Kris Bowers at XOYO, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

XOYO is a far cry from the plush environs of the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican, but no matter; this is jazz for active engagement and unadulterated energy – not for sitting pensive upon a throne stroking one’s chin – and this dingy basement next to Old Street station was enlivened by Kris Bowers, one of the most promising young pianists around.

After a tentative but admirable performance from show opener, Peter Edwards, the tension was palpable. Bowers, however – alongside Adam Agati (guitar), Alex Bonfanti (bass), and Richard Spaven (drums) – immediately dispelled any of these worries, moving straight from the serenity of album opener ‘Forever Spring’ into a sprawling twelve-minute long version of ‘Wake The Neighbours’.

This was a night for fans of improvisation. Bowers’ debut album Heroes + Misfits features Casey Benjamin’s ethereal alto playing heavily throughout, but his absence this evening was more than made up for by Agati who demonstrated great rhythmic dexterity in his phrasing, and moments of all-out rocking to rival the great John Schofield; a real gem in the making. Bowers equally matched Agati’s playing, though, and his hands soared across the Fender Rhodes with consummate ease in his masterful interpretation of tUnE-yArDs’ ‘Gangsta’.

Outside of these demonstrations of improvisational prowess, however, compositionally the end product at times felt to be lacking. Aside from the really special ‘#theprotester’ and the single ‘Forget-er’ – which was subject to an inspired re-visioning in the absence of vocalist Julia Easterlin – the tracks performed didn’t have the strongest sense of direction or development. Nonetheless, this was but a minor lacuna in an otherwise very impressive full London debut for an artist who may be raw, but who is incredibly exciting and bursting with potential; he may just be the kick the jazz world needs to invigorate a new generation.

– Alex de Lacey

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