Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, June 1st, 2014
Over several centuries, the trumpet has developed a reputation as one of the most “macho” instruments in the orchestra. If brashness and aggression are called for, the trumpet is never too far from the frontline. In certain jazz circles, a trumpeter’s ability to play high and fast is considered exciting and impressive. For these kinds of cultural reasons, it is refreshing to hear the instrument used in the manner it is on this CD. Melbourne-based Williamson accepts the challenge of musical conversations on level grounds with four of the better jazz pianists in his hometown. His eighth album, Connect Four, contains nine compositions, eight of them written by the trumpeter and the ninth by Paul Grabowsky, one of his collaborators. The other three pianists encountered here are Tony Gould, Andrea Keller and Marc Hannaford, all very experienced and fine piano improvisers, each with their own stylistic identities. One of the album’s strengths is Williamson’s use of the pianists’ individual styles in composing material for them.
Another remarkable feature is the quality and sheer beauty of much of the music produced by these collaborations. It is difficult to recall an instance in which these two instruments have been made such equal partners in the realisation of a group of improvised pieces. In so far as balance and reciprocity are the true tests of the success of such meetings, these performers have succeeded admirably.
The majority of the tracks are contemplative and moody in nature. For the most part, Williamson makes understatement his guiding principle, although he is not averse to launching into the trumpet’s upper register when his pianist’s musings suggest it. Among my favourite pieces from this set are Buzzby and Inconsolable, the two compositions that are played with Marc Hannaford, the former because it is possibly the liveliest of the set whilst the other succeeds in conveying the sense of its title most effectively. Other compositions that I will most willingly hear repeatedly are Drift and Flow, both of which are played with the outstanding Andrea Keller while Paul Grabowsky’s contribution on the surprisingly optimistic Good Morning Melancholy is some of the most responsive that I have heard from him.
On first listening, I was uncertain what to make of this CD. Its contents go beyond the majority of jazz experiences and demand time and attention that are more characteristic of classical music. Such careful listening is rewarded in good measure by this engaging material.