Emma Johnson – tenor sax
Calvin Travers – guitar
Sam Jackson – bass
Alasdair Wells – drums
Emma Johnson’s quartet reminded us that although jazz has a history and plenty of familiar forms, serious improvising musicians don’t do ‘conventional’—there are always delights, surprises, and forms of originality arising both from the individual players and the group sound they come up with on the spot. The line-up had the additional novelty of featuring guitar instead of piano, which imparted possibilities that were fully exploited by the entire group.
There was a strong funk element to Gravyboat’s music, but not as the lead characteristic of the music—in fact, Emma Johnson’s tenor emphasised long melodic lines and a certain sweetness of tone rather than the staccato punchiness of typically funk-driven saxophone. And for all that Alasdair Wells’ rolling drums underpinned everything, his own role, together with bassist Sam Jackson’s was supportive and rhythmic—propulsive, certainly, but not front and centre or contending with Emma Johnson for the spotlight.
The most unusual feature of the evening was the guitar work of Calvin Travers, who was able to move adroitly between rhythmic and lead roles, exploiting a range of guitar sounds and techniques very effectively. The many voices and moods he was able to invoke—at times, within a single, extended solo—were a highlight of the gig and served as the perfect foil to Emma Johnson’s own excursions. Emma also composed all of the band’s numbers and her expressive, middle range improvisations were more thoughtful and engaging rather than explosive.
© J.Whitman, 3rd November 2018