Alex Wilson Trio (AWCD9)

REVIEWS

THE ALBUM

 

A combination of live and studio recordings, this is Alex Wilson's ninth album, but his first for acoustic piano trio. It is thus a new departure, but is also a thought-through amalgamation of the wide range of experiences gathered and remembered from two decades touring the world, working as a professional musician at the highest level.

 

Brimful of energy and ideas, this album is a strong statement about the breadth and interconnections of Alex Wilson's musical heritage – and of his virtuosity and musicianship.

 

Wilson's has lived with the cross-currents of music, particularly the equatorial currents linking West African music with the music of the Caribbean and Latin America.

 

Alex Wilson also remembers seeing some of the piano greats at close quarters as a teenager. The lightning-fast playing of Oscar Peterson, the sublime and heartfelt swing of Monty Alexander and the hard-edged piano of Eddie Palmieri, for example, have left their mark.


THE TRIO

 

Davide Mantovani is the bassist. He has been described as the secret ingredient behind many world music projects. He studied African music intensively in Senegal, and worked for several years with Seckou Keita. He is also the regular bassist in Zoe Rahman's trio.

 

Frank Tontoh, drummer is the son of Mac Tontoh, a founding member of the High Life/ Afropop group Osibisa (with whom Frank has also toured). Frank began his musical studies in Los Angeles, continuing at Trinity College of Music after moving back to London to study Composition and Arranging.He has been a key musician in a range of diverse groups: Amy Winehouse, Jack Bruce, Ernest Ranglin, Matt Bianco, Don Blackman, George Michael and Craig David.

 

Tristan Banks is a drummer who has long been inspired by fusion artists and South American rhythms. He was already in such demand as a drummer that he was obliged to turn down the opportunity to study at the New School in New York. He eventually went to Brazil in 1994 where he furthered his knowledge of Afro-Brazilian rhythms.

 

 

THE MUSIC

 

1. Fly – (Steve Winwood) Wilson says: “ I chose this tune from the point of view of a 'music fan' - I like to switch my muso head off from time to time.” The original four chords from the Stevie Winwood song, followed by the melody stated in the left hand, are the starting-point for an extended structure which takes the listener through joyous grooves drawing on rumba and songo, implied rhythms such as Afro-Puerto Rican bomba and Cuban 3-2 clave. The trio shows what an integrated unit it is with perfectly calibrated fades to nothing, then re-starting in completely unrelated tempi.

 

2. Kalisz– An original by Alex Wilson, named after the ancient city in central Poland which has hosted an International Jazz Piano Festival since 1974, and invokes the intense experience around piano competitions. Virtuosic, the opening chord to acts as reference point and springboard for an energetic work-out.

3. Remercier les travailleurs - This traditional Malian melody was taught to Alex Wilson by Madou Sidiki Diabaté. In this track, recorded live, chromatic Mandé music meets jazz. The track opens with introductory piano runs imitating the sound a kora with uncanny realism, before moving into piano territory recalling Monty Alexander.

4. Solar – (Miles Davis) A live recording at Pizza Express Dean St. Alex Wilson credits Italian drummer Davide Giovannini with the idea of giving the Miles Davis tune a Cuban danzón structure . Like Alex Wilson, drummer Tristan Banks has played in Cuban bands since his teens: conjuring the sound of Cuban conga drums from the drum kit is second nature.

5. We Work the Black Seam Together (Sting)– When Wilson was 15 years old, living in Vienna, his father took him to a Sting concert. Kenny Kirkland was the pianist that night. “He played a long solo piece and that day, my life's ambition was set”. This recording is a homage to that formative experience and Alex's arrangement journeys hrough Jamaican steppers to nyabinghi to drum and bass as backdrop to the piano melody and improvisation.

6. Jasmina (Frank Tontoh) – A rhythmically infectious composition by drummer Frank Tontoh in which his Ghanaian roots create a jubilant Highlife-inspired. It has a bass feature for Davide Mantovani in which the bass doesn't just walk, it dances. Mantovani brings his knowledge of West African music to the forefront, throwing out and responding to the challenge of asymmetrical rhythms.

7. The Quest (Alex Wilson) – Recorded Live at the Warwick Arts Centre, Wilson was determined to record this album despite tearing an ankle ligament the day before recording started. It is dedicated to anyone who is on some kind of quest and it seems to have a narrative. Has a kind of vocal, 'sung' quality and it is actually quite dark and slow, driving the point home with repetition

8. Arab Spring (Davide Mantovani) –– “A composition that reflects the ebb and flow of revolution” Recorded live at the Warwick Arts Centre and based on the Arab Spring uprising. It has heavily syncopated sections, but there is an unstoppable forward motion, and the intensity builds organically, inevitably.

9. What is This Thing Called Love (Cole Porter) – “This takes me back to the period when I first started out as a pianist for Latin and jazz jam sessions in pubs and clubs in London. I remember it with great fondness.” Recorded live, back in Soho, the track culminates with Tristan Banks spellbinding drum solo.