ZURICH-BASED pianist Alex Wilson has waited until his ninth album to release a purely acoustic trio set – a combination of studio and live recordings. This is jazz… but infused deeply with Wilson’s broad experience of so many world music strands, creating a lively and distinctive sound palette – Caribbean, Latin and West African flavours clearly inhabit this varied selection of interpretations and new compositions.
Alex Wilson is joined by the always-entertaining Davide Mantovani on bass, whilst drum credits are shared between Frank Tontoh and Tristan Banks (both well-versed in the complexities of world music rhythms).
The selection of these nine extended titles is fascinating, and certainly eclectic. Steve Winwood’s ‘Fly’ and Sting’s ‘We work the black seam together’ are transformed from their rock origins – a Winwood rumba (he would approve!), and a marvellously driving – almost electric – bass in the latter. Wilson’s writing here states or implies the familiar melodies, and then takes them in unlikely, and refreshing, improvised new directions.
Miles Davis and Cole Porter are also given a new outlook. The initially understated and delicate ‘Solar’ builds gradually into an exciting Cuban celebration, conga effect to the fore, held in check only briefly by Mantovani’s accomplished bass solo. ‘What is this thing called love?’, another live recording, really swings to Banks’ fine drumming; terrific soloing all round.
But it is possibly in the originals by Alex Wilson, Davide Mantovani and Frank Tontoh that the trio shines brightest. Wilson’s piano technique is, frequently, breathtaking – the sheer rapidity of his runs perhaps comparable to those of Oscar Peterson, but sounding highly original in this jazz/world fusion setting. The kora imitation in ‘Remercier les travellers’ (based on a Malian melody taught to Wilson by Mamou Sidiki Diabeté) is remarkably and accurately observed for piano! ‘Kalisz’ provides another energetic display, whilst Tontoh’s African-imbued ‘Jasmina’ dances relentlessly, eventually heading into the distance (perhaps still going!). ‘The Quest’, in contrast, is a beautifully subtle and tantalising Wilson original, drawing us in to hear every nuance (deliciously resonant bass and characteristic descending Latin piano chromatics). Mantovani’s ‘Arab Spring’ then picks up the pace again with unstoppable momentum, both he and Wilson gyrating and whirling around impressive drum skills from Tontoh.
For piano trio jazz that sparkles with influences drawn from different continents and cultures, and from personnel who clearly relish bouncing rhythms and patterns off each other, this self-titled album delivers an infectious and exuberant show – just don’t expect to sit still for long!