Light At Night
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A début album that doesn't shout for your attention but instead imposes itself gradually through its sophistication and intelligence.
“Light At Night”
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4631)
The young drummer and composer Dave Hamblett hails from the city of Derby, a surprising hotbed of jazz talent that has also produced saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, pianist Tom Cawley, drummer Josh Blackmore and vibraphonist Corey Mwamba. Hamblett is now making his mark on the London jazz scene after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music with first class honours in 2010 under the guidance of tutors Nick Smart and Pete Churchill plus drum specialists Martin France and Jeff Williams.
I’ve seen Hamblett perform live on a couple of occasions, firstly as part of pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in March 2012 and then with trumpeter Abram Wilson at an excellent Cheltenham Jazz festival appearance just a couple of months later. He has also worked with the Yuriy Galkin Nonet (appearing on the recording “Nine Of A Kind” for the F-ire Presents imprint), the F-ire Collective Large Ensemble, and former tutor Nick Smart’s Jazz Matanzas. Hamblett was also Ivo Neame’s drummer of choice for the superb octet album “Yatra” (Edition Records, 2012).
The sextet that appears on Hamblett’s début recording as a leader represents the main creative outlet for Hamblett the composer. The all original programme teams the drummer with the twin tenor saxophones of Josh Arcoleo and Joe Wright with the latter also doubling on soprano. Ivo Neame returns the compliment by appearing on piano and keyboards with the group being completed by guitarist Alex Munk and acoustic bassist Calum Gourlay. Hamblett dedicates the album to the memory of the late, great Abram Wilson and also to that of former Academy student Richard Turner, another trumpeter, another who died at a tragically young age.
Hamblett’s music is a kind of elegant post bop with its roots in the tradition but with a thorough awareness of contemporary developments. There’s a strong narrative quality to the writing that begins with the atmospheric “fanfare” which introduces the opening “Dark Sky”. Later the piece opens out to embrace Hamblett’s contemporary drum grooves with rich, consistently interesting instrumental voicings coming both from the double horns and from the blend of keyboards and guitar. Neame plays both acoustic and electric keyboards here, his tone contrasting well with Munk’s scratchy guitar.
“Zoom Out; Part 1” features Munk adopting a cleaner guitar sound but the piece is essentially a feature for tenor saxophone ( the album cover doesn’t delineate who takes the punchy but fluent solo and I’m not going to guess) and electric piano with Neame delivering an absorbing solo on an instrument that he has hitherto played infrequently. The piece segues pretty much straight into “Zoom Out; Part 2” with Neame on Rhodes still at the helm, I’d hazard a guess that the two tracks will be played as a single entity on the group’s forthcoming tour (details at end of review). We also hear from the other saxophonist plus Munk on guitar. All the time Hamblett’s subtly colourful drumming pushes and probes, offering great support to the soloists and sitting at the heart of the imaginatively arranged ensemble passages. He even affords himself something of a feature towards the close.
“Lighthouse” begins with unaccompanied saxophone, the solemness of the timbre almost putting one in mind of “The Last Post”. Subsequently things lighten up as the saxophonist delivers a beautiful and expressive solo gently increasing in intensity before Neame takes over on acoustic piano displaying all the flowingly inventive qualities that we have come to expect from him.
“The Park” broods atmospherically, initially based around Neame’s piano leitmotif with further rich textures from the horns plus eerie guitar sound-washes from Munk. Subsequently the piece ebbs and flows, building through an inventive and lyrical Neame piano solo but overall the piece impresses most by the way Hamblett draws the voices of his group together in an accomplished display of ensemble playing.
Many of Hamblett’s themes are relatively simple with the interest subsequently generated by the way in which the melodies are treated harmonically and rhythmically. It’s perhaps appropriate that“Light At Night” is a slow burner of an album, it takes a few listens to appreciate the subtleties of Hamblett’s writing and arranging. “Hero’s Theme” is a case in point as the saxophone solo unfolds above an increasingly sophisticated rhythmic backdrop. This is followed by further passages of superb ensemble playing.
The title may suggest otherwise but “Guard Down” is the most impressionistic piece on the record and featuring further atmospheric and lyrical brooding with Munk’s guitar at its most ethereal. The piece includes a rare solo feature for the consistently excellent Calum Gourlay, surely one of the most adaptable young bass players around. There’s also some delightfully feathery soprano from Wright (so much easier to identify) plus the customary colourful ensemble passages.
The title track features an uplifting theme punctuated by passages of spikier playing including a drum feature in which Hamblett’s navigation of the kit is complemented by Munk’s guitar atmospherics. The guitarist is also featured at length, his highly individual guitar sound brings a welcome contemporary touch to the album as a whole and he deploys his effects with imagination and intelligence throughout.
Unlike some of his young contemporaries Hamblett has chosen to release a début album that doesn’t shout for your attention but instead imposes itself gradually through its sophistication and intelligence. There are occasions when it can sound just a little too tame and orthodox and rather too much like a compositional exercise but regular listening reveals hidden depths and one finds oneself increasingly drawn into Hamblett’s compositions and arrangements, some of which are often deceptively complex. Of course it helps to have a hand picked team around you and the standard of musicianship is excellent throughout. Munk’s is probably the name I was least familiar with but I was very much impressed by his contribution. Engineers George Murphy, Philip Bagenal and Tyler McDiarmid also deserve praise for a pinpoint mix that allows every texture and nuance to be appreciated, quality engineering and production is increasingly becoming a Whirlwind trademark. “Light At Night” exhibits great potential, let’s hope that Hamblett can keep the group together to record a follow up.
The Dave Hamblett group launch “Light At Night” at The Forge in Camden, London on February 8th 2013 before embarking on a short UK tour. Full tour dates below;
3-7 Delancey Street, Camden, London NW1 7NL
020 7383 7808
St Lawrence Chapel,
Lawrence Lane, TQ13 7DD
The Beaver Inn,
Irsha Street, Appledore, Devon EX39 1RY
Castle Street, Cardiff CF10 1BS
029 2049 6802
303 Sharowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZF
Vortex Jazz Club,
Dalston Culture House, 11 Gillett Square, London N16 8AZ
020 7254 4097
20 New Briggate, Leeds LS1 6NU
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.