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Jools Holland: Piano (East West Records) Out Now

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you are Jools fan, if you love the sound of the piano and you also fancy a couple of tracks of his trademark big band sound, then this is the stocking filler you need on Santa’s list.

Bandleader, pianist, composer and all-round music legend Jools Holland drops his new one; centred around his fifty-year relationship with the ‘Piano’. He explores different piano styles and pianos throughout this very nice instrumental album.

The newly recorded 18 strong collection of piano works includes a collaboration with iconic musician and producer Brian Eno, who sings backing vocals and experiments with soundscapes on the track Last Date.

Vibes of the brilliant Nashville session man and star Floyd Cramer who wrote and played this in 1960, an exponent of Slip Note playing style, something Jools does in his sleep. Some may call it ‘easy listening’, I call it bleedin’ lovely.  Minimum production, but we get the lush ‘ohhs and ahhs’ of backing singers in the glorious vein of The Jordinaires.

The album, overseen by Jools’ long-time producer Laurie Latham, sees Jools also performing alongside his acclaimed Rhythm & Blues Orchestra on three of the tracks – ‘Strange Cargo’, ‘Romantic Ruin’ and ‘Bumble Boogie’ in which he quotes Bach’s Prelude No 1.

Bumble Boogie. A classic track and Jools in his element. Doubt he broke a sweat on this 100mph boogie woogie blaster, which really packs a punch when his brass section come in and pin you to the back wall. Close your eyes, play it loud and think of a cops and robbers chase in an old black and white silent movie. The likes of the Keystone Cops and Buster Keaton risking life and limb doing their own dangerous stunts on set for the cameras.

Bet this track pays dividends when film, TV and advertisements pick it up.  He really is something else on this track. The band is the biz too by the way. Originally recorded by B. Bumble & The Stingers in 1961. A short-lived band formed by pop Svengali Kim Fowley. ‘Bumble Boogie’ featured Ernie Freeman at the piano, an adaptation of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Flight Of The Bumble Bee’. Jools brings it back to 2016/17 in fine style.

Fellow Squeeze member and drummer with the Jools Holland R&B Orchestra Gilson Lavis plays on on Last Date, Bumble Boogie, Bang And Pop, How Long Blues, Blue Lamp, Upright And Grand, Roll ‘Em, Strange Cargo and Romantic Ruin.

This record features eight of Jools’ own compositions and 10 pieces interpreting the work of the piano artists and composers that he loves. Opening with his own ‘May’ he was influenced by French composer Olivier Messiaen who listened to bird song to inspire him. Jools has made a unique field recording of his piano in conversation with songbirds. Really. It’s quite serene actually.

Jools and Sting wrote ‘Grand Hotel’.  Here it is completely reinvented with a mix of contemporary dance rhythms and stride piano.  Killer stride piano, to be accurate.  If we needed reminding, Mr Jools is a cracking boogie woogie exponent then this tune proves it. Piano and reverb soaked drum track too. Lovely.

From the baroque counterpoint of ‘Christabel’ to the blistering boogie woogie of ‘Bang And Pop’, Jools piano style is unmistakable.  Along with his own compositions he performs works by great Jazz artists Mary Lou Williams, Sidney Bechet, Freddie Slack and Erroll Garner.

In the middle of the album there is a four-piece blues segment inspired by Jimmy Yancey and Lloyd Glenn.  As friend and sometime collaborator, he is well placed to cover Dr John’s composition ‘Dorothy’.  Perhaps most unexpected is his new version of ‘Eruption’ by Dutch prog’ rock group Focus.

Jools was naturally gifted on the keys from a young age having learnt to play the instrument fluently by ear at the age of eight. By the time he reached his early teens, he was confident enough to perform in many of the pubs in South East London and the East End Docks. He then went on to play, record and appear with everyone in music from Squeeze, Amy Winehouse and Eric Clapton.

Jools has also previously presented a two-part documentary on the instrument in 2002 entitled Jools’ History Of The Piano. Of course, he’s the current leader and pianist of his well-renowned Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

Jools is currently on tour throughout the UK until the end of December. He and his 19-piece ensemble will also be hitting the road in May and June 2017 for their UK tour. Featuring the vocals of the dynamite trio, Louise Marshall, Beth Rowley and Ruby Turner.

I am liking the fact that this album is not his usual pre Christmas fare of starry guests singing and taking over the focal point. His piano skills don’t often get to be the main attraction. Now they do and so they should. A bit of a musical history lesson of piano players and piano styles through the ages too here. Bravo.


By Simon Redley   


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