wheeler on Monday 18th at the Queen Elizabeth Hall; Jacky Terasson – guest with Jazz at the Philharmonic, Sunday 17th, Milton Court Concert Hall; Brad Mehldau – Brad Mehaldau and Mark Guiliana, Thursday 21st Barbican, Danilo Perez – with Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican, Sunday 17th, Enrico Pieranunzi, with his trio, Friday 15th, Bishopsgate Institute; Tom Cawley, with Trio Red at King’s Place, Saturday 23rd (double bill with Nik Baertsch); Marcin Wasilewski with Arild Anderson Quintet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Saturday 16th; Gwilym Simcock, three night residency ‘Eurozone’ at Pizza Express Friday – Sunday 22nd – 24th and a solo gig Tuesday 19th at St. Stephen’s Rosslyn Hill; Kit Downes, with julian Arguelles at the 606 Tuesday 19th and the same evening later on, Reuben James at the 606. Something tells me both of these guys may be playing elsewhere as well that I haven’t spotted.

There’s so much more, even just sticking to pianists, this is just one slice through based on my listening history.  Enough to melt the sturdiest, most frozen heart I’d say.

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