This gig was signalled by CJC Jazz club some months ago and as I am a real fan of piano trio’s I had looked forward to it. It was hinted that this would be a duel, but both trio’s approached the gig from quite different perspectives and this makes comparisons a little redundant. It was perhaps surprising as these are Auckland University Jazz Studies students and you would not expect to find such interesting stylistic diversity in young pianists.
While the gig was a tribute to Connor and Matt (and their sidemen), it was also a tribute to Kevin Field their teacher. A gifted pianist who obviously encourages students to find their own voice.
The first up was the Connor McAneny trio. Connor (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Chris Wratt (drums). The set began with the famous medium tempo hard bop classic ‘Inner Urge’ (by tenor man Joe Henderson). There were also a number of interesting originals played with intriguing titles (e.g. Black Monday, Underwear) but my pick was the fabulous Lennie Tristano tune ‘317 East 32nd Street’. I love Tristano tunes with their long probing lines and relentless forward propulsion. When Lennie was around his drummers had to keep a subdued metronome-like beat, but that approach has gradually faded into the mists of time. This is a tune that begs interpretation and interplay between piano, bass and drums is now a part of that exploration. The constant however is the rhythmic momentum of the piano. This is not an easy tune to play, but Connor executed it extremely well. Chris Wratt met the challenge interestingly, as he kept the pulse while working hard against the bass lines.
Cameron McArthur has been noticeably stepping up this year and that he played in both trios while dealing effortlessly with the differing approaches is an indication of his growth as a musician. Only a fortnight has passed since he played with the AJO at the Bennie Maupin, Dick Oatts concert where he acquitted himself well (Matt Steele also played with the AJO on that gig). Cameron’s solo on ‘317 East 32nd Street’ was memorable.
Matt Steele is a pianist that I have been watching for some time and I have made no secret of my enthusiasm for his rapid progress as a musician. With each passing month he navigates increasingly difficult territory and being challenged in a variety of gig situations is working for him. There is a hint of the European Jazz pianists like Marcin Wasilewski in his playing, but there is also a boldness and clarity that is not often heard in a student. It is partly the way he approaches a piece (allowing compositions room to breathe) and it his clean melodic touch. He is a particularly animated player (making him hard to photograph) but the movement appears to give his tunes a strong sense of swing. It was therefore no surprise when the first tune in his set was ‘Little One’ (Tomasz Stanko). It originated from ‘Suspended Night – Variation v1’ but this version is a later incarnation. That is why I was sure that knew it well, but could not place the title. Matt also played some compositions of his own and these showed promise.
Once again Cameron Arthur was on bass and he dealt with this different material as adeptly as he dealt with Connors.
I had expected Matt to bring his usual Trio, but instead he used Cameron and well-respected Auckland drummer Stephen Thomas. Stephen’s inclusion was inspired, as he brought a very different feel to the numbers. While Jared had been adept in subtle colourist drumming, Stephen ramped up the proceedings by throwing constant challenges in the direction of the bass and piano. That is not to say that his drumming was overly busy, but he did exactly what a drummer on a live gig should do; laid down a perfect improvisational platform while throwing in a few twists and turns of his own.
The trio communicated beautifully and they never lost sight of each other musically.
I love to see emerging pianists in action and especially when they deliver. The above trios convinced a seasoned audience that they were both worthy of future attention.