Every now and then a performer achieves success in the music business without the ‘benefit’ of a major record company. The Robin Nolan Trio is one such story. Drawing their initial style and repertoire from the Django Reinhardt-inspired “gypsy jazz” movement, the group’s genesis dates to 1991 when Nolan, a student at London’s famed Guildhall School of Music, met bassist Paul Meader. With the addition of Anthony Williams on rhythm guitar, they formed a trio dedicated to performing the music of Reinhardt. Beginning with cafés and small jazz clubs in the early ‘90s they’ve managed to work their way toward international renown. They’ve also played at several of the most prestigious international jazz festivals, including the Montreal, Barcelona, North Sea and Django Reinhardt jazz festivals, making their U.S. debut at the Tropical Heat Wave Festival in Tampa, Florida. (They’ve even made into the silver screen: two of the songs included here, “And Then There Were Three” and “From The Banks Of The Odra,” were featured in the Joan Chen film Autumn In New York
, starring Richard Gere and Wynona Ryder.)
The Trio also released six self-produced CDs between 1994 and this year, selling them at gigs and through the Internet. The record companies aware of the group’s popularity and A & R men came sniffing around, but their silver-tongued appeals fell on skeptical ears: “It is a very weird business after all, full of very weird people. To begin with most of these people can't play an instrument and their respect for you is based on how much cash you might or might not make them,” according to Nolan. “This gets a little confusing for everybody involved when they start telling you what is good and what is not good for your music, based on the latest marketing figures . . .”
Fortunately, not all record companies are driven by the bottom line. One notable exception is Refined Records, a small in San Francisco-based jazz label “dedicated to furthering the art of acoustic performance,” according to the label’s press release. When Refined Records head J. Robert Roy heard the Robin Nolan Trio playing on Amsterdam’s famous Leidseplein, in 1995 he knew that they would be perfect for his new label.
Mediterranean Blues serves as an excellent introduction to both the label’s philosophy and the music of RNT. Though they began as an acoustic trio in the “gypsy jazz” tradition mentioned above, The Robin Nolan Trio isn’t content to merely recreate Django-style swing. Song titles like “Luna Tango,” “Bolero Blue,” “Bar Del Pi” and “El Puente” indicate the strong Latin influences, and Latin percussion and dance rhythms are prominently featured in the group’s music. Bassist Paul Meader, who provides tasteful accompaniment and well-conceived contrapuntal solos, ably supports Nolan’s skillful and imaginative playing. Both are given plenty of room to stretch out on the eight-minute “Song For Carolyn” and the Beatlesque “Friar Park,” composed in honor of George Harrison. (Harrison was an early champion of RNT and often books the trio to entertain in his home.)
For those of us with a taste for jazz that still has le joie de vivre, this is an album for you, full of romance and refinement.
Good jazz ain’t dead, it’s where you find it.
Personnel: Robin Nolan-solo guitar, Paul Meader-bass, Kevin Nolan-rhythm guitar, Jan P. Brouwer-rhythm guitar, Nema Lopes-percussion