Jeff Williams Quartet, 14th October 2016

The absence of a piano in a drummer-led quartet is certain to shape the music, but for able and compatible musicians the format opens up an inexhaustible range of expressive possibilities. The Jeff Williams quartet was certainly up to the challenge. Their two sets were fiery, passionate displays, and a study of the way in which a well-rehearsed and closely-knit group enables rather than constrains inventive soloing.

jeff-williamsWhat was notable from the start and sustained throughout was that there was no ‘front line’: although alto, tenor, bass and drums played in various configurations and sequences as well as simultaneously, the sheer power of the performances conveyed a musical ‘united front’—a band of equals, but equal on a level that would be difficult to match anywhere. Their technical finesse never became detached from the music, but it would have been difficult to miss.

Jeff Williams’ drumming sustained the music—much of it up-tempo—as well propelling it along, with constantly shifting, complex rhythmic patterns and cleverly executed accents. He and bass player Sam Lasserson seemed to be of one mind. John O’Gallagher (alto) and Josh Arcoleo (tenor) both turned in impassioned performances. For all of the hard-driving character of much of the music and the saxophone improvisations, there were still hushed spaces in which one of the horns plus drums or bass would retreat to an intensely lyrical exchange, slowly bring the music back to the boil. There was even a sideways, supercharged take on a Capypso, with some lovely soloing and a few humorous exchanges.

There was nothing ‘cool’ about this jazz; nothing that didn’t require advanced technique and keen engagement; and for the audience, little not to marvel over.

© J. Whitman

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