London Jazz Festival – Kirk MacDonald trio

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Kirk MacDonald (tenor saxophone), Fabio Miano (piano), Duncan Hopkins (double bass)


Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 14 November, 2016
Venue: The Pheasantry, 152 Kings Road, London

Kirk MacDonaldPhotograph: kirkmacdonald.com“Which is the exit Eric Clapton used to escape a drugs bust?” asked the elderly Canadian woman in front of me, as we descended the narrow stairs to the basement. The young waiter didn’t know. The Pheasantry’s rock ’n’ roll past has left no trace on this plush restaurant: the black-and-white photos on the walls are of jazz musicians, the red walls and velvet curtains are as intimate as a boudoir; and the smell wafting in the air is most likely to be freshly baked pizza.

Yes, this is another of Pizza Express’s jazz venues, albeit less-well-known than the one in Soho that hosted piano prodigy Joey Alexander a few evenings ago. It’s also much smaller, the stage so tiny and close you can see the musicians’ fingernails. The lack of a drummer might have been pragmatic rather than aesthetic: even if a drummer moulded the kit around the curves of the baby grand, there probably wouldn’t be space for much more than bass drum, snare and hi-hat.

So, tenor saxophone (microphone evident, but neither needed nor used), bass and piano. The classic jazz quartet is such a familiar sound that the absence of drums creates a lightness, even weightlessness – but this trio felt firmly weighted by the neo-bop runs cascading from Kirk MacDonald’s flinty-toned saxophone, Duncan Hopkins’s supportive bass and Fabio Miano’s driving and clanging piano (wonder if his nickname’s ‘Miano the Piano’?).

Like US tenor-player Scott Hamilton, MacDonald (who’s Canadian) is a modern traditionalist and the band ran through several standards, including ‘Speak Low’, ‘How Deep is the Ocean’, a heavily embroidered ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, and, as the closer, ‘I Remember You’. In-between, they played a few MacDonald originals: complex and rich, these compositions sounded as if they’d lend themselves well to arrangements for a much larger group. The band was reading from scores, so perhaps the newness of the material explains why standards outnumbered originals. MacDonald is a fine player and an interesting composer, so here’s hoping that next time he’ll play more of his own tunes.

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