Monday, February 20, 2017


Only the very best groups have the ability to mould their music and their environment into what seems like a single organism. This was something that struck me very powerfully while listening to Plaistow in Bremen’s Weserburg art museum during the 2016 Jazzahead festival.

On the face of it, the room was not the most helpful in acoustic terms. Anyone trying to play conventional piano-trio jazz would soon have been overwhelmed by unwanted reverberation. But that’s not what Plaistow do. And, quite characteristically, Johann Bourquenez, Vincent Ruiz and Cyril Bondi had given the matter some thought in advance. Without compromising the substance or reducing the essence of their music, and without limiting their creative freedom to pursue a three-way conversation, they found an adaptation that both made the room seem like a perfect space for their music and allowed their fans to hear it from a new perspective.

By contrast Amsterdam’s Bimhuis is a venue tailored in every respect to a band such as Plaistow. One of the world’s best jazz clubs, it allows the musicians to worry about nothing other than their music. Clarity is guaranteed, along with an open-minded audience. This new album, their fifth since the group came together in its original form in Geneva in 2007, is their first to be recorded outside the studio, maintaining their approach to the pursuit of grooves that satisfy the mind and the body in full measure.

A group whose members take it for granted that each individual operates on an equal creative level, Plaistow – who took their name, which is that of a district of London, from a track on a Squarepusher LP – are among the most compelling of the many piano trios to have sprung up in the wake of Brad Mehldau, Esbjörn Svensson and the Necks. More than 300 concerts on tour in Europe, Russia, Japan and India have allowed them to develop an authentic and even stubborn individuality, using inspiration from many sources but focusing all their influences (including certain elements of jazz and minimalism) down to a clearly defined identity, one that is, in Duke Ellington’s phrase, beyond category.
In these live performances they explore new dimensions of four pieces from Titan, their previous album, whose 14 tracks were inspired by and named after the moons of Saturn. Carefully calibrated but with no shortage of human emotion, the compositions range from the pulsating dynamism of “Hyperion” to the patient understatement of “Helene”, whose typically luminous ending sums up their gift for drama and surprise. This is a great time for piano trios, but there really isn’t another one quite like Plaistow.