While the celebrity-conscious headed to Regent Street last week to hear Clint Eastwood's bass-playing son Kyle, the more discerning were to be found a few minutes east at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho listening to a trio of rare distinction. Britain's Tim Garland is a saxophonist who can claim international stature, as can the Americans, pianist Geoff Keezer and vibraphonist Joe Locke. Individually, they have appeared alongside the likes of Kenny Barron, Christian McBride and Chick Corea. That is not to say, however, that a combination such as theirs is sure to succeed, for managing without a drummer or a bass player brings an added challenge, and doubly so with neither. Each player must draw on percussive sides to their instruments that may normally be neglected, and time, in usual circumstances the ultimate responsibility of the bass player, becomes a precarious tightrope on which the trio must tread.
That at no point did one miss either instrument is a tribute to how successfully these three mesh. For one moment I mused that they might well make the core of a Steps Ahead for their generation, Garland for Brecker, Locke for Mainieri and Keezer for Grolnick; and then dismissed the thought, for that would be to miss the point. They have chosen a different canvas, and fill it admirably.
At one point Garland used the words "chamber jazz". This is a term some may object to, finding it overly redolent of classical music. But it is apt, provided one does not invest in it too many of the perceived strictures of classical form. That it suggests an element of the miniature doesn't mean the result is any less vivid.
Locke, using four mallets, took turns with Keezer to ensure the safety of the pulse. In this situation it requires great musicianship to stay "in" time when one of the two chooses to go "out", but they managed it, with one small lapse from which they quickly recovered and which was treated with quite rightful joy, just as the audience cheers when an ice-skater regains equilibrium during a pirouette of superhuman ambition.
Locke has his own voice, and brings a freshness to the vibes that Bobby Hutcherson, the elder of the instrument, lacked on his last two concerts in London. Keezer is possibly the most versatile pianist of his generation, able to bring vitality and a personal touch to every style I've heard him play, while Garland's empathy and restrained leadership was a study in quiet confidence. I could not fault this stunningly accomplished trio, who produce music of originality and great accessibility, in any way.