A quiet shimmer of high-note violins and a ghostly whistle of melody opened the evening’s concert, which was part of the Wigmore’s ongoing Joshua Redman-curated jazz series. The presentation was the world premiere of composer/arranger Patrick Zimmerli’s Aspects of Darkness and Light, and the brief introduction immediately captured the playful textural ambiguities of its central theme.
The evening progressed as a folio of short pieces that interwove saxophonist Redman’s jazz skills with the technically adroit Escher String Quartet, supported by light-touch bass-and-percussion rhythm. Each composition represented different manifestations of light, the moods encapsulated by such titles as “Starbursts and Heroes” – an abstract ballad followed by rousing triple-time strings – “Sun on Sand” and “Through Mist”.
“Between Dog and Wolf”, a translation from a French expression meaning the time between day and night, opened with boogie-shuffle cymbals and an optimistic theme that was tossed from Redman to the strings. There was a violin break, a country-esque reel and much in between. “Dark Light” featured a lovely Scott Colley bass solo and a funky theme, sensuous slides of violins and a burst of up-tempo jazz.
Zimmerli takes familiar elements from 19th-century classical music and the standard sequences of jazz and pop, adds ethnic influences and has a sharp talent for a catchy tune. In this, his music is somewhat cinematic. His motifs are meticulously developed and his textures atmospheric, yet at the Wigmore, where he conducted, he seemed a little diffident about the mix of genres: “I’m not quite sure what I’m doing tonight,” he announced after the first number, “Flash”.
But the way he integrates disparate elements, and the individual strengths of the musicians involved meant there was no need to worry. Redman contributed a focused sax sound with harmonic precision and a strong sense of swing, while percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, seated on the floor, combined orthodox jazz cymbals with the rattles of rimless taiko drums and the tympanum-like sounds of a frame drum.
With boundaries blurred even familiar idioms could surprise. The zippy finale, “Fireworks”, deftly captured the lulls and highs of a pyrotechnic display, its cross-pollinated ensemble virtuosities and features for all winning Redman and Co. a deserved encore.