(Kings Place Hall One. Final night of eXploraations. 28th January 2012. Review by Jane Stringfellow)
It felt like being at party, as Alex Wilson demonstrated his thrilling piano style in three separate ensembles joined by a group of highly talented musicians.
The first work, Concerto for Kora, Piano and String Quartet, a new work receiving its second performance, with soloist Kadialy Kouyate on kora, had been composed when Wilson was composer in residence for Harrogate International Festival 2010 and followed his collaboration with Malian musicians and the album Mali Latino. The concerto drew on classical elements of Europe and Africa. In performance, the melancholy music of Kora was juxtaposed with Wilson’s urgent piano playing. There was evidence of some Celtic influence too. The interplay between the Kora and string quartet was impressive. Rhythmic interaction between Alex and the kora brought the performance to a climax in the third movement.
After the interval Wilson introduced his jazz trio, long time collaborator Frank Tontoh on drums and Matt Owens (replacing Davide Mantovani) on bass. Tontoh and Wilson were far apart on stage but their constant interaction filled the space and wowed the audience. Opening with Sting’s We Work the Black Seam they brought power and poignancy to the music, Tontoh’s percussive playing was sometimes menacing and evocative of tools at the coalface. In Fly, Wilson encouraged the audience to join in and sing, no one could sit still. Quest, a Wilson composition featured a fine rhythmic solo by Matt Owens.
Another Wilson Composition Gospel Cha, inspired by pianist Les McCann, was suitably funky with some fabulous piano and drum soloing. The set ended with Miles Davis’ Solar played in a Cuban Danzon vibe, it featured Dave Pattman on congas and there was dancing in the aisles.
In the third part of the evening, Wilson performed one section of the Compass Suite, a recently commissioned piece of music that takes an audience across the points of the compass, Wilson had composed South. On stage he was joined by the string quartet and guest soloists Soweto Kinch on alto sax and Jay Phelps on trumpet. This was a magnificent end to the evening, Latin rhythms and percussion, wonderful interplay between the string quartet, piano and brass and incendiary soloing from both Kinch and Phelps.
The audience would not let the band go home without an encore. Wilson and his band did not disappoint, ending up with a riveting salsa.