Glasgow Jazz Festival review: Leo Blanco

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A BOSTON-BASED Venezuelan, Leo Blanco may hail from the foothills of the Andes, but his music taps into a vast and teaming hinterland of Latin American, African, jazz and European classical music cultures.

Leo Blanco

City Halls, Glasgow

* * * * *

The opening night of Glasgow Jazz Festival saw this pianist of beguiling versatility and inventiveness cutting himself adrift from his usual group format to play solo, launching into Roots and Effect, a statement of his musical credentials as much as a highly engaging excursion, with its vigorous rhythms, quirky progressions and wistfully descending phrases.

There were echoes of old Europe and sometimes quizzical, sometimes uproarious improvisations in Waltz No 5, before he removed his jacket to really get to grips with the Steinway – literally – as he reached into its innards to extract preliminary clamour and a mysterious, vaguely North African-sounding theme which took on grandiose tone and ecstatic cascades.

Blanco’s music (recorded here for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up) is highly improvisatory yet consistently lyrical.

The Debussy-eque ripples and trills of one piece were succeeded by the sinuously Latin procession of the only cover he performed, Simon Diaz’s Tonada del Cabrestero, and the exubernt churning of a native Venuzuelan joropo, while his concluding Africa Latina, with its riverine rolling alternating with staccatto runs and vocalisations, took us on a sonorous journey right to the mother lode.