From The Times
January 10, 2008
Alyn Shipton at Pizza Express Jazz Club, W1
Even a torrential downpour on the streets of Soho failed to douse the creative ardour of the opening night of London's F-IRE Collective Festival, a forum for many of the capital's most original jazz players. As a foretaste of the week, the music spanned fully composed solos by the pianist Mark Donlon and the spontaneous improvising trio of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, with pianist Liam Noble and the visiting American drummer Tom Rainey. Somewhere in between sat Donlon's straightahead jazz trio, which produced the most absorbing music of the night. Donlon has played funk with Fred Wesley and Latin music with Roberto Pla, but what was on show here was hard-swinging contemporary jazz with plenty of space for his own knotty keyboard intricacy, and for the virtuoso Hungarian bassist Zoltan Dekany. Both men are tutors on the jazz course at the Leeds College of Music, but there was nothing dusty or pedagogical about their brilliant, focused playing, prodded along by the alert drumming of Paul Clarvis. Donlon's compositional landscape is a chilly place. His spiky melody lines seem chiselled from stone, even against fast-moving backdrops, and there was none of the romantic tenderness of his contemporaries Esbjorn Svensson or Tord Gustavsen.

Mark Donlon

Given that pianist Mark Donlon's gigging credits include the likes of Fred
Wesley, Roberto Pla and Mistura, though admittedly he's also conducted the CUK Big Band, featuring Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone, through a programme of his jazz-orchestra compositions it's perhaps a little surprising to find his solo-piano album quite so subdued (even occasionally sombre) in mood.

This melancholy, however, is in part ascribable to the fact that the album's centrepiece is an affecting three-piece epitaph for Michael Brecker, and it is leavened by some more florid, even cascading, lyricism on such compositions as the opening 'Hardknot Pass' and 'New Corners'; overall, though, the programme is limpid, elegant, thoughtful and gently mellifluous, with hints of Satie (the lovely title-piece, 'Ashia') and Debussy perhaps more prominent than the influences of overtly 'jazz' players such as Keith Jarrett or the aforementioned Kenny Wheeler.

A rich, atmospheric album designed for slow savouring

F-ire Collective festival
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
John Fordham
The Guardian, Thursday 10 January 2008
London's F-ire Collective, the loose affiliation of innovators from which emerged Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland and many other sharp-end creators, are running their annual festival until the weekend. Opening night featured Leeds College of Music piano guru Mark Donlon and a group led by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. Donlon's recent album, Ashia, is an extensively composed solo set of quietly probing, contemporary-classical motifs. But in his trio with Zoltan Dekany on double-bass and Paul Clarvis on drums, the pianist deployed those fragile miniatures as meditations between edgy jazz and Latin ensemble-grooving. The pianist was reserved for a while, but the energies of his partners - particularly Clarvis's waywardness - eventually drove him toward a streaming uptempo freedom, at times suggestive of the implacable precision of early Paul Bley. He sounded as if he was editing a more complex line on the fly in a fascinating trip through My Foolish Heart, while Joe Henderson's Latin classic Recorda Me was cavalierly reinvented.

Jazzwise - Andy Robson – Mark Donlon Ashia Full marks for ambition – to fill a CD with solo piano – and all your own compositions at that – is a monumental task. But then Donlon is no ordinary pianist. He lectures at Leeds College of Music and indeed that northern feel is reflected in the opening ‘Hardknot Pass’, which, like that Cumbrian locale, is full of steepling peaks and switchback turns of melody and mood. Bits of Delius and Howells steal in (Donlon is utterly melodious which makes this very listenable music) but the ‘Englishness’ is never overplayed. Indeed, Donlon is something of a Cuban aficionado (he lived there a while) and although there is a distinctly European, romantic mood about many of the meditations – Debussy seems a key influence too – there’s also banked up fires of passion that echo those Caribbean interests. Other pieces are quirkier – the simple, spacious, ‘Good Friday’ has traces of Satie jumbled in with Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ but none are over extended and each has inner discipline which (just) keeps them this side of indulgent. The centrepiece of the album is a trio of epitaphs to Michael Brecker, which are themselves splendidly unBrecker-esque; melancholy, unaffected, yet fluid and touched with life. If you enjoyed Jarrett’s naked, uncompromising Melody At Night With You then Donlon’s Ashia will repay the extra listens it may need yet deserves.

Ian Mann 24Dash.com MARK DONLON “ASHIA” (F-IRE CD 020) Pianist/Composer Mark Donlon’s debut recording for the F-ire label consists of thirteen original pieces for solo piano. Donlon is Senior Lecturer in Jazz at Leeds College of Music and has a diverse musical background including a thorough grounding in Cuban music but it is the lyrical side of his musical personality that predominates here. The music on Ashia is unfailingly melodic and unhurried, the pastoral mood reflecting Lydia Laxy’s beautiful photography on the album cover. Donlon exhibits an affinity with nature on titles such as the opening “Hardknot Pass”. The album’s centrepiece however is a trio of epitaphs in memory of the great saxophonist Michael Brecker. These reflective pieces are in keeping with the mood of the album and make no attempt to emulate the clamour of Brecker’s own playing. Nonetheless they are a fitting memorial to a great musical talent. Donlon’s playing reveals influences from both the classical and jazz idioms. There are elements that seem to borrow from composers such as Delius, Debussy and Satie and his blending of jazz and classical techniques is reminiscent of both Keith Jarrett and our own John Taylor. That said, Donlon is very much his own man and he establishes a distinctive and personal mood on this highly listenable album. “Ashia” has a wholly different feel to “Equinox”, the recent solo piano album by Robert Mitchell (also released on F-ire) with it’s intense atmosphere and greater emphasis on technique. Donlon’s album is very much a mood piece but slowly grows on the listener. The pieces are short and succinct and nothing is allowed to outstay it’s welcome. Fans of lyrical solo piano and of Jarrett and the ECM sound in general should find much to enjoy here. This album should also hold some appeal to classical followers. F-ire would appear to be courting both jazz and classical audiences following last year’s success of the Mercury nominated Basquiat Strings.