Florian Hoefner ©Brett Delmage, 2019
There was notable conceptual unity in the music of the Florian Hoefner Trio in the group's NAC concert on February 19. (l-r: Florian Hoefner, Andrew Downing, Nick Fraser) ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The Florian Hoefner Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It was an evening of close listening – on-stage and off – as the Florian Hoefner Trio presented the music of their as-yet-unreleased debut album. And that listening revealed some real gems in the music.

Hoefner performs in several different groups with musicians from around the world; this is his Canadian trio. The German-born jazz pianist, who now lives and works in Newfoundland, has teamed up with two talented Toronto musicians: bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser. And despite living in different provinces, the three showed considerable rapport in their performance Tuesday.

Rippling piano, evocative bowed and pizzicato bass, and textured drumming combined to create a nuanced sound, immersing the audience in the energetic and lovely music. It was primarily an ensemble performance: Hoefner and Downing took only short solos and Fraser none at all. Instead, you could feel the each musician responding to the others.

The trio's opening number, “Calvary” (from Levon Helm's GRAMMY-winning album), displayed this unity very well, with both Hoefner and Downing stating and refining the theme as Fraser drove the music forward, ending in sparkling piano over a deep bass and drums groove.

The concert included all nine pieces on the trio's upcoming album, which was recorded in July of 2018, and which will be released in September. Three are originals; the others are Hoefner's adaptations of folk and roots songs which he loves. One is from an album by Levon Helm, another by Newfoundland fiddler Rufus Guinchard, and some are traditional, including several which Hoefner discovered on albums by folksinger Sam Amidon.

Each traditional piece was a springboard for Hoefner's interpretation, substantially rearranged for jazz trio. If you loved Stan Rogers' version of “The Maid On The Shore”, for example, you could still occasionally hear that tune's melody in Hoefner's version, but it was encased in a bright, dancing whirl of notes. The Armenian folksong “Loosin Yelav” (The Moon Has Risen) became a romantic and almost classical piece featuring a fluid bass solo and light tapping cymbals.

Downing is a fine arco (bowed) bass player and demonstrated that in a number of pieces, including on “Hound's Tune” by Rufus Guinchard, where his bass sounded much like a fiddle. He added a sweeping bowed bass melody to “Short Life” (from Sam Amidon's album Bright Sunny South), a serene piece with muted hand drumming. On “Rain and Snow”, his bowing gave a bluesy edge to the music, complementing Hoefner's elegiac piano lines.

To me, the highlights of the concert were Hoefner's three originals. “Solstice” was an vigorous number with strong contrasts in piano dynamics and a joyous feel. “Winter In June” was inspired by a especially late Newfoundland spring, with a snowstorm predicted for June: it opened with deep ominous piano chords contrasting with bright accents and developed into a full-bodied textured ensemble playing reminding one of a blizzard. The bowed bass melody in “First Spring” was particularly memorable and melded well with Hoefner's pointillist retelling of that melody on piano and Fraser's atmospheric brushes on snares and cymbals.

Throughout, there was a notable conceptual unity within each song and the entire album: the tunes, while each clearly different, fit together in style and shape and created a fine and thoughtful ambiance for the evening.

The Fourth Stage was almost full – impressive for a cold Tuesday night – and the audience intent and strongly applauding for the two-hour show. They greeted the final number with extended and enthusiastic applause, encouraging the trio to return for an encore: Hoefner's “Eleven” from his 2013 quartet album, Falling Up. It was stylistically similar to the more recent material the trio had just performed: multi-layered with warm bass lines, light tapping percussion, and circling piano patterns. Hoefner played the piece with his entire body, engrossed in the music – encouraging the audience to become similarly absorbed. It was a powerful ending to a well-presented concert.

Set 1

  1. Calvary [Byron Isaacs]
  2. Short Life [traditional]
  3. Solstice [Florian Hoefner]
  4. Loosin Yelav [traditional]
  5. First Spring [Florian Hoefner]

Set 2

  1. Hound's Tune [Rufus Guinchard]
  2. Winter In June [Florian Hoefner]
  3. Rain And Snow [traditional]
  4. The Maid On The Shore [traditional]
  5. (encore) Eleven [Florian Hoefner]

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