Greg Abate – sax
Pete Rosser – piano,
Ed Harrison – double bass
John Settle – drums
There are good reasons why a ‘classic’ jazz configuration—in this case, alto sax plus piano trio—remains classic: because the power of the music constantly shifts between the cohesion of the four instruments and the contributions the individual musicians make. At the highest levels, it is an endlessly fascinating spectacle as well as a truly enjoyable musical experience. Then there’s the magic of group improvisation—and on this occasion, between four musicians who had never before played together. Shortly after the second set began, Greg Abate decided to switch to flute. He turned to the band and said, ‘This is one I wrote. It’s a blues in D minor, kinda dark…but not dead.’ The rest of the band smiled, nodded and then proceeded to play with an ease and grace that suggested careful writing and close rehearsal. The evening was replete with degrees of creative responsiveness which the word ‘improvisation’ scarcely conveys.
Greg Abate is clearly steeped in the bebop tradition (and the gig commenced with a Charlie Parker tune), but his rhythmic and melodic reach was extensive, with a strong emphasis on long, beautiful lines, even at the fastest tempos. In the slower numbers, he also had a very good line in bringing out the mellifluous character of the alto. Of course, a musician of his calibre requires a top-flight rhythm section, since for all that they make it appear easy, true improvisation is a high-wire act; and in a quartet, there is no place to hide.
Happily, the Pete Rosser Trio matched Greg at every point, each member excelling, but in that unaccountably coordinated and complementary way that makes jazz the thing it is. Many pianists have a fixed style and technique that they can adapt readily, but Pete seemed to find something fresh for every number—and at times, even within them. His abundant musical resourcefulness was matched by technique that at some points seemed to defy musical gravity. He was a show on his own, yet he never overshadowed Greg Abate, which was at the heart of what made the quartet sound so powerful.
Ed Harrison’s bass sound had the big, rounded tone necessary for this occasion; and his solo turns had depth and melodic and harmonic aptness, rather than virtuoso flights of fancy. Similarly, John Settle provided drumming that was robust and varied—and although powerful, not overpowering and always musically to the point.
It was difficult to believe that this was not a quartet of long standing, as they created an evening of non-stop musical delights fronted by a saxophonist of considerable accomplishment but becoming modesty who scarcely paused between numbers. Musical riches eagerly seized upon by a full house, which made its own rapturous noise throughout.
© J. Whitman