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The Space Between the Notes

April 13, 2009

brentjarvis1If, as Claude Debussy said, “music is the space between the notes,” then pianist Brent Jarvis is a player of the highest order.

I’ve been sitting listening to Brent Jarvis’ piano playing as it streams from his website, and frankly I’m blown away by his music. As others have pointed out, he’s incredibly expressive and lyrical, not to mention technically brilliant, but it’s far more than that.

Whether collaborating with others or playing solo, Jarvis generates uncommon excitement and suspense in his playing. Instead of melding into a soporific stream, his phrases and lines seem to wake the mind right up with their melodic splashes and unexpected twists and turns.

I’ve been listening closely trying to understand why this is so. Is it his command of harmony? His rhythmic playfulness? His melodic variety? I suspect it’s all those things – it always is – but one reason in particular that stands out to me is his deep respect for the space between the notes. Jarvis knows when not to play.

Sometimes he holds back for just a single beat, sometimes for a bar or more, but always he leaves room in his playing to allow the music to breathe and the excitement to build. That respect for silence may be a real sign of his mastery and his artistry.

Guitarist Martin Taylor, one of the most technically proficient and musical guitarists in the world, was asked where he wanted to go next with his music. He said simply that his desire was to learn to play less, not more.

I heard Victoria saxophonist Roy Styffe say the same thing not long ago at a U-JAM gig at Hermann’s in Victoria. Musicians have a real respect for other players who honour silence in their work. That may help explain, at least in part, the deep respect others have for Jarvis’ work.

Of course, there are other reasons, too, not the least of which, according to saxophonist Noah Becker, is Jarvis’ ability to choose carefully the setting for his music.

“In this sense,” writes Becker, “I am pointing to his specific choice of sidemen that compliment his approach as a composer or pianist. Brent selects people like Ken Lister or Pat Coleman for his groups. Aside from Ken and Pat being top rated players in their own right, they are perfect sonic team members in terms of delivering the Brent Jarvis sound on Brent’s CDs.” Becker points to Jarvis’ CD Sequences as a prime example and notes as well that “Brent’s ability to adapt to situations presented in the music of band leaders other than himself is also testament to his prodigious ability.”

You can judge for yourself this coming Friday, April 17, at Hermann’s (8 pm) when Jarvis appears with Ken Lister on bass and Vancouver’s Dave Robbins on drums. This is the second show of the triple threat at Hermann’s this week and shouldn’t be missed. The cover is a ridiculously reasonable $10 (at the door) for musicians of this stature.

You can hear Jarvis in recorded form on his website www.brentjarvis.com where you can also purchase his two remarkable records, Sequences and Solo Piano.

His calendar also shows him playing at the end of the month at the West Coast Jazz Festival at Vancouver Island University. More on that later.

–Rick Gibbs

Categories: Events
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