CD Reviews: Phil Ware Trio
The English pianist Phil Ware is a familiar figure on the Irish jazz scene. His trio’s Monday-night residency at JJ Smyth’s in Dublin has served as a lightning-rod for visiting talent, and their backing of Dublin-based singers Maria Tecce and Cormac Kenevey, both in concert and in studio, has been consistently strong and sympathetic. With the release of the trio’s much-anticipated debut album, In Our Own Time, listeners have an opportunity to hear Ware and fellow musicians Dave Redmond (bass) and Kevin Brady (drums) demonstrate their cohesive interplay, high level of musicianship, and considerable writing skills across nine excellent tracks.
Blues, ballads, and bop make up this varied collection. Ware is a marvellous stylist, comfortable in diverse settings and sensitive or swinging as the occasion demands. The material is well-tested (the trio has been performing together for four years) and presented in an order that does full justice to its range. Each of the musicians contributes two original compositions to the album, all of which are fresh and distinctive, and the collective performance is inventive, equal-voiced, and subtle, reminiscent of the classic Bill Evans Trios.
The group’s bop credentials are best displayed by their interpretations of Jackie McLean’s ‘Dr Jackle’ and ‘Llareggub’, from Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood jazz suite. Quirky and fast-paced, both tunes move assuredly through jazz history, invoking not just McLean but the great bop pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Bebop’s angularity and odd harmonies also inform several of the album’s originals, including Brady’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ and Redmond’s ‘Mind the Gap’, full of surprising tempo changes and supportive interplay. The trio can also strike up a groove à la the Blue Note stable of the late fifties and early sixties – Ware’s ‘Hipatitis’ swings like Horace Silver or Bobby Timmons, full of call-and-response blues and funky melody.
But the album’s three ballads strike the most authoritative note. Attaining heights of lyricism comparable to Evans or Brad Mehldau, Ware establishes a connection with the listener that is intense and moving, while effectively creating space within the easy tempos for Redmond and Brady to weave their contributions into the emotional fabric of the tunes. Redmond’s ‘Callisto’ and Brady’s ‘Goodbye, Mr Munch’ share a plaintive, mournful mood and build carefully constructed melodies that are played with great finesse.
The third ballad, which closes the album, is the old Bond theme ‘Nobody Does It Better’, played, as standards should be played, with control and care, allowing us to enjoy our nostalgia of the piece without sliding into sentimentality. And when the tune concludes with a funky, foot-tapping extended riff, it is as if the band is underlining the joy of playing that is evident throughout this fine album – a timeless, passionate contribution to the great jazz trio tradition.
Published on 1 July 2007
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.