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ONE of most luminous jazz pianists in Europe, Stefan Aeby of Freiburg in Switzerland began his musical journey at an early age.
His parents, teachers and passionate music lovers, sang in choirs and played in brass bands and they ensured that he began learning piano at the age of six.
He bought his first jazz record — Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue — at the age of 12. He loved its “melodies, its spaces, its moods,” and he began to appreciate the piano artistry of Keith Jarrett.
He started his trio in 2008. The Swiss jazz scene may not be very big “but it has a great output for the size of the country,” he says, “we have some powerfully creative musicians.” Determined to join them, he joined forces with bassist Andre Pousaz and drummer Michael Stulz.
“They have strong musical voices and their own way of playing, feeling, thinking and hearing music,” Aeby says.
They have already made four albums together and their finest is perhaps The London Concert, a recording of their performance at the Vortex in Dalston in 2017. I was lucky enough to hear it live and it full of surprise and inventiveness.
The three musicians were inspired by the East End street life of Dalston: “There was a special mood, a special vibe there — tough and hard but warm and open-minded too; a different energy to Switzerland,” Aeby remembers.
All but one of the album’s compositions are by the pianist but it is Pousaz’s deep-twanging bass that is prominent on the beautifully introspective, softly tidal opener Shi, followed directly by the pounding Knabautsch, with Stulz creating an irrepressible knocking rhythm and Aeby weaving inside his strokes.
In Pousaz’s tune The Wheel, Aeby’s melodic artistry shines out and the bassist’s solo is like a voice confessing the story of a life.
But the album’s heart is the sonic narrative of the simply titled Dalston, an evocation of the sounds of dominoes, conversations and skateboards and the cosmopolitan vibrancy of Gillett Square outside the Vortex, generated by Stulz’s resolute drums and the chimes of Aeby’s keys.
“Jazz is about freedom,” Aeby says, “about playing what you want but in a band context with other musicians. But a band only works when the musicians play together, with strong respect for each other, putting their egos behind them.”
You can hear how this Swiss trio did this in east London — it’s a sonic tale well worth the hearing.
The London Concert is released on Intakt.
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