The Koller-Wallen Quartet and the Trinity Laban Jazz Orchestra. 25th March 2022

Hans Koller,  piano.

Byron Wallen,  trumpet.
Calum Gourlay,   double bass.
Cassius Cobbson,  drums.

Talfan Jenkins, Gabriel Maric, Matty Lambert and Morgan Wallace,  saxes.
Josh Short, Alex Polack and Byron Wallen,  trumpets.
Matt Seddon, Marty Gionis and Olivia Hughes,  trombones.

The evening was a remarkably rich two sets: a top-flight quartet playing Thelonious Monk, followed by students of each of the quartet members in their roles as members of the Trinity Laban Jazz Orchestra. Wakefield Jazz was fortunate in securing so many fine musicians to play a single gig—and in such contrasting formats. It was a lot of jazz; and there was a full, appreciative audience to enjoy every note.

Monk’s own recorded takes of his compositions loom over everyone who attempts them. Their apparent simplicity, their spiky, oblique logic and the way they quickly beguile the listener make fresh interpretations quite a challenge. And then there’s the matter of infusing them with a certain swing without losing their essential, unmistakable ‘Monkness.’ If the Koller-Wallen Quartet were daunted, it certainly didn’t show. Monk was honoured, not my replication but by creative responsiveness.

Hans Koller’s playing was suitably full of surprises. There was a wide range of influences audible, but the pianism of Ran Blake—himself devoted to Monk’s music—was evident in some of the dissonances and the rhythm-stretching use of space. But such was his resourcefulness that his synthesis of influences has given him a voice all his own.

Byron Wallen played highly committed, beautifully phrased trumpet lines, from the most piercing, stratospheric held notes to soft tones which transformed his sound from sharp brassiness to something closer to the burnished sound of the flugelhorn. And early in the set, he demonstrated a lengthy passage of circular breathing that was musically as well as physically astonishing. 

Calum Gourlay certainly deserves the solo spotlight, but it was his deft, sensitive support that was the hallmark of his playing—and as much with the orchestra as with the quartet.  Cassius Cobbson adds an extra ‘poly’ to polyrhythmic drumming and had a particularly good line in unexpected accents. A bit more solo work would have been welcome, but his musicianship was fully on display in the way in which his quite individual style was integrated into the group sound.

Each of the members of the quartet is a tutor at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire; and all four joined in the Orchestra’s performance, with Hans Koller (who is Head of Jazz at the Conservatoire) leading from the piano.

Any reasonably talented and well-drilled youth jazz orchestra can belt out the melody lines and choruses and play the section parts with reasonable aplomb. What was notable with this group is how well they played solos. It takes that mundane but essential combination of talent, good teaching and hard practice to make the magic of a good solo possible—and every single one did themselves proud.  There were some outstanding solos, too, in each of the three sections. And they certainly didn’t make it easy for themselves, since their programme comprised Charlie Parker tunes, at several points made all the more challenging by Hans Koller’s creative arrangements.

What fortunate young jazz musicians to have such inspired and inspiring teachers. But on tonight’s showing, that dynamic probably runs both ways. Either way, the audience of Wakefield Jazz had the great pleasure of reaping the benefits. 


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