Soundcheck: Immanuel Wilkins, left, gives pianist Micah Thomas and the rest of the band some last-minute adjustments to the sheet music he had written for the show. He explicitly composes a fair amount of what’s heard, though there’s certainly room for improvisation and collaboration. Photos by Desi Gillespie.

The Immanuel Wilkins Quartet is among the most promising rising groups in jazz. Its albums “Omega” and “The 7th Hand” topped the New York Times’ best jazz albums for the years they were released. 

This year, as part of Spoleto Festival USA, the quartet is playing a five-show residency at the Queen Street Playhouse.

Follow along with the band members’ time in Charleston between performances through this photo essay.

Micah Thomas, Immanuel Wilkins and Kweku Sumbry seat themselves for Henry Threadgill’s Zooid ensemble performance at the Sottile Theatre. 

Threadgill signs Wilkins’s copy of his memoir after the show. Sumbry said he was familiar with some of Threadgill’s stories already, having spoken with him to pass the time on a ferry ride in Europe while they were on the festival circuit together.

Micah Thomas, a prolific pianist native to Columbus, Ohio, looks up from the keys to follow Wilkins’s movements. Thomas, who has played by ear since age 2, graduated with a masters degree from Juilliard in 2020.

Wilkins wails away on one of his lightning-fast solos, going all out on “a loud one” at the request of the soundcheck crew. His prodigious improvisations mark him as one of the leading contemporary saxophonists. In May, the quartet sold out a string of five shows at the Village Vanguard, a traditional bastion of jazz in New York City.

Bassist Rick Rosato listens intently to the sound of the ensemble. Upright basses are fretless, so players need a keen ear, even more so than other musicians. Rosato started touring with the group after the 2022 release of “The 7th Hand.” 

Washington, D.C.-based drummer Kweku Sumbry keeps the band in time with ease. Sumbry, a descendant of Pan-African activists whose heritage can be traced to West Africa, has been praised for his use of polyrhythms in the quartet’s music.

After the first show at the Queen Street Playhouse, Wilkins signs a hoodie and an album for a fan who traveled from Dallas just to hear the quartet play. The group’s name recognition has spread widely since the release of the critically acclaimed albums “Omega” and “The 7th Hand,” as well as an NPR Tiny Desk concert that garnered more than a quarter million views on YouTube.

Rosato and Thomas converse while waiting in line behind Sumbry as he orders lunch at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. 

Thomas and Sumbry clap at the arrival of their entrees before diving in on the collard greens and cornbread.

Wilkins doles out the fries from a newly ordered catfish platter after dousing his meal in Scott’s Bama 16 barbecue sauce.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: The Immanuel Wilkins quartet has two shows left at the Queen Street Playhouse: Saturday, June 10, at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tickets are $41.

Desi Gillespie, who took all of the photos in this essay, is an arts journalism graduate student at Syracuse University.

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