If the Ben Bastin Trio's album The Missing Piece (reviewed last week) already proved to be something very special, last night's launch at the wonderful Forge Arts Venue in Camden Town certainly turned out to be no less so. Indeed, if anything it was that bit extra special even.
Laying into the opening In Pursuit Of Old Age and the album's title track, The Missing Piece, with gusto, sensitivity and exuberance, bassist Ben Bastin, pianist John Turville, and drummer Joshua Blackmore set the pace and tone for the rest of the evening - and maintained it effortlessly and without the slightest problem.
The sheer enthusiasm of this trio was palpable and totally infectious, its tightness as impressive as its chops. Bastin, prodigiously gifted and a remarkably mature player and composer for his young years, proved why he is undoubtedly one of, if indeed not the very finest bassists of his generation on the British scene. Not only that, he also proved himself a remarkably adept raconteur with charm, wit and charisma.
Turville is of course one of the very finest pianists of his generation, and even any generation on the current scene, and also one of the most versatile, with a sensitivity that is almost peerless. One really wouldn't expect anything less from Turville than the perfection he delivered here with his usual ease and flair.
The real surprise has to be Blackmore at the traps who, being the same age as Bastin, is likewise a remarkably mature player for his age and prodigiously gifted. His performance was no less - indeed, if anything even more - stunning than on the album. Blackmore's timing was as excellent as his time keeping was precise, his playing uncommonly sensitive and employing a fine palette of colours. His brush work was particularly impressive, his cymbal work very fine, and his build-ups truly remarkable and very finely judged. Blackmore is undoubtedly one of the very finest young drummers of his generation that it has been my pleasure to hear yet.
One of the greatest pleasures as a reviewer, I have always found, is to encounter up-and-coming new talent, and to hopefully see them make their mark on the scene. Last night certainly was one such rewarding occasion.
Ben Bastin's remarkable and exquisite compositions with their strongly classical and even baroque influences as well as occasional shades of prog rock and touches of Miles Davis and Trane were matched by equally exquisite ensemble playing as well as breathtaking, scintillating and often Coltranesque improvs by Bastin and Turville that were right on the edge. Some of the dissonances were particularly adventurous and titillating as well as stimulating, as well as finely judged.
Bastin's playing throughout, whether bowed or pizzicato or other techniques - of which he employs a remarkable variety - was just utterly enchanting. As often leading from the front as from the back, Bastin cajoled and teased some truly remarkable sounds out of his bass.
After the break, we were also treated to Amelia Tucker's wonderful song, Scissors Paper Stone. This fits in so well and seamlessly with the rest of the material as to be an organic part of it. Ms. Tucker gave a perfectly delightful rendition. Unfortunately, the amplification of her voice was in part not quite adequate and her exquisite vocals thus occasionally got rather overwhelmed by the trio. Or maybe the trio might have got carried away just a touch now and then during this song?
Either way, Ms. Tucker certainly was not at fault and her performance of this song was flawless and hauntingly beautiful.
After one more trio number, the other special guests, violinist Raven Bush and cellist Danny Keane, joined the trio for the rest of the performance. They slid into the ensemble as seamlessly as could be imagined and might as well have been a permanent part of it, for all intents and purposes.
The exquisite performance of the Ben Bastin Trio with their guests Bush and Keane included of course the jaw-dropping tracks Arthur and the closer, Not Untitled (of which more anon), from the album.
However, this section also included a superlative instrumental arrangement of the song Forever Autumn - originally sung by Justin Hayward (Moody Blues) - from Jeff Wayne's recently revived late 1970s extravaganza, The War Of The Worlds. This imaginative, inventive and simply magical rendition somehow managed to translate and preserve all the poetic beauty of the lyrics of this song through purely instrumental means, and then add more. An amazing interpretation, with some very innovative solos.
At the same time, this breathtaking and achingly beautifully rendered piece was made to fit into the overall programme as if it had been written for it. Bastin made it his own with this awesome, deceptively simple arrangement. Anybody not aware of the original and not made aware of it could easily be forgiven for taking it to be a Bastin original. Wayne ought to feel deeply complimented by this arrangement and rendition.
One really would like to see this bit of special magic being included on a future recording. It is too brilliant to be left out.
The contributions of Raven Bush's violin and Danny Keane's cello to this last part of the evening's performance must not be undervalued and really are deserving of mentioning again. Two superb string players who one would like to hear more of in similar jazz contexts as they seem thoroughly at home here.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end sometime, and thus the closer of the album, Not Untitled, finally also served to close last night's brilliant, magical performance.
For this finale, the augmented Ben Bastin Trio were of course again joined by vocalist Amelia Tucker. Ms. Tucker's ethereal, mesmerising wordless vocals, somehow so reminiscent of operatic soprano Heather Harper who so excelled in such parts in her concert and recording career, seemed to be floating on the merest gossamer of air, a disembodied voice seemingly not of this world. An enchantment as compelling as Odysseus' sirens, a haunting beauty that is impossible to forget.
Underpinned by John Turville's now wispy, filigree ivories, then relentless ostinatos and finally dissolving into nothingness keys, interspersed with an outstanding solo, this was a most fitting and memorable finale to such a brilliant performance as the Ben Bastin Trio's was last night.
However, an encore was inevitable and was delivered with equal panache and beauty by Bastin's bass with Bush's violin and Keane's cello only.
Last night's two sets by the Ben Bastin Trio can only be summed up as exceptionally brilliant and beautiful, with brilliant compositions and arrangements of often haunting beauty.
This was decidedly not your average jazz gig. Not even your above average jazz gig. This was a truly exceptional , very special gig.
Here's to much, much more from the wonderful Ben Bastin Trio.
© 2011 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.