Mark Latimer is amazing – not something I would say lightly but this 2 CD set has completely surprised and delighted from start to finish.
The first is produced from live recordings at St Georges, Bristol in 1999. It opens with ‘ Tableau i’, a joyous explosion of swing/rocky trioism as can only be delivered by three musicians in harmony – short, sweet and a brilliant fanfare. ‘ Tableau ii’ is not so short but just as devastatingly delicious with its interpretation of old style piano jazz added to which is the Latimer twist which is, in short, a delivery of clever, irrepressible and slightly in your face piano music. This track has a bass solo where the deep, echoing shafts of the instrument are heard to their full extent in the hands of one Mario Castronari (Roadside Picnic, one of London’s prized bass players, played with Kevin Keating and with Mark Latimer on his album ‘Unhinged Take 2#’, ) and introduces properly the percussive head bash that is Harold Fisher ( Movements, Parkinson Show, BBC) .
I was completely bowled over in no small measure. Particularly engaging is how Mark Latimer manages to use a soft, smooth roll up with a theme, only to bash the heck out of it in the final few notes – marvellous. ‘Tableau iii’ is gentler, altogether softer and a perfect contrast to its fore runner. The theme is built not only in terms of complexity but also in the rise and fall volume-wise of the piano playing which adds an additional layer of interest. The bass section is again beautiful and develops into a swinging section with glissandos up to notes in short sections punctuated with staccato.
‘Tableau iv’ is swingy with familiarity (spot the tune) cheekily put in to create the imperfect distraction around Mark’s playing and tinkering with the upper (and lower) octaves. This track develops into an intriguing and playful delight. ‘Tableau v’ is more pretty, delicate and intricate than the opening would have your ears believe. It builds, how it builds and by the half way point the piano is giving up any hidden ghosts of hidden notes.
Like a conjurer pulling objects from a hat, Mark Latimer finds more to say, more to express and the musicians follow suit. This track is powerful and calming at the same time with its strength and yet at the same time a steadfast adherence to the major keys and chordant dialogue. Listen out for the bass around the 5 minute mark. Love it. ‘Tableau vi’ has a bluesey emphasis , delicately delivered by the piano which is joined by the bass in a lazy, laid back manner while the drums do their thang in the background. A change of beat, pace and further proof , if any were needed of Mark Latimer’s diversity and depths. He can’t help it though, the number builds, as it has to under the guide of this master piano player and before long the entire trio are moving, grooving and crazy loud. Brilliant.
‘Tableau vii’ is jumpy, thumpy and exceedingly good listening. With quirky rhythms veering from off-set threes to fours and back to bass-led faster true jazz sections, this tack is packed with ingredients to create ear-massage. Another superbly delivered number which hides in its relatively simplistic format a wealth of hidden delights, such as the final section where Latimer decides to take a fast but beautiful journey through the keys whilst taking delight in thrashing the black and whites before the piece reverts to the fast paced jazz to finish. Superb. ‘Tableau viii’ begins with a disguised interpretation of familial themes but soon Mark Latimer directs the trio towards the place where he seems happiest – expressive, intuitive playing .
The piano fades and percussion takes over in the shape of Harold Fisher developing all kinds of rhythmic variations and tones for an extended solo, then the piano and bass join in further enhancing the fathoms of collective deepness to this track. ‘Tableau ix’ is different again, with gentle piano over bowed bass which is used to create ethereal , sounds, drawing out every breathy tone from the bass before the piano falls into a playful, happy little ditty of its own, albeit with a few bashed notes in there and some gorgeous deliberate counterpoints and off-set notes. This continues not for long because Mr Latimer has surprises galore in store and shortly the piece builds into a frenetic, fulsome deliverance of sounds which draw on every string and some additional ones. The bass and drums back up the piano in a lovely joint effort at mayhem, which is total delight before the number draws together again to become a tuneful, melodic number, almost as if to say, ‘what us?’ never! Several more changes of emphasis and rhythm follow.
Crazily good. ‘Thelonius Monk arranged by Maurice Ravel’ is beautiful, organic and utterly listenable right the way through due to the never ceasing changes in direction, the impressive bass solo and the sheer dexterity and weight of the piano playing. ‘At The Sign of The Swinging Cymbal’ (Bran Fahey) opens with drums, swiftly followed by the piano delivering the familiar theme before all mayhem breaks out with the trio each taking and emphasising their own parts. Short, sweet and the perfect ending to this first CD.
The second CD is a 2001 live recording from the Trondheim International Jazz Festival. Forget the introduction which is the first track unless you can understand Swedish. Straight to track 2 which is ‘No (r) way’, a Latimer penned number with immense rises and falls in both sound and diversity. From simple, bashed chords to intrinsic, developed chordal progressions, this track is full bodied and deeply textured.
From its opening statement through incandescent, simmering, angry notes, this is a beautiful piece from start to finish with such a range of emotions and essences it is exhausting listening. The double bass of Steinar Raknes (Ola Kvernberg Trio, Urban Connection) adds emphasis to the few and far between gaps with percussive notes delivered with gusto from Hakon Mjaset Johansen (Motif, Jon Larsen the Atle Nymo/Frode Nymo Quartet and Jan Garbarek). Mark covers virtually every note of the keyboard and somehow more.
There is one part where the bass travels up and down whilst the piano is light and clearly, there is an understanding between the players. The piece comes down fast into a gorgeous soft ending. And so this trio announce themselves and now we know, this is going to be good. ‘All The Things You Are’ ( Jerome Kerr) is delivered with aplomb and worked into a 10 minute intervention of creativity. Some interesting conversations happen between the percussion, bass and piano and culminative decisions take them in various directions, including a playful, lucid pretty section, but ultimately teetering around the singularity yet the theme is never quite allowed to disappear into the black hole so temptingly opened up for it.
‘Tray Bien’ , another Latimer penned number, follows and this is starts with a riotous drum solo interspersed with delicately placed chords and phrases from the piano. The off kilter rhythm is a sheer delight and complete ear candy as relentlessly, Mark’s fingers pound the keys with blistering speed and precision. The bass at times delivers deep percussive notes which underpin and support. the openness of the percussive middle to end section contrasts with the full and deep sounds of the preceding parts. ‘ Pretender Got My Heart’ (Shelly Poole and Karen Poole) is a melodic, sweet and atmospheric number, dropped in perfectly to provide contrast and a change in mood. Careful use of the pedals make this rise and fade adding additional emotive responses from the sounds. The bass solo is glorious and the interjected piano adds just the right touch of lightness to offset the sonorous tones.
‘Messiaenic’ (Latimer) is also gentler and prosaic in its presentation with a theme set at the start which prevails throughout. It builds around major chords quiet, quieter, then build with the bass, add some delicate percussion, leave just the percussion and then we all play, building, adding, building on the foundations which make great music, a little piano interlude and then we are all back, the bass walking, the piano tinkling down the keyboard and the drums nattily tapping out a rhythm separately. Lovely. ‘Bridge On The River Wye’ starts with intricate, rapid piano, followed by bass and percussion , then piano in classical style, complete with triplets, then a definite swung section with everyone grooving along before the classical-jazz style along with some note runs and swerving, curve balls of rhythm thrown in. A track with a little bit of everything thrown in and mixed in a delightful, incredible force of energy which at times makes your eardrums vibrate in its intensity. This track is like waves, it is intense, then backs right off, then comes at you again in a relentless outpouring of soul and emotion. The drums are amazing. The bass is amazing and the voice and little interruptions make the bass solo. Completely gorgeous and a great track to finish with.
There is an understanding between the musicians which is transferred to the listener. The best tracks are the Latimer penned ones. He has such an understanding of hearing range and depth, it is impossible to find fault with this music – and why would you ever seek to? What is so good about this music is there is never, ever the chance to get bored. Just when you think a tune is trinkling along, a few perfectly placed but loud and bashed notes draw you from any drifting into realms of dreams. This is music played to the people by musicians who clearly love what they are doing under the direction of a pianist with a heart surely made of musical notes. It speaks and this is the gift which separates mediocre from the truly talented. This music comes from musicians firmly in the latter camp.
CD1 Mark Latimer: Piano – Mario Castronari: Bass – Harold Fisher: Drums
CD2 Mark Latimer: Piano – Steinar Raknes: Bass – Hakon Mjaset Johansen: Drums