Jason Rebello,

Pizza Express, London

Rebello's brief retreat to a Buddhist monastery does not seem to have overtly affected his style as a pianist, which continues to be as sparkly and twinkling as ever. Coming to this gig straight from a preview of Martin Scorsese's film on the life of the Dalai Lama - "you talking to me, Kundun?" - I was in the mood for a bit of musing on the mysteries of life, but instead it was straight-ahead jazz in the age-old manner, with classic hard bop themes mixed with sensitive originals that, however ethereal the inspiration, still aspired to the earthly condition of the classic New York club sound circa 1966.

The band, however, was a dream: Denys Baptiste on a querulous-sounding tenor sax, Gene Calderazzo pacing out a constantly-shifting metre at the drums, and the wonderful Arnie Somogyi weaving in and out of time on double bass. At the front, Rebello displayed his remarkable mastery of the keyboard in extended improvisations that moved from heavy-chorded vamps to almost Oscar Peterson-like musical-conjuring acts.

This, of course, is part of the problem. Rebello has such a winning way with the piano that over the course of an evening the easy artistry becomes rather reductive. He swings perfectly but everything seems to occur in one emotional key; he twinkles all right, but the shine tends to wear off. This became evident most of all in a long solo excursion at the keyboard where the initial, Satie-like sentience was succeeded by some mind-boggling technical tricks - showcase double-time passages melding into South African- sounding hymnal heavy rolls and then leading into, well, more of the same. Five minutes was great. After 10 it was tedious, and the more it went on the more you wanted to slam the lid of the piano on his indecently fast-moving fingers and shout: "Rebello! No! While we admire your skilful keyboard vamps, we require something a little more substantial."

The substantial never really happened. Someone once wrote of a boogie- woogie pianist that he had a left hand like God. Despite his spiritual leanings, Rebello is very much a right-hand man, and his art depends more than it should on that old top-of-the-keyboard twinkling. At the close, saxophonist Jean Toussaint joined in for a version of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo", but it wasn't enough to convince. Rebello is good enough to make you wish he were even better.

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