The Greyish Quartet have been a prominent fixture in the Birmingham jazz scene for several years now. Formed in 2008 by pianist and composer David Austin Grey, the quartet has already seen success with their release of The Dark Red Room, an album of original compositions inspired by film and photography. Presented by Jazzlines, this gig was part of the series of the free events held in Symphony Hall’s Café Bar every Friday at 5pm. As the busy traffic creeps by outside the foyer’s tall windows, inside is a large dedicated crowd, choosing to end their week by listening to some quality jazz rather than facing the rush hour. The quartet performed a mixture of tunes from The Dark Red Room as well as some new compositions which they are taking to the recording studio in the near future. David Austin Grey spoke about the personal influences of his compositions, but also emphasised the importance of the collaborative creative process of the quartet’s music.
From the first number, the group established their elegant sound. Grey’s luscious piano style creates a rich layer which seems to float over the busyness of the bass and kit. Even the high energy pieces of the set seemed to retain an assured gracefulness, the rhythm section instruments blending effortlessly to support some stirring solos from Sam Wooster on trumpet. This said, all members of the band demonstrated their skills through improvised solo sections. There was melodic and innovative playing from Nick Jurd who utilised both double and electric bass during the set, whilst Jim Bashford sensitively accompanied the other players, but also built the excitement of the performance with exuberant fills and flourishes.
A fantastic thing about hearing a small jazz ensemble of this standard is that all of the musicians are seen to deliver equally soloistic playing throughout the set. The interactions of rhythms and melodic ideas flow so freely between them that, as a listener, it can be difficult to decide on whom to focus your attention. The result is a capturing of the senses, drawing the audience into the music through the focussed enthusiasm of each player as they craft their performance.
A highlight was An Orderly and Beautiful Escape, which began in a slow latin feel, stylistically reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Caravan. From here though, the piece developed into very much its own original entity, the whole quartet moving together to create variations on the tempo and a fascinating array of textures. The band also demonstrated an amazing use of space in the gentle ballad Life Goes to Plan Infrequently, a variation on the well known jazz standard I Fall in Love too Easily. Perhaps one of the most subtle yet stirring tunes of the set was A Kindness of Ravens, a stunning composition built upon a simple bass riff, progressing and building to an amazing layering of sound, perfectly completed with the return of the beautiful, rippling piano motif for the outro.
The Greyish Quartet’s distinctive sound and innovative style make them a perfect example of the incredible craftsmanship present in British jazz at the moment. They are currently touring other major cities, but will return to Birmingham next Sunday, 19th of May to play at The Cross in Moseley.
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