REVIEW: The Gaz Hughes Sextet – ‘The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey’

UNTIL NOW, young Manchester-based drummer Gaz Hughes has, perhaps, best been known as the cool, atmospheric rhythm-maker behind the music of trumpeter and Gondwana Records owner Matthew Halsall, in recordings such as On the Go and Fletcher Moss Park (also appearing on recent three-album release Oneness).

For his debut release as leader, Hughes honours the music of one of the true jazz drumming ‘greats’ in a glorious sextet with Alan Barnes, Bruce Adams, Dean Masser, Andrjez Baranek and Ed Harrison. The art of ‘Jazz Messenger’ Art Blakey (1919–1990) – described by fellow drummer Max Roach as ‘Thunder’ – is captured superbly by Hughes, right down to that retro album-cover design, in an album brimming with joyous, bebop fervour. From the first strains of A Bitter Dose, the feel-good is there – this band’s easier-swinging interpretation is refreshing, with Bruce Adams’ piercing trumpet improv a stand-out. The entire ensemble sparkles as one; and whilst classic jazz numbers are just that, it’s great to hear them portrayed by today’s players and with the depth and clarity of modern recording techniques (it often seems that the pianist lost out in the 1950s and early 1960s!).

Ping Pong (Wayne Shorter) pops and bounces fluently, even cheekily, to Alan Barnes’ bari, while full horns sizzle together. Hughes’ leadership is focused, with heady rhythms and erupting splashes clear in the mix, yet never dominating. Ten-minute-medley homage – Together Again, Lover Man, Easy Living – is sublime, Masser’s and Barnes’ lush, romantic expression especially moving; and Blakey’s spirit is alive and well in Freddie Hubbard’s swaggering Crisis (jazz-heavenly nods of approval imagined!). The sextet’s hypnotic swell in Wheel Within a Wheel (interestingly, at times, reminiscent of Hughes’ work with Halsall) is illuminated by fine individual solos passed around; blithesome One By One (from Blakey’s Ugetsu) is celebrated with infectious abandon; and strutting, Middle-Eastern (almost mariachi-hued) Arabia completes the album in fast-swinging style.

Throughout these 52 minutes, it’s clear that Gaz Hughes and his illustrious band are honouring the tradition – and the greatness of Blakey and his esteemed contemporaries – while breathing 21st-century fire into these evergreen classics (going back into the originals, they really are). An extensive UK tour, billed from February through to October 2020, already suggests they’ll shake things up with more Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers numbers – and this album forecasts a fabulous live experience.

Released on 1 February 2020, The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey is available as CD or download at Bandcamp.


Alan Barnes alto sax, baritone sax
Bruce Adams trumpet
Dean Masser tenor sax
Andrjez Baranek piano
Ed Harrison double bass
Gaz Hughes drums

Gaz Hughes (2020)


RECENT LISTENING: January 2020 (1)

Live In Paris at Fondation Louis Vuitton – Elliot Galvin
Elliot Galvin – solo piano
Release date: 24 January 2020 (Edition Records)

Going Down The Well – MoonMot
Dee Byrne, Simon Petermann, Cath Roberts, Oli Kuster, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 February 2020 (Unit Records)

four forty one – Will Vinson
Will Vinson, Sullivan Fortner, Tigran Hamasyan, Gerald Clayton, Fred Hersch, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Matt Brewer, Matt Penman, Rick Rosato, Larry Grenadier, Obed Calvaire, Billy Hart, Eric Harland, Clarence Penn, Jochen Rueckert  
Release date: 31 January 2020 (Whirlwind Recordings)

– The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey
Gaz Hughes, Alan Barnes, Bruce Adams, Dean Masser, Andrzej Baranek, Ed Harrison
Release date: 1 February 2020

Ascent – Pablo Held
Pablo Held, Robert Landfermann, Jonas Burgwinkel, Nelson Veras with Veronika Morscher, Jeremy Viner
Release date: 7 February 2020 (Edition Records)

Paradox – Andrés Thor
Andrés Thor, Agnar Már Magnússon, Orlando Le Fleming, Ari Hoenig
Release date: 5 April 2019 (Dimma)

‘7 Pieces of Silver’ – 7 Pieces of Silver


SEVEN… PLUS ONE very special guest, Mr Alan Barnes, celebrate the music of revered American bebop/hard-bop jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver in a lively new studio recording – 7 Pieces of Silver.

It’s barely two years since Silver passed away at the age of 85, leaving an extraordinarily rich legacy of classic 1950s Blue Note recordings – frequently as sideman (to the likes of Miles Davis, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan), but perhaps most notably with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and also his own quintet.

Echoing the title of Silver’s 1956 recording 6 Pieces of Silver, this eponymous release follows on from the septet’s resounding appearances at Scarborough Jazz Festival in 2014, featuring arrangements of eight of the great man’s compositions plus a couple of originals from double bassist Paul Baxter. Joining Baxter are James Lancaster (trumpet), Stuart MacDonald (alto, baritone), John McKillup (tenor), Matthew Ball (trombone), Andrzej Baranek (piano) and Paul Smith (drums), with ‘Silverite’ Alan Barnes guesting on alto and clarinet on three numbers.

This four-piece horn and three-piece rhythm section sizzles energetically through Silver’s works, Camouflage bursting with effervescent solos whilst also offering subtle dynamic flicks. The effusive, close-knit harmonies of broad-swinging Juicy Lucy demonstrate how well the pianist’s works stand up almost sixty years on, and the fast Messengers-style pace of Diggin’ on Dexter tumbles to baritone-rasping unison horns and zealous soloing from tenorist John McKillup and Alan Barnes on alto.

So why not simply pull the original 1950s albums off the shelf? Well, Paul Baxter’s freshly-hued arrangements are, in the best sense of ‘new light through old windows’, a joy to hear – and it’s great to feel the immediacy and enthusiasm in these contemporary performances, including some rather tasty nuances. Baxter’s own compositions, too, mesh brilliantly with the overall sound world – Lube Sensor‘s cascading horn uproariousness and individual solo artistry respond superbly to the bassist’s masterfully threaded groove, and Andrzej Baranek’s luscious piano is befittingly prominent in closing tenor ballad The Others.

Elsewhere, Song For My Father (from Silver’s popular 1965 album of the same name) is supple and purposeful, Alan Barnes’ clarinet gleefully swirling and screeching above the band’s shared gusto; I Want YouThe Jody Grind and Cool Eyes overflow with unalloyed boisterousness; and Peace is intriguingly reimagined for double bass, with alto, tenor and trombone gradually and deliciously folding in over its course.

The ardent appreciation of Horace Silver’s music is evident in this joyous hour of reinterpretation and empathetic new composition – and their quirky, homemade rehearsal movie, recorded at Valley Wood Studio, offers a glimpse of the bristling septet/octet sound!

Released on 1 February 2016, 7 Pieces of Silver is available directly from Hungry Bear Records.


James Lancaster trumpet
Stuart MacDonald 
alto saxophone, baritone saxophone
John McKillup tenor saxophone
Matthew Ball trombone
Andrzej Baranek piano
Paul Smith
Paul Baxter double bass, arrangements
Alan Barnes alto saxophone, clarinet (tracks 2, 3 and 6)

Hungry Bear Records – HBR009 (2016)