Riepler rips at The Vortex

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“Thinking what I will use/to get the cool tone”, sang the great singer-songwriter Stephen Stills during ‘Piece of Me’, a cut from his 2005 release Man Alive!. The words came to mind during Hannes Riepler’s recent show at The Vortex, prompted by the way the electric jazz guitarist discovered and mined the cool tones throughout this well-attended performance. Word must have spread about this long-time London resident of Austrian extraction, a mainstay of the local jazz scene, a constant feature leading late night jams.

For this one-off show, Riepler was accompanied by an extremely strong line-up; Josh Arcoleo on sax, Paul Clarvis on drums, and Calum Gourlay on bass. Together the quartet meshed beautifully with Riepler’s artistic aims. There were some lovely moments when Gourlay was playing the lead lines on the upper registers of his bass, accompanied by Riepler comping sweetly with harmonics. Clarvis’s stick work was appropriately subtle, engaged, and swinging, as Arcoleo supplied an important lead voice during many passages, combining tunefulness with a sparkling tone.

During sets comprising originals and some much-loved pieces by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Joe Henderson Riepler demonstrated his particular facility with a gentle, swinging, bluesy ballad. This is a strangely elusive skill to master, as the great US guitarist John Scofield acknowledged in a past Downbeat interview. While the uninitiated may be dazzled by speedy fretboard wizardry, musicians know that it becomes ever more important, and also in some respects harder, to maintain accuracy and expressiveness of tempo as the tempo slows. 

As a writer, Riepler has a penchant for grooving, catchy, but heartfelt, tunes, as can be heard on his recent album Wild Life. The riff-based ‘Gillett Square Blues’, which refers to the square outside of The Vortex, which lately has become something of a haven for skateboard enthusiasts, has a Miles-esque feel to it and sounds like it might have made the cut on one of that trumpeter’s stronger electric-period albums.   

– Graham Boyd

– Photos by Robbie Chard