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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

Slam Productions


First Hearing

Slam Productions SLAMCD 274



1. Cleaning Windows (Van Morrison)
2. Baby Plays Around (Elvis Costello)
3. Scarborough Fayre (Traditional)
4. Jockey Full of Bourbon (Tom Waits)
5. Don’t Give Up (Gabriel/Bush)
6. The Island (Lins/Martin)
7. The Red One (Pat Metheny)
8. First Hearing (Martin Pickett)
9. Soft Focus (Martin Pickett)
10. As Above (Martin Pickett)
11. Closing (Kenny Wheeler)
Martin Pickett - Piano
Paul Jefferies - Double bass
Ben Twyford - Drums

As a music critic, you are expected to draw upon your knowledge of genre, musicality and culture to analyse best where the art form intended to lead, and whether or not it succeeded in its endeavour. While listening to the aptly-titled debut album First Hearing from U.K. trio 3bpm, I felt like the mediator between cultures, trying desperately to define the line between artifice and homage. The first track to catch my eye was Jockey Full of Bourbon by Tom Waits. Being an avid (some would say obsessive) Tom Waits fan and completely new to the stylings of 3bpm, I was intrigued to hear how they would interpret the deep culture that Tom Waits is known for stencilling. In its original context, Jockey Full of Bourbon is a drunken man’s lullaby – a dark portrait of the ashes of alcoholism invoked by the opening image of

"Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest

And I’ve been drinking from a broken cup

Two pairs of pants and a mohair vest

I’m full of bourbon, I can’t stand up"

and the repeating chorus motif,

"Hey little bird, fly away home

Your house is on fire, your children are alone".

On hearing the trio arrangement of this tune I was disappointed. Without lyrics the tune becomes a blasé Latin melody and the ensemble followed suit with what would be more suited to a hotel lobby than a drunken stupor at New York’s Chelsea Hotel. The double bass tone of Paul Jefferies on this album doesn’t have the guts of Greg Cohen’s original line and Ben Twyford’s ticking rim shot, while tasteful, did little to resemble the hollowed sound of Waits’ original percussion drive. The inclusion of both a percussion and bass solo redeems the style of the song somewhat, drawing on the rougher side of the tune, and while the dull ring of Twyford’s toms aids this redemption, Jefferies’ bass solo would’ve been more successful if it had extended further into the more guttural tones of the bass.

Unfortunately, this timbral clash tainted my listening of First Hearing and the connections I drew were of hotel foyers and champagne, a far cry from both the Chelsea, and the early pioneers of jazz. This response is not purely a negative one, because it is undeniable that the jazz genre has expanded to include both the smooth and rough sides of improvised music: the clash is merely a shift from what was invoked in my mind by the acoustic trio setting. Additionally, it is also undeniable that these musicians are accomplished performers on their instruments, and special mention must be given to Ben Twyford in this regard.

Stylistically, I had higher hopes for Martin Pickett’s piano playing and although he exercised his knowledge of jazz repertoire through quoting numerous standards in his solos, this album seemed to reveal itself as a vehicle for his own compositions, buffered by arrangements of better-known tunes. Perhaps First Hearing would have been a stronger album if it were released as a shorter EP, if only to avoid the connotations of some of the covered material. For example, Van Morrison’s position within the popular music world, Tom Waits’ heavily defined beat poetry style, and the obvious invocation of Jacques Loussier’s Play Bach arrangements in Scarborough Fayre. This is not to mention the massive cultural implications of Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel.

The strongest chart on First Hearing is without a doubt The Red One, partly for the drum and bass energy in the opening groove and partly for the stylistic freedom which allowed Martin Pickett to aurally escape from the tungsten glow of hotel lobbies. As Above highlights very similar ideas for the entire ensemble, and Closing is melancholic and haphazard, a musical reflection of blurred traffic lights on the way home from a jazz dive. One cannot help but wonder whether the last six tracks would have, released on their own, formed a better album.

First Hearing is a strong debut for those interested in the smoothness that jazz trios have been known to employ at dinner parties. It is an album which starts tentatively and grows strongest within the concluding exploration of style. With a smaller track listing, the album would have a stronger overall reception, but unfortunately the stylistic intervention on well-known songs lets the programme down. There is a reward for persistence with this album, but within the multitudes of jazz releases, the relative similitude of the first few tracks might see this album set aside before it has reached its musical peak. 

Sam Webster





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