GIG REVIEW / PREVIEW: Nat Bartsch Trio, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, 9pm Thursday 25 April 2013 with guest saxophonist Kieran Hensey; Thursday 2 May and Thursday 9 May with guest vocalist Gian Slater.
What was intended to be a brief review of the Nat Bartsch Trio’s debut in its present line-up (Bennetts Lane, 26 March) has become a short preview for a CD launch and three-week residency.
After Springs, for all the Winters, Bartsch’s album with Josh Holt on double bass and Leigh Fisher on drums, the pianist has had a long break due to illness. Now she is back with a new line-up — Tom Lee on double bass and Daniel Farrugia on drums — and a new album, To Sail, To Sing. If their debut outing was an indication, Bartsch has chosen wisely. Lee and Farrugia have shown in other settings they can deliver energy and intensity that will complement the beauty of Bartsch’s melodies.
After her studies at VCA with Paul Grabowsky, Andrea Keller and Tony Gould, Bartsch travelled to Europe to study with ECM artists Tord Gustavsen (Norway) and Nik Bärtsch (Switzerland) for two months. She has toured in Japan and Germany. Influences on her work include Scandinavian composers, Debussy and bands such as Elbow, Radiohead and Sigur Ros, along with a wish “to link Australian/European jazz and minimalism to her ‘Triple J upbringing’”.
At its debut gig the new trio played all the pieces on the new album and some from the previous release. A highlight not on the recording was A True Conundrum, which Bartsch wrote when Jill Meagher was missing, but before she was found, as “an ode to all people who have gone missing”. The piece had space and there was some darkness and tension helped by piano and bass exchanges, but Bartsch’s inherent lyricism was evident in beautifully melodic passages.
The rhythmically strong Let’s Go Little Dude, inspired by Bartsch’s dog, was upbeat, energetic and brought a big response from the audience.
Pianists are quite different in the way they play and in their compositions, though I often find it hard to understand or express what it is exactly that creates those marked contrasts. Bartsch’s playing and originals bring to my mind Andrea Keller’s work. There is little use of the piano as a percussive instrument and there is always beautiful use of melody. There is also something special in the ability of Bartsch to hold the listener’s attention without a lot of force or dynamic variation.
Another Bartsch talent is in new arrangements of pieces by groups such as Radiohead and Gotye. These may not sound a lot like the originals, but that’s because they bring a new perspective.
It will be interesting to see how this trio develops over time. It’s an exciting prospect that the energy, intensity and focus of Tom Lee and Daniel Farrugia will take this trio into some new territory.