Greg Abate and the Pete Rosser Trio, 22 November 2019

Greg Abate – alto sax
Pete Rosser – piano
Adrian Knowles – bass
John Settle – drums

There was more thunderous applause at the end of certain numbers than at the end of some entire gigs, so the review of this wonderful performance is already ‘on the air.’ From the start, there was a buzz in the atmosphere; soon it felt as though we had entered a realm best described as ‘classic’—much as though we had landed in a club at a time when bebop was The Shock of the New. I am pleased to report that there is a Shock of the Old, too—and it was utterly delightful.

It is not uncommon for a visiting luminary to play with a local rhythm section, unrehearsed. But seeing a quartet of creative musicians fall back on their skills, quickly establish a common understanding and rapport, establish a key signature and then play as though they were an established band is the improvisation-before-the-improvisation. One of the many pleasures in this performance was how explicit, visible and sometimes even comical it was to see
each of the musicians making running adjustments to one another. It was a reminder of what a high-wire act jazz at this level can be. Their aplomb and obvious delight made it seem all the more amazing.

The quality and volume of Adrian Knowles’ bass sound was ideal, preventing a piano/sax and bass/drums separation, which was particularly effective in the high-octane, rapid pace numbers. His playing was powerful, precise and deeply musical, at all tempos, although it was especially pleasing to savour his phrasing and rich tone on the slower numbers and on his solos. John Settle is a distinctive drummer, quite astute to the demands of the music and with a breadth of skills that allowed him to respond accordingly. One didn’t need to wait for a solo to see him shine—he excelled throughout.

Pete Rosser’s pianism is vital and vibrant. He is much given to clever right-hand embellishments and carefully deployed dissonances, but he demonstrates his musical empathy and adroitness in the harmonies he summons up at every point in a tune. Toward the end of the first set, he launched into a solo that Greg was quick enough to realize would soon move out of earth’s orbit, so he hushed the band and stood back. What followed was a privilege—seeing an artist thinking and feeling his way through a succession of musical ideas—some built upon, others abandoned—while still, somehow, never losing sight of the number he was soloing to. It was an astonishing turn.

For Greg Abate, the music of Charlie Parker is a central jazz legacy—not a museum artefact but a living tradition, which he honours by extending it through his own ideas and voice. Bebop and its variants cannot be played except with precision and clean articulation, particularly at the fastest tempos; and to add to this, Greg invested a blues number with such a depth of feeling that it was one of the highlights of the evening. He is a genial, rather modest stage presence, but no one could be in doubt about his serious-mindedness: witness the energy he brings to his playing, his command of instrument and material and his ability to lead a quartet of strangers to two hours of music-making that no amount of rehearsal could match.

Before he even left the stage, Greg was besieged by the audience to commit to returning next year. We can but hope.

‘What’s on Next? >


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