Reviews of Eyes Shut Tight
12/04/2013 Laurence Jones
The Red Lion, Hockley, Birmingham UK
Reviewed by Laurence JonesIn the last few years there has been quite a profusion of bass, keyboard and drums outfits attempting to reinvent the piano trio. The Esbjörn Svensson Trio, The Bad Plus, Neil Cowley Trio and Phronesis (to name but a few) have all contributed excitingly diverse takes on the form. Eyes Shut Tight (not to be confused with the German gothic metal band of the same name!) are no exception. Led by Paul Baxter, featuring drummer Kris Wright and pianist Johnny Tomlinson (with Tom Taylor deputising on this last night of the tour), they have been together for three years and are soon to release their third recording- Resonance. For this gig the majority of the music played came from the new album.The first set kicked off with Transition, featuring slow, lyrical double bass and subtle use of the sticks, which left plenty of room for the gospel-influenced keyboards. Kris Wright, the composer of the following tune, T and C, propelled this upbeat workout with snappy snare detail meshing with lyrical keyboards, as it built to a climax before a slow fade. Precipice had a filmic quality, coming over like the soundtrack of a yet to be made movie, with exacting drums gaining velocity before the tune took flight with some almost boogie woogie- sounding keyboards.A Touch of the Charlies, from their last album The Thaw, is a subtle, reflective, life-affirming piece, notable for the skilful interplay between resonant bass and Jarrett-influenced keyboards. Hit and Hope motored along with urgent-sounding bass, laced with delicately funky keyboards, arriving at a crescendo before a gentle keyboard and bass comedown.I’m not sure if Eyes Shut Tight do any other versions of heavy metal tunes, but I would like to hear more if they do. Their version of System of a Down’s foreboding grungey song Aerials is a beauteous vital thing with fragile keys, fingers tapping on the snare drum and propulsive bowed-bass strings building to create an almost mesmeric, ominous feel.An uninhibited intro kicked off the second set with the free-flowing title track from the new album. The driving drumbeat and incisive keyboards locked into a persistent infectious groove before evolving into a long, languid, soulful keyboard interlude with some delightfully clipped drumming. Addict starts with some graceful keyboard notes from Tom Taylor, who already sounds like he’s been playing with the band for years, continuing with soaring bass and thoughtful drumming. The infectiously euphoric Forethought (from The Thaw) was one of the highlights of the night and featured an affecting moment of abandon when all the players meshed perfectly into a glorious groove after Baxter’s deeply Charlie Haden-influenced bass had opened up the tune.What will be the opening track from the new album was the last tune of the evening, and Mr C sums up everything that’s so impressive about Eyes Shut Tight
04/06/2012 Jazz Listeners Thoughts
Eyes Shut Tight is a British trio, with Johnny Tomlinson on piano, Kristoffer Wright on drums, and Paul Baxter on double bass. As with many piano trios today, this is a democracy, with terrific interplay among the players, and a keen sense of how to support each other with color, counter melodies, and improvisation. Wright is a great colorist at times, and at other drives the band hard with some propulsive playing from his kit. Tomlinson on piano has the burden of carrying the melodies, and does so with long and lyrical melody lines, short stacato bursts, rapidly played improvisations, and a full range of dynamics. Baxter from the bass chair wrote all of the pieces on their latest recording, and demonstrates his abilities both in setting the tempos as well as in his melodic interludes, both plucked and bowed.
Their second album is "The Thaw" (self produced by paulbaxtermusic.com 2011). It follows up on their first, “Evolution” (Hungry Bear Records 2010), of which I have only heard snatches but seems from those small pieces to be something to listen to in greater depth, and I am in the process of ordering it from JazzCDs.co.uk.
Baxter writes with a strong rhythmic sensibility, and the band draws comparisons to other European trios like E.S.T, Phronesis, and the Neil Cowley Trio. The Thaw's range of play is expansive, with bowed bass passages and pizzicato passages, and a great deal of textural changes from legato to staccato, pianissimo to forte, etc. which maintain great interest in their work from song to song. And don't miss the hiden track following "Hymn" featuring a bowed melody by Baxter and some supporting violins that stands up well as a classical piece of music.
The give and take of the three instruments and their varied attack create a very energetic and pleasing listen. The opening song "Mr. C " starts with some heavily played chords and a strong attack by all three players before it moves into some nicely played melodic piano sections; it is a song that immediately tells you that this is a band that is full of rapid changes, and a capacity to surprise. Insistent rhythms and a pulse from the drums and bass, and urgent chordal configurations, always seem push the music along on this opener. Towards the end, as the piano comes down quietly, the bass picks up the melody and carries the piece to a lovely conclusion.
The bass playing throughout is wonderful; listen to the opening of “Forethought” as it sets a quiet and emotional mood that is then picked up by the others on this quieter, more emotive song. There are many great interactions between the instruments that demonstrate how well they listen to each other and react to the tempos and moods being set. “A Touch Of The Charlies” is a ballad that opens with Baxter and his large, woody bass tone in concert with the colorings of a quiet piano and drum set. “Exit Train” is an upbeat groove tune with a propulsive beat set at the outset by the left hand of the pianist and the drummer, before the grooving melody comes into play. the beat then slows into a second section of great interest and dynamic and melody changes, which gradually picks up in intensity before ending abruptly with some laughter in the background. "Afterthought" is next, and is a nice piece of quiet but intense trio play with a lilting melody on piano supported by the others, and then "Hymn", with a switch midway for Tomlinson onto the organ, and the hidden piece end the disc in a stately manner.
"Eyes Tight Shut" is a wonderful CD which should please those who appreciate the style of play of the groups noted above. There is a great deal of impressionistic play, rapid changes in tempo, and drama inherent in the music, coupled with some lovely lyrical piano and bass play that create some beautiful passages. This is not your down the middle piano trio, but it also is not too far out either, and thus it is never hard to listen to. Baxter writes some nice songs and has a great harmonic sensibility, and his trio plays with verve and passion. Highly recommended.
23/02/2012 The Jazz Mann
Eyes Shut Tight
This self released album by the bass led piano trio Eyes Shut Tight represents the follow up to their (very good) 2010 album “Evolution” (review elsewhere on this site). The group are led by bassist and composer Paul Baxter and also feature pianist Johnny Tomlinson (also of the band If Destroyed Still True) and drummer Kristoffer Wright, both graduates of the jazz course at Leeds College of Music.
Baxter was also a member of the Leeds based Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra when I saw give an excellent performance at the 2011 Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham. However he now appears to have moved to London and although Eyes Shut Tight are still fully operative it may be that he has loosened his ties with regard to other aspects of the Yorkshire jazz scene. For all this “The Thaw” was recorded in Leeds and it’s eight selections again feature the compositions of Baxter exclusively.
With a bassist leading the band it’s perhaps not surprising that the music has a strong rhythmic drive that has evoked comparisons with E.S.T., The Bad Plus, Phronesis, Neil Cowley Trio etc. However “The Thaw” expands on the group’s début by adding other timbres and textures including Baxter’s use of the bow and Tomlinson’s deployment of church organ on the closing tune “Hymn”. However there is still plenty of cut and thrust about the trio’s music and energy levels are generally high with plenty of interaction between the players. Baxter has said that the group’s name is inspired by their “intuitive group dynamic” and once again there’s plenty of that in evidence here. I was disappointed to miss out on seeing the trio on their recent (January 2012) UK tour but wintry conditions dissuaded me from travelling to their date at Dempsey’s in Cardiff. Cardiff jazz stalwart Roger Warburton later informed me that the group had been very impressive with plenty of creative energy allied to an impish musical sense of humour. Wish I’d been there.
In the meantime there’s always this new album to enjoy kicking off with the spirited stop/start grooves of the opening “Mr. C”. This is a wide ranging piece that veers between delicate lyricism and full on grooving. It is an example of contemporary piano jazz at it’s best, constantly evolving and full of surprises. As the group name implies there is a high level of understanding and intuition between the players with Baxter’s closing bass solo a particular highlight.
The title track is similarly kaleidoscopic and intensely rhythmic with Tomlinson and Baxter improvising around urgent, insistent rhythmic configurations, the pianist’s role often alternating between melodic and rhythmic functions.
“Forethought”, introduced by the leader’s deeply resonant bass lowers the temperature with Tomlinson’s Jarrett like piano eventually emerging out of the gloom. Baxter cites Jarrett’s trio with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian as a primary influence alongside the the more contemporary work of E.S.T. and Israeli bassist and composer Avishai Cohen. There’s certainly some evidence of this on yet another winning original Baxter composition.
“Bisbo” begins with a lovely piano/double bass duet before Wright strikes up an insistent brushed groove for his colleagues to improvise around. In true Eyes Shut Tight manner the music doesn’t stay still for long as the group stretch out, varying the dynamics but always maintaining a strong and varied rhythmic pulse and with Baxter’s bass frequently assuming the lead. He’s a monster player with a huge tone, great dexterity and a highly developed melodic sense in his solos.
Despite the jokey title “A Touch Of The Charlies” turns out to be an affecting slow ballad featuring Baxter’s deeply woody bass above Tomlinson’s sparse piano chording and Wright’s delicately detailed drum accompaniment. Tomlinson subsequently expands his contribution with some of his most lyrical playing of the set.
The leader’s bass ushers in “Exit Train”, initially another insistently rhythmic piece as the title might suggest. As ever with this trio’s music things aren’t that straightforward as the piece is punctuated by more impressionistic episodes among bursts of odd meter grooves. There’s a burst of laughter at the end of the take, evidence perhaps of the group’s sense of humour in action. “Afterthought” then slinks insidiously into the listener’s consciousness with it’s gently undulating melody lines and subtle grooves.
The closing “Hymn” features Tomlinson on both piano and church organ, the latter apparently recorded on location, and sounds much as one would expect with the quiet bustle of Wright’s drums underpinning the keyboardist’s work.
The album also offers an untitled bonus track which provides a showcase for Baxter’s arco bass skills. His deeply sonorous bowing is featured alongside the violins of Martin Couzin and Adam Robinson. The result is a delightfully melodic piece that sits somewhere in the hinterland between folk and the classical string quartet with just a hint of jazz in the closing stages as Baxter puts down the bow. It’s a very welcome addition but should perhaps constitute part of the album proper. It would be a shame to think of anyone missing out on this.
“The Thaw” is a very worthy follow up to “Evolution” and a good showcase for Baxter’s writing and playing skills. His constantly evolving compositions sustain the interest of the listener and his playing is superb throughout with Baxter allowing himself plenty of solo space. Having said that his interaction with his two younger colleagues is excellent and Tomlinson and Wright once again give evidence that both are fine musicians in their own right. They need to be given the complexities of Baxter’s compositional output and both acquit themselves admirably.
There are a lot of piano trios around but Eyes Shut Tight deserve to be rated right up there amongst the best of them.
21/01/2012 Jazz Notes
Eyes Shut Tight
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” (Frank Zappa) but how else to enthuse about a great new album, short of shouting in the streets?
Bass player Paul Baxter is renowned as the tireless transcriber of even the most tortuous of Horace Silver tunes, to be played by his 5 Pieces of Silver group.
The new album The Thaw, by Paul’s Trio Eyes Shut Tight, is worth shouting about as an impressive showcase for his compositional skills and his fine bass playing, partnered by Johnny Tomlinson (piano) and Kris Wright (drums) in eight new compositions. The title track begins with an urgent bass/piano ostinato, with the icy sparkle of the upper register piano figure giving a graphic impression of wintry clarity before warming up to include a spirited Latin American section. A Touch Of The Charlies features Paul’s big, woody bass sound (the CD recording is excellent) before the piano enters with impressionistic ruminations and a delicate melody.
The lovely closing track, Hymn, has Johnny Tomlinson entering with a cathartic burst of (on-location) church organ after the Trio. A surprise bonus, if you leave the disc in there is the sudden entry of a string trio in a very satisfying finale, the violins of Martin Couzin and Adam Robinson joining Paul’s double bass. In a jazz market awash with piano trios, this one stands as out in its virtuosity, varied compositions and ingenuity of direction.
21/02/2011 The Jazz Mann
"With “Evolution” Eyes Shut Tight have quickly established themselves as a distinctive voice in the crowded field of the contemporary piano trio.
Eyes Shut Tight"
Eyes Shut Tight are a Yorkshire based trio led by double bassist Paul Baxter. This self released album first appeared in October 2010 and features eight original Baxter compositions, the concluding three exhibiting distinct prog rock tendencies and seeming to comprise a mini suite. Joining Baxter in the group are pianist Jonny Tomlinson of the band If Destroyed Still True and acclaimed young drummer Kristoffer Wright. Both are graduates of the influential Leeds College of Music jazz course.
Baxter states that the band name is derived from their “intuitive group dynamic” and it’s certainly true that this is a highly democratic unit, very much in the spirit of the contemporary jazz piano trio. Comparisons have been drawn with most of the usual suspects-E.S.T., The Bad Plus, Tom Cawley’s Curios and the Kit Downes Trio-but in view of Baxter’s leadership of the band perhaps Jasper Hoiby’s Phronesis is the most obvious parallel.
Eyes Shut Tight have acquired quite a reputation on the Northern and East Midlands jazz circuits with their brand of grooving, melodic, contemporary piano jazz and have already made their London début with an appearance at the Black Heath Hall in January 2011. “Evolution” should enhance their standing still further as the trio becomes Baxter’s main creative outlet. He also appears in a more mainstream trio with Wright and pianist Richard Wetherall and is also a member of 5 Pieces Of Silver, a Horace Silver tribute band.
The album opens with “Green Tea”, an excellent slice of contemporary piano jazz with an attractive melody and a high degree of interaction between the players. Not that the trio are afraid to leave space and to allow each other to breathe- “Green Tea” contains a lengthy passage of solo piano. Indeed the contributions of Baxter and Wright are well judged with the percussionist’s filigree cymbal work particularly impressive.
“Time Of Arrival” follows almost seamlessly, unfolding in a leisurely, almost cinematic manner with the leader’s bass playing coming to the fore. Again it’s both highly melodic and thoroughly contemporary, the melody led by Tomlinson’s piano arpeggios as Wright provides splashes of colour straight from the Motian/Christensen school. Although it’s eminently accessible the trio still throw in plenty of knotty, time shifting elements with Baxter anchoring everything from the bass.
“Dekonnink” utilises a more orthodox jazz swing feel and borrows judiciously from the standard “Stella By Starlight”. It also offers Baxter to demonstrate his considerable abilities as a soloist, his tone rich and assured above Tomlinson’s piano chords and the chatter of Wright’s brushes.
By contrast the ballad “Angular” begins in deeply atmospheric territory, full of deep bass resonances, sparse piano chords and appropriately sympathetic drumming. Eventually a flowing melody emerges, providing the inspiration for excellent solos from Tomlinson and Baxter.
“www” features the outstanding drumming of Wright, full of colour and controlled power above a backdrop of piano and muscular bass.
“Evolution ( The Beginning)” may have a prog rock style title but at just under twelve minutes it’s also the centre piece of the album and a good calling card for both Baxter’s writing and the trio’s improvisational skills. The piece covers several styles from the delicately atmospheric to full on grooving as the trio move up and down the gears, varying moods and tempos and blending structure and freedom with Baxter’s bass sometimes taking the lead. It’s consistently engrossing and encompasses an impressive stylistic range.
“How The Sun Rises (Morning Has Broken)” erupts with a volcanic barrage from Wright’s drums. Tomlinson’s opening piano chords are no less thunderous and he later dives under the lid, plucking and striking at the strings in counterpoint to Baxter’s bass groove. Apart from a brief interlude of grainy arco bass it’s all sound and fury and something of a show-stopper in a live situation one suspects.
“Cactai (The End)” adopts a more optimistic feel but is still driven by interlocking bass and drum grooves with Baxter providing the pulse and Wright the clatter and colour. It’s left to Tomlinson to fill in the gaps, which he does with considerable aplomb contributing a dazzling solo.
With “Evolution” Eyes Shut Tight have quickly established themselves as a distinctive voice in the crowded field of the contemporary piano trio. They may sound a little like each of the groups mentioned above- and on the occasions when they really go for it like the Neil Cowley Trio-but they still emerge with a strong identity of their own. This is an assured début that illustrates Baxter’s abilities as a writer and the trio’s considerable playing abilities. The mix of styles is a good demonstration of the group’s versatility as they tackle a broad range of moods and textures.
“Evolution” deserves to see the group break out of their Northern heartlands to become a presence on the national jazz scene. It is to be hoped that they will get the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities on the summer festival circuit.
01/12/2010 The Musician
“Rising bassist Paul Baxter has selected eight cuts of exploratory piano-based jazz, forged in the company of keys master Johnny Tomlinson and the excellent skins and bronze of Kris Wright. ‘Evolution’ manages that often sought, yet rarely achieved balance of being sweetly melodic and sufficiently experimental to please both the improv cognescenti and those who prefer their small band jazz to maintain a mainstream appeal. ‘Time of Arrival’ is a wonderful example, scene-setting arpeggios leading with a warm-hearted sense of inevitability to closing expansive splashes of colour. A True Gem!” - The Musician, Dec 2010.
12/11/2010 Chris DeSaram, Director Wakefield Jazz
“Paul Baxter's Eyes Shut Tight has to be the most sophisticated and skillful group to play a support set at Wakefield Jazz.
The freewheeling compositions for Evolution (their debut CD) leave plenty of space for pianist Johnny Tomlinson to move out and express his improvising talent. Kris Wright varies from a time-keeping groove to a clattering drive with ease and Paul himself provides a foundation and a further accomplished solo voice.”
17/09/2010 Ron Burnett, Jazz Notes, York Press
In recent years the piano trio has been democratised. No longer is the piano on the promenade deck, with bass and drums down below in the engine room, stoking the rhythm. Esbjorn Svensson, Curios, Kit Downes, the Bad Plus – all key names in the growth of the piano trio as three-part conversation and Paul Baxter`s new CD with his Eyes Tight Shut Trio, Evolution, continues the logical development.
All compositions are selected from bass player Paul`s progress over the last five years. The album opener, Green Tea, is a melodic piece with obvious classical influences, while Time Of Arrival has fluid and subtle time changes, demonstrating the intuitive group dynamic of the entire album.
Dekonnik continues the refreshingly melodic impetus, with well-disguised borrowings from Stella By Starlight.
Evolution is a graphic demonstration of the group democracy, each musician given a voice in the organic development of the piece.
Drummer Kristoffer Wright is featured to great effect on WWW... and in his opening contribution to How The Sun Rises, developing into a 6/8 rhythm groove.
Pianist Johnny Tomlinson is a star in the making, muscularly definitive in his chords and lyrical in his single line flights as he explores the possibilities offered by Baxter`s compositions.
Jasper Hoiby`s Phronesis, a piano trio similarly led by a bass player, has played the London Jazz Festival, is lined up for the North Sea Jazz Festival and has been hailed by Jazzwise magazine as the breakthrough jazz band of the year.
Jasper should now be prepared for a wake-up call, to make room on the breakthrough platform for Eyes Tight Shut. You know it makes sense, Jasper.
More info on the Evolution album, by Eyes Tight Shut, from www.paulbaxtermusic.com
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