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Abram Wilson

Life Paintings


by Ian Mann

December 09, 2009


This is the sound of Wilson the trumpeter and this concentration on pure musical values makes this his best album yet

Raised in New Orleans but now resident in London trumpeter Abram Wilson has made a big impression on the UK jazz scene. “Life Paintings” is his third album release for the Dune label and represents something of a departure for him. His two previous releases “Jazz Warrior” and “Ride! The Ferris Wheel To The Modern Day Delta” have been ambitious affairs that have mixed jazz with other musical styles-hip hop, soul, blues etc.

Indeed “Ferris Wheel”, initially premi?red live at the 2007 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, was a concept album that incorporated songs and spoken narrative into an ambitious musical structure. “Jazz Warrior” (2004) also featured Wilson’s vocals but “Life Paintings” concentrates on what Wilson does best, playing the trumpet. Although less wide ranging and less politically motivated than his previous two albums for me this concentration on core musical values makes this the best Wilson album yet.

I was lucky enough to be in Cheltenham to see the début of “Ferris Wheel” and was hugely impressed both with the playing and the politics but there’s no doubt that “Life Paintings” makes for a more satisfying ALBUM than either of it’s predecessors. Wilson uses a basic jazz quartet with himself on trumpet, Peter Edwards at the piano, Karl Rasheed-Abel on bass and Graham Godfrey at the drums. 

The opening “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” sets Wilson’s stall out by setting his News Orleans/blues inflected playing seamlessly into a contemporary context. He utilises many of the weapons in the trumpeter’s armoury, slurs,  growls etc. and plays both open horn and with the mute. Pianist Edwards also shines with a fluent solo and drummer Godfrey is both hard hitting and inventive. The title, a neat inversion of a familiar phrase, is, at a guess, a description of the working hours of the average jazz musician.

“Rainbows And Fantasies” has a playful, childlike quality conveyed by Wilson’s clear tone and Edwards sprightly piano work in the instrument’s extreme upper register. Bassist Rasheed- Abel also shows up strongly, negotiating some tricky lines as well as featuring as a soloist. 

“Even Though You’re Bad For Me” is a lush ballad that features Wilson’s warm trumpet tones (unusually he doesn’t double on flugel) and Edwards’ unhurried, gently lyrical piano. 

The title of the fourth piece “Obama” suggests that Wilson hasn’t abandoned politics completely. It opens with Godfrey’s martial drums and Edwards’ tolling piano before settling into a powerful tune rooted in the bebop idiom and featuring the leader’s lithe trumpet, reminiscent perhaps of Freddie Hubbard in it’s fluency. Edwards also contributes an eloquent, swinging solo and Rasheed-Abel also features strongly. Later the tune fragments and Godfrey’s drums again return to the fore before Wilson picks up the reins again on the outro.

You would expect Wilson to celebrate Obama’s victory, but do those military sounding drums suggest an element of dissent? A year on and despite Obama’s historic election both the U.S. and the U.K. are still involved in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The dark ballad “The Eyes Of Belladonna” raises no such questions but it is still a very satisfying piece of music with Wilson’s richly eloquent trumpet riding smoothly above a seductive Latin rhythm. The increasingly impressive Edwards also catches the ear with a well constructed solo.

Next up is “Snake In The Grass” a slyly funky number with Wilson on clipped wah wah trumpet and more. A sense of fun pervades on this track with Rasheed-Abel’s bass solo quoting from “My Favourite Things”. Edwards piano is pleasingly percussive and Godfrey’s drumming crisp, clever and propulsive.“Chasing Mosquito Hawks” is equally good humoured, it certainly sounds as if this tightly knit quartet thoroughly enjoyed making this engaging album. 

“Kiss And Make Up” represents the album’s other ballad and features sensitive performances from Wilson and Edwards with supportive accompaniment from the versatile rhythm team. A real slow burner the tune gradually grows in intensity framing thoughtful solos from Wilson, Edwards and Rasheed-Abel.
“Rush Hour” is suitably boppish and slippery with a quicksilver solo from Edwards. Wilson himself is initially more reserved, building his solo incrementally before fading away again to leave the field open to the dynamic Godfrey.

“Breaking Point” is a suitably rousing closer inspired by the hard bop school and showcasing Wilson’s remarkable technical facility. He’s a worthy member of the contemporary New Orleans trumpet pantheon (Marsalis, Blanchard, Payton etc.) and this whole album is a showcase not only for his undoubted chops but also for his considerable abilities as a writer. Edwards contributes a rollicking solo and Godfrey features on a number of storming breaks. A great way to finish.

“Life Paintings” is primarily Wilson’s album and shows just what a fine trumpeter he has become. Both the playing and the writing cover an impressive range of moods and styles within the basic jazz template. This is an enjoyable and uplifting album and the contributions of Edwards, Rasheed-Abel and Godfrey should not be overlooked. The pianist in particular demonstrates that he is an inventive player and a major soloist. 

This is the sound of Wilson the trumpeter and it should be good to hear this music played live when Wilson undertakes his proposed tour in 2010.

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