In an era where it's relatively easy to self-produce an album, Northern Irish pianist Scott Flanigan has taken his time with his debut effort. Now in his early thirties, Flanigan has been a mainstay of the small but flourishing jazz scene in Belfast and beyond for over a decade, collaborating with Linley Hamilton
, David Lyttle
and Mark McKnight
, not to mention the likes of Van Morrison
and Jean Toussaint
. It's been a patient apprenticeship that has paid dividends, for Flanigan's first outing as leader reflects, above all, his musical maturity. Elegant and technically assured, Flanigan's love of melody shines through on a polished set divided equally between striking original compositions and familiar jazz standards.
Both classically and jazz trained, Flanigan's hybridity draws from Dimitri Shostakovich and, more overtly, Brad Mehldau
's rhythmic and melodic bag. These dual influences are suggested on the opener "The Masterplan," with bassist Neil O'Loghlen and drummer Stephen Davis
buoying Flanigan's fluid soloing. This is Flanigan's working trio and it shows in the tight yet flexible interplay. Flanigan and Davis have played every weekend for several years at Bert's Jazz Bar in Belfastthe only nightly jazz venue in Irelandand their chemistry is keenly felt throughout. Best known as one third of improvising trio Bourne Davis Kane, Davis plays in a more relaxed and straight-ahead vein here, sympathetic to Flanigan's generally light touch, andnotably on the lively "Elevate"to the pianist's changes of gear.
The pianist is at his most persuasive on "Stars Fell on Alabama," the much-covered Frank Perkins/Mitchell Parish standard from 1934; O'Loghlen maintains a leisurely groove beneath Flanigan's animated yet essentially lyrical course, while Davis switches from sticks to brushes when the bassist steps up with a delightfully earthy, sonorous solo. A sensitive balladeer, Flanigan's economy illuminates the beauty of Dublin singer-songwriter Edel Meade's aching ballad "Love Lost." Similarly, brushes and spacious bass lines underpin Glen Miller's "Midnight Serenade," though it's when Flanigan deviates from the familiar melody in an unaccompanied outro that he really begins to command attention.
This is especially true of the solo piano rendition of the Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner classic "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"; liberated from his rhythm section, Flanigan's two-handed dynamics are employed to greater effect here than at any other time on the album. Perhaps Flanigan shows just a little too much respect towards the standards for at times the interpretations lack a little emotional tension. More satisfying in general are the original compositions, which is arguably where Flanigan's real strength lies. Tunes like the elegant yet fiery "Elevate," the boppish throwback "Blues for You" and the epic, melodically striking title track-with Davis stoking Flanigan's engineall bristle with energy and collective conviction. More of such fare wouldn't have gone amiss.
On balance, however, this is an impressive first outing from a young pianist of undoubted talent just beginning to establish himself as a leader in his own right. Where the next point of note will be on Flanigan's journey remains to be seen, but there's enough here to suggest that if he gets the bit between the teeth then it will be worth waiting for.