The vitality and beauty of small group jazz arises from the way all the elements are held in creative tension: ever-shifting rhythmic and harmonic interplay; improvisation giving new shape to a set melody; individual expressiveness played out against the sound of the band as a whole; and the ability of truly skilled musicians to manage all of this, responding to each other and the audience. All of these qualities were on show as the Graeme Wilson Quartet stormed through two wonderful sets. This was music that was ‘live’ in more than one sense.
Although it is an easy matter to describe some of the breathtaking individual turns, this was still a splendid group performance. However entrancing the solo
improvisation, each was as well-placed and fitting as it was crafted and expressed. On piano, Paul Edis was relentlessly creative throughout, with great attack and unusual facility in his left hand, which made all of his contributions distinctive; and his solo on the final number was astonishing. In lesser company, Andy Champion on double bass would have stolen the show, with bass runs that were deeply resonant, extraordinarily fleet and musically coherent: his solos were object lessons in how virtuosity needn’t abandon musical sense. Throughout, Adam Sinclair provided drumming with subtle shifts and accents but also with great propulsive drive—and in the group’s final number, his solo was greeted with a roar of appreciation from the audience.
Graeme Wilson himself had a gentle, charming stage presence, but on tenor, he breathed fire. The numbers were all original and he played them with utter conviction. It’s notable how passion can be expressed musically without resorting to the extremes of an instrument’s register, or to frenetic, extended- technique dissonances—and that’s what he gave us. And the slow number, ‘Sycamore,’ was no less full of feeling—and sensitively supported by the rest of the band.
How to resolve all of those creative tensions at the heart of jazz? This group of superbly gifted, well rehearsed free spirits have an answer all their own.