Jazz South intern Sophie Wales tells us about her experience of the Fergus McCreadie Trio on Saturday 8 February.
As a University of Southampton student, I am incredibly lucky to have such a nationally renowned music venue right on my doorstep. Turner Sims hosts a variety of distinguished musicians with over 70 concerts programmed a year. On Saturday, the Fergus McCreadie Trio was one of these.
The Scottish group, made up of Fergus McCreadie on piano, David Bowden on bass and Stephen Henderson on drums, has been critically acclaimed for its vibrant and new approach to jazz. The Scotsman summarised the Trio as ‘Erik Satie running on Islay Malt rather than Absinthe’; Jazzwise deemed them ‘Simply outstanding’; Tommy Smith describing ‘A virtuosic technique… high in emotional depth’; The Herald noting ‘Prodigious, cascading technique while communicating warmth of personality’. After seeing the Fergus McCreadie Trio live, I can wholeheartedly say that all of these comments hold true. It is therefore no surprise that the group have been awarded for their successes: their debut album Turas receiving ‘Album of the Year’ at the Parliamentary and Scottish Jazz Awards in 2019.
What was most outstanding about the music was both the technical ability of the players and the unique blend of jazz. Inspired by Scottish folk music, which features throughout McCreadie’s work, the Trio’s sound was completely distinguished from other music of its genre. As a pianist myself, I was absolutely in awe of Mcreadie’s talent, and that of all the musicians. Henderson is a phenomenal drummer, acknowledged by Jazzwise as ‘One to Watch’ in 2018. Bassist Bowden’s performance was second to none, and having achieved ‘Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year’ in 2017, I expected nothing less. The whole concert was totally inspiring: with all the players in their early 20s, they performed at a standard which many musicians would strive to achieve in their lifetime. You could also tell that they are a well-practiced band: their ability to improvise at such a high standard can only be attributed to years of experience and an exceptional connection with one another. The acoustics in Turner Sims accentuated the beautiful melodies and themes throughout the music; during moments of crescendo the sound resonated throughout the whole room, whilst instances of quiet and calm were perfectly harnessed.
The Trio played a mixture of pieces, some from their 2018 debut album Turas, which means ‘journey’ in Scottish Gaelic. The whole performance itself felt like a reflection of this. The audience was taken on a journey through the Scottish landscapes, climbing mountains in the piece Cairn, visiting a homely cottage in The Curlearn Mill, venturing towards the sea in The Old Harbour, and discovering a whiskey distillery in Ardbeg. The improvised nature of the performance also suited this theme ‘journey’ well; the audience appeared on the edge of their seats, unable to predict where the music would take them next.
One of my favourite pieces during the performance (although they were all extraordinary in their own right) was The Old Harbour, which began with a soft solo piano. The music was mesmerising; everything else in the room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop. The piece featured some beautiful chord progressions which were simplistic in terms of their make-up, creating a sense of grounding and home. Elements of Scottish folk were mixed into this, conjuring up an image of the abandoned harbour in Anstruther, which McCreadie later named his composition after. Yet despite this simplistic chord progression, the pianist describes the piece to be quite complex; feeling like it’s in four but actually notated in six. The Curlearn Mill was also spectacular, featuring a Scottish jig theme which returned at various points during the piece. Ardbeg was equally captivating, centred around a repeated base note line which continued throughout. Following his tradition of writing and finding an appropriate name later, the composition was titled after the Trio performed the composition in the Ardbeg Distillery at the Islay Jazz Festival Gig.
We were also treated to some new works, the concert opening with Cairn, which McCreadie described as climbing a mountain. The piece follows the struggle of the ascent, and the final push before reaching an astonishing view at the summit. Out of the whole concert, the most breath-taking and simultaneously invigorating composition was An Old Friend. This featured a sweeping returning theme reminiscent of bagpipes, that kept swelling and growing throughout the piece, climaxing in several virtuosic sections. The whole audience seemed completely dumbfounded by both the piece itself and the musical ability of the Trio, clapping throughout, particularly during the fast-paced and exhilarating parts. This was contrasted by more humble, almost hesitant moments including an instant where the combination of the piano melody, underlying bass notes and drum cymbals almost sounded (and felt) like a gust of wind had swept across the room.
I left the concert feeling so inspired and elated; I just did not want it to end. So, as you can imagine, the encore was greatly appreciated. I would highly recommend catching the Fergus McCreadie Trio live if you get the opportunity, or listening to their album Turas.