However a jazz quartet is configured, it is not a simple matter to predict how they will programme their music and divide the work. And so it was with the Kate Williams Quartet: piano-led with flute embellishments? A piano trio with the flute as the front-line instrument? Or a tight, well-integrated quartet in which the centre of gravity shifted between each of its gifted and versatile members? The answer was soon apparent: All of the above. Of, course, one looked for a tension between and force and dynamism of expert pianism and the gentler qualities of the flute; and especially whether in addition to lilting numbers, the band could also swing. Again, there were no either/or choices—and many surprises, too.
Stylistically, Kate Williams had a highly adaptable approach to her instrument and to the numbers she played. She can stand comparison with the best, but also has a good line in less common approaches to the harmony/melody, left hand/right hand division in jazz piano—in particular, an intriguing line in counter-melodies; and fleet runs at both ends of the register. And although she had plenty of expressive power both in solos and in propelling the songs forward, she retained a delicacy of touch and a sensitive awareness of the quartet’s overall sound.
Gareth Lockrane is a superb musician across the complete family of flutes as well as a resourceful improviser. The tonal qualities of each of his instruments—the buttery smoothness of alto flute and the languorous sensuality of the bass flute were particularly striking—found their complement in the range of expression he brought to each of the songs. One particular highlight (and an uncommon treat in a jazz performance of any kind) was his extended solo work on piccolo, which was an utter delight. Can a flute be made to swing? That’s now settled.
Oli Hayhurst is a Wakefield Jazz favourite; and on this occasion, his carefully crafted passage work opened out onto solos that might start from an oblique angle but which built slowly to illuminate rather than decorate the number. There wasn’t a wasted note. And Tristan Maillot’s drumming was both impeccable and tasteful: powerful in the sense that his contribution to the quartet sound was integral and indispensable. His playing was also a fine display of brush work.
When set against the piercing qualities of piano and brass, the combination of piano and flute might have seemed a bit delicate for the demands of jazz improvisation. But the commitment to creative expression and beauty is the same across every combination of instruments in jazz, as the Kate Williams Quartet amply demonstrated.
Kate Williams, piano
Gareth Lockrane, fluets; piccolo
Oli Hayhurst, bass
Tristan Maillot, drums
© J. Whitman, 9th December 2017