Ashley Henry Trio
The Verdict Brighton
29th August 2016
Ashley Henry is in town as part of the New Generation season, to promote his LP 5ive, recently released on Jazz:refreshed, and he’s brought along the bass and drum team of Sam Vicari and Sam Gardner who backed him on the record (Verdict regulars may remember them backing another outstanding young pianist, Dominic Marshall). Henry is a relaxed but imposing presence at the piano – the band tear straight into his original Deja Vu , and after the spare, ominous head he’s off on a finger-flying solo of furious energy, his face a picture of complete absorption. The twin Sams match him every step of the way, supporting and suggesting new avenues – this is a real three-way conversation. By contrast Pannonica is taken at an insouciant swing, which suits it very well – Vicari obliges with a bravura solo over the tricky changes. A further original of Henry’s has a hint of Yesterdays in the head, and leads to a protracted groove-out ending over a hypnotic ostinato that gets the packed crowd truly on board, earning as much of a big hand as the effortlessly swinging solos.
Classically trained, Henry is a relative newcomer to jazz, but already by his mid twenties he demonstrates total ease with the range of contemporary styles and a deep awareness of the legacy. He’s certainly got fast fingers and a lightning-quick harmonic response, but as in the work of one of his avowed influences, Herbie Hancock (via Cedar Walton and Kenny Kirkland), there’s a deep commitment to groove and the exact placement of each note that ensures everything he plays has the kind of authentic swing that can’t be faked. Chelsea Bridge and Round Midnight highlight his lyrical, sensitive but robust approach to a ballad – elsewhere, his favoured trick of tagging long, groove-based breakdowns onto the end of songs allows him and Gardner to flex their J-Dilla and Glasper inspired chops. Gardner plays some outstandingly composed solos. Monk’s Dream is a highlight, with Henry unleashing a torrent of virtuosity, and the rhythm team responding with a delighted display of assured creativity. In the workshop they delivered earlier in the day, the band discussed Kenny Werner’s ideal of ‘effortless mastery’ and they demonstrated an abundance of it tonight. Henry’s playing, with its use of space and unfailing rhythmic and melodic precision, demonstrates many sterling qualities, and the over-riding impression in even the most frantic moments is of confidence with its essential counterbalance – poise. Let’s hope he returns with the band before too long.