With typical heartiness Alex Wilson introduces himself as a “guy from Derbyshire” to mark a contrast with the global village represented by his band – Italian double bassist Davide Mantovani, Cuban trombonist-vocalist Rene Alvarez, Sri Lankan-British trumpeter Shanti Paul Jayasinha and Venezuelan percussionistEdwin Sanz. Although the dead-pan goes down well, nobody would say that Wilson’s touch at the piano was in any way parochial as a high octane evening sees the self-proclaimed ‘Afro-Saxon’ with truly worldwide roots prove a worthy scion of Cuba’s Chucho Valdés and America’s McCoy Tyner in equal measure.
Wilson has the crucial left hand strength to drive the bass lines of the son and salsa-based material while his rippling single note statements, often punctuated by swish chromatics, imbue the performance with tightly controlled lyricism. The second night of the inaugural London Latin Jazz Festival curated by Wilson, this concert has a palpable feelgood factor that culminates in full-on salsa dancing, but if the swirl of couples around tables in the packed Dean Street basement is invigorating then so is the sight of the aforementioned Sanz. He is the major discovery of the night. Based in Geneva, where Wilson also resides, he is an unknown quantity in Britain but draws attention from the downbeat.
A squat, muscular figure with a glinting smile, Sanz pays a hybrid drum kit-percussion rig that features congas, snare, cymbals, cajon, cowbells, and timbales, and the skill with which he integrates fizzing hi-hat patterns into the rapid fire shifts of tempo and subdivisions of his hand drumming makes many a jaw drop. He excels on a sexy reprise of Bird’s ‘My Little Suede Shoes’ and is engagingly understated on Steve Winwood’s quite beautiful ‘Fly’, which the band turns from sultry rock ballad into sassy montuno. But it is on Wilson’s excellent original ‘Kalisz’, all stuttered, stop-start theme and fluid solos, that Sanz drives the band to an entrancing climax.
– Kevin le Gendre