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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Master of the Game

Edition EDN 1011




1. Iolo's Dance
2. Magister Ludi
3. Awakening
4. Song for my Mother
5. The Saddest Journey
6. Inner Child
7. Lachrymosa
8. Sudden Departure
Geoff Eales - Piano
Chris Laurence - Double bass
Martin France - Drums

I have appreciated all Geoff Eales' albums, but I have enjoyed his playing most in a trio format - where he is stimulated by fellow musicians. And Geoff is in a trio here, although it is his "New Trio" - not what he now calls his "Standards Trio" (which is the one I liked most, with Roy Babbington on bass and Mark Fletcher at the drums). In fact Geoff says in the sleeve-notes to this new album that he "wanted to get away from the standards trio idea". So this album consists of eight original compositions by Geoff Eales, with new boys Chris Laurence and Martin France in support.

It is certainly very different from the trio with which Eales played standards with such dynamism and excitement - and which I so enjoyed when they last recorded together ( This new CD is closer to his  2007 solo album Epicentre, which consisted mainly of originals. He deserves praise for striking out in a new direction, although it is only partly successful. The trouble is that Geoff Eales is not such a memorable composer as the people who wrote the great jazz standards. So the tunes do not always stick in the mind but sometimes seem as if they are wandering in search of a melody. Even after several hearings, I can hardly hum any of the tunes.

You might compare this album with the recordings of Brad Mehldau or Esbjorn Svensson, and it is symptomatic that Lachrymosa is Eales' tribute to the late-lamented Svensson. In truth, it tends to meander much like some of Svensson's trio performances. Awakening starts with rumblings from the trio which sound more like free improvisation than the introduction to a tune. Eventually a melody emerges but it would feel like a long wait except for Chris Laurence's dexterity on the double bass - plucked and bowed.

There's no doubt that all three players are first-class musicians, with impeccable techniques: it's just that the material they work with often tends to lack focus. This doesn't apply to Song for my Mother, where the manifest sincerity of the emotion enables Eales to write a piece which immediately touches the listener. But the title-track (Magister Ludi = Master of the Game) is ponderous rather than unforgettable.

These musicians could never play badly - I just wish that they made more melodic music. Geoff Eales' years of experience must have taught him the importance of rhythm, harmony and melody, but the last of these three is regrettably in short supply.

Tony Augarde





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