Album Review: Jason Rebello’s Held

rebelloFor a great British musician, pianist Jason Rebello has had one of the more intriguing careers than most.

A key figure in the late-’80s jazz revival with his blinding licks and clean-cut looks much to the fore, he released a superb Wayne Shorter-produced debut A Clearer View (much more on that soon) in 1990, then followed it up with some further well-received albums and a dream gig replacing Kenny Kirkland in Sting’s band. But he then swapped the cut and thrust of the music business for the tranquility of a Buddhist retreat, returning in the late ’90s to further solo success and another great gig with Jeff Beck’s touring group.

Jason’s five previous solo albums have been dotted with solo piano tracks but this is the first time he’s gone the whole hog. Held –  recorded at Bath Spa University’s Michael Tippett Centre – is a welcome and worthwhile addition to the tradition. The press release states that the album ‘consolidates all his musical experiences’ and that’s spot-on; there’s a pleasing variety of styles running from ‘fusion’ to Latin and African textures, reflecting his headlining and also sideman work.

The opening ‘Pearl’ could almost have been arranged in a jazz/rock style for one of his early-’90s bands. He plays rhythm games with the 7/8 time and delivers an incredible solo with two-hand independence that makes the hair stand on end. You’d swear there were two players. ‘Salad Days’ and the title track display Rebello’s mastery of passing chords, while ‘Thanks John’ shows another of his trademarks: simple melody/complex harmony. Interestingly, it’s also somewhat in the composing style of John McLaughlin’s ballads, so maybe it’s a tip of the hat to the great guitarist?

‘Tokyo Dream’ features a strong melody which seems instantly familiar, while the samba-style ‘Happy But For How Long’ – an interesting companion piece to Lyle Mays’s ‘Chorinho‘ – showcases another fantastic solo. The world doesn’t need another cover version of ‘Blackbird’, but Rebello gives it a pleasing African feel and a few neat new chords. ‘Polzeath’ dips into the Brad Mehldau school with its constantly-transposing melody and rippling left-hand figure, while ‘Purple Sunflower’ is a very short, perfectly-realised piece which sounds totally improvised.

Rebello’s lyrical, expressive and melodic brand of solo piano is far removed from other recent purveyors of the form such as Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn and Brad Mehldau. That’s not to say that Held is particularly smooth or easy listening – there’s barely a 2-5-1 progression to be found. But Jason’s sense of harmony rather recalls players such as Michel Petrucianni, Kirkland and, of course, Herbie, rather than the cutting-edge minimalists.

But he definitely has a unique touch on the piano. And it’s no great surprise but a pleasure nonetheless to report that his first solo piano album is a triumph.

Held is out now on Edition Records.

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