Stirring strings meet stern jazz with Hans Koller Quartet with BCMG at CBSO Centre, Birmingham

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Pianist Hans Koller chooses his fellow musicians with care. Percy Pursglove on bass, Jeff Williams on drums, and John O’Gallagher on alto saxophone all are special to Koller and it shows in the warmth and unity of the band’s vibe on stage.

The quartet played a short first half before the main event of this Frontiers Festival concert: a Jazzlines commission called ‘Twelve Re-inventions for George Russell’. They were joined by a sextet of musicians from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Koller’s study of Russell’s Lydian Concept way of writing had met its match in O’Gallagher’s study of the 12 Tone music of Webern, and both men sounded invigorated by their common interest in applying some stern methodology to composition and improvisation while maintaining a jazz grooviness and sense of fun.

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The 12-part suite sometimes set jazz quartet and contemporary sextet in back and forth conversation; twice Pursglove came forward to conduct the strings and woodwind players on their own; sometimes BCMG were the backdrop; at others they intertwined with the jazz players.

Koller turned in a tasty solo or two but mainly left it to O’Gallagher who had calmed his tone from the first half, to Pursglove who was on exceptionally fine form, and even to BCMG oboist Melinda Maxwell who was able to show her admirable jazz chops.

– Peter Bacon

– Photos by John Watson