Geoff's three score

Geoff Eales
Geoff Eales 60th Birthday Concert, 18 March 2011, Purcell Room, London.

Reviewed by Bob Weir

Pianist Geoff Eales is marking his 60th in grand style with a three months tour and the release of a new album, Shifting Sands, on the increasingly impressive Edition label. In suitably celebratory mood, his prestigious Purcell Room date was a gregarious gathering with his musician friends on stage and many longtime admirers among the enthusiastic audience. He presented a skilfully constructed programme with the emphasis on tributes to his favourite pianists and members of his close family. Never one to rest on his laurels, Geoff found time for some new compositions to demonstrate his interest in keeping pace with current jazz developments.    

The concert started with an appealingly varied selection of solo piano performances. The first was a piece of rhapsodic free improvisation within a framework of emphatic riffs which left no doubts about Geoff's technical and creative skills. Tributes to Bill Evans (They Didn't Believe Me) and Art Tatum (Tea For Two) were sensitive and exhilarating in turn. One of his new ones, They Can't Harm You Now, was a beautifully expressed and sadly topical reflection on the innocent victims of today's international conflicts.

Geoff was then joined in very sympathetic manner by violinist Chris Garrick for a couple of absorbing duets. The Heart That Heals, with Eastern European influences, had spirited improvising from both parties. Lullaby Of Birdland was a heartfelt tribute to the late George Shearing and in Chris's soaring solo also to Stephane Grappelli.

After a convivial interval, Geoff combined with his regular trio partners Chris Laurence on bass and Martin France at the drums for three wonderfully inventive and swinging numbers. He reminded us of his Celtic roots with Iolo's Dance, tenderly honoured his deceased cat for Sandy Samba and paid tribute to the late, great Esbjorn Svensson on Lachrymosa. The superb empathy between these gifted musicians made this segment a definite highlight of the concert.

Iain Ballamy was then added to the trio, on soprano for When I Was A Child and tenor for Peri's Scope. By now the band was really cooking and clearly having fun. This continued when Chris Garrick returned to make a quintet for the J.S. Bach-inclined Song For My Mother and Alice In Wonderland (yes, another Bill Evans tribute). After prolonged applause, the trio wrapped things up with a pensive interpretation of the lovely Dietz/Schwartz ballad Haunted Heart.

This highly enjoyable event was a well-timed reminder that Geoff is one of the most creative and musically broad minded pianists playing today. He may be a semi-veteran now that he has reached the grand age of 60 but he can still show a thing or two to the talented younger pianists who enrich the current British jazz scene.

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