Printmakers leave their mark at Wiltshire Music Centre

Nikki-Illes-PrintmakersStan Sulzman’s solo on the Kenny Wheeler 's Enowena reached a peak of flowing lyrical phrases over a bustling, multi-layered accompaniment from the band; drums, bass, guitar and piano combining to urge him on over a samba-ish latin groove. Then a dying fall of a phrase gave Nikki Iles a hook and the baton was passed to launch the piano solo. Her improvisations all evening, like this one, emerged from within the mood established by the piece or a previous soloist and then took the ideas somewhere else. This time she dug in, really grooving with James Maddren’s pulse from the drums and Mick Hutton’s driving bass and the energy levels rose until Norma Winstone’s wordless vocals returned with the quintessential Wheeler melody, all interval leaps and chromatic sidles.

The Printmakers, well into their first set at Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon, were giving the west country audience a taste of why they’ve forged such a reputation over the last few years. In 2010, they were nominated for a Parliamentary Jazz Award on that word of mouth buzz alone. There’s still no released recording, but they’ve been in the studio, so early next year it's rumoured there may be merchandise.

On Saturday, the delight was in the moment. With regular bass and tenor, Steve Watts and Mark Lockheart, on Loose Tubes duty, Mick Hutton and Stan Sulzman were formidable deps. The set had begun with Mediatation, from Nikki Iles’ 2012 album Hush, a loose stately chord progression quietly announcing their presence, before it morphed into Fred Hersch’s Stars, the tempo accelerating and the layers of sound gradually enveloping us with Winstone’s vocal threading through.


With tunes by John Taylor, Ralph Towner, Steve Swallow alongside more by Iles and guitarist Mike Walker a pallete of rich, shifting harmony and flowing rhythms was explored. The inspiration of Kenny Wheeler’s genius seemed never far away. When the Canadian’s now virtually standard tune, Everyone’s Song But My Own emerged towards the end of the second set, it was a special moment as soloist on the original recording, Stan Sulzman, sighed, fluttered and soared over the familiar changes with Norma Winstone nodding approvingly, leaning on the piano. 

Sheparded by the peerless Nikki Iles, The Printmakers never shout, but sweep an audience along with waves of musical energy. And they have a lot of fun. They finished first with Iles’ High Lands, with more than a hint of skirl and plenty of skip followed by Steve Swallows laconic country-ish City of Dallas to wish us good night.  The refurbished and re-energised Wiltshire Music Centre was echoing to the cheers and whoops satisfied punters.

– Mike Collins


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