The technical standard is enviably high, and the music expresses its own identity.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010
It’s been some 15 years since British pianist Richard Fairhurst made his debut with the Hungry Ants, a group that featured both key members of the generation that preceded him, such as Iain Ballamy, as well as key members of the generation that followed, namely James Allsopp and Tim Giles, currently to be heard in The Golden Age of Steam. This latest venture stands as yet another example of the interconnected and international nature of the London jazz scene, with Fairhurst being joined by American drummer Chris Vatalaro and Danish double bassist Jasper Høiby.
Although a relatively new ensemble, an obvious chemistry between the players defines the music and as you’d expect given the credentials of each – Høiby in particular is popping up on a lot of good recordings these days – the technical standard is enviably high. The big question: what lies beyond the ornately sculpted harmonies and trickery with tempo and meter? The raison d’etre for any group in jazz is that it expresses a singular identity even though it may carry something of those who have come before and opened new pathways. You get bonus points for not forgetting that the music is also about blood and guts as well as intellect.
For the most part Triptych scores on both fronts. In Fairhurst’s originals there is an attention to detail and thematic elegance that slots him neatly in the lineage of Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea et al, though there is also a desire to reduce chordal movement and focus on incremental shifts in harmony a la Craig Taborn, arguably the most underrated of newish piano trio leaders. The rhythmic sleights of hand and overall suppleness of the structures is not without interest, above all on the seductively spectral Empty Corridors, where a floating, teasing 3/4 also feels like the sharp snap of a 4/4, as the central keyboard riff see-saws between tenderness and tautness.
Occasionally the melodies are possibly a touch too fey, but the sound of Fairhurst, Høiby and Vatalaro in what sounds like testy, edgy spontaneous improvisation on a few tracks more than makes amends.