Avalon Trio Forlana Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An overdue debut album that’s been worth the wait.

John Eyles 2011

Avalon Trio consists of pianist Pete Churchill, saxophonist and flautist Tony Woods and percussionist Rob Millett. The group was formed years ago when Woods was a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Churchill was his tutor there. Forlana is their long-overdue debut album – and it was worth the wait.

Instead of opting for a repertoire of American jazz standards, Avalon Trio prefer to celebrate and reinterpret the music of early 20th century English composers Delius, Vaughn Williams and Gerald Finzi, using the melodies of their short song forms as the basis for improvisations. Six of their compositions are joined here by two compatible Churchill originals.

One common feature of the pieces is that they all have strong melody lines with a pastoral feel to them, giving the entire album an underlying consistency across the works of the different composers. The improvisations subtly elaborate on the melodies and explore their harmonies, but do not stray too far away from the main melody lines, leaving them recognisable throughout.

Key to the album’s success is that the compositions have not been ‘jazzified’ in an insensitive, formulaic way. The trio has no bass, and careful consideration has clearly been given to the style of Millett’s percussion to keep it light and sympathetic. On Finzi’s title-track, which originates from his Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano (but no drums, notice), Woods plays the haunting melody on Indian wooden flute accompanied by Churchill’s piano, while Millett adds the lightest of touches on tablas, making the track a model of taste and restraint.

The trio can also be more outgoing and exploratory. After a restrained opening, the traditional folk song Brigg Fair, as arranged by Delius, gradually becomes a more rhythmically insistent three-way improvisation dominated by a fine solo from Woods. The two Churchill compositions, the longest on the album, allow room for the trio to stretch out while retaining their sense of gentle lyricism.

The folk-based material, with occasional world music touches, is occasionally reminiscent of Jan Garbarek or Andy Sheppard, and Forlana seems most likely to appeal to fans of either.

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