The John G Smith Trio are a relatively new addition (albeit comprised of some fabulously experienced talent) to London’s jazz and cabaret circuit and it was a full Crazy Coqs that welcomed their debut late night gig.
With Smith on piano and occasional vocals. James Graydon on guitar and singing too and Zoltan Dekany on acoustic bass, the evening was billed as a humorous rediscovery of songs by Billy Joel, Paul Simon and others. Whilst Joel’s tunes were given a sometimes intelligent re-working, with an opening mash up of And So It Goes with The Longest Time that will have tickled the eardrums of the star’s cognoscenti in the audience, some of the jazz work missed its mark. Joel’s gorgeous number from his Turnstiles collection, New York State Of Mind was not only re-arranged, its tempo was brutally speeded up too. In so doing, much of the song’s delicate beauty was lost.
Also, Smith had decided to eschew all of Joel’s lyrics. On reflection this was probably a wise call, given that the words would no longer have scanned to fit the revised beats that Smith had imposed. But even more intriguingly, the pianist had then decided to include the lyrics of a handful of songs that he and Graydon had composed and which were dedicated to / inspired by their respective loving partners. Great idea, but the homegrown words proved as cheesy as they were sincere. If you’re going to strip out Joel’s poetry from your set list, then it’s a tad disingenuous to subject a captive audience to your own scribblings, anodyne in comparison to Joel’s balladeer-ing brilliance.
That being said – there were moments of genius on the night. All three musicians were a joy to behold, with Dekany’s fabulous fingerwork in Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie defining the purest of talents. When they were joined, sadly for one number only, by jazz violinist Michael Keelan who had hot-footed it over from the Drury Lane orchestra pit, the passionate Chick Corea inspired collaboration set the room alight.
The two-act set makes for some charming entertainment – but it needs work. The Billy Joel compositions deserve more than the current re-engineering into muzak and if the band are going to hint at humour on the flyer, then they need to deliver on the night. Though, with a musical craftsmanship (and pedigree) that cannot be faulted, The John G Smith Trio have every chance of developing into a vibrant feature of the capital’s jazz scene.