Manhattan's New School Of Jazz was set up to nurture the well of the jazz tradition as it springs straight from the source; in an age where jazz has increasingly sought the security of an existence on campus, New School remains one of the first and best, and the number of applicants far exceeds the available places. Brighton homeboy Dave Drake has made the journey from local jam sessions, to NYJO alumnus, to New School student, and now returns to his hometown to present a concert of solo pieces.
Sir Basil Spence's dramatic modernist architecture provides a suitably elevating backdrop; a chequerboard of rough concrete and gently glowing stained glass. The concert is entitled 'A Common Ground" and all profits are to go to the Jo Cox Memorial fund. Without waiting for the applause of the crowd of friends and supporters to die down, Dave strides across to the piano, sits and starts playing in a single motion. A tocsin of plangent chords announce a pastoral melody, like Vaughan Williams as filtered through Keith Jarrett. Dave isn't afraid of a simple, appealing tune, but also delights in unexpected shifts of rhythm and register – jagged handfuls of notes drift like petals tossed over deep still pools of bass. The next piece is more overtly rooted in the language of 20th century jazz, with a swaggering left-hand motif somewhere between art house and barrel house. Any lingering idea that the event might capsize under the weight of it's own importance is dispelled as Dave recites an affectingly artless poetic tribute to his little bro, to whom 'The Little Warrior' is dedicated. Again the minor key melody is simple and direct, but there's an angularity or awkwardness, embraced to form an essential part of his artistic character, that's extremely compelling and extirpates any trace of the saccharine. He hits the keys with a tremendous force, especially high up in the right-hand register, drawing a strident, chiming tone from the piano that's all his own. 'Guns in the Hands of Men' references the Black Lives Matter movement; a rising tide of sonorous chords against a right-hand tremolo create a dramatic effect reminiscent of Meldhau. 'Devotion' has a powerfully plaintive theme that takes flight into thrilling cascades of 16th notes, with the feeling of a spontaneous improvisation.
There's further stylistic explorations in the second set – 'Daisaku' is lyrical and swinging. 'Bucharest' has traces of Chopin and Debussy, alternating calm and dissonance to wildly romantic effect, and 'Turning Poison Into Medicine' presents garlands of melody, beautifully executed and controlled. A true internationalist, Dave presents an incongruously wide range of influences, from Soka Gakkai Buddhism to Rudyard Kipling via a recitation of 'If', to a tribute to the late Doudou N'Diaye Rose that attempts to capture some of the rolling polyrhythms of West Africa, before finishing with a rollicking stride piece for an encore, yet the strength of his personal vision ties them together into a compelling whole. There's a powerful sense of his need to communicate and share his musical vision in the most positive way possible, set against a backdrop of awareness of the rapidly increasing stresses and strains at work in the wider world as the 45th US President takes office. The gig is being recorded; an album should be forthcoming before long so watch out for it.
– Eddie Myer
– Photo by Lisa Womsley