If anything, it nearly swung off its hinges on the opening “Metropolis.” Bassist Paul Cuffari and drummer Malick Koly’s lines blurred together into a rumble (and every eight bars into a pounding syncopation) while Roney’s screaming, double-quick runs and pianist Oscar Williams’s densely chorded responses tangled overtop. Modeste reduced the boil to a simmer with a line as tranquil and lyrical as Roney’s were energetic and blazing, but he too soon ratcheted up into aggression.
It rarely let up. “In A Dark Room” seemed at first to be a tender ballad with its long, unaccompanied piano intro. It quickly became a blitzkrieg from Roney, blowing hard and with only the loosest connection to its harmonic framework. The bluesy “Combustible” culminated in an onslaught of a drum solo from Koly (which unfortunately went on far too long). The adrenaline built up to such a level that a real ballad had to come out, just a release. Roney obliged with Buster Williams’s “Christina,” augmented by Modeste in a pretty, husky-toned solo and by Williams in a lean, tastefully decorated one.
The pianist probably did not know it, but he was something of a scene stealer. The horn players betrayed little emotion and left the stage when their solos ended; Cuffari, showing all of his 20 years, was steady as a rock; and Koly, even at his hardest-hitting, had his eyes closed in a meditation-like image. Williams, meantime, danced on his piano bench and nodded his head to the syncopations, smiled slyly to himself (as if at all times he knew something we did not) and mouthed to himself every note his fingers played. That included dense, fraught chording and menacing bursts, albeit with blues licks peppering it — and, on a vaguely Latin, 6/4 tune that was the keystone of the set, a fiendish blend of Afro-Cuban cascades and melodic figures that seemed to duel with Cuffari’s riffs.
Make no mistake, though: The set belonged to Roney, whose clear, beautiful, vibrato-less tones still echo his mentor Miles Davis. (Roney is the only trumpet student Davis ever took on.) They resounded heavily through the evening and even seemed to linger onstage when their maker had left it.
The Wallace Roney Quintet returns to Blues Alley on Saturday, January 25, at 8 p.m. (sold out) and 10 p.m.