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Abram Wilson quartet, Colston Hall, March 6.

March 14, 2010

Hard decision before this one: after a low key start to the year, two equally appealing gigs on the same night. Wilson won out over Deirdre Cartwright at Cabot Circus on a whim, and repaid with a rewarding evening of original music, performed with brio.

He’s a man of huge talent, newest of what you might call the modern school of New Orleans trumpet players (Marsalis, Blanchard, Peyton, Christian Scott, and probably dozens I’ve not heard of…), and a composer of unusual skill. The billing of his latest set/album is “based on his life story” which isn’t the most appealing way to put it. The pieces are inspired by vignettes from his childhood and further on, but not linked to any narrative. Nor do they need to be. They are full of interest and incident, and lifted by an endless supply of sparkling solos from the leader, and a fair few from his British cohorts, too.

But Wilson is the star, and carries it off with aplomb. A winning style with the spoken intros, and nice variation in trumpet sound, with judicious use of mutes and effects. He’s more rooted in the tradition than a more eclectic contemporary virtuoso like Dave Douglas, and not interested in any of the free areas explored by Taylor Ho Bynum, say, but his complete command of that tradition gives him a lot to say. He was certainly a good deal more interesting to my ears than Niels Pettar Molvaer the other week.

Reviewers have invoked both Miles and Freddie Hubbard, but a more immediate comparison to my mind is with Mr Marsalis, both the playing and the composing. I don’t think Wilson comes off worse on any front. He doesn’t have the ultimate edge of Marsalis’ burnished tone, but seems quite as accomplished and expressive a player. And his compositions explore very similar areas to some of Wynton’s work, albeit the older superstar often has larger resources to draw on these days. It would be great to hear what Wilson could do with a septet, or even a big band but for now the quartet is a great treat. A man to watch, and to catch again at the earliest opportunity.

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