Saturday 7 November 2009

Kirk Lightsey Trio, Brighton Jazz Club, 6 November 2009

Last night US pianist Kirk Lightsey played with an energy and intensity that belied his years (he's in his Seventies). Kirk delighted the audience with a set that was passionate, joyful and virtuosic.

Elements of his playing include they way he balances hard bop soulfulness and with the harmonic complexities of Bill Evans. He has a fiercely strong left hand - jabbing away in a bebop style, playing arpeggios, melodies - giving a sense of a churning torrent of energy. His playing is peppered with quotes - Monk, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Oscar Pettiford, jazz tunes and standards.

The humming, growling and singing of his accompanying vocals (in the tradition of Bud Powell & Keith Jarrett), rocking on his chair, playing with outstretched arms, all give the sense that he is putting everything into his performance. Reinforced by his catch-phrase, "Woweee! If you're not having fun by now . . ."

His set included tributes to friends like Tony Williams (Peewee), Wayne Shorter (Infant Eyes) and Miles Davis (Freedom Jazz Dance). It one point he did a Debussy-like cadenza and segued into a beautiful version of the ballad Spring is Here which, despite his extrovert disposition had some tender moments and harmonies reminiscent of the Bill Evans' take on the tune.

As with all good piano trios there was a sense of conversation with the other two members, with some outstanding playing from a poker-faced Dave Wickens. Kirk constantly gave them visual and verbal cues (F minor!), laughed at the musical jokes, smiled with appreciation at their playing and made sure that the audience gave them well-deserved recognition. They did a rousing version of Dave Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way, which led into an extended drum solo by Dave Wickens with some very funny musical banter between Kirk and bassist Dave Whitford as they tried to synchronise the kicks at the start of each chorus of the drum solo.

This was one of the best gigs I have seen at the Brighton Jazz Club in recent years, with Kirk bringing a warmth and humour to the club's somewhat austere setting.

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