Review : Abram Wilson at @OxJazz

Left to Right: Alex Davis, Abram Wilson, Dave Hamblett
Oxford Jazz Festival 2012
Photo credit: Nick Atkins/ Oxford Jazz Festival

Abram Wilson
(Randolph Hotel 6th April 2012, part of Oxford Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)


Trumpeter Abram Wilson brought a little bit of New Orleans to Oxfords's very English Randolph Hotel. By the end of the show, the audience were on their feet cheering as Abram walked out still soloing and the band carried on playing the blues. In the foyer you could tell who'd been to the gig by the smiles on their faces.

Abram had taken us through the life of mixed-race New Orleans piano prodigy and political journalist Philippa Duke Schuyler- his original tunes were linked together by the narrative. Different scenes from Philippa's life inspired various moods, and the audience was drawn in to the story from the start.

Some tunes expressed her childhood innocence and passion for life. Adventures in Black and White opened the set, with its modal chord sequence, propulsive bass and sensitive drum fills. Abram communicated warmly and passionately in both his narration and playing. The lyrical playing of fellow New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard sprang to mind, and the bluesy keening and musical humour of Jack Walrath. Abrams plays like a singer, with beautiful phrasing that never loses the listener's attention. He plays as if he means every note.

In Goldfish and the Wolf, with its sense of childhood wonder, we heard Abram singing in his soft tone with a Stevie Wonder-like sweet vibrato. The Harlemites celebrated Harlem's cultural richness. Abram promised the bright chords would be uplifting, and indeed they were. Reuben James' strong motivic piano soloing stood out, with its swaggering McCoy Tyner-ish chords, rhythmic stabs and cross-rhythms.

Other tunes expressed Philippa's ambivalence about her racial identity: the Naima-ish ballad Longing for Love (beautifully sung and played from the heart by Abram) and the fast swing of Lord Have Mercy. In Trouble on the Home Front Abram played exciting high trills and squeals over its afro-latin grooves and almost rock piano riffs.

Philippa became disillusioned by white treatment of black musicians. In Find a New Soul, her move into journalism was portrayed by the clattering urgency of a TV news theme, 60s afro-latin grooves and Debussyesque piano chords to depict her journalism in the far east. The audience especially loved this one.

The dark thrum of The Cogdells recalled the Texan racism of Philippa's maternal family. Its edgy broken rhythms atonal melody moved into a dark minor groove in 5/4 . Dave Hamblett's drum solo had lots of energy, sparkling cymbals and a big sound

As the audience yelled for more, Hidden Blues started like a Jelly Roll Morton stomp with an Armstrongy trumpet feel, a fine rootsy bass solo by Alex Davis, swinging blues and huge sense of fun.

This young British band is in the middle of a tour to celebrate 10 years of Abram Wilson living in the UK, but he has New Orleans in his soul.

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