by Ian Mann
December 31, 2023
“A Consequence In Three Parts” confirms Hunter’s qualities as a composer but also provides ample opportunity for plenty of adventurous improvisation within the written framework.
Johnny Hunter Quartet
“A Consequence In Three Parts”
(Efpi Records FP039)
Johnny Hunter – drums, compositions, Mark Hanslip – tenor saxophone, Graham South – trumpet, Seth Bennett – double bass
“A Consequence In Three Parts” is the fifth recording to be released by this ‘chordless’ quartet led by the Manchester based drummer, composer and improviser Johnny Hunter.
The first JHQ album, “Appropriations”, was released on Efpi Records in 2013 and featured a group comprised of Hunter, trumpeter Graham South, saxophonist Ben Watte and bassist Stewart Wilson. This line up also appeared on 2016’s excellent “While We Still Can”, also released by Efpi.
The Covid period saw the release of two digital recordings, “Studies In Lockdown” and “Studies In Lockdown II”, both of which featured the current JHQ line up with Hunter and South now joined by tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip and bassist Seth Bennett, both regular Hunter collaborators. The albums explore the possibilities (and pitfalls) of creating fully improvised music in real time from remote locations. For “Studies In Lockdown II” Hunter invited the visual artist Gillian Wheatley to create a response to the music, this taking the form of a series of videos.
Away from the JHQ Hunter is a busy and versatile musician whose skills are very much in demand. He has worked extensively with his brother, guitarist Anton Hunter, appearing with Anton’s trio and with Anton’s large ensemble Article XI. The brothers also team up with saxophonist and bassoonist Mick Beck in the improvising trio Beck Hunters. They are also part of the jazz/ska/dub sextet Skamel.
Hunter has often been featured as a member of the various bands led by, or associated with, saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts, these including Sloth Racket, Favourite Animals, Word of Moth, Spinningwork and the Anglo-Swiss sextet MoonMot.
Hunter works in a duo with pianist Adam Fairhall, the pair releasing the album “Winifred Atwell Revisited” in early 2022. Review here;
Hunter and Fairhall are also part of the improvising trio Fragments, alongside bassist Seth Bennett This trio’s eponymous début album was released by Northern Contemporary in March 2019. Review here;
Hunter and Fairhall, together with saxophonist Mark Hanslip, comprise Revival Room, an ‘organ trio’ that features Fairhall playing a Hammond B3. This trio’s eponymous album was released by Efpi in 2018.
Fairhall also plays organ with Spacefood, a trio that also features Hunter and guitarist David Birchall. Drawing on the 1970s for musical inspiration this line up released the intriguingly titled album “Once They Get Here (Taps Head) It’s Game Over Man” in 2022.
Hunter is a regular member of bassist John Pope’s quintet and has also collaborated with a wide range of other musicians, among them vocalist Nishla Smith, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, bassists Gavin Barras, Olie Brice and Michael Bardon, guitarist Chris Sharkey, saxophonists Dee Byrne, Nat Birchall, Pete Lyons, Michael Moore and Martin Archer and pianists Richard Jones, Misha Gray, John Donegan and Laura Cole. He has also drummed for the large ensemble the Manchester Jazz Collective.
He has collaborated and recorded with Liverpudlian musicians in the bands Blind Monk Trio and Marley Chingus and has recorded albums with both.
Returning to the JHQ and this latest recording, which draws inspiration from the music of piano-less jazz ensembles led by such musician / composers as saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Chris Speed, John Zorn, Joe Henderson, Ornette Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and Joe Harriott, plus trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Jim Black.
For this latest recording Hunter also draws on the ‘twelve tone’ techniques pioneered by the Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) Schoenberg’s music is generally considered to be ‘difficult’ or ‘austere’ but there’s little evidence of this in the sound of the JHQ. Don’t let the Schoenberg influence, or the rather academic sounding album title, put you off.
As with the second “Studies In Lockdown” release Hunter invites responses to the music from practitioners of other artistic disciplines. Thus the album packaging features the distinctive artwork of Angela Guyton, whose work has graced several previous Efpi releases. There is also a booklet of poetry written by the pianist, composer and improviser Laura Cole. Hunter and Cole are long collaborators, Hunter having recorded with Cole’s Metamorphic ensemble on the album “The Two Fridas” (2013). More recently Cole and John Pope guested with the Beck Hunters trio on the album “Wolves To Water” (2023).
Cole has written a poem in response to each individual composition and the tunes and the poems share the same titles. Her words are genuinely poetic and rich in terms of imagery, with some evocative descriptions of the natural world and of the dawn of humanity.
The album commences with the fourteen minute composition “Emergence”, which begins in evocative fashion with the sounds of softly blown trumpet, bowed bass and the gentle rustle of Hunter’s drums and percussion. It sounds like an awakening, the gradual returning to consciousness after deep slumber. When Bennett puts down the bow and establishes a plucked bass groove the transition to full wakefulness is complete. He and Hunter combine to create the platform for a graceful trumpet / sax melody which serves as the main theme, but the music swiftly moves into more abstract, improvised areas, with Bennett again taking up the bow. Out of this emerges a fluent and increasingly powerful trumpet solo, with South’s explorations underpinned by a fluid bass and drum groove. Eventually South’s solo subsides, leaving only bass and drums, the dialogue between Bennett and Hunter providing the bridge into Hanslip’s tenor solo, tentative and ruminative at first, but becoming increasingly confident and animated as it progresses. With Bennett’s bass anchoring proceedings Hunter provides a neatly energetic, finely detailed and highly inventive drum commentary. Eventually the main theme returns, played in unison by trumpet and tenor, before the piece finally resolves itself in the same atmospheric manner in which it began.
At twelve and a half minutes duration “Consequence I” is another substantial piece of work. Things commence with a lively, Coleman-esque theme, first played by the horns in unison before they diverge to explore various contrapuntal ideas in a lively series of exchanges. Bennett and Hunter provide a vigorous rhythmic momentum, which also provides the platform for the individual horn solos, with Hanslip going first. I’ve always considered Hanslip to be one of the most melodic of the free jazz saxophonists and that’s a quality that informs his playing here. The influence of bebop and hard bop is never too far away, and this also informs South’s trumpet solo, another excellent offering. There’s a move into more obvious free jazz territory with a spiky improvised section that features bowed bass alongside trumpet, sax and drums, as the members of the quartet bounce ideas off each other, with the horn players sometimes exploring extended techniques. Things become even more abstract when Bennett puts down the bow, allowing Hunter to roam around the kit before the horns return, squalling belligerently. Stylistically it’s essentially a piece of two halves, the first relatively conventional, the second defiantly experimental.
“Consequence II” is shorter and cools things down with its atmospheric intro featuring the melancholy sound of South’s trumpet and the leader’s sympathetic drum commentary. The mood remains contemplative as Hunter, South and Bennett continue to improvise, subtly exchanging ideas while retaining an air of fragility. On the most loosely structured piece thus far there are occasional moments that threaten to ruffle the waters and a theme of sorts also emerges, with Hanslip eventually adding his tenor to the equation as the music gradually becomes more animated.
“Consequence III” features an ebullient written theme that again combines hints of bebop / hard bop, as filtered via Ornette Coleman. South’s bright trumpeting is prominent in the opening theme section but the first featured soloist is Hanslip who delivers a fluent and exultant solo on tenor. South follows on trumpet, supported by the nimble rhythms of bass and drums. Hunter then takes over for a lively solo drum feature. Cole’s words describe a celebration and there’s certainly an air of irrepressible joyousness about this piece.
Appropriately the album concludes with “Epilogue”, a more reflective offering that features a softer side of the quartet’s playing, with Hanslip’s gently ruminative tenor sax solo subtly shadowed by bass and drums. A more formal written section follows, featuring the flugel like sound of South’s trumpet alongside tenor sax, bass and brushed drums. The often beautiful closing section features a combination of trumpet, bowed bass and drums / percussion, the final moments possessed of an almost hymn like quality.
“A Consequence In Three Parts” builds on the success of the two previous JHQ albums. It’s conceptual nature also recalls Hunter’s excellent 2020 album “Pale Blue Dot”, a four part suite based on the writings of cosmologist Carl Sagan that was recorded by a sextet featuring Hunter, Hanslip and Bennett plus string players Gemma Bass (violin), Aby Vulliamy (viola) and Michael Bardon (cello).
“A Consequence In Three Parts” confirms Hunter’s qualities as a composer but also provides ample opportunity for plenty of adventurous improvisation within the written framework. In South, Hanslip and Bennett he has three outstanding musicians who are capable of bringing his ideas to full fruition. Meanwhile Hunter himself is an inventive and imaginative drummer with a style that is very much his own. Recording engineers Anton Hunter and Alex Bonney also deserve credit for making everybody sound good.
All five recordings by the Johnny Hunter Quartet are available via the Efpi Records Bandcamp page;
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