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John Pearce: Just Friends


Bristol-based violinist John Pearce has released his debut album “Just Friends” on September 18. The album contains a tasty collection of ten standards including some of my personal favorites like “You Don’t Know What Love Is” or “Just Friends”.

John Pearce started to play violin at the age of seven and was trained as classical violinist before he found his way into jazz music. He is not only a sought-after classical violinist but also an active member of the Bristol jazz scene.  He is accompanied on this album by

  • David Newton – piano
  • Will Harris – double bass
  • Ian Matthews – drums

all of them well-known in Bristol and South-West-England.

The album starts with the title song “Just Friends”. This song begins with a funny intro and picks up during the violin solo. The band is really hard grooving and John Pearce has a phenomenal violin sound. We also hear a great piano solo and an interlude with a nice drums solo. Excellent start into this album.

“Alice in Wonderland” indulges in elegancy before the song accelerates. Again, a great swinging band and beautiful solos by violin and piano strengthen the impression that this band knows how to play this tunes relaxed and sophisticated.

“Joy Spring” adds new colors to the album. David Newton plays on a Fender Rhodes. The groove is heavy, almost funky with David Newton having the first solo. John takes over and sings his solo together with the violin which adds another unique sound to this song. This is definitely one of the highlights on the album.

The next two songs are two of my favorite ballads, “Moonlight in Vermont” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”.

“Moonlight in Vermont” begins in a pop-music-style with the piano playing arpeggios and long notes on the violin  (with just a little bit of vibrato) switching to a bluesy piano solo and an expressive violin solo before it returns to the soft style from the beginning.

David Newton’s piano playing in “You Don’t Know What Love Is” reminds me a little bit of Gil Goldstein with Pat Martino. The solos come from piano and violin and show the different approach each musicians chooses. David Newton has the bluesy-touch and John Pearce looks for a beautiful melody and at the end he plays a classically inspired cadence.

The next song is “Caravan” by Duke Ellington. This version has again some special effects. Ian Matthews plays the drums in jungle-style and also gets the chance to shine with an extended solo and the piano solo on the Fender Rhodes is overdubbed over the “normal” piano.

“Stompin’ At The Savoy” has received a nice makeover with a steady stomping bass in the A part of the tune and a walking bass in the bridge. The violin solo starts in best coffee house style, soft and gentle but with fine dynamics. Will Harris on bass takes the last solo in this tune.

The album continues with “So Danco Samba” played very clear and transparent with a nice steady groove by drums and bass.  The violin solo starts light as feather and piano solo caters for the earthy sound.

The ballad “My Foolish Heart”  is played beautifully by John Pearce. Long notes in high position and large intervals with perfect intonation.

The album closes with “Lester Leaps In”, a tune based on Rhythm-changes where violin, piano and drums have a chance to present again their stupendous technical skills in an up-tempo-swing tune.

Overall “Just Friends” is a great album with many well known standards that received an superb makeover and come with a personal touch. The songs sound new and refreshing and John Pearce and his fellow musicians present them in a very positive vibe and a lot of energy.

John is currently on a promotion tour in the UK for this album. details are on his website:

I have a video of this band playing “Skylark”:

And finally a playlist of this album on Spotify:

Oláh Szabolcs Quintet: Crystal Brook


A brand new album from Hungary found it’s way to my mailbox.
Jazz guitarist, composer and arranger Szabolcs Oláh released his latest album “Crystal Brook” on September 6.

Szabolcs Oláh started his first quartet in 2002, which won awards in Hungary and Italy and he is one of the founding members of the Modern Art Orchestra. He leads his own quintet since 2012. The current line-up of the quintet is:

Szabolcs Oláh – guitar
János Ávéd – saxophone
Gábor Cseke – piano
Ádám Bögöthy – double bass
László Csízi – drums

The album was recorded in April 2019 and contains 10 original songs all composed by Szabolcs. He says about this album: “My intention for the compositions was to keep it simple, smooth and crystal clear, yet dynamic, like a japanese calligraphy”.

He also told me how he wrote the songs:  “My method for composing for this album was quite simple. I sat down in the morning at the piano and I improvised. Sometimes these improvisations became songs that I wrote down and started to collect.”

The first song is called “Pearls” which has an energetic intro and a beautiful melody played unison by sax and guitar (a characteristic which we will hear in many other songs on this album). Dynamics are reduced at the beginning of Szabolcs’ solo, but increase throughout his solo. The second solo goes to János Ávéd on saxophone, followed by a piano solo. Bass and drums support the soloists perfectly, this song is great opener for the album.

“The Last Teardrop” is a melancholic tune, again with a lovely melody and a superb piano solo by Gábor Cseke.

“Return to the Park” is the next song and Szabolcs has some background information: “It’s about the joy of returning to play music with my friends, like a child that enjoys to play in the park. Between 2010 and 2012 I was ill and I rarely played live, so this song is also about the recovery”. A song that has a lot of positive vibrations and became one of my highlights on the album.

“Never Again” is a soft song with many modulations, quite complex harmonic structures. Szabolcs’ solo however floats easily over these harmonies.

“Dawn Rider” comes next. Szabolcs has more details: “The song is about a motorcyclist, driving fast into the dawn after breaking up with his love”. A song that is sad and happy at the same time. The band has produced a nice video from the recoding session of this song:

“Runaway” is my second highlight on this album. It starts with a great guitar intro, it has an incredible melody and fantastic solos by guitar, soprano saxophone, bass and piano.

“Crystal Brook” the title song is like a romantic painting. Szabolcs explains: “This song reminds me of moonlight gleaming on a crystal clear mountain brook.”

The next tune is called “Good Boy” and it’s about the young Szabolcs, “a well-behaved and dutiful child”, as he told me. The melody sounds like nursery rhyme but opens nicely for the solos.

“Unfolding Life” is much softer and slower but still has its pace and allows for brillant solos.

The album ends with the ballad “Lunar Muse”. The melody has some “tension and release” as Szabolcs told me. Gábor Cseke plays another excellent piano solo and the album ends in deep melancholy. Very impressive.

Szabolcs Oláh has played some concerts in the last few weeks with his quintet and he said “the feedback on the new album was very positive and inspiring”. There are more concerts to come so if you plan to visit Budapest, check for the local jazz scene because it has some great musicians including Szabolcs and his quintet or the Modern Art Orchestra. Please check for dates on his website:

The album is available on Spotify: