United Kingdom Ryan Quigley Quintet [Ryan Quigley (trumpet), Paul Booth (tenor sax), Geoff Keezer (keyboard), Michael Janisch (double bass), Clarence Penn (drums)]: Swansea Jazzland, Swansea. 7.9.2016. (GPu)
The release of the latest recording by the outstanding British jazz trumpeter and composer Ryan Quigley (born in Derry, brought up in Glasgow, What Doesn’t Kill You (of which a review will appear on the jazz pages of MusicWeb International) was accompanied by a tour which began at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on September 5th, and ended at the Crane Lane Theatre in Cork on September 13th. This performance in Swansea was the third gig of the tour.
Quigley is a musician of varied talents, a writer of interesting themes, an excellent lead trumpet in a big band setting (a role in which his services seem to be much in demand) and an inventive improviser with a sure technique. Whatever his role, Quigley undertakes it with passion and total commitment. As a soloist he belongs, in the broadest sense, in the line of hard bop trumpeters; if I say that at moments one hears ‘echoes’ of, say, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell and Freddie Hubbard, I don’t mean in any way to suggest that he is a derivative player, a mere imitator. Far from it, since there is also much in his playing and writing that none of those predecessors would have written or played. He has a strong musical personality of his own. This is hard bop extended, reawakened by later stylistic developments.
For this launch tour, Quigley was joined by four members of the quintet which recorded the CD: saxophonist Paul Booth, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Clarence Penn. Pianist and keyboard player Steve Hamilton, who played in the 2014 sessions at which What Doesn’t Kill You was recorded, was otherwise engaged (I think he was working with a band led by Billy Cobham) and was replaced by Geoff Keezer (justly highly-regarded), thus making an entirely American (and genuinely distinguished) rhythm section. Most of the material played was from the new album – all composed by Quigley. The quintet’s performance began with ‘Doctor Stage’. Both the passionate intensity of Quigley’s playing and his technical certainty were immediately obvious. He hits high notes with ringing clarity, but one never feels that that he hits such notes just to show that he can; rather such notes are a necessary part of his larger musical ‘argument’. Paul Booth’s solo contribution was an interesting construction of short discrete phrases, often cutting across the listener’s rhythmic expectations in interesting fashion, while Keezer’s work as part of the ensemble was rich in inventive prodding and stimulus. Both Janisch and Penn provided sure-footed support, both were consistently swinging and busy, without ever being fussy or unlistening.
Unfortunately, Swansea Jazzland no longer uses a ‘real’ piano, so Geoff Keezer was playing a Tecnics P50 keyboard. Despite the limitations of such an instrument (I confess that I am no admirer of such keyboards) Keezer managed to create many intelligent and sensitive contributions throughout the evening; he often plays a series of seemingly simple lines which build, in ways which may seem initially surprising but then seem inevitable, into complex and densely worked climaxes. Paul Booth’s solo work, at times, seemed to owe something to Wayne Shorter or, indeed, to the earlier model of Hank Mobley. But like Quigley, Booth is by no means merely an imitator; he too has a creative personality of his own and an openness to a great range of contemporary influences. Given that reference points from hard bop came to mind more than once in listening to this Quintet, it is perhaps pertinent to recall that Keezer, when aged just 18 was the last pianist to be engaged by the great drummer Art Blakey for his Jazz Messengers in 1989, the year before his death – a fact which symbolises very neatly the musical continuity within which this particular music exists.
Such associations are altogether relevant to two other numbers from What Doesn’t Kill You which were played on this occasion: the title track and ‘Say What You See’, both of which have affinities with the kind of themes preferred by such hard bop maestros as Blakey and Horace Silver. So too did a yet untitled original by Quigley which was included in the second half of this performance. The two numbers from the CD got longer and ‘freer’ readings than they do on the CD, Especially notable was Paul Booth’s work (both in solo and in musical dialogue with the bass of Michael Janisch) on ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, full of sudden rushes to the top end of the tenor and equally sudden plunges to the bottom of the instrument’s range. On the same track Keezer’s striking solo was both sharply witty and intensely bluesy.
Jazz critics these days often write of a style they label freebop. The work of Ryan Quigley’s quintet on this occasion perhaps merited the label ‘free-hard-bop’! It made for an exhilarating evening of jazz, jazz steeped in the traditions of the idiom, but in no way restricted by those traditions, since it developed and extended them in a distinctive fashion of its own. I now look forward to listening more attentively than I have yet been able to do, the newly issued (on September 9th) CD of some of the same music.