Classic Tunefulness from Nick Hempton
File this one under melodic jazz composition – really, really good, interesting tunes and tasteful playing, classic late 50s/early 60s style. On saxophonistNick Hempton’s new album The Business, the blues is always lurking somewhere, if not always centerstage, one reason why the hooks are so strong. Hempton goes for a clean, uncluttered tone and favors melody over ostentatious blowing. The first-class band on this session includes Art Hiraharaon piano, Yotam Silberstein (who also appears on Jordan Young’s excellent new quartet album) on guitar, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums. Hempton has a thing for minor keys – his tunes often have a sardonic wit and a refreshing unpredictability, and the band rises to the occasion.
The first track is titled Flapjacks in Belo, samba-tinged with a long Hempton solo, Hirahara in late-night expansive mood, with a trick ending (something that will recur here, very enjoyably). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek Art Is in the Groove is a brisk retro swing tune seen through the prism of the early 70s, Hirahara delivering a period-perfect Joe Sample-ish solo on Rhodes, letting those reverb tones ring out for all they’re worth. One of only two covers here, Don Redman’s Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You gets going reaaaal slow, Hempton stays low and cool but then crescendos almost imperceptibly. The other, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s From Bechet, Byas and Fats is a real blast: it’s got a bass solo that’s almost a banjo tune, a lickety-split, sly Hirahara solo at doublespeed and a deliciously dark, bluesily climactic outro. It’s obviously a live showstopper for these guys.
Another real stunner here is the offhandedly moody Press One for Bupkis, Hirahara’s crescendo hitting the spot very satisfyingly, Hempton taking his time winding it out with suspenseful ambiguity. Likewise, the brooding jazz waltz The Wading Game has Panascia carrying its weight with an unexpected grace, Hirahara going out into the dark and coming back joyously, Hempton ratcheting up the intensity with a vividly bittersweet solo. The pensive ballad Encounter in E artfully works variations on a subtly modal bass theme up to a slinky bounce, Panascia’s matter-of-factly wary solo one of the album’s high points. With its casual sway, Cold Spring Fever is a showcase for both Silberstein’s rhythm playing (he goes into staggered ska for a bit underneath Hempton’s hazily acidic melody) as well as a nimble solo. The catchy, playful Not Here for a Haircut alternates between scurrying shuffle and straight-up swing – Hirahara once again can’t wait to get in on the fun and flip the script on the listener. The album ends on a jaunty note with the pretty self-explanatory Carry on up the Blues. Yet another winner from the Posi-Tone label, who are really on a roll this year.