Jef Neve/Rusconi Kings Place, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

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Jazz pianists often talk about ‘being ready’ to approach a solo project, the lack of bass and drums requiring them to dig deep into the realm of inventiveness. Jef Neve was certainly prepared tonight and he had also prepared his piano, which conferred an unexpected timbre upon the opening of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life’. Neve’s set was a mix of standards and originals, with perhaps the standout piece of the evening being Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.

Baring his soul in the same way that playing solo piano does, he revealed that the power and beauty of this song saved his life once, memories perhaps alluded to by the minor chord reharmonisations towards the end, which then resolve, thankfully, back to the major. Contrapuntal inventions on an original, ‘Solitude’ gave way to the implied groove of Monk’s ‘I Mean You’, which served to demonstrate what a versatile player Neve actually is. ‘Flying to Diani Beach’ is inspired by a flight over Mount Kilimanjaro that sees a busy ostinato in the right hand join ascending melodies in the left. As for Neve’s ascent to the summit of solo piano, he has proven that he is more than ready to undertake the climb.

Mixing things up after the break were Euro trio Rusconi whose stage attire would portend the music to come with bobble hat completing an ensemble of shirts, cardigans and blazers. Perhaps the most joyous moment of their set was when Fabian Gisler substituted his double bass for electric guitar, which succeeded in moving the music in entirely new directions. Before the piece was concluded however, guitar was out, bass was in again and relative jazz order restored.

This change in format was repeated a few more times, as was the use of three part backing vocals over solos as witnessed in the following tune, ‘Ankor’. Unconventional perhaps, but it did at times distract from the business at hand. Pianist Stefan Rusconi, in explaining the narrative behind ‘Sojus Dream’ makes mention of Laika, the first living creature to orbit the Earth, and the effect the experience may have had on her. The poor mongrel never returned to Earth, and I’m not sure I have yet either.    

– Mark Stokesbury