Tord Gustavsen Trio: “The Other Side”

Photo credit: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen

Recording of the Month   October 2018

Just as the great classical composers would often use the medium of the string quartet to explore new compositional ideas, techniques and directions, so jazz pianists have often produced their most exploratory work in the trio format.

One of the noteworthy recent exponents of the jazz trio is Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen. His Trio, featuring drummer Jarle Vespestad and bassist Harald Johnsen, toured between 2003-08, releasing three recordings, Changing Places (2003), The Ground (2005), Being There (2007), all on the ECM Records label.

Changing Places wasn’t, as it happens, my first encounter with Gustavsen’s playing; he had previously recorded sessions with fellow Norwegian chanteuse, Silje Nergaard, one of my absolute favourite singers. Gustavsen’s understated but deeply felt piano lines in her early recordings certainly made their impression on me, but hearing him let loose in a trio format really bought home the delicate brilliance and originality of his playing.

Following on from the three trio albums, which established Gustavsen’s voice as the preeminent lyrical pianist of the Nordic school, with colourful tinges of blues and gospel never far from the surface in his playing, he developed larger ensembles. The Tord Gustavsen Quartet added saxophonist Tore Brunborg, while the Ensemble added the vocals of Kristin Ambjørnsen.

And for his 2016 release What Was Said (my personal favourite, by the way) he was joined by German-Afgan jazz singer Simin Tander alongside regular drummer Jarle Vespestad.

Along the way, Gustavsen added experimentation with electronic instruments and treatments to his already gorgeous sonic palette.

The Other Side marks Gustavsen’s return to the basic format of the standard Trio after more than a decade of exploring these other musical possibilities. As I listened to preview track The Tunnel over the late summer, I wondered whether this new album would be somewhat a return to Gustavsen’s roots, or be markedly different from the earlier Trio albums ….

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How to Play Jazz Piano

Sheet Music Review

It’s turned into a great Autumn for players and students of jazz piano!

Already this week I have reviewed  Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos  (Alfred Music) and  Tim Richards’ Jazz, Latin and Modern Collection  (Schott Music) – both outstanding.

Now let’s see whether Pam Wedgwood’s How to Play Jazz Piano, published by Faber Music this week, can make it a hat-trick.

The book aims to provide a solid introduction to jazz playing and claims to be ideal for young players with a basic knowledge of how to play the piano (approximately Grade 2 standard)”.

As a standalone course suitable for players at this level, there is little competition – perhaps the nearest comparison would be with the (excellent) support materials for the ABRSM Jazz Piano syllabus.

So far, so interesting, so let’s take a closer look …


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Tim Richards’ Jazz, Latin & Modern Collection

Sheet Music Review

Tim Richards is rightly regarded as one of the UK’s leading jazz and blues pianists/educators.

As a pianist, Tim has been a presence on the international music scene since the early 1980s, touring with his long-running trio and leading larger groups Spirit Level and Great Spirit, appearing at festivals opposite names such as John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis and Horace Silver. He has released more than a dozen albums as a leader.

As an educator, Tim came to the attention of many through his stunning blues piano method, Improvising Blues Piano in 1997, and it’s follow-ups Exploring Jazz Piano (vols. 1 and 2) which won the prestigious MIA Award for “Best Pop Publication” in 2006. He has subsequently co-authored Exploring Latin Piano and the Brazilian Piano Collection.

As well as being a prolific writer, Tim has been an ABRSM Jazz Examiner since 1999, contributing to their jazz grade syllabus, and he leads jazz classes and workshops widely.

His most recent publication, Blues, Boogie & Gospel Collection, received the following praise in my Pianodao review:

“Tim’s latest publication is an instant classic, earning an immediate place at the top table. These are deeply felt, expertly realised and above all authentic pieces that will not only hopefully open up the world of blues piano playing to a new wave of enthusiasts, but which are classics in their own right…
Tim Richards Blues, Boogie and Gospel Collection proves itself not simply as the best “jazz piano” publication of the year, but probably the best of the decade so far.

Following such tall praise, can his brand new book Tim Richards Jazz, Latin and Modern Collection possibly live up to expectations? Let’s find out …

Continue reading Tim Richards’ Jazz, Latin & Modern Collection

Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos

Sheet Music Review

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band have, since forming in 1999, carved out a huge reputation for themselves as an 18-piece big band, playing traditional 1930/40s swing through to more recent fusion and funky jazz. They have recorded several albums and notched up multiple Grammy Awards.

Several publications have been issued over the years, including lead-sheets and backing tracks for popular Big Phat Band favourites.

But with Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos, his latest publication from Alfred Music, Goodwin has taken a different approach, offering stylish intermediate piano solo versions of some of the band’s most enduring tunes.

According to Gordon Goodwin in his introduction to the book:

“The pieces in this book are piano solo adaptations of the most popular Big Phat Band titles that I have written over the years, arranged at an intermediate to later intermediate level. Preparing music for less experienced musicians presents a challenge. I worked to capture the essence of the Big Phat Band versions of these songs, while making the music technically manageable yet interesting. The goal was to create arrangements that are musically challenging without being overwhelming.”

I’ll take a look at the book in a moment, and consider whether I feel Goodwin has succeeded in his goals, but first I should note that in addition to the book itself, Goodwin has recorded a series of performance and tutorial videos, available to watch freely on Alfred’s YouTube channel.

These videos promise to add enormously to the value of this project, so I will start by taking a look at them…

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Another 20 Great Jazz Pianists

When I published a blog post sharing clips of 20 Great Jazz Pianists – with the disclaimer that, “these aren’t necessarily the 20 greatest jazz pianists of all time” – I was hopeful that by exploring the included clips readers would get a glimpse of the length and breadth of the wonderful world of jazz piano.

But no sooner had I posted than I began musing over those many brilliant pianists who I hadn’t included, and in a jiffy the idea came to me – publish a follow-up post with another 20 pianists!

In the event this list was far more difficult to collate – and here I must thank my good friend Mark Polishook for pointing me in the direction of a few players I might otherwise have overlooked. And having covered some of the most obvious seminal players in my first list of 20 great jazz players, this post has offered a chance to explore some less predictable paths!

In the event, including everyone we both thought deserved a moment in the spotlight wasn’t possible. On the plus side the 20 I have selected include something for everyone, and once again show how immersive and varied the world of jazz playing is, from the stride of James P. Johnson to the beautiful and experimental introspection of Tord Gustavsen, and from the sophistication of George Shearing to the explosive force of nature that is Hiromi Uehara – it’s all here.

Or at least some if it is! Because there’s a whole world of amazing music out there waiting to explored.

So without further ado or comment, Welcome back to the world of the jazz pianist. Here are the clips – I hope that you enjoy them!

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Piano Tales for Alice

World Exclusive Preview:  Sheet Music Review

The rise and rise of EVC Music Publications as an exciting and innovative music publisher can’t have escaped the notice of any player or teacher active on social media, and like many I have watched their emergence over the last three years or so with growing interest.

I have previously praised a number of EVC Music’s publications. The Jevdet Hajiyev: Piano Collection 1 was particularly enterprising, and I am enthusiastic for Andrew Higgins’ excellent Birds: Études-Tableaux and the recent reissue of Graham Lynch’s wonderful Sound Sketches series. And I was delighted to report that the EVC Music Star Prize Event at the Royal Albert Hall last month was such a resounding success!

With the publication of Piano Tales for Alice – a brand new collection of easy pieces by acclaimed jazz performer and composer Nikki Iles – it seems to me that EVC Music has unequivocally arrived as a mature and significant force in music publishing.

Building on their activities thus far, with this publication EVC Music has hit the jackpot, bringing to market a genuine classic.

Let’s take a world exclusive preview look …

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20 Great Jazz Pianists

Jazz is caught, not taught!

So goes the cliché (although I believe this also applies to classical and other styles too). So much of the nuance, the energy, the essence and the inflection of piano music cannot be expressed away from the instrument, whether in words or using notation.

As I write this I am about to deliver a workshop entitled Introducing Jazz Piano for the Piano Teachers’ Course UK, where I am a guest tutor. And as I consider the point that listening to jazz piano playing must be our starting point, this raises the question, “where do we start?

So to that end I’ve compiled this list of 20 seminal jazz pianists, with clips of their playing and a suggestion that you go on to more fully explore their recorded legacy.

Understand, these aren’t necessarily the 20 greatest jazz pianists of all time (and it isn’t, in any case, a competition!). However, they are all genuine greats, and between them they represent a wide range of styles and approaches within the very broad world of jazz music.

Dip in now, and keep coming back, because ongoing exposure to the genius of these players is the key to developing as a player and teacher of jazz music…

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Mike Cornick’s ‘Six Jazz Piano Solos’

Sheet Music Review

Mike Cornick has established a reputation as one of our leading composers of jazz piano music. Many of his previous works have been particularly warmly received in an educational context, with compositions such as his Blues in TwoModulations and In the Groove featured in exam syllabi worldwide.

Mike’s enormous output includes more than sixty piano publications, brought to us by Universal Edition, the latest of which is his Six Jazz Piano Solos, written are written “for intermediate-level players and beyond”.

The collection comprises new, original piano solos which are around UK Grade 4-6 level. Each miniature explores different characteristics of jazz piano playing and style, and together they make a welcome addition to the repertoire for players at this level.

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Christopher Norton’s ‘Pacific Preludes’

Sheet Music Review

One of the highlights of last year, in my view, was the publication of Christopher Norton’s outstanding Eastern Preludes Collection, which I reviewed here.

Eastern Preludes continued a series of piano solo collections for the intermediate-to-advanced level pianist, which already included the best-selling Jazz PreludesCountry PreludesRock Preludes and Latin Preludes collections – so naturally I wondered what might come next.

And here it is: The Christopher Norton Pacific Preludes Collection, comprising 14 brand new compositions suitable for intermediate to advanced players (around UK Grades 6-8).

Publishers Boosey & Hawkes welcome us to:

“Embark on a voyage of discovery with this captivating collection of 14 new Pacific Preludes from the creator of Microjazz, inspired by traditional music from the shores of the world’s largest ocean.

Explore the rich and varied musical landscape of the Pacific Rim as each Prelude weaves together native themes from countries including Australia, China, Peru, New Zealand and the United States of America with Christopher Norton’s characteristically innovative popular musical styles.”

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Jazzin’ Americana

Sheet Music Review

Wynn-Anne Rossi may well be a new name to UK readers, but in the US she is a well known as a composer and dynamic educator. Commissions include works sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Composers Forum and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. She has over 70 piano publications, as well as original repertoire including orchestral and vocal works.

WynnAnneRossi.ashxWynn-Anne’s passion for promoting creativity in young musicians is reflected in her choice of publications with Alfred Music, which include the ’Musica Latina series of four repertoire and four duet books.

Her latest publications with Alfred are a series of four new solo piano books under the title Jazzin’ Americana, the subject of this review.

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