Liam Noble, A Room Somewhere, Basho

From 2015. His first solo piano album in 20 years A Room Somewhere is a landmark in Liam Noble’s career in more ways than just its relative rarity value. While song and standards-rooted (its title links to the lyric of Lerner and Loewe’s song …

Published: 10 Nov 2019. Updated: 23 months.

From 2015. His first solo piano album in 20 years A Room Somewhere is a landmark in Liam Noble’s career in more ways than just its relative rarity value.

While song and standards-rooted (its title links to the lyric of Lerner and Loewe’s song ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’ from My Fair Lady) all the tracks are a reminder of Noble’s individuality that has been heard recently even if masked within the blaze of bands as different as Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5 and Pigfoot.

Noble likes to take a lightly oblique way in to state his themes, which puts his approach firmly in the old school bebop pianist bracket on one level. He picks over the bones of the excavated harmonies like the wariest of pathologists.

Recorded in Wales in September 2014, Noble’s first solo piano album since Close Your Eyes, the album is bookended by the pianist’s own tune ‘Major Major’ and Elgar’s ‘Salut D’Amour’, and three more of this Oxford University and Guildhall-educated jazz musician’s compositions: ‘Now’, ‘Now and Then (overdub)’ and ‘I Wish I Played Guitar’ are also included, while Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Sophie’ (from 1990s album Music for Large and Small Ensembles), and evergreens ‘There is No Greater Love’, ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Round Midnight’ are among the remaining repertoire.

There is somehow a logic in everything Noble does without the need for him to be mechanical at all. And while there is only the one Monk tune included (in ‘Round Midnight’) the manner in which Noble manages to reach the beating heart of each piece he tackles somehow follows a Monkian method updated with a new blueprint to hand.

Adept at conjuring atmosphere on quieter passages by crowding dark note clusters into little scrums of melodic ambiguity, Noble manages to shade and amplify his intentions to retain our interest for extended periods whether punching out firm insistent rhythms on Joe Zawinul’s ‘Directions’ or stripping the sound right back to the flimsiest of after-notes on his own tune ‘Now’.

That finely attuned bebop sensibility he brings to much of the material reaches its zenith on ‘There is No Greater Love’ one part jazz indulgence one part an exercise in reinvention. Noble even manages to squeeze in a recent American folk tune in Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ ‘Six White Horses’ which he seems to recreate in his own image and that is part of the knack here, all the material becoming Noble-ised to some extent.

‘I Wish I Played Guitar’ seems to hint at a more elaborate compositional method at play whereas with Wheeler’s ‘Sophie’ Noble seems to lose himself in the rhapsody of the piece and let his true hitherto harder to detect feelings manifest themselves. His more personal reactions to his material is also tapped into on ‘Body and Soul’, by no means the most obvious version of the great ballad you’re likely to hear.

Including music by Elgar at the end is a little bit of a curiosity, a piece written pre-jazz for violin and piano. Delicately rendered Noble deftly sidesteps its inner sentimentality and fans the flames of its intimate grandeur.

An excellent album that anyone interested in the art of jazz piano will want to get to know. SG

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Bobby Wellins quartet, Vortex, London

From 2014. The streets of Dalston, like so many areas of London this weekend, were still full of dressed-up vampires, ghosts of many descriptions, visions of Hallowe’en the night after, with their capes swishing, top hats angled rakishly, a …

Published: 10 Nov 2019. Updated: 12 months.

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From 2014. The streets of Dalston, like so many areas of London this weekend, were still full of dressed-up vampires, ghosts of many descriptions, visions of Hallowe’en the night after, with their capes swishing, top hats angled rakishly, a carnival of the night.

I’m not sure what Bobby Wellins thinks about Hallowe’en if he is into it or not. The saxophonist whose career goes way back to far-off Buddy Featherstonhaugh quintet days was playing with his quartet at the Vortex, and stood, his head bowed sometimes with a slight smile on his face when he wasn’t in full flow, pianist Liam Noble to his right a spirit in itself to behold on his tremendously abstract improvisation during ‘Love For Sale’, bassist Mark Lewandowski tucked in behind the 78-year-old Scottish jazz icon, and drummer Dave Wickins to the side, a quality timepiece alert to the tick-tocking flow of the music tapping an urgent alarm call when needed.

It was frustrating to only be able to stay for the first set but there was plenty enough here to savour and think about later, most specifically Wellins’ reading of Monk, the character in the phrasing so appealing. Wellins, adding a little ‘o’ deliciously to his Sphericalness’ first name as he quietly announced ‘Little Rootie Tootie’, Lewandowski in his solo was able to quote another tune of Monk’s (‘Nutty’) as did Noble in one section (‘Straight No Chaser’) and they weren’t even showing off.

Wellins last month put out one of his most significant records in a long career the five part ‘Culloden Moor Suite’ and here in the nitty gritty of a great jazz club with his quartet instead of a larger ensemble showed a different and no less imaginative side to his artistry. SG