Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ben Prischi Trio - 23/12/2006@Jazz Station, Bruxelles

Ben Prischi - p
Ben Ramos - b
Guillaume Palomba - d

I arrived just as the trio was finishing the first tune, a Keith Jarrett composition. I was delighted to then hear Andrew Hill's "Siete Ocho," on which Guillaume Palomba ably kept up a full-kit Latinate groove and Ben Prischi delved into the theme's dark clusters, then lightened it up for the solo, but without losing intensity. Guillaume later told me that he'd witnessed a master-class by Hill a few years back, in which Hill's "evasive" and "very metaphoric" (dixit Guillaume) 5 minute answers were boiled down to 1 by the translator.

Ben is a 19 year old French expat currently in his second year at the Conservatory. His Keith Jarrett influence was audible in his long, flowing lines, glossy takes on the blues and the sheer amount of Jarrettian compositions they played ("Personal Mountains" and "River Song"). However, Ben is also attracted to a more distilled, Scandanavian kind of lyricism, which was fully apparent when they played Bobo Stenson's "Golden Ray." Somehow, the Stenson seemed more wary of its own potential sappiness than most of the Jarrett played during this concert and the Giacomo Lariccia performance the night before.

When I asked Ben about the attraction Jarrett's writing exerted, he seemed to be mostly interested in the collective improvising methods the Jarrett's quartets (European and American) had applied to them. I hadn't asked Giacomo the same question, but I think he would have answered "the melodies," a difference in viewpoint that explains the difference in outcome.

Ben's interest in the American Quartet's controlled freeform playing was most obviously expressed on "Blues Connotation" (the trio has a very hip repertoire: aside from a few originals, they also played Sam Rivers's "Cyclic Episode" (pointedly, not "Beatrice"), Tony Williams's "Pee Wee" and Kenny Wheeler's "Smatter"). Ornette Coleman's wonderful blues line allowed for more fractured, percussive and exploratory playing. Ben constantly returned to and reconfigured the theme, for example ironically embedding it in lush, romantic voicings, before spinning away from it, while the trio as a whole juggled time feels: superposing them, digging into a slow, bluesy 12/8, speeding up to an elastic medium tempo. Afterwards, when I praised the arrangement, they told me that not only was it entirely improvised, it was also the first time they'd played it that way in public, as they usually play it straight. If so, and with their broad outlook on the music (we talked about freedom in Jarrett's bands, Mark Turner and lots of other modern jazz stuff, but long after the concert had ended and the Jazz Station emptied, Ben sat down at the piano to play a little boogie-woogie) the band's room to grow is huge. They had taken the straighter route on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," where Guillaume's steady accompaniment was more Blakey than Williams.

Ben Ramos is somewhat older than the trio's other two members, and clearly helped keep them on track. He's an excellent player, sturdy and vigorous, so I'm surprised I'd never seen him before this week.