The Upshot: Bandleader and jazz pianist skillfully pushed against his own self-imposed boundaries.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Pianist Django Bates has been a mainstay of the European jazz scene since the seventies. The Englishman co-founded the British groups Human Chain and Loose Tubes, has done session and sideperson work with everyone from Bill Bruford, Tim Berne and Wynton Marsalis to the Brodsky Quartet, the Dutch Metropole Orchestra and even the Royal Shakespeare Company, and taught jazz and music at various European universities. Oddly enough, however, the ivory-tickler didn’t start working in the trio format until about ten years ago, forming Belovéd with Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and Danish drummer Peter Bruun in order to celebrate Charlie Parker.
The Study of Touch, Bates’ third album with Belovéd and fifteenth as a leader, includes one Bird tune – the gently swinging “Passport” – but otherwise concentrates on the pianist’s own compositions. While capable of coloring outside the lines (cf. the bookends “Sadness All the Way Down” and “Happiness All the Way Up”), Bates prefers to stay inside the borders of melody he imposes. “Giorgiantics” and the title track attain a certain mellifluousness even as he dances across the 88s, letting the listener know that the tune is still king. “This World,” composed by his on-and-off again bandmate Iain Bellamy, becomes positively lush, even with only three people filling out the sound. That’s not to say he can’t bring the improvisational hammer down – “Slippage Street” and “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” both feature him pushing playfully but insistently against his self-imposed boundaries. Eldh and Bruun play perfect support, staying out the leader’s way at all times while giving him the right foundation on which to stand.
Bates and company don’t rewrite the rules of the piano trio, but the leader’s accessible compositions and deft playing make one wonder why he spent nearly three decades denying an obvious strength. Fortunately, The Study of Touch makes up for his previous blind spot.
DOWNLOAD: “Slippage Street,” “Giorgiantics,” “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way”