Saxophonist Graeme Wilson and pianist Paul Edis have been playing together since 2007, and later this year they release a duo album of Monk compositions. At the 2018 Ushaw Jazz Festival, on the edge of Durham, the duo performed an improvised set in St. Cuthbert’s Chapel, Ushaw College, with Edis on pipe organ.
At DJazz 2019 (a.k.a. Durham Jazz Festival) they reprised the project on the immense stage of Durham Cathedral. This was a 45-minute performance of bravura free improvisation with a melodic basis – to be expected from my experience of Edis’s albums, including Not Like Me/Just Like Me (2015), and A Narrow Escape (2016). When I reviewed Not Like Me in 2015, I commented that Edis is a real jazz composer, of which there are never too many around – but he’s also a very thoughtful improviser, as this cathedral performance showed.
Edis grew up in NE England, and returned there after his studies at York University, where he completed a PhD in composition. He’s a musical thinker and teacher as well as performer. He was a church organist from the age of 11 to 18, so he can do the pedals stuff – and on this gig, he certainly pulled out all the stops. He commented in an email that “It was an incredible experience to play the cathedral … I’ve visited it since I was a child, and getting the chance to play the pipe organ was something else – an incredible range of sounds, more than any other organ I’ve played”.
Graeme Wilson has worked with a range of jazz, free jazz and improv luminaries including Evan Parker, Marilyn Crispell and George Lewis, and was a founding member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra (GIO). He moved to Newcastle in 2005, playing and writing for John Warren’s Splinter Group, and has toured the UK with Paul Edis Sextet.
So these are two of the finest improvisers in the North-East. There was a very positive response from the audience, which I’m noticing more often in free improv gigs – notably Joe McPhee’s at last year’s Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. That’s partly down to the communicative powers of the artist in question, which were very evident from the duo here.