Greg Lloyd is a jazz virtuoso but also a music anthropologist. An Australian based in Ireland, he has pursued his muse around the world, recording across Europe and Africa, where he helped assemble the soundtrack for what has been described as the Algerian version of Buena Vista Social Club.
This led to a collaboration with Blur/Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn, a fellow champion of African music who, like Lloyd, appreciates the difference between advocacy and condescension.
Those with a vague understanding of jazz tend to assume the genre has atrophied in recent decades, becoming a glorified museum piece. Certainly there are players for whom fealty to the past acts as a straightjacket in the present. Still, that is only an element of the picture and musicians such as Lloyd have a very different outlook. They keep moving – seeing the status quo as existing to be challenged, an apple-cart and it’s their duty to upend it.
For his latest project Lloyd has embraced the more traditional piano jazz trio. It allows him showcase both his technical mastery – his fingers truly do dance over the keys – and his skills as interpreter. Stooped low, eyes half shut, he steps lightly through his repertoire, pushing the set forward without sounding in a hurry.
As with previous undertakings he is eager for his influences to shine. So while the arrangement is ‘conventional’ piano jazz, Lloyd incorporates his passion for Cuban music. This lends a distinctive sinuousness: there’s a looseness, a sense things could twist and buck in an unexpected direction at any moment (as frequently proves the case).
The concert is in the NCH’s intimate John Field Room, a venue that adds to the charm of the evening. Lloyd is backed by Kevin Brady on drums and Dave Redmond on bass, the ensemble nimble but never showy. Lloyd is too modest to consciously dominate the spotlight and yet it’s his piano playing that occupies the foreground – whatever else is happening, it’s his transcendental riffing that compels the performance onwards.
Some of the pieces are so fresh they don’t have names yet (Lloyd’s not quite sure whether the opening number has been given a title). Several are taken from his latest album, ‘Long Way Home’, praised as one of the outstanding Irish jazz LPs of recent years. What they all share is a blend of formal sophistication and earthy lack of pretension. Lloyd’s greatest talent is for delivering extraordinary music in a thoroughly unassuming fashion.