Immanuel Wilkins Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s — the compressed energy of a band on the road

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American saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins is part of a new generation of jazz musicians confidently fusing large chunks of African-American music into an organic whole. Wilkins is in the line of Kenny Garrett and John Coltrane, but he articulates with the rhythmic consciousness of hip-hop and R&B, and brings the elements together in his own way.

This fiery one-night stand in London, featuring his working quartet, was part of an extensive European tour; the band played in Warsaw the night before and were to fly out after the show for six gigs in Spain. At Ronnie Scott’s, through two virtually uninterrupted sets, they showed the compressed energy of a band on the road.

The evening opened with pianist Micah Thomas unaccompanied, introducing the central theme of “Waiting” from the club’s concert piano. The pensive motif had a jarring upper register tail that Thomas let hang before repeating it in a different key. The public took over, the rest of the group went on stage after a few minutes. Kweku Sumbry fired a loose drum roll, bassist Rick Rosato alternated counterpoint with swing, and Wilkins played with determination and a pithy tone.

The seven parts WAITING ROOM, based on a collaboration with Sidra Bell Dance, is full of twists and reintroduced patterns. It started with a loose swagger that allowed the group to loosen up and establish the aesthetic core of the quartet. Wilkins alternated precisely syncopated patterns and scales with fast runs, growls, and low-pitched sounds. Thomas probed the midrange of the piano with taut lines, contrapuntal figures and a series of block chords. Coaxed and cajoled bass and drums with focus and power.

As the sequel unfolded, a flurry of rimshots locked in figured bass and an intricate repeating pattern had a hypnotic effect. The tempo picked up, the drums clicked and rolled, and then suddenly the saxophone and piano played a ballad with a minor key theme. As the work progressed in a continuous flow, a high-end waltz turned into a modern jazz bounce, the ballad returned, there was a burst of free jazz, and the piece ended with a long fade sensual.

The second set was based on the 2020 album Omega. Thomas and Sumbry were both featured on Wilkins’ debut album, Blue Note, and at this gig only Rosato was new. ‘Warriors’ opened the set, followed by ‘Ferguson’ and ‘Grace and Mercy’. Here they were conjoined in a continuous whole; again, duets and trios emerged, and the moods and tempo changed. As before, the soloists probed harmony and rhythm and, led by the impressive Sumbry, dug deep and soared. The drummer’s rhythmic independence and combination of jazz subtlety and hip-hop power gripped throughout.

The performance ended with a pulsating vamp of ebb and flow. A quiet cymbal ping was the final note before an elated audience stood up and shouted for more.

★★★★☆

ronniescotts.co.uk

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