Following undergraduate studies, virtuoso pianist Adam Fairhall took a Master's degree at Leeds College of Music, receiving a MMus in Jazz Studies (Performance) in 2005. Whilst at Leeds he studied with pianist Mark Donlon and took lessons with British jazz composer Matthew Bourne. The title of his album Friendly Ghosts
, Fairhall's debut recording as a soloist, gives a strong clue as to its contents, revisiting as it does the earliest sounds of jazz to the most avant-garde.
Stylistically, Fairhall's is a melange of stride, ragtime, boogie-woogie, bop, blues and free improvisation. The trick he has finessed is to wrap-up these well-known styles in a novel format, so for example "KT Boogie" is underpinned by thunderous, rumbling notes played on the low registers. The right hand meanwhile explores the higher end of the piano in an almost crab-like fashion. Interspersed are flashes of free improvisation which are never allowed to drift far before familiar lines re-emerge.
Appropriately, "Pine Apple Rag" begins in Scott Joplin
mode but breaks down, not entirely, but just enough to permit stride piano to interject. Although superficially playful-sounding, this is not meant as parody. An interesting stylistic comparator might be Derek Bailey
or his follow-up Standards
because Fairhall comes close to Bailey's latter recordings, but without deserting melodic structures in favour of chordal dissonance. The head is played but then is abandoned in favour of total improvisation. Another perfect example is "Blue Square" where the initial straight blues is deconstructed and broken down before resuming in stride format, in anything but a straight idiom.
As if to insert an interlude in the proceedings, there's the unequivocally contemporary improvisation of "Restaurant Music" whilst the lengthy "New Great Northern Stomp," opening in free territory, explores all possible stylistic avenues before its Terry Riley
-esque percussive close. With his staccato-esque piano style Fairhall comes over as a mix of Thelonius Monk
, Howard Riley and Cecil Taylor
with some Meade Lux Lewis
, Art Tatum
and Erroll Garner
thrown in for good measure.
Fairhall's stream of consciousness inventiveness, which merges a myriad of styles, is rarely heard and few can get away with it. Perhaps some of Keith Jarrett
meandering solo performances share some of Fairhall's attributes as does Victor Borge's eccentric, often hilarious approach, as echoed by Fairhall on the opening to Sidney Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy." The late Dudley Moore
could certainly handle, turn-on-a-dime, multiple styles, but in a comedic context. This however is not comedy music but something far more inventive and demanding. It's also very good.