Shirley Smart Trio at the Watermill, Dorking

It was some way from the usual jazz fare, but the audience enjoyed cellist Smart's exotic North African sounds. Report by Graham Thomas

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Shirley Smart Trio at Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking, 30 April 2024. From the top: Smart, Demi Garcia Sabat, John Crawford. Photo © Brian O'Connor

The trio started with Saba, a tune based on an Arabic maqam scale, which showed a strong North African influence and set the tone for several of the tunes which followed.

On Halfouine (by Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem), cellist Shirley imitated the atmospheric sound of the Arabic oud (a fretless forerunner of the European lute) on her cello, while John Crawford added effects by plucking the piano strings and Demi Garcia Sabat employed hand drumming on his kit and a cajón (box drum).

Waltz For An Amethyst was a spirited piece inspired by the musette style of accordionist Richard Galliano. On this tune, Shirley utilised the cello to the full, using walking bass, pizzicato and bowing techniques.

Shirley told some interesting stories about her years in Jerusalem, and played a traditional tune she learned there which is so old that no-one could tell her its name! Shirley simply called it Balkan Tune (there is a theory that it may have come from Macedonia originally).

Another interesting tune was Shirley’s composition Longing, based on a slow Arabic 10-beat rhythm with accents on beats 1, 4, 6, 7, 8 – which the audience was encouraged to try out for themselves by clapping it (not easy!). The evening concluded with Ticaraca Tchoub, a lively traditional Algerian folk melody.

On all the tunes, the trio performed with an intensity which successfully communicated the intriguing sounds of North African and Middle Eastern music, and earned a great reception from the audience.

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Shirley Smart Trio at the Watermill Jazz Club, Betchworth Park Golf Club, Dorking, Surrey, 30 April 2024. Smart (clo); John Crawford (p); Demi Garcia Sabat (d, pc)