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Something genuinely special is happening in these afternoon sessions. The early hour may not be normal for jazz creativity but it's flowing out of the trio that Los Angeles-based pianist Louis Durra has formed with local bassist Brain Shiels and drummer Doug Hough.
Durra's ability to spin jazz gold out of the unlikeliest material has been championed in these pages before--he won a Bank Of Scotland Herald Angel at last year's Fringe -- and he continues to do so by rendering electronica by artists such as Boards Of Cananda and pop and rock songs by KT Tunstall and Radiohead into masterpieces of beguiling understatement.
The quiet, relaxed melodiousness of the trio's take on blues-rock singer-songwriter John Mayer's Daughters is truly glorious and as they break free of Jazz-s standard time and harmony rules without losing sight of their chosen songs' original form., there's a feeling of a completely fresh approach to music making generally being forged. Hough's thoughtful, loose but measured playing is a revelation and Shiel's tone and positioning of his bass lines is perfectly tuned to Durra's beautifully constructed soloing, so perfectly that -- and they'll kill me for saying so -- when they do play something from the Great American Songbook, in this case "I've Never Been In Love Before", we're listening to the spiritual sons of the classic Bill Evans Trio. I can hardly speak more highly than that. (Rob Adams)
The saying “could do it with their eyes closed" came to mind as I witnessed the Louis Durra Trio’s show. I had thought it was way too early to be entering a jazz bar, but seeing how much passion the three men on stage had for their music and instruments soon woke me up. Like all good jazz musicians, these three seemed to be making love to their music, lost in the moment, eyes closed, unaware of their surroundings. The smooth and slick sounds were interrupted by awkward chat between songs, so it was a relief when the band started to play again. The trio used some well-known songs to get the crowd more involved, and they’ve introduced whole new worlds to at least one spectator; the musicians may have had their eyes closed, but mine were certainly opened to a whole new music scene. (Rachel Campbell)
Louis Durra grins broadly from the dark corner in which he seems immured, tucked behind his grand piano and his two sidemen, bassist Brian Shiels and drummer Doug Hough, on the small stage of the Jazz Bar.
The Los Angeles pianist, embarking on his second Fringe lunchtime residency, is a master of deconstruction and reinvention, trawling well beyond the usual jazz repertoire to take on board tunes you thought you knew, but which emerge forged anew, amid much creative sparking.
This set opened with a sweetly ringing piece of solo piano, based on Sixes and Nines, by a young English electronic composer, Birkwin Jersey, before Hough and Shiels came in with some swing, bassist and drummer busying themselves industriously from the outset.
A distinctly Scottish-sounding air drifted past with mellow lyricism, before KT Tunstall’s Black Horse and the Cherry Tree got knocked cheerfully all over the place, not least by Shiels’s bass work. Then the old Tears For Fears hit Mad World got the treatment, Durra approaching it circuitously then clearly establishing the tune’s identity, before amiably ushering it some place else.
Elsewhere, a nicely cruising blues took us back to basics, while Durra’s own piece 9/11 proved haunting, elegiac and taut, yet with a sense of life flowing on regardless. There were further quicksilver antics in Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, here unravelled and re-tangled with a palpable zest.
This trio may deal in tunes that, as Durra puts it, “no self-respecting jazz piano trio has any business playing". In making it their business, however, they do so with considerable style. -- Jim Gilchrist (The Scotsman)
Ask the average punter in HMV what jazz is and they’ll describe squalling saxophones, pulsating trumpets, and the white heat of constant improvisation in a smoky bar. The Edinburgh Jazz Bar definitely had the atmosphere sewn up. Located on the lip of Chambers Street, a flight of stairs leads to a dim bar. All it needs is a smooth-talking bartender and we would be placed firmly in Rat Pack territory. However, the Louis Durra Trio ignores other stereotypes, featuring a piano, a double bass and drums - no brass or woodwind leading from the front here. Durra casts away traditional assumptions of jazz, saying ‘I think it’s weird that we have this music which is all about discovery and exploration, and we only have a narrow interpretation of it’. His first piece, ‘6’s and 9’s’ with its opening piano refrain channelled modern electronica and gelled well with bassist Bryan Shields and drummer Doug Hoff when they elegantly developed the tune.
Durra’s normal band partners live in Los Angeles, where he usually performs, but you couldn’t tell by the slick interaction of the trio. Always driven by Hoff’s precise timing, the pieces moved with a confidence that was never brash or overstated. On ‘9/11’ soft piano ripples brush over smooth bass plucking. Many of the songs do not follow the jazz tradition of extensive improvisation but work within a framework taken from existing songs, notably those of Sophie Bancroft and KT Tunstall. While this might sound trite, it lent a unique and refreshing structure to the songs. Durra overextended himself by playing Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ in a manner that sounded more like a cover than a new interpretation of the material. Furthermore, sometimes songs felt a little too constrained by their well-developed structures and needed more freedom to play with. The largest applause of the day came after a pounding drum solo from Hoff and I felt they could have let loose a bit more.
This is not only a show for jazz fans, but for people who are interested in seeing what seem like tired musical elements subverted before their eyes. While Durra’s innovative adaptations do not always hit their high expectations, there are enough ideas and musical talent from the trio to make their performance slip by far too quickly. (Michael Tansini)
Los Angeles-based jazz pianist Louis Durra clearly loves his job. It comes across in his vivid, generous playing, and listening to the trio he’s put together for the festival with two Scots—bassist Brian Shiel and drummer Doug Hough—is often just like eavesdropping on three old friends simply playing together for the joy of it.
But what makes his lunchtime set in the intimate Chambers Street Jazz Bar really stand out is the unusual material he puts through the Durra jazz treatment. He even warns us at the opening that the threesome will be covering “music a jazz trio has no business playing." That means The White Stripes, KT Tunstall and more. Does it work? Brilliantly, and it’s the ideal vehicle for Durra’s laid-back, luminous playing.
He’s rich and resonant in Boards of Canada’s 'Chromakey dreamcoat', and the trio builds up quite a head of steam in a dense conclusion. They are soft and restrained in a gentle, Scottish-infused number by Sophie Bancroft, and in the post-minimalist 'Sixes and nines' by young electronica composer Birkwin Jersey, Durra is gently rippling with a nicely weighted touch on the keyboard.
His own memorial piece '9/11' sounds just like a Bach aria fractured through a 21st century prism, and the trio gives a reflective, appropriately respectful performance. They finish with a witty take on The White Stripes’ 'We’re going to be friends,' where Durra throws in all kinds of misleading harmonies to confuse the ear.
Never self-indulgent, but sometimes quite introspective, Louis Durra and his trio deliver a fine hour of unusual music. (David Kettle)
Great jazz line-up for Edinburgh Fringe
The Edinburgh Fringe brochure’s arrival has pointed up some very interesting jazz gigs for August. Not the least of these are New York drummer Ari Hoenig’s three-night stop-over with bassist Euan Burton and pianist Tom Gibbs at the Jazz Bar in Chambers Street (August 24-26) and the wonderful Louis Durra run with his distinctive deconstructive take on the piano trio tradition at the Jazz Bar from August 4-26.
Durra won a Herald Angel, one of the awards given for outstanding performances, last year. He would have won this much-coveted prize for his brilliant version of Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue alone but there were many other musical delights and surprises over his residency, which puts him in the “don’t miss" category this time.
AS the Fringe approaches, our columnist recommends some of the best folk and jazz gigs to be found in Edinburgh in August.
I DON’T think I’ve played for audiences anything like that before," muses Louis Durra, the Los Angeles-based jazz pianist who returns to lead a trio at Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar this Fringe for a 22-day run. Durra is set to keep afternoon audiences delighted with his eclectic repertoire – anything from jazz standards to lyrical hijackings of material by such unlikely sounding sources as KT Tunstall or Tears for Fears.
Durra’s observation on Fringe audiences is meant as a compliment. “With this huge festival, the public in Edinburgh is really accustomed to music and theatre and, as a result, I found audiences so perceptive, so enthusiastic and so aware of the music. I love being able to perform and then walk down the street and see the Philip Glass Ensemble, or comedy, or theatre."
Last year was the 51-year-old pianist’s first time at the Fringe as a band leader. He arrived with little reputation on this side of the Atlantic but produced what I was moved to report as “possibly the best £4 worth you’ll find on the Fringe" and collecting enthusiastic reviews.
It wasn’t just mundane value-for-money that impressed, however; here was a thoroughly adept musician combining a lyrical touch with a penchant for intriguing repertoire – Belle and Sebastian numbers, for example, Tears for Fears’ old hit Mad World, or a captivating take on Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue.
Durra, whose side men for the residency are two stalwarts of the Scottish scene, bassist Brian Shiels and drummer Doug Hough, has strong views about the repertoire open to the jazz pianist. “It’s a big world out there," he says, “and if jazz is really such creative music, I think it is vitalized by investigating different music forms, different harmonic settings, different phrasings…"
His latest recording, Rocket Science, includes his version of KT Tunstall’s hit Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, as well as some Mexican corridos which he describes as “an interesting challenge to play from a jazz perspective". Not that he’s forsaken the standards: “I like a broad palette … I’d miss all these great songs if I stayed away from them too long." (Jim Gilchrist)
The Best of All Possible Worlds CD Review
Those that travel in my cultural inner circle know nothing hits my musical sweet spot faster than a well executed piano trio. At the same time, nothing is more annoying than a pianist that treats the rhythm section or perhaps a special guest artist as nothing more than a sonic afterthought. Having been privileged to hear some killer work from some magnificent trios has also allowed me to develop the ability to spot those pianists whose talents would best be served in a lounge and whose rhythm section is simply there for the free drinks and to pick up their check later.
The Best Of All Possible Worlds is an appropriately titled release from pianist Louis Durra who simply put is a star in the making. What sets Durra apart from some of his contemporaries is not only does Durra draw from a more eclectic base but he simply hears the fundamental roots of sound in very distinct and different ways as this magnificent release runs the spectrum of straight ahead intensity to a whimsical quirkiness where all the participants fuse their voices together in one harmonious union. To close with turntable master DJ Rob Swift is simply a stroke of musical genius.
Perhaps it is the experience working as a film sound editor or maybe as a composer for theatre and documentaries but Durra lyrical development is for me like McCoy Tyner on steroids. Durra's voicings are contemporary in accessibility but old school in virtuosity. Had someone told me "All I Really Want" (with DJ Rob Swift) and that the Radiohead cover "No Surprises" would be two tunes blowing my mind on a piano trio release then I would have been in need of heavy sedation for the cultural anger stroke that I would have suffered. Durra takes these two gems to unthinkable heights. Being perhaps luke warm at best when it comes to Bob Dylan including those brave enough to attempt nothing more than what is a passable cover "Tangled Up In Blue" is reinvented with a harmonic sense of purpose missing in the original while retaining an organic lyrical direction that is captivating. Bassist Larry Steen and drummer Jerry Kalaf merge with Durra to create a deceptive and subtle swing that develops its own unique pulse as the release progresses. Simply put, each tune seems better than the last. The Durra tune "The Back Seat" kicks off with drummer Kalaf owning the pocket and a dynamite lyrical bass line laid down by Steen. This trio takes swing to another level. What holds the release together are the subtle nuances that all participants bring to the table, a true team effort for a sound and groove as effortless and infectious as one can find. "No Woman, No Cry" undergoes a delightful melodic re-harmonization of organic simplicity yet incredibly adventurous. The sign of true artistry is taking a tune from someone that has reached iconic status and placing your own stamp on the number without disrespecting yourself or the original and Durra and friends nail this effortlessly! Drummer Jerry Kalaf contributes the beautiful and poignant "Ersatz Waltz" for added flavor and texture to a release that seems constructed from the ECM play book of ebb and flow.
DJ Rob Swift would normally send me screaming into the night as a former card carrying member of the pseudo-intellectual jazz elite. Swift and Durra combine their amazing talents to bring yet another voice, a layer of texture that reinforces that jazz can move from serious and scholarly to the quirky and inventive and continue to develop as an art form that may be only scratching the surface.
A virtually flawless effort. A mix of the old and new with an eye always looking to the future. 5 Stars! (Brent Black)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Versatile pianist Louis Durra is no stranger to genre bending experiments... On The Best of Both Possible Worlds, he interprets eight popular tunes ranging from light rock to reggae, in addition to two originals that seamlessly blend in with the album's overall concept.
Drummer Jerry Kalaf showcases his classical influences on his composition, the mellifluous dance "Ersatz Waltz," enhancing the mood with his brush work, while bassist Larry Steen demonstrates his lyrical side on the acoustic version of his instrument. Complementing this piece is the trio's take on Radiohead's "No Surprises." Durra's sonata like pianism, Kalaf's shuffling percussion and Steen's rock solid lines build gorgeous harmonic flourishes.
The jazziest track is Durra's own "The Back Seat." Its cool tone and deceptively simple melody highlight the sublime camaraderie and the musical interplay among the group. Durra's relatively lengthy improvisations are repeated on a tighter reading of Bob Marley's classic, "No Woman No Cry."
Durra embellishes the melody of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue," with its bluesy hints backed By Kalaf's hyper-rhythmic drums and Steen's deep, earthy, electric groove. The group's take on Feist's fluffy and sweet "1234" maintains the upbeat theme, creating a sugary lounge feel, with Durra's occasional spontaneity keeping the music tethered to jazz. In contrast, Tears for Fears' "Mad World" sounds like early Ahmad Jamal, thanks to Durra's deft utilization of silent pauses and lilting notes, and Steen's melodic bass.
Certainly neither for hardcore fans nor purists this, nevertheless, engaging record that closes with DJ Rob Swift punctuating solos with rubs and scratches, is a good introductory portal to jazz from the world of more crowd-pleasing music. (Hrayr Attarian)
HERALD SCOTLAND 8/15/2011
Amid all the Fringe’s hoopla and self-promotion something quietly wonderful is happening in a Chambers Street cellar bar.
Californian pianist Louis Durra arrived in Edinburgh with the scantest of reputations, and isn’t the sort of performer to collar you on the street and demand you come to see him. In fact, even once you’re there, he’s not about to start waving flags and inviting you to watch him jump through burning hoops.
What he does do is take the jazz piano trio into a superbly subtle space where he can surprise and delight, in a musical conversation with his local rhythm team, Brian Shiels (bass) and Chris Wallace (drums). Durra’s improvisations unfold with magnificent elegance and his choice of material, including Belle and Sebastian and Bob Dylan songs as well as jazz standards and his own compositions, seems specifically designed for seduction.
Shiels’s feature on 'Darn That Dream' simply sang and his solo on Durra’s loping 'Line for Sam' – all double-stopping and sliding blue notes – was sheer class, as was Dylan’s 'Tangled up in Blue' re-imagined as the love child of Ramsey Lewis and Thelonious Monk. Performances until August 27. (Rob Adams)
THE SCOTSMAN 8/9/11
Possibly the best musical £4 worth you’ll find on the Fringe, Los Angeles pianist Louis Durra’s lunchtime spot at The Jazz Bar finds him gelling nicely with local sidemen Brian Shiels on double bass and Chris Wallace on drums.
The initial impression, this first gig, was that the three of them were getting to know each other and having an infectiously enjoyable time in the process.
They slid into motion easefully and were soon cruising nicely over strolling bass, Durra proving an articulate and melodic player, occasionally accompanying himself on wordless vocals and ranging from familiar standards to some interesting covers well beyond the usual jazz repertoire.
He generated a ringing take on Belle and Sebastian’s 'If You’re Feeling Sinister', for instance, and the old Tears For Fears hit 'Mad World', which particularly suited Durra’s lyrical conversion job.
Back in more familiar jazz territory, Wallace’s brushwork propelled the trio through a bossa shuffle while they worked up a Ramsey Lewis-like strut in Durra’s own 'Line For Sam'. Another number, 'Darn That Dream', was led by Shiels’ fluid bass work, Durra’s laid-back piano ruminating gently in the background.
It was a rewardingly creative hour’s work, and it will be interesting to see how their sound has evolved at the end of their three-week run. (Jim Gilchrist)
Louis Durra bridges the gaps between pop and jazz by presenting music that could easily appeal to fans of both. This pianist has been a very busy man over the past few years...not only playing jazz but also composing for theatre and documentaries.
Durra's super fluid style of playing is instantly inviting...and unlike most new jazz artists he doesn't opt to cover songs that have been played to death in the past. By selecting material that younger listeners will be able to relate to, this man should be able to appeal to a whole new legion of potential jazz fans.
Backing Louis on this album are Jerry Kalaf on drums and Larry Steen on bass...both of whom are precise and articulate musicians. Thirteen smooth sultry tracks here including "Tangled Up In Blue," "The Back Seat," "Code Monkey," and "All I Really Want."
"'How to Pack a Suitcase' is a humorous story, well told. Dave Frishberg or Mose Allison could easily add this tune to their repertoires." -- LA JAZZ SCENE
"Winkler then finds the lighter side of leaving on the retro soul-jazz flavored 'How to Pack a Suitcase'." -- ALLMUSIC.COM
"...Durra also delighted in turning offbeat material into jazz such as "Ticket To Ride". He has his own fresh chord voicings, created unpredictable but logical solos, and uplifted such tunes as Earl Zindar's "How My Heart Sings", "Taking A Chance On Love" (in an arrangement originally for tapdancers) and Tomasz Stanko's "Six"...
-- LA JAZZ SCENE
"...a beautiful arrangement of my song!" -- HOLLY NEAR
“... The onstage accompaniment is handled quite nicely by pianist Louis Durra." -- VARIETY (Animal Farm)
"The wonderful cast inhales the specialized score and Marvin Tunney’s choreography with plush assurance, repeatedly stopping the show, and musical director Louis Durra’s Band is splendid. Tart, tuneful and trenchant in unexpected ways. PLAY IT COOL generates sizzling heat and not just for Blue Note devotees" -- LA TIMES CRITIC’S CHOICE (Play It Cool)
“I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing Louis play on several of my film scores. He is one of the most musical, inventive, sensitive and giving musicians I’ve ever worked with. He never ceases to surprise, delight, and move me with his approach to the music. His fluid virtuosity transcends any specific style. I only wish I’d known him when I was a performing musician. He would be an inspiration and a blast at any gig! Five stars!" -- MIRIAM CUTLER, film composer
"One of the cleverest jaunts is "Sissies," a charming tribute to Truman Capote..." --ALLMUSIC.COM
“…the combo led by pianist Louis Durra is exemplary."
-- IN MAGAZINE LA (Cradle Will Rock)
"Say, you've been around the block a few times!" --SUZANNE SOMERS
"Louis Durra's organ and Jerry Kalaf's vibes provide a smooth background for "You Don't Know What Love Is". Durra is equally facile on the piano and provides solid accompaniment for Krebs throughout the session." -- CD BABY (Susan Krebs' Jazz Gardener album)
"...That was fantastic! You're a great musician!" -- ED BEGLEY JR.
"On 'Sissies', Winkler tackles the issue of homosexuality with a song that is funny, intelligent and defiant, which pretty much sums up its subject - Truman Capote, who was all that and more. Plus it swings hot!" -- LA JAZZ SCENE
"the swanky jazz cut of "Sissies" cloth...attired with curvaceous saxophone swoops..." -- JAZZREVIEW
"...To describe one of my favorite piano players I've had the pleasure of playing with is to say, "Louis Durra, a true innovator". Louis is full of excitement. His original music is always fun and challenging. His desire and interpretation of standards and pop tunes just pulls you into your best playing. Louis is always in a creative mode when I play with him. I'm in for the fact that it can and will go anywhere possible. You know, that's what it's ALL about. One of his great accomplishments, and one my favorite, is backing vocalists. His palate is broad and amazingly colorful. Louis, thanks for the pleasure of playing with you on the new CD 'What We Have'." -- DOMENIC GENOVA, bassist
"We get solid jazz from five fine actor-singers who deliver lyricist Mark Winkler's music in a delightful evening... captivating music, arranged and conducted by Louis Durra..." -– LA WEEKLY “GO!" (Play It Cool)
"The amalgam of swinging jazz ditties, comic numbers and torch songs result in a suberb score, brought to shimmering life courtesy of music director-arranger Louis Durra. Jessica Sheridan is a powerhouse in the focal role. Andrew Pandaleon is a breakout star". –- BACKSTAGE WEST CRITIC’S PICK (Play It Cool)
"The great thing about Louis' playing and composing is that his influences never give him away. He never mops the floor with a ballad or pounds the music into submission when he plays bop, like so many others. He is an elegant, lyrical musician worthy of his own nameplate on the door of Jazz. He has a lot to say, some of it purposely funny, which in itself is very, very rare. If there must be blurb: Ahmad Jamal meets Hank Jones meets Herbie Hancock meets...Harpo Marx." -- MATT ASCHYKYNAZO, guitarist
"Offering perfect accompaniment are the onstage trio of music director-pianist Louis Durra, bassist Big Al Gruskoff and drummer Adam Alesi." -- VARIETY (Play It Cool)
"Standouts here include Louis Durra's piano and Silvia Ryder's backing vocals." -- POP MATTERS (Eric Ander's Not At One)
“...nimble musical accompaniment by Louis Durra, Ian Flanders, Tom Allard and Armando Gutierrez..."
-- LA WEEKLY (Animal Farm)
"Louis Durra is an exceptional musician and composer. His playing is rich and sensitive and intuitive while still being disciplined and sophisticated. It is an honor to have played with him." -- LILI HAYDN, Violinist/Singer/Songwriter
/// HERALD ANGEL AWARD (Louis Durra Trio, 2011)
/// SCOTSMAN: 4 stars (Louis Durra Trio, 2011, 2012)
/// HERALD SCOTLAND: 5 stars (Louis Durra Trio, 2011, 2012)
/// SCOTSMAN: 4 stars (Taylor Negron's Satellites, 2007)
/// OVATION NOMINATION, music director (Play It Cool, 2006)
/// LOS ANGELES DRAMA CRITIC'S CIRCLE AWARD NOMINATION, music director (Play It Cool, 2006)
/// LA WEEKLY THEATRE AWARD NOMINATION, musical ensemble (Play It Cool, 2006)
/// BACKSTAGE GARLAND AWARDS HONORARY MENTION, music director and ensemble (Play It Cool, 2006)
/// TALKIN' BROADWAY: top 10 cast albums (Play It Cool, 2006)
/// DRAMA-LOGUE AWARD, original score for a play (The Lesson at the Mark Taper Forum, 1990)