These two bands feature pianists who trained at Birmingham Conservatoire and are now active elsewhere – Blink’s Alcyona Mick playing and teaching in London, and Dan Nicholls continuing his studies in Copenhagen.
Although there are similarities in the music their bands make (they are not afraid to mix jazz with contemporary classical influences) their piano styles show contrasts.
Nicholls, who played the first half, is fascinated by rhythm: the rhythms of speech, drum patterns, changes in them within one piece.
There are clear minimalist influences in the speedy “busyness” of his compositions, and in the precision needed to play them.
That his group – Ryan Trebilcock (bass), Simon Spreyer (drums) Robin Fincker (saxophone, clarinet) – managed the music so well with so little rehearsal time is a tribute to their skills, but to fully realise its potential Nicholls needs a permanent and constantly gigging outfit.
Fincker featured in both halves. With Mick and drummer Paul Clarvis he had more room to move but still confines his playing within a fairly constrained emotional range. He remains for me more a player to admire than to actively enthuse over.
Where Nicholls explores rhythm, Mick is just as interested in melody and harmony. Her writing – Country Life was a particular highlight – reveals almost vocal melody lines, which she supports with fresh, crunchy chords, while her improvising is strongly double-handed with counter melodies constantly intertwining. This being a bass-less band, she favoured the lower end of the keyboard.
Clarvis is always a joy. The smiles he shares with the audience are indicative of the pleasure he gets both from his own playing and those of his fellow musicians, and they prompt reflective grins from his audience, too.
While both bands have great potential, Blink are further down the road and already fulfilling more of theirs.