Fusion-jazz pianist Paul Thurlow led his band in a rollicking evening of spirited fun and wonderful music on Saturday evening at the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven. The show, a celebration of his new CD titled “Key>Stroke,” included most of the tunes from the new release.
Heads were bopping and feet were tapping as Mr. Thurlow led his group on a rhythmic adventure through his musical world inspired by Caribbean music, jazz, and rock. He was joined by Anthony Esposito on drums, Alejandro Careño on congas, and Nancy Jephcote, who added bass lines and fills on keyboard, and filled out several tunes with her plaintive fiddle playing.
At times it was all percussion, as the keyboards were played more like drums than melodic instruments. Mr. Thurlow enhanced the spell with ethereal runs up and down the high end of his Roland electric keyboard. These guys were having fun.
The interplay between the members of the band resembled the work of a well-coached sports team, particularly the symbiosis between Mr. Esposito’s inspired drum work and Mr. Thurlow’s keyboard. The young Mr. Esposito, who set the pace for many of the songs even though he has played with the group for only three months, was just a baby when several of Mr. Thurlow’s tunes were first played. He said he loves Mr. Thurlow’s music, and his enthusiastic playing was a perfect creative fit for Mr. Thurlow’s jazz stylings.
The most emotionally moving tunes of the evening were ethereal trips through a mélange of styles and rhythms in what will no doubt become Thurlow classics, one called “Aphrodite” and the other “Dolphin.” Ms. Jephcote’s fiddle was an important element in these songs, shadowing the piano in her signature American roots music style.
Mr. Thurlow, a house painter by trade, played his first gig as a young teen in 1968 with the psychedelic rock band Ideozonkraphone at an Edgartown dock dance. During the ’70s, he sometimes played bebop tunes with his brother Andy’s quintet on piano at the Sea View, a bar in Oak Bluffs. He was also a member of the ’80s group The Ululators, with Rick Bausman, Sam Holmstock, Steve Hart, and Jim Parr, a world beat band that toured the Northeast and produced two records.
Several of Mr. Thurlow’s songs, both on the CD and performed in concert, were inspired by and named for Vineyard places and things. Written during the Ululator period, “Circuit Avenue” was a reaction to a huge Oak Bluffs summer block party in the ’80s. “Daddy’s Caddy” references Junior Mendez’s gold-painted Cadillac, which attracted so much attention on street corners that President Bill Clinton signed the driver-side door and was photographed with the car and Mr. Mendez.
Since the Ululator days, Mr. Thurlow has produced four solo records and played with many local talents, including Joe Keenan and Tristan Israel, whose record “the Sound after the Flash” he produced. Mr. Thurlow has been a principal member of the Flying Elbows old-timey band, and is one of a duo with singer-songwriter Nancy Jephcote performing original and traditional British Isles folk and dance tunes.
Mr. Thurlow’s latest CD is filled with some soulful music. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen at paulthurlow.bandcamp.