by Ian Mann
July 01, 2012
In the overcrowded field of the piano trio "Legentis" stands out as a major piece of work both for the quality of Hutton's writing and for the excellence of the performances.
Alex Hutton Trio
(F-ire Presents F-IRECD 53)
Originally from Sheffield but now based in London Alex Hutton is a gifted pianist and composer who remains somewhat underrated on the UK jazz scene. “Legentis”, his third album as a leader deserves to win him greater recognition. It builds upon the success of his previous trio albums for 33 Records “Cross That Bridge” (2005) and the critically acclaimed “Songs From The Seven Hills” (2008), a musical portrait of his native Sheffield. Both these albums were recorded in the piano trio format with bassist Michael Janisch with Simon Lea occupying the drum chair for “Crossing” and Enzo Zirilli taking over for “Seven Hills”. It was the latter album that first brought Hutton to my attention and although I’ve not previously written about his playing I’ve always enjoyed his music as a fan.
“Legentis” sees Hutton working with a new all star trio featuring Russian born bassist Yuri Golubev (who has also worked in the piano trio format with Gwilym Simcock) and ex pat Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis, one of the most in demand musicians on the UK jazz scene. If anything “Legentis” is even more ambitious than “Seven Hills” with Hutton adding extra colour and texture to his writing not only through Golubev’s arco bass skills, he’s a master with the bow, but also through the use of guest musicians Heidi Vogel (voice), Jim Rattigan (French horn) and Keith Thompson (flute & cor anglais). Hutton is an able and adventurous composer who draws on a variety of influences ranging from classical to punk. He’s a writer of catchy hooks and grooves but develops these sometimes simple ideas in interesting ways and in players of the quality of Golubev and Sirkis he has the perfect partners with which to do this. Both shine throughout the recording with their talents more than matched by the brilliance of Hutton’s own playing, classically trained but with a great pop sensibility and a jazz improviser’s instinct he’s a fine all round pianist with an awesome technical ability.
The new album consists of nine Hutton originals and gets off to a cracking start with “J.J”, Hutton’s dedication to Stranglers bassist Jean Jacques Burnel, an immediate acknowledgement of that punk influence and a composition that Hutton describes as being “something anthemic or heroic”. The piece begins in deceptively quiet fashion with the refined tones of Hutton’s piano, Golubev’s rich, cello like arco bass and Heidi Vogel’s wordless vocals. But this is merely a prelude to the main event as Hutton sets up an urgent, percussive piano hook that is embellished by Sirkis’ driving drumming, Vogel’s soaring, mysterious vocals and the swirl of Golubev’s bowed bass. The piece is a roller coaster ride of fluctuating dynamics with Golubev undertaking a dexterous, resonant pizzicato solo accompanied only by the shimmer of Sirkis’ cymbals. Vogel’s sinuous, quasi operatic vocal line then returns, embellished by Hutton’s piano and the trio gradually ramp up the energy again with Sirkis’ explosive drumming a particular highlight. Finally the energy is dissipated and the piece ends as it began with the sound of Golubev’s arco bass. It’s a composition that embodies all of Hutton’s qualities, mixing classical techniques and flourishes with a manic, punk like energy. It has all the pizazz of Neil Cowley’s best work and arguably a greater subtlety.
Hutton claims that “The Legentis Script”, effectively the title track, is partly inspired by the arranging ideas of Vince Mendoza, John Williams and Elmer Bernstein and that the music is meant to be evocative of a world in which culture is celebrated. It’s rare to find such breadth of colour on what is nominally a piano trio record and Hutton deploys his three guests, Vogel, again singing wordlessly, Rattigan and Thompson to good textural effect. Rattigan in particular is astonishing, one of a handful musicians who can transform the French horn into an effective jazz/improvising instrument. Hutton also shines on this mid tempo piece with his Jarrett inspired soloing and there are also impressive features for Golubev and Sirkis.
“Clouds” features the trio as a stand alone entity on a highly descriptive and evocative composition that takes a “simple, melancholic folk theme” and expands upon it with “some beautifully lyrical soloing”. In this pared down setting the interaction between the core members of the trio is more palpable with Golubev giving a subtle but virtuoso display on pizzicato bass accompanied by Hutton’s sympathetic piano chording and the quiet chatter of Sirkis’ drums. Hutton himself is flowing and lyrical on a piece that drifts as languidly across the summer sky as the clouds of its title.
The next piece, “Then There Were Four”, couldn’t be more different. Despite the title it’s a highly charged, groove based trio romp that recalls Hutton’s time spent in rock bands and bears superficial similarities to the music of Neil Cowley, The Bad Plus and E.S.T., with Golubev’s bowed bass evoking comparisons with the latter. Nevertheless it’s not all hammer and tongs, there are brief lyrical passages and a freer central section featuring Hutton’s piano probings. It’s highly exciting but also highly intelligent.
The brief “Hymn II (We The People”, a duet between Hutton and Keith Thompson on the rarely heard cor anglais, is a delightful palette cleanser, a classically inspired interlude that brings a classical combination of discipline and beauty to the proceedings.
“Wonder Why” deploys what Hutton describes as “a solid retro rock groove in 7/8” over which he sketches a simple, spacious melody with plenty of space for improvisation. The solidity of the groove and the airy lyricism of the melody is a beguiling combination and another good example of Hutton’s acute musical intelligence. He likes every composition to be self contained and to tell a story but has still come up with a cohesive and convincing album. Other delights on this particular piece include Golubev’s dexterously plucked solo and Sirkis’ solid drumming.
“Farewell 296” is an abstract ballad with the space to give Golubev another opportunity to give full rein to his talents. Hutton is at his most lyrical and Sirkis’ performance is full of colour and nuance, there’s so much more to his playing than mere power and technique. This is a piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM album.
The brooding “Crying Wolf” is another showcase for the extraordinary Rattigan who features prominently alongside Golubev, Hutton and Sirkis, the latter crowning the piece with a bravura drum feature.
Hutton ends the album on an elegiac note with “A Norsk Tale”, a delightful composition for solo piano that takes its inspiration from Norwegian classical composer Edvard Grieg’s (1843-1907) collection of piano miniatures the “Lyric Pieces”.
In the overcrowded field of the piano trio “Legentis” stands out as a major piece of work both for the quality of Hutton’s writing and for the excellence of the performances. Hutton brings a rare imagination and energy to the format and his use of additional instruments works brilliantly. However the trio performances also cover an impressive emotional and dynamic range on an album that stands out from its many peers. “Legentis” is a record that deserves to be widely heard and demands that Hutton’s trio be regarded as one of the UK’s finest. Club promoters and Festival organisers please take note as according to Hutton’s website his diary is less than full other than a free early evening appearance at Manchester Jazz Festival on Wednesday 18th July 2012.
No piece on Hutton should fail to reference his role as a broadcaster. The following is extracted from Hutton’s own website http://www.alexhuttonmusic.com
Besides his stage presence as a performer, since 2010 Hutton has co-presented and produced a weekly radio show on Hayes FM (91.8) focusing on the London jazz scene promoting new music as well as delving into England’s rich Jazz history. The Jazzshow with Alex Hutton and Kate Winter is recorded at Ealing Studios and broadcast on Hayes FM 91.8 (Sundays 8pm-9pm) and Global City Radio (Mondays 7pm - 8pm).
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