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

gazhughesmusic.com

Gaz Hughes (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio’ – Gabriel Latchin Trio

Intr Gabriel Latchin

THE SARTORIAL cover-art purity of Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio seems in tune with the pianist’s classic approach to this enduring format – and from the outset, the formative, stylistic influences of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum are frequently evident across eleven numbers which balance four of Latchin’s compositions with seven, elegant interpretations of standards.

A debut solo release from the first-call London-based sideman, it suggests a strong partnership with double bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison; the piano trio environment, as always, shining a shadowless arc light on every technical and artistic nuance from each player. They do it so well, evoking that exciting, first-time experience of the three-faceted acoustic alchemy of, say, Peterson, Bill Evans or George Shearing, and this straight-ahead recording certainly brings heartwarmed cheer.

Amongst the increasingly colourful hybridisation of jazz, bebop remains effulgent in the right hands, and both Edgar Sampson’s Stompin’ at the Savoy and Cole Porter’s Can’t We Be Friends are interpreted with panache, the latter providing the space for Latchin’s precise, walking stride and carefree, high-line embellishments. The pianist’s ability, also, to compositionally complement some of those familiar time-honoured tunes is a great strength, his own brightly swinging, contrary-motion Carlora perfectly at home alongside a snappy reading of It Had To Be You.

Classy gems abound here, including Lush Life, whose piano ornaments and low, chromatic descents are not unlike those in Billy Strayhorn’s own recordings; the gorgeously slow-rolling blues of Lover Man which, perhaps more than any other in this selection, picks up on Oscar’s delicious characteristics; and sumptuous harmonies in If I Only Had a Brain (from ‘The Wizard of Oz’), dancing to the crisp soft-shuffle of Farmer’s and Morrison’s rhythm.

The changes in Frank Loesser’s ‘Slow Boat to China’ are a popular basis for new composition and, intentionally, those same climbing phrases in Latchin’s Off the Latch (‘grand title) are recognisable – an ebullient, sparkling showcase indeed. Trane Hopping – one of the pianist’s early blues, inspired by John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ – swings with great parity through the trio (a pleasure to hear the exuberance of Tom Farmer here, away from his more contemporary project adventures); and Blues for Billy, Latchin’s tribute to the great drummer Billy Higgins, feels like a memory of a favourite classic-in-the-tradition with its perky acciaccatura and major/minor piano personality.

This CD has been spinning for some time… and never loses its sheen, nor its smile.

Released on 15 September 2017, Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio is available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Gabriel Latchin piano
Tom Farmer bass
Josh Morrison drums

gabriellatchin.com

Alys Jazz – AJ 1501 (2017)