Kelly Trio delivers ‘the best’ jazz in spades

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Music / “Ugly Beauty”. The Wayne Kelly Trio. At The Street Theatre, February 20. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE.

WHY go overseas to experience jazz when there’s the quality and class of groups like the Wayne Kelly Trio right here in our own backyard?

And Australian jazz is different to European or US jazz; it’s somehow more spacious and open, with a generous dollop of typical Aussie freedom and wit, not to mention spontaneity. No one performance is ever the same as another.

Delivering all this in spades were pianist Wayne Kelly, bassist Brendan Clarke, and drummer Andrew Dickeson.

The first half of this one-act show was a selection of classics of Thelonious Monk (1917-82). “Britannica” says Monk’s playing was “percussive and sparse, often being described as angular, and he used complex and dissonant harmonies and unusual intervals and rhythms.”

But Kelly did not try to emulate Monk in his playing. While Monk’s style informed Kelly’s interpretations, these tunes were very much in Kelly’s own stylings, especially in the two solo tunes he played, the second of which he dedicated to another legendary jazz pianist, Chick Corea, who died only a week or so ago at the age of 79.

That Kelly put his own stamp on the Monk tunes was no clearer than in the second half, when the trio performed Kelly originals.

The first, “Wild Gazelle”, he wrote for his wife. But perhaps in defiance to the title, it largely is a thoughtful piece of beauty and grace, with moments of exhilaration interspersed with reflection.

The second was a suite comprising four parts. Kelly penned this deeply personal work during the globally topsy-turvy year of 2020 as his religious faith grew stronger. There are many moods and rhythms throughout the work and all three players put their heart and soul into its performance. There were brilliant solos from all three, and when they all played there was a cohesion and a unity that few could achieve and many would envy.

The Wayne Kelly Trio delivered one of the best and most enjoyable jazz concerts I have experienced. Judging from the capacity audience’s enthusiasm all the way through the performance, I was not alone in that thought.

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