An audience so unexpectedly large that it almost exhausted the Town House’s chair supply, forcing a slight delay in starting the music, was treated to an imaginatively put together programme by Simon Thacker and his classical-jazz crossover group.
Thacker, who attended the local Knox Academy along with his pianist Paul Kirby, is now one of the UK’s leading classical guitarists – and, as well as having the instrumental mastery to play demanding pieces with apparent ease, boasts a disarmingly natural and entertaining presentational style. His relating of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia’s wildly differing versions of their first meeting somehow made the resulting Prelude No 1 for solo guitar all the more human. And his witty introduction to the main event, French pianist/composer Claude Bolling’s Concerto for Classic Guitar and Jazz Trio, set the scene perfectly.
Longer than usual for a concerto, this is an intense work, requiring the guitarist to cover the entire fretboard, sometimes working against the trio’s swinging approach and at others trading agile phrases almost conversationally with the piano. Thacker played it beautifully, and Kirby’s touch – whether in vigorous Spanish dance mode, Bach-influenced intricacy or Bill Evans-like reflection – was hugely impressive.
Brazilian bassist Mario Caribe, who earlier provided native insight into the trio’s gently attentive playing of three Antonio Carlos Jobim pieces, was a sure presence throughout the concerto’s contrasting moods, and drummer Stuart Brown played with the discretion that has earned him first-call status on the Scottish jazz scene. The enthusiastic reception, resulting in a beautifully restrained quartet arrangement of Wild Mountain Thyme, was no more than the four musicians – and Thacker in particular – deserved.