It took just a couple of notes from Byron Wallen‘s trumpet to infuse the Wine Vault’s atmosphere with a crackle of excitement on Thursday night. He led the band into Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom, an easily swinging groove with a bluesey theme; a quintessential sixties Blue Note vibe. The visitor unfurled a blistering solo, gracefully shaped phrases following the arc of the harmony and little accelerations and flurries of notes building the excitement. By the time he’d finished, bass man and the Vaults’ impressario Wade Edwards was grinning like a cheshire cat. We all were.
This was Wallen’s second visit to share the stage with the house trio. The last (here), several years ago now, still glows in my memory. Then as now, there was plenty of engaging chat and a reminder from DJ Tony Clark in his introduction of the weight and length of the trumpeter’s CV. This time the theme was trumpet heroes and we got a slew of classics associated with various legends and music firmly rooted in classic jazz. Orthinology was for Fats Navarro, Sky Dive for Freddie Hubbard, Tom Cat for Lee Morgan and Budo for Miles. In between a sprinkling of Wallen originals added another flavour to the mix, his artfully constructed pieces always having a twist or darker tone to them.The Little Giant, for Booker Little, was a lilting waltz with bitter-sweet harmony and an angular rhythmic hook to nudge the band in different directions. It also occasioned the name drop of the evening as Wallen recounted hanging out with the legendary Charles Lloyd after a gig and asking him about Little, with whom Lloyd had been at school and apparently, according to the sax man, ‘showed him the blues’. We got some jazz history as well as scintillating music. Home Truth got an airing as it it did on Wallen’s previous visit, a dark, brooding ballad with echoes of the music of Kenny Wheeler.
Every time the trumpet spoke, there was an easy fluency and energy that fired the house band up and brought new sounds out of them. As soon as Vyv Hope Scott launched into his piano solo on the opening Lotus Blossom he’d found a slight different more open sound compared to the familiar muscular swing of the trio’s warm up number You and the Night and the Music, the gear shift somehow cued by Wallen’s exploratory playing. It’s a testament to the quality and flexibility of the house trio that they respond readily to the sound of their varied guests. Deep into the second set Wallen called You Don’t Know What Love Is and brought the house down with a keening, emotional reading of the standard.
This was top drawer jazz from an A list name in British jazz. Let’s hope he’s return is even quicker next time.