Friday, 12 October 2007

Howard Riley...

I was looking for a special review to post for the weekend but couldn't really find one that appealed. Then I remembered I'd name-checked Rick Wakeman in this Howard Riley two-fer.

Rick Wakeman always brings a smile to the face...




HOWARD RILEY
At Lincoln Cathedral
Heliopause (HPVP 105CD)
Upon Arrival; Timeless; Round Midnight; High Lights; Only; Soundings; Ocean Walk.

Howard Riley (p) (25th September 2001).

Consequences
33 Jazz Records (33Jazz 126)
Consequences; Feelgood; Old Times; Nobility; Enabling; Chance Encounter; Last Night; Spring Fling; Rituals; Thinking of Then; Trinkling; Further Consequences.

Howard Riley (p) (6th May 2003).

If I were to mention Britain’s pre-eminent jazz pianist, a man with a fondness for Ellington and Monk yet with a doggedly individual streak, I bet you’d be thinking of Stan Tracey. Let’s consider for a moment a less fashionable alternative, who, were it not for an excursion into the stormy waters of free jazz and improvised music in the 1970s, may well be enjoying such recognition. Even in the wildest trios with Barry Guy and Tony Oxley, Huddersfield born Riley’s jazz roots were clear. As the years have passed his style has mellowed to the point now where it must now be considered universally accessible. Years of exploring his limits have left Riley with a creative reservoir that few can match, and these very different examples of the challenging discipline of solo performance offer welcome glimpses of his talents.


Although actually a studio session, Consequences was conceived as as a live-in-the-studio performance. There may have been no audience, but neither are there any alternate takes - this is the music as it happened. Many of the earlier studio solos had an almost miniaturesque quality, offering short but intense musical statements. With an average performance length of over five minutes, this session is relatively looser, though each piece remains tightly focused. Styles range from the darkly claustrophobic bookends, ‘Consequences’ and ‘Further Consequences’ (which suggest shared ground with Paul Bley), to bebop (‘Last Night’), angular abstraction (‘Enabling’), Monk (‘Chance Encounter’) and even blues drenched boogie-woogie (‘Spring Fling’). Very up front studio engineering brings a rawness that keeps you riveted for an unflagging sixty minutes. A superb document of Riley at his best, Consequences also makes a perfect introduction for any newcomer.

The Lincoln Cathedral performance suggests that Riley may now be enjoying increasing parity with Tracey, himself no stranger to performing in these vast and ancient spaces. It is good that Riley should be receiving such recognition, though less flattering that the release is part of a series that includes the visit to Lincoln of one Rick Wakeman. Recorded in 2001 on the Local Authority’s Steinway Grand, Lincoln is a more sombre, contemplative and even compromised disc than Consequences. Unlike that recording, where the listener was placed underneath the instrument’s hammers, this sound recording places the listener very much outside of the piano.

The opening ‘Upon Arrival’ sees Riley exploring a simple motif from many different angles. ‘Timeless’ and a pretty straight version of ‘Round Midnight’ continue the relatively low key approach. It is clear that Riley is cleverly exploring the acoustics of the space, letting overtones ring for maximum impact. Only on ‘Soundings’ does anything more muscular emerge, and the closing ‘Ocean Walk’, with its strong left hand walking bassline, has the first inkling of a rhythmic feel. Clearly context is everything, and the sense of restraint produced by the occasion is in marked contrast to the incendiary charge of Consequences. An ‘enhanced’ CD comes with the package, offering binaural surround sound recordings of a selection of performances and an MPG video of ‘High Lights’. A nice document of a special day, but given a choice, the incendiary Consequences is the disc to go for.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2006)

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