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David Preston Trio At Magy's Farm

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David Preston Trio
Magy's Farm
Dromara, N. Ireland
May 25, 2024

In the same week that guitarist David Preston brought his trio to Ireland, two historic events served as reminders that jazz can mean very different things to different people. Firstly, news came of the July launch of a previously unreleased Louis Armstrong session for the BBC from 1968. The second event, falling on the very day of this concert at Magy's Farm, was the 100th birthday of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, the indefatigable director of the Sun Ra Arkestra, in whose ranks he has served since 1957. From Armstrong to Sun Ra and beyond, jazz has never stood still, evolving with the times, adjusting to the tastes and the technology of the day.

Though the music—and personas—of Armstrong and Sun Ra were as different as chalk and cheese in many respects, swing and blues were central components to both their ensembles. That musical grammar, not to mention plenty of bebop and post-bop, have been staples of the majority of gigs held at Magy's Farm in the rural venue's short but stellar life to date.

David Preston's music, however, is cut from a slightly different cloth. In the Preston-Glasgow-Lowe trio (with Kevin Glasgow and Laurie Lowe) the London-based guitarist has released two adventurous albums of contemporary jazz-fusion—for want of a better term—that ride in the slipstream of the late Allan Holdsworth, the modern-jazz guitarist par excellence.

Preston's debut as outright leader came with Purple / Black Vol. One (Whirlwind Recordings, 2023). This album, and the music that seems bound for the inevitable Vol. 2, delivered the bulk of this evening's set. Scottish-born, Northern Ireland-raised Glasgow on electric bass, and Sebastian Rochford on drums made up the other two sides of the musical equation.

The set began with an unaccompanied guitar intro—sculpted with pedals—that segued into "O. Winston," an arresting mélange of bustling drumming, a spare though unrelenting bass pulse and atmospheric guitar architecture. Solo guitar intros were the norm for most tunes, a little repetitive in terms of the set's dynamics, perhaps, but each provided a window into Preston's personal harmonic language.

Glasgow is another who follows the path less trodden. His seemingly effortless finger-flicking grooves proved subtly irresistible, while his solos were darkly lyrical forays into the unknown. The bassist's deft harmonic punctuation chimed ethereally with Preston's own adventures. Rochford—making a swift return to these parts following his March appearance at the Brilliant Corners festival with pianist Zoe Rahman—was animated throughout, stirring the pot with a regular rotation of sticks, brushes, and rumbling mallets. Steering a course between feather-light caress and thunderous industry, his artistry was as fascinating to watch as it was to listen to.

A new tune, built upon cantering rhythms, saw Preston toggle between quicksilver runs of visceral charge and elegant chordal progressions. At the rockier end of the spectrum, as on "Purple/Black" and the freshly minted "Elves," there were shades of the Power Tools trio of Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs and Ronald Shannon Jackson. The latter composition featured outré guitar pedal effects—a sci-fi anteroom to a collective shift in gears that ushered in exhilarating improvisations from Preston and Glasgow. "A bit of rock 'n' roll never hurt anyone," Preston quipped.

Another new composition morphed from arpeggio-driven, chamber-esque refinement, via rhythmically clawing bass and drum patterns, into wildly abstract, hallucinogenic guitar sound-sculpting. Acid tab anyone?

The brushes, economic bass figures and slowly curling guitar lines of the following piece—a slow waltz of sorts—offered more warmth, and arguably Preston's most affecting playing of the set. The trio signed off with the upbeat "Cassino Dream," Glasgow and Rochford's bouyancy sparking Preston to scintillating heights on his Gibson archtop. The guitarist's soaring lines in turn pushed Rochford to terrific animation—a thrilling finale to an absorbing set.

What might Louis Armstrong and Marshall Allen have made of the David Preston Trio? Armstrong might have shuddered at the pedal-induced sci-fi sound effects, but he would surely have applauded the trio's virtuosity and its spirit of adventure. Allen, on the other hand, might say, "Hell, Sun Ra was making those sounds back in the '60s!"

Regardless of any divergences and continuities in the jazz timeline, Preston is making his very own waves. Plus ça change...

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