Without underplaying the extent of pianist Yaron Herman‘s reputation, this concert felt like one of the hidden gems of the London Jazz Festival. Tucked away in the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s Purcell Room, the John Scofield Trio playing simultaneously next door, the intimate area created the perfect setting in which an audience might be blown away. And, in the event, it most certainly was by something quite extraordinary.
The Yaron Herman Trio was premiering its new ACT album, Follow The White Rabbit. In it, the majority of compositions are written by the Israeli-born Herman, although there are also takes on a disparate range of pieces including an Israeli folk tune, Nirvana and Radiohead numbers, and even the song Baby Mine from Walt Disney’s Dumbo!
The result on the night was a set that combined the full-on exuberance and freshness associated with jamming with a remarkable degree of control and precision, courtesy of the band members’ considerable talents. With the trio playing for eighty minutes, virtually without pause, the act of listening became an almost hypnotic experience.
Standing out above all else was the extent of Herman’s skill on the piano. His underlying command of classical technique was obvious from the moment he struck up for the opening piece, Airlines. The rhythmic quality of his playing and the attention to detail in his phrasing all betrayed a very serious talent. Herman could attack the keys with speed and vigour while keeping every sound precise, and the output thoroughly musical.
Across the programme, which demanded a variety of playing styles, he demonstrated his versatility both on the instrument and in his compositions. The evening’s second number, Saturn Returns, began with Herman pounding out the rhythm with menace with his left hand, while his right rose above this to play out an initially very simple melody. His playing then reflected the piece as a whole, which underwent the transition from a beginning full of intergalactic foreboding to an ending of ever greater expansion and expressiveness.
Just as effective as Herman were Christopher Tordini on double bass and Thomas Crane on drums. Though enjoying their ample opportunities to let rip, their playing as a whole was characterised by tunefulness (drums included), refinement and, above all, musicality. Similarly, the pieces never exceeded themselves and ended, if not quite abruptly, then certainly coolly. This meant that the audience remained in a trance for the duration of each, never feeling that the music had been pushed too far.
Before the interval Budapest Bar played their own forty-five minute set. Founded in Hungary in 2007, this group fuses chanson, jazz, Brazilian influences, film themes and traditional gypsy music, with the aim of preventing the latter from being seen as ‘kitsch nostalgia’. Judged by this set it has most definitely succeeded in its aim with a few folksy tunes being surrounded by pieces with melancholic depth on one side and compositions of frenetic high drama on the other. At one point, the audience felt as if they were sitting in an Eastern European bar in the middle of a film noir. All of this was delivered in an entertaining style with the two violinists suddenly abandoning their bows to play with a single horse hair pulled tight across the strings.
Most impressive of all were Mihaly Farkas on the cimbalom, a harpsichord-like instrument where the strings are struck like a xylophone, and violinist Robert Farkas who was so strident, yet precise, in the attack of his instrument. Suffice to say that, following this performance, the hidden gem of Budapest Bar should shine a lot brighter in Britain.