At The Globe on Sunday evening, trailblazing cellist Shirley Smart performed a diverse set of music which engaged and excited the virtual audience, alongside her incredibly talented trio featuring John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia Sabat on percussion. Smart is known for the breadth and depth of her musical influences, spanning many different overlapping genres of jazz, Arabic, Turkish and North African music. Smart’s compositions manage to encompass many different influences and draw from many different traditions of music, yet maintain a unique and cohesive voice of their own. Much of Sunday’s performance featured original compositions, but we also got to hear a taste of Smart’s influences more directly, as the trio reshaped some of her favourite pieces written by other musicians. The versatility of all three musicians was brilliant to watch, especially in a live space where there was so much interaction and musical sensitivity. It was amazing to hear such interesting music from a set of extremely accomplished and creative musicians.
Smart’s set was cleverly thought through, oscillating between faster, uplifting pieces, and more intimate, pensive, lamenting compositions which provided a brilliant contrast and diversity to the performance. ‘Waltz for an Amethyst’ opened the set with a great sense of movement and groove, and featured some incredible solos from Smart on cello and Crawford on piano. Seeing a jazz small-group with this instrumentation in itself is a rare experience, but with such talented individual players, it was a pleasure to listen to. The energy of ‘Waltz for an Amethyst’ was brilliantly reflected in other tracks from Smart’s debut album Long Story Short, such as ‘Longa Kismet’, ‘Balkan Tune’ and ‘Sambuca’. Smart’s range of influences really shone through on these tracks, hugely complimented by Sabat’s range of drumming techniques and timbres. The irregular time signatures of the pieces were expertly navigated by Sabat, and the emotional centres of each piece were also skilfully conveyed by all three musicians. ‘Longa Kismet’ also featured a cello solo on which Crawford and Sabat provided a rhythmic accompaniment solely through clapping – this change in texture again provided a whole new perspective to the piece which differentiated it in the set. However, all three pieces finished with an abrupt end, leaving the audience hanging on the edge of every note and excited for more.
In strong contrast, Smart’s balladic compositions such as ‘Opals’ and ‘Hegel’s Muse’ featured lamenting melodies which were beautifully accompanied by Crawford and Sabat. The melody on ‘Opals’ seemed pensive and thoughtful, yet not melancholy – Smart explained that the tune reminded her of the gemstone, and that’s how it became titled. The way in which Smart accompanied on cello with pizzicato was also extremely interesting, acting almost as a double bass in a trio setting, but with a different timbre and obviously a different range. The way in which she transitioned from pizz to bowing was very smooth, and with Sabat’s interesting brush choices on drums, ‘Opals’ was a really special piece. ‘Hegel’s Muse’ was similar in it’s ballad quality, yet it was a tango, so had much more movement than ‘Opals’. The more experimental pitch bending, high notes and extended techniques in the solo section of this piece was both challenging and exhilarating as a listener.
Although Smart played music from Algeria, Morocco, Jerusalem, and more, the set was not devoid of American jazz roots. ‘Mobius Blues’ provided some brilliant Bill Evans-inspired voicings from Crawford, a really bluesy solo from Smart, and some incredible moments of classic call and response which provided a sense of the trio’s musical sensitivity and responsiveness. ‘Orinoco Lane’ took Smart back to her bebop roots – she stated that many had been shocked that she played bebop on cello, but as an audience member, there was nothing to be disliked about the composition or performance. It was a striking piece, and swung hard thanks to Sabat. ‘Tetouan’ was another piece which had an amazing groove, which felt repetitive and yet somehow constantly refreshing and new – the drum solo was not one to miss.
Finally, the beautifully haunting melody of ‘Crossfire’ was dedicated to a more hopeful outlook, as Smart talked about her time in Jerusalem, and the trio ended their set with the upbeat Algerian piece ‘Ticaraca Tchoub’. Smart said that the piece ‘ended her career as a classical cellist’ – I think the audience probably felt strangely grateful towards the piece for this reason! The composition had a foot-stomping groove, allowing the trio to end with a powerful and triumphant finish. The Shirley Smart Trio’s performance at The Globe was a pleasure to watch, and provided a really diverse and interesting set which both fascinated and intrigued. The individuality of Smart’s compositions is striking, and her mixture of influences makes the music a compelling listen – a brilliant performance and a lovely evening’s entertainment.
Author: Evie Hill
Image: Screenshots – Ken Drew