©Brett Delmage, 2018
Jeremy Ledbetter, Marc Decho, and Sarah Thawer played "with passion and energy" and engaged with their audience at Record Runner ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Jeremy Ledbetter Trio
Live @ Record Runner
Saturday, December 8, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

From their first number onwards, the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio captured the attention and the appreciation of their audience at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.

The material they performed was almost all from Ledbetter's recent trio CD, but this wasn't the trio that Ledbetter had on that album. Instead, the Toronto jazz pianist played with Ottawa bassist Marc Decho and Toronto drummer Sarah Thawer.

Although they had had two rehearsals in Toronto a few weeks before, this was the three musicians' first public performance together. “We hope you enjoy it, as we get to know each other here,” Ledbetter told the audience. “But of course, it's very important that you be a part of this, too. I'm going to talk to you a lot, because it's important to me that you feel that you're a part of this, too. That's one of the most important things about any music, is that it be played with passion and energy and that it feel as interesting and engaging to listen to as it is to play.”

The result was a vigorous and energetic performance, with laughter and smiles on-stage and off. They opened with “Amanecer”, the opening track on the CD, and that piece set the style for the evening: interactive, and full-bodied. Its opening, at first solo keyboards and then with light cymbals and bass, felt reverent and hopeful, reminding me somewhat of Pat Metheny. It grew steadily more intense and propulsive, and then quietened for a rounded and attuned bass solo, and then sprang back up in celebratory mood before ending in a strong drum flourish. Around me in the audience, I heard “Wow!” and strong applause.

Ledbetter has researched music and rhythms from around the world, and his “Two Cousins” was a mixture of rhythms from Venezuela and Jamaica, harking back to their common ancestor in Africa. One of the few songs not from the album, it was a harder-edged piece, with hints of reggae in its bright beats; in a club, I would think the dance floor would be full for this tune. Thawer's emphatic drumming substantially added to the energy in this tune, but at times, I felt she was becoming too loud for the space and almost drowning the bass and keyboards. Later in the show she dialed back a bit and achieved a better balance while still demonstrating fine style and power.

“Suspirito” was a lovely and loving ballad inspired by Ledbetter holding his infant daughter in his arms and wondering what she was dreaming about. “Got a Light?”, his album's title track, was inspired by a weird and unsettling scene from the revival of the “Twin Peaks” TV show – and was equally musically unsettling. With deep resounding piano chords, heavy drum thumps, and alternating start/stop and frantically busy sections, the piece left the listener increasingly tense and worried before ending abruptly.

In the second set, Decho's six-string bass was featured on a cover of the Tragically Hip's “Gift Shop”. While recognizable to any Hip fan, this was a more nuanced version which emphasized the melody. Decho initially played the emotional melody, his vibrating bass lines giving the song an almost magical feel. The tune became more anthemic and sped up as Ledbetter and Thawer joined in, but then quietened and slowed again to the initial immersive feel.

Thawer has studied Brazilian percussion, and “Mais Um” allowed her to demonstrate her mastery of the forró and baio rhythms which Ledbetter included in that piece. She opened the tune fast and hard, but with the intricate underlying beat clearly audible and compelling. When the keyboards and bass joined in, all three contributed to an extended exploration of variations on the rhythms – in an infectiously fun piece.

“Little Bell” was dedicated to Ledbetter's daughter Leila Isabel. It's a calypso tune which he originally recorded with CaneFire, his seven-piece Caribbean Latin jazz group – but he said he liked the gentler version he played with the trio. It was an inviting piece which opened dramatically with an angular piano intro, and then built up fast streams of melody on bass and keyboards over bright calypso rhythms.

The last number was a breakneck-fast rendition of Ledbetter's “The Pepper Drinker” – a Latin number with memorable start/stop rhythms and full-out playing. Its final notes were greeted with a “Bravo!”, and then the audience immediately rose to give the trio a standing ovation.

The trio returned for an encore with a joyous version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Ledbetter danced in his seat to the music, and even coaxed the audience to sing along occasionally. Not only the keyboards but also the bass and drums took up the melody at points during the tune, and it finished in a great rush of sound, with triple glissandos and a final flourish – to strong applause.

Partway through the show, Ledbetter said it's really important for this type of music – and all types of artistic music – to grow their audience. “I think part of that is making sure that we're playing music that our audiences enjoy! So hopefully you're enjoying this...”

The trio made that connection in their Record Runner show – while maintaining high standards of playing, individually and as a trio, and presenting interesting, individual material. It was an exhilarating evening which made one hope to hear these musicians again.

Set 1

(all songs by Jeremy Ledbetter unless otherwise noted)

  • Amanecer
  • Two Cousins
  • Suspirito
  • Got A Light?

Set 2

  • Gift Shop (The Tragically Hip)
  • Mais Um
  • Little Bell
  • The Pepper Drinker
  • (encore) The Battle Hymn of the Republic

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