Signal Quartet is a collective musical ensemble based in Southeast Michigan consisting of Ben Wolkins on Trumpet and Flugelhorn, Ian Blunden on Guitar, Eric Nachtrab on Bass and Sean Perlmutter on Drums. The band began to take shape in summer 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when, out of a dire need for music and human connection, Perlmutter and Nachtrab would get together with various configurations of musicians to play music with no agenda, just for the joy of it on the back deck of Nachtrab's Ann Arbor home. A few low-key trio gigs with guitarist Blunden (a former Wayne State University Classmate of Perlmutter) moved the ensemble closer to formation, and the lineup was solidified when Wolkins (a longtime friend of Nachtrab's from their time in the Toledo Jazz Scene) began to make appearances at the back deck sessions.
The group began to build a repertoire first by bringing in relatively obscure pieces by composers such as Thelonious Monk, Chris Speed, Carla Bley, and Bill McHenry and eventually evolved to focus entirely on original music composed by members of the ensemble. The material written for the band covers a wide swath of musical terrain, but each piece has a sense of simplicity, a strong identity and serves as a springboard for the musicians' empathetic improvisations. Signal Quartet's approach to music is one of “letting it all in”; following the thread of the music where it leads, regardless of stylistic constraints; embracing the jazz tradition while refusing to shave off or smooth over any of its eccentricities or irregularities.
The band's self-titled debut - consisting mostly of pieces by Nachtrab - was released in August of 2022, and the release was celebrated with a performance at the Detroit Jazz Festival the following Month.
Their sophomore effort, Second Exploration: The Music of Ben Wolkins, (released in April 2023) was celebrated with a midwest tour, featured as a "new and notable release" on Bandcamp's homepage, and continues to receive radio play around the US.
Slow Brew Studio Video
From the album Second Exploration: The Music of Ben Wolkins
The Gymnast (alternate take)
The Chief - Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival
Signal Quartet's performance and interview on the Detroit Jazz Festival's "Jazz From The Cellar" series
This Detroit based small ensemble performs original modal mainstream jazz at times, often edgy, and always cohesive. They mix it up with some jazz rock fusion, thoughtful, calmer compositions, and music parallel to the ECM sound within an imagined or reimagined Kenny Wheeler-John Abercrombie concept. A true co-op quartet, Eric Nachtrab plays bass and is upfront with the fine trumpeter Ben Wolkins. Guitarist Ian Blunden provides scintillating leads and accents, while drummer Sean Perlmutter forcefully holds down his rhythmic end. The result is an introspective or bold approach that is never overbearing, always challenging, and a cut above.
-Michael G. Nastos; Hot House Magazine/NYC, Paradiso Dei Musicisti, Down Beat Magazine, WCBN 88.3 FM, wcbn.org-Ann Arbor, Mi., Arts Fuse, Jazz Messenger and El Intruso Music Polls (on Signal Quartet)
Signal Quartet shows its polish as a group, taking delight in exploring every inch of a tune with improvisational interaction, and their ability to express both the individual players and the whole of the group throughout their debut release. Their tight musicianship pairs beautifully with their shared love of expansive improvisation. Signal Quartet is a solid listen.
-Dutcher Snedeker; localspins.com (on Signal Quartet)
Signal Quartet is a highly cohesive group of players who waste no time or energy in their performances, being both economical and plentiful in their approach.
-Jay Honeycomb; No Transmission (on Second Exploration)
Patient yet curious, the compositions of trumpeter Ben Wolkins, played here by... Signal Quartet, highlight the group's connectivity.
-Bandcamp (on Second Exploration)
...a rewarding listening experience from start to finish... It is hurling, bustling, challenging, and exhilarating acoustic jazz for 2023 and beyond.
-Linda Yohn; SEMJA Journal (on Second Exploration)
...the idea seems to be to go onward, to go farther, to push through boundaries, to not look back. This is a wonderful jam that is over all too soon.
-Michael Doherty (on Second Exploration)
The result on this sophomore release is a beautiful tapestry of styles and influences across the jazz canon, distilled into a sound all their own, with moments of burning swing, colorful dissonant melodies reminiscent of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet or Thelonious Monk, and lush textures that soak your listening ears into a hypnotic calm.
-Dutcher Snedeker, localspins.com (on Second Exploration)