Stan Sulzmann stepped in for an indisposed Bobby Wellins on Saturday night at the Vortex, with a quartet comprising players from different generations: more familiar names Ross Stanley (piano) and Tim Giles (drums) were joined by rising star Connor Chaplin on bass. A mixture of influences was also apparent in the set list, with standards such as ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ and the heart-breaking late Billie Holiday song ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ sitting alongside a number of Kenny Wheeler compositions, including ‘Everybody’s Song But My Own’ and ‘Old Time’.
Taking a little time to gel on their opener, Jerome Kern’s ‘Nobody Else But Me’, the group really hit their stride in the second tune, Wheeler’s ‘Jigsaw’. A longstanding collaborator with the much-missed trumpeter, Sulzmann inhabits these works, and his sweet tone was complemented by the ready firepower of Giles and Stanley; the latter giving the solo of the night on ‘Old Time’ later in the set. Conor Chaplin was a revelation on bass, providing inventive walking lines which drove the group forward. His lyrically phrased solos were untroubled by an entertaining habit of readjusting his glasses whilst playing with one hand. The group ended with the late Ornette Coleman’s ‘Humpty Dumpty’, embracing chaotic free counterpoint before settling down into hard swing.
Sulzmann spoke frequently about Wellins during the gig, and also of their connection with Kenny Wheeler. The interwoven lines of musicians that so often tell the story of jazz were captured in microcosm right there on the stage, through the compositions of Wheeler and Coleman, thoughts of Wellins, and a quartet of established and emerging talent.
– Jon Carvell