Nikki Yeoh ‘Solo Gemini’ (Infinitum) 4/5

nikki-yeohA long time in the making, this solo debut by relative London jazz scene veteran Nikki Yeoh combines contemporary classical and esoteric jazz influences and yet the pianist’s own voice still comes shining through. Recorded during 2014 at the artist in residence location of Aldeburgh that was originally created by composer and pianist Benjamin Britten, the music is at its most lyrical on pieces such as ‘Dance of the two bears’ where the two-handed and dazzling use of the breadth of the keyboard operates over a drone-like undercurrent. Yeoh has considerable experience working for other musicians and as early as the 1990s was working in Courtney Pine’s band. Equally impressive in her CV portfolio are compositions written for other pianists, most notably Joanna McGregor, and the combining classical and jazz rhythms, a fusion of genres that was first pioneered by the likes of John Lewis and Gunter Schuller in the 1950s and referred to as ‘Third Stream’. This cross-pollination is alluded to on the question and answer titled, ‘What kind? This kind’. Collectively, these cumulative experiences have served her well and exposure to the music of Brazilian iconoclast, Hermeto Pascual, when she was just eighteen resulted in her writing the piece, ‘Mutual serenade’, that is included here and is something of a mood-inducing number that is contemplative in nature. More contemporary composer influences surface elsewhere as on ‘Six as I’, which hints strongly at the work of John Cage while the album title track betrays an interest in and respect for the acoustic piano of Herbie Hancock. World roots flavours have lingered long in Yeoh’s explorations of music and this includes North Indian music that compelled Yeoh to compose ‘The healer’, with vocals from Shubha Mudgal. A worthwhile debut outing, then, and perhaps a future project might include fusing Cuban rhythms that are close to Yeoh’s heart after visiting the island and participating in an intercambio cultural, or cultural exchange with the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba. A recent live performance at the Vortex in London in mid-June showcased the album in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse