Ben Wilcock
Thick Records
5 stars
Reviewed by Barry O’Sullivan

New Zealand pianist and composer, Ben Wilcock, has released a sci-fi-inspired album launched recently at the Wellington Jazz Festival and inspired by a series of books, The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons. With Wilcock on piano, John Rae on drums, and Dan Yeabsley on bass, as well as Tristan Carter‘s emotive violin on several tracks, the music leads us through various jazz-infused styles from fast bop to free improvisation to traditional melodies. Wilcock has enormous skill and fluid versatility at the piano as well as on composition thus making this session an exciting (even though at times a blistering) summit of equals. While Aenea has a few crazy moments, the trio doesn’t quite dive toward the noisy end of the scale, and the group remains focused with some groove or catchy line to maintain a little melody amid the chaos. On The Stinger, Wilcock takes a racing and splashy fast bop dive across the keys, hurtling along with Yeabsley’s always-supportive upright bass and Rae’s masterly drumming. Each track is based on the different unique worlds explored by the protagonists within the novel, but being unfamiliar with the source did not hinder my intense enjoyment of the whole suite. Throughout, there is highly creative intergalactic listening to be had here, which was particularly enjoyable on the vinyl I played. On the closing familiar standard Star Eyes, most fitting in science fiction terms, the fun-loving style of the track emphasises a joyful session, displaying that their mutual admiration and inspiration is even higher.