Brimming with inventive and soulful compositions - including 6 by Pete, Kairos Ensemble's latest release, Rejoicing Blues, is out on Mulberry Tree Music...
Pianist and composer Peter James met his fellow trio members, drummer Thomas Hooper and double-bassist Jeremy Brown, when he moved from North Yorkshire to London in the early 90's to study jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. The trio was formed in 2008 with the release, to critical acclaim, of their debut album Visions and Vistas. Their second album, Soul Story (2011) was listed among the best releases of the year by Jamie Cullum on Radio 2 and Jazzwise magazine.
"A musician with a strong identity and inner calling... as an improviser James is lucid and imaginative and truly communicates...a talent with a lot to say and the vocabulary to say it soulfully!" Julian Joseph.
"I listen to all kinds of music," says Peter, "and the attraction of jazz has always been to me about it's openness to real-time musical dialogue, drawing on whatever musical vocabulary there is to hand, rather than it being about a particular style in itself... It's got to come from the moment and from the heart. In composition, I'm trying to explore the tensions between form and freedom - leaving room for the unexpected and bearing in mind the individual musicians that I write for. I've known Tom and Jez for a long time which helps to contribute to a kind of musical empathy and trust. It's very much a three way conversation."
The creative respect amongst the players contributes to music which is vibrant, original and compelling - qualities recognised by reviewers of the first album: "Poise and elegance tends to come with this combination of instruments. The Peter James Trio can add passion and push to that list." (Sid Smith, Postcards from the Yellow Room) "Spirited and inventive trio interplay." (Robert Shore, Jazzwise) "In addition to a deftness and delicacy of touch, he is able to infuse his playing with much rarer and less tangible quality: genuine sentiment." (Chris Parker, Vortex)
The music draws on diverse influences - from classical and Latin inflections to freer and more groove based genres. A strong harmonic and lyrical sensibility - or in Peter Vacher's words, "the gift of melody" (Visions and Vistas review, Jazz UK) is evident throughout.
On influences and inspiration, Peter shares:
"Early jazz piano influences came from my dad's record collection - which thankfully included a healthy selection of greats like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. Later on I heard pianists like Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock who really expanded my horizons. One of the first Jarrett albums I heard was Changeless (1989) and I remember thinking at the time, 'I didn't know jazz was allowed to sound like this!' Other early epiphany moments include hearing Herbie's playing on My Funny Valentine from the Miles Davis live 1964 double album and Abdulla Ibrahim's rootsy playing on the Mindif soundtrack. I love hearing new sounds that manage to both demolish and rebuild your musical universe at the same time! Long may that continue...
Listening to bands like EST or The Bad Plus also helped expand my understanding of what a piano trio could sound like and the diversity of influences it could draw upon. Their music encourages me that a wider audience is out there who intuitively respond to the energy and spontaneity of ‘jazz,' without perhaps labelling it as such. Other contemporary piano players I enjoy listening to include John Taylor, Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Tord Gustavsen, Marcin Wasilewski, Jef Neve - to name but a few. It's always interesting to see what other people do with the same eighty-eight keys - I like the fact that jazz makes room for diverse musical voices.
My own musical voice as a jazz musician has been influenced by all kinds of music. When I heard James MacMillan's orchestral piece, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, it pretty much blew me away it! As did a performance of John Tavener's seven hour piece, Beyond the Veil, which lasted through the night! Hearing works written for larger ensembles inspires my thoughts about instrumental colour and longer narratives in composition. This sense of story telling is something I appreciate in other music too - Vince Mendoza's arrangements of Joni Mitchell songs on Travelogue, for example, are beautiful.
The ‘inner narrative' is something I'm exploring in the Soul Story suite on my latest recording and something I've visited before with the Kairos Ensemble's Passion Suite (2010). Sometimes it's an abstract or spiritual journey I'm seeking to express though composition. At other times it maybe something as straightforward as a thought, intention or a feeling that's hard to put into words, but finds its expression somehow through arranging musical sounds. I find unearthing these sounds a very rewarding process - it can feel almost therapeutic at times and it's one of the things I love about music: it helps express the inexpressible."
"Highly, highly recommended" Jamie Cullum, BBC Radio 2
"In the top flight of piano trios" Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz
"Excellent new British jazz trio" Jazz FM, Mike Chadwick's Cutting Edge
"Fabulous playing by a great new band" BBC Radio Ulster, Linley Hamilton's After Midnight
"The trio work together to produce music that is passionate, lyrical and always engaging. This is excellent music from a musician just emerging as a musical force in his own right." Steve Rubie, 606 Club