Live Review of Abram Wilson Quartet at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
4th April 2012
Being a jazz performer with his own vivid stories to tell, the London-based US trumpeter/vocalist Abram Wilson probably won't be bursting into grateful tears at comparisons with Wynton Marsalis. He would probably twist a wry smile at the gap between their respective funding levels, too. But there are certainly similarities. Wilson also comes from New Orleans, plays very classy trumpet with the blues power, street-party swing and expressive vibrato common to players from that city, and likes to make a gig an event rather than just a stream of enigmatic tunes and byzantine solos. He's currently touring with a tale of the extraordinary life and times of Philippa Schuyler, the mixed-race child piano prodigy turned journalist who died while reporting in Vietnam in 1967.
It's to Wilson's immense credit as a narrator and musician that he can balance this complex tale with a vivacious contemporary jazz performance that stands up in its own right. He sparingly applied his Nat Cole-meets-Motown voice to reflections on Schuyler's childhood, and later to her troubled search for love across America's racial divide. He kept his between-songs narrative tight, witty and moving, and delivered a series of glossy trumpet improvisations in the company of a young band (pianist Reuben James, bassist Alex Davis and drummer Dave Hamblett) that began cautiously, but then threw that to the wind. Light-stepping themes evoked Schuyler's childhood wonderment, from which Wilson segued gracefully into solos of pure long tones, tumbling runs and dramatic, circular-breathing trills. The 1930s Harlem Renaissance was represented in debonair dance grooves that turned into modern-swing closer to 50s Miles Davis, and the group touched on the Watermelon Man funk sound of the next decade as Schuyler's journey advanced. Wilson's next move is to turn it into a staged play. It is a work in progress that will be fascinating to follow.
Friday 6th April 2012 - The Guardian, John Fordham
Images - Ben Amure