by Ian Mann
June 19, 2019
“All Good Things” demonstrates the increasing maturity of the quintet as performers and Hitchcock as a writer. He takes the virtues of the bebop and hard bop eras and gives them a contemporary twist.
Alex Hitchcock Quintet
“All Good Things”
(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 572)
Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (piano & Fender Rhodes),
Joe Downard (bass), Jay Davis (drums).
Alex Hitchcock is a London born saxophonist, composer and bandleader who is generally considered to be something of a rising star on the UK jazz scene. He completed an English degree at Cambridge University before embarking on the Jazz Course at London’s Royal Academy of Music as a post graduate. Here he studied with leading saxophonists Iain Ballamy, Julian Siegel, Martin Speake, James Allsopp and Barak Schmool, plus pianist and course leader Pete Churchill.
Hitchcock graduated in 2016 and has since been making a name for himself in a variety of musical contexts. Among those with whom he has worked are trumpeter Nick Smart, bassists Laurence Cottle, Misha Mullov-Abbado and Liran Donin, trombonist Dennis Rollins and fellow saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Stan Sulzmann ,Art Themen and Tom Smith. He is also a member of Resolution 88, the funk quartet led by pianist and composer Tom O’Grady. Internationally he has collaborated with American drummer John Hollenbeck and the Franco/Belgian duo of drummer Andre Charlier and pianist Benoit Sourisse.
Hitchcock is also a talented and versatile large ensemble player whose credits include the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, the Royal Academy of Music Big Band, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Laurence Cottle Big Band and the Andy Panayi Big Band. He is also a member of the increasingly lauded Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a hugely talented collective of young London based jazz musicians, many of them graduates of the Academy. I was fortunate enough to witness an exciting performance by the PJO at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. Hitchcock appears on the PJO’s excellent début album “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes”, released earlier in 2019. Review here;
Hitchcock has recently joined forces with fellow tenor saxophonist Tom Barford to form the group AuB (pronounced Orb), a chordless quartet that also features bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren. AuB is due to release its debut on the Edition record label in early 2020.
Hitchcock is also a great organiser and general ‘mover and shaker’ who has previously co-ordinated the jazz programme at Camden’s award winning Green Note venue. He has worked as an Ambassador for the National Youth Jazz Collective, and in 2015 worked with promoters Serious to produce concerts at London’s Rich Mix venue through their Young & Serious programme. A genuine fan of the music he’s often to be found in the audience at gigs, supporting the work of fellow musicians.
Despite all his other musical activities Hitchcock’s main creative focus is his own quintet, a band that has developed an impressive reputation for the quality of its live performances. Shows at Reading and Shrewsbury have been reviewed elsewhere on this site and in 2018 the quintet made its recorded début on a live EP documenting performances at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals.
“All Good Things” represents the quintet’s first studio album and features Hitchcock on tenor alongside his regular working group of James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (piano & Fender Rhodes),
Joe Downard (bass) and Jay Davis (drums).
The album appears on the Spanish label Fresh Sound New Talent and the packaging includes liner notes written by the highly respected jazz author and broadcaster Helen Mayhew – plus a quote from yours truly! It is produced by fellow saxophonist Alex Garnett.
The recording features seven original compositions by Hitchcock that have, in Mayhew’s words, been “thoroughly road tested” at British club gigs and at UK and European festivals, among them London, Cambridge, Love Supreme and Umbria Jazz. Indeed some of the pieces that appear on this recording were featured at the Reading and Shrewsbury shows alluded to earlier. That said there’s little overlap with the previous live recording with “Context” the only tune to appear on both releases. Hitchcock acknowledges the influence of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Jasper Hoiby and the band Kneebody on his writing, but ultimately his quintet ends up sounding very different to any of these.
The new album commences with “Hamburg 2010”, an intriguing composition that leads Mayhew to compare Hitchcock’s writing with that of Wayne Shorter. A twisting theme swims in and out of focus, punctuated by passages of brushed drums and double bass, before the piece gradually begins to take shape with the blending of tenor and trumpet particularly effective. The piece develops slowly and organically with the leader taking the first full length solo on tenor, patiently honing his ideas as his playing begins to increase in intensity. Hitchcock then hands over to Will Barry for an expansive acoustic piano solo that also moves up through the gears, from a flowing lyricism to a perky percussiveness. A punchy and powerful ensemble section follows before the mood changes and the piece concludes with a gently ruminative flugel solo from Copus. This is a piece that ebbs and flows and demonstrates plenty of variety and contrast during its eight minute duration. An impressive start.
“Mobius” is more forceful from the off, with Downard’s powerfully plucked bass setting the tone for the piece. However there’s still plenty of subtlety about the music, particularly in the exchanges between Hitchcock and Copus as they share and trade ideas in thrilling fashion. Hitchcock says of the piece;
“James is a really inspiring musician to play with, one of his explosive solos can lift an entire gig to another level. I wanted to write a cyclical form that we could trade on and overlap seamlessly while playing on alternate sections. The title comes from a Mobius strip, which you can follow all the way round both sides and end up in the same place”.
Mission accomplished then, but the piece isn’t just about the two horns, there’s another fluent and inventive acoustic piano solo from the excellent Barry, plus something of a feature for the similarly impressive Davis at the drums.
“Mint” features the sound of electric keyboards for the first time as Barry supplies minimalist style backing to the long note melody lines sketched by Hitchcock and Copus on the opening theme. Davis adds a contemporary, broken beat style drum groove and features strongly throughout. The mood of this performance is initially thoughtful and ruminative with the composer delivering a lengthy, slow burning solo on tenor that is rich and inventive and totally captures the listener’s attention. This is followed by an injection of pace as Davis switches to a more conventional jazz groove to fuel a rousing closing ensemble section.
“Adjective Animal” also begins in contemplative fashion with a moody theme led by piano, bass and brushed drums, these joined by a woozy blend of tenor and trumpet. Around two minutes in the mood changes abruptly with the introduction of electric keyboards and another contemporary style drum groove. Davis again features strongly throughout with Hitchcock commenting; - “Jay always finds new ways to approach the same material over the course of a run of performances, making sure that the texture and feel of the music is always fresh and original”. Meanwhile the leader himself digs in with a powerful tenor solo with Barry following on trilling Fender Rhodes. This is a typically multi-faceted Hitchcock composition, embracing several changes of mood, style and pace but doing so naturally and organically.
The title of “A38” was inspired not by the road (upon which this hard working quintet must at some time have travelled) but by a visit to Budapest and a river trip aboard Boat A38. An attractive and suitably buoyant theme features Hitchcock’s tenor and Barry’s piano and there’s also some excellent ensemble playing. Bassist Downard emerges as a featured soloist, singing along with his melodic inventions, and there’s also a fluent excursion from Copus.
“Sorry Not Sorry” was inspired by the Boots Riley film “Sorry To Bother You” and also features Downard in a prominent role as he and Davis introduce the piece, establishing a rhythmic framework around which Hitchcock and Copus sketch darting melodies. Barry features on Rhodes and shares the soloing duties with Copus on trumpet. There’s some characteristically accomplished ensemble playing too.
The album concludes with a studio version of “Context”, a composition that previously appeared on the quintet’s live EP. Barry introduces the piece on unaccompanied acoustic piano, later combining with the horns of Hitchcock and Copus in a highly sophisticated ‘chamber jazz’ trio passage. Barry then solos in more conventional fashion, accompanied by double bass and drums. Hitchcock and Copus subsequently return but this final item is very much Barry’s show and the classically trained pianist responds brilliantly.
Following the impressive and well received live EP this first ‘proper’ album by the Alex Hitchcock Quintet builds upon that success to deliver a genuinely major statement. Hitchcock takes the virtues of the bebop and hard bop eras and gives them a contemporary twist. His writing is colourful and varied, adding influences as diverse as classical music and hip hop to the classic jazz sound to create his own version of ‘post bop’.
His compositions are rich and multi-faceted, full of colour and texture and consistently unfolding and mutating. In this way his music consistently holds the listener’s attention while staying true to the conventional jazz virtues. There is some outstanding soloing here with all five musicians impressing individually. Even more importantly this is a well balanced group with a wealth of gigging experience behind them who gel superbly on the ensemble passages. “All Good Things” demonstrates the increasing maturity of the quintet as performers and Hitchcock as a writer. Let us hope that it achieves the success that it deserves.
The Alex Hitchcock Quintet is currently on tour with the remaining dates scheduled as follows;
25th June Spotted Dog BIRMINGHAM
26th June Flute & Tankard CARDIFF
27th June Soundcellar POOLE
3rd July Pizza Express Jazz LONDON
11th July Modern Jazz Club CAMBRIDGE
19th July Arts Barge YORK
20th July Peggy’s Skylight NOTTINGHAM
From Alex Hitchcock via email;
I just wanted to say thanks very much for the review you wrote of my quintet’s album. Apart from really appreciating your kind words about the music and playing, I was really flattered and pleased that you chose to write about the music in such detail – it seems so rare to find that in a review at the moment! Hope to see you soon, and thanks so much again.