Ollie Howell Quartet at Nairn Community & Arts Centre.

Ollie Howell is a new name to me, and I went to the gig in Nairn with open ears and no preconceptions. I’ve clearly missed something, because he has garnered praise from jazz greats like Quincy Jones and Jimmy Cobb. Howell and his band have played a three-month residency in Jones’s club in Dubai, playing three sets a night. The audience in Nairn enjoyed the fruits of this, and were treated to a quartet in total control.

First things first, Howell is an amazing drummer, total class. His performance was superb, constantly inventive, but never dominant or showy. I can see why he has turned heads.

The quartet has a modern sound, with melody at the forefront. The compositions are spacious and often feature folk-like melodies that are elaborated on. They are a mostly acoustic quartet, but use electronics too, with loops and textures. Piano was swapped for Rhodes sometimes and there was a range of sounds throughout the performance. The group sound felt natural and lived in, and the music felt optimistic, brimming with possibility.

Howell’s bandmates are pretty special too. Tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles had a soft, slightly dry tone, and often played phrases round the melody, giving the compositions plenty space to breathe. Double bassist Max Luthert had a full, woody sound. He played supple lines that gave the music an elastic groove. Pianist Matt Robinson played lyrical runs, often building in intensity, but never dominating. In fact, that’s probably the best thing about the group, they all contributed to a collective sound, and the acres of talent was to that end rather than individual glory.

There were plenty highlights – ‘Coming Home’ started with Rhodes and a warm floating feel. Eagles tenor solo changed the pace, before the composition merged with ‘Almost Tomorrow’. This was nearly weightless, then moved into slightly unsettling territory with looped saxophone sounds.

‘Balancing Stones’ featured fine brushwork from Howell while Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ got a brilliant treatment, with off-kilter tumbling piano lines.

This was a great gig, from a young quartet who really impressed. Well done to Jazz Nairn for bringing this band north.

Find out what’s coming next for Jazz Nairn here.