Tim Knowles Quartet.  May 6th, 2022

Tim Knowles, guitar
Emma Johnson, tenor sax
John Pope, bass
Sarah Heneghan, drums

Bands have personalities, too. The Tim Knowles Quartet displayed an unaffected sweetness, a relaxed demeanour and a sense of playfulness and fun. Just add committed playing—there in abundance—and a warm, responsive audience was guaranteed.

The world is not short of very able guitarists in all genres, so it takes something special to sound distinctive—and it was clear from the outset Tim Knowles has a voice all his own. It can fairly be said that the late John Abercrombie is almost certainly an influence—tonally and in his use of widely-spaced, distinctive chords rather than more familiar kinds of ‘comping.’ And his runs were quite individual—at one level, clean and fluent, as expected; but often split between the upper and lower registers, with cleverly placed smears, unfussy embellishments and, perhaps most distinctively, shrewdly judged use of space and silences. There was nothing casual about his playing, no sense that technical proficiency alone would do: this was music-making that was carefully crafted at every turn. He could also teach a number of more celebrated guitarists a thing or two about phrasing a note. 

The carefully deployed pauses and brief silences also featured in the playing of the band as a whole—one of the many features that showed what a well-integrated band this is. (All four also contributed songs to the proceedings.) Emma Johnson’s tenor playing didn’t entail any of the grandstanding she was clearly capable of producing: her improvisations never departed from the individual numbers; her sound was powerful and consistent; and her interactions with fellow band members were precise and entirely supportive, even when her own instrument was in the lead. 

John Pope is a wonderful bass player (and a bandleader in his own right.) Much that could be said about his superb backing was supplanted by his two solo turns: they were fine (and at one juncture, even funny) demonstrations of virtuosity that were musically engaging rather than free-standing displays. 

The second set gave Sarah Heneghan a chance to move beyond her precise, understated brush work. The opener saw her providing an extended, polyrhythmic foundation to the guitar and saxophone—delivering the character of the music, without dominating it. And so she continued through songs that included one that started out as possibly suited for a teenage rock band (it wasn’t: far too lovely and tender); and one that was rejected by a folk group (who almost certainly didn’t deserve it.) All accompanied with simplicity and fine musical judgment.

It was a musical evening both engaging and delightful, played with great commitment and creativity.


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