by Ian Mann
January 02, 2019
The long wait for Hague’s new album has been well worth it. The writing this time around is both more personal and more wide ranging, and the playing from all five musicians excellent.
“Coming of Age”
(Ooh-Err Records, Ooh-Err 007)
Andy Hague is one of the stalwarts of the Bristol jazz scene in his various roles as multi-instrumentalist, composer, promoter and educator.
He’s probably best known as a talented trumpeter and “Coming of Age” represents his fifth album as a leader in this capacity and is the long awaited follow up to 2012’s Horace Silver inspired “Cross My Palm”, a recording that also paid homage to some of Hague’s trumpet heroes, among them Kenny Dorham, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Wheeler and Dave Douglas.
Hague has worked with saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and trombonist Fred Wesley in the Back To Jazz Big Band and with the big band led by American trumpeter Bobby Shew. As a session musician he has worked with one of Bristol’s biggest musical exports, legendary “trip hop” exponents Portishead, as well as working on TV, theatre and film productions.
Hague is an also an accomplished and increasingly in demand drummer. He was worked in this capacity with small groups led by pianists John Law and Dave Jones.
He is the organiser of the weekly Friday night sessions at Bristol’s long running Be-Bop Jazz Club, currently domiciled at The Bear on the city’s Hotwell Road.
Hague is also an acclaimed educator, leading the well established Bristol Jazz Workshop programme, running a community big band and acting as a tutor on a variety of jazz summer schools and residential weekends. He also acts as an external examiner for the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
Turning now to Hague’s new album, which like its predecessor, features his long running quintet, a unit that includes some of Bristol’s finest jazz musicians, players with national reputations. Ben Waghorn returns on tenor sax alongside pianist Jim Blomfield and drummer Mark Whitlam. The only change is in the double bass department where Chris Jones takes over from Will Harris. “Cross My Palm” also featured guest appearances from vocalist Brigitte Beraha and Get The Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie but this new recording is exclusively the work of the core quintet.
As his credentials suggest Hague’s music is rooted in bebop and hard bop and he has a particular fondness for the ‘Blue Note’ sound. In many ways “Coming of Age” can be seen as a continuation of “Cross My Palm” but there’s an even greater focus on Hague’s writing in this collection of ten new original compositions. Once again Hague’s informative liner notes offer welcome insights into the inspirations behind the individual tunes.
The album commences with “The Displaced”, a tune “built on a rhythmic displacement figure for the bass and drums” but with a title that also references the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis. Musically the piece is a vibrant and colourful updating of the hard bop tradition with Hague and Waghorn delivering fluent but powerful solos on trumpet and tenor respectively. Blomfield, a prolific sideman and a bandleader in his own right, also dazzles with a typically inventive solo.
Following the unbridled energy of the opener “In The Bleak Mid-Autumn” slows things down and represents an effective contrast. Hague describes the piece as “a slow ¾ tune with some quite stark chords, which hopefully conveys an impression of a cold autumn day with bare tress and leaves on the ground”. Indeed there’s a sombre quality about the music, the brooding elegance of the piece enhanced by lyrical and reflective solos from Blomfield and Hague with Waghorn stretching out more forcefully. The leader’s own playing has something of a Kenny Wheeler quality about it, which represents praise indeed.
As on “Cross My Palm” Hague tips his hat to the music of previous jazz eras. “Stepping Down” is described as “an up-tempo swing tune which arose through trying to use John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ harmony to link keys which are minor thirds apart”. Although the debt to Coltrane is readily apparent the music still possesses an agreeable vibrancy and energy with Waghorn tearing into his tenor solo with an obvious relish. Likewise Hague, who is fleet, agile and fluent on trumpet. The leader’s strident solo is followed by an expansive and impressive offering from Blomfield. There’s also a drum feature for the versatile Whitlam.
The title track was actually written for Hague’s son’s eighteenth birthday. The composer describes it as “a kind of anthemic rock ballad” with “the sax and trumpet parts written in the style of a boy/girl vocal duet that you might hear in a big Broadway show number”. With its strong horn melodies and insistent grooves the piece has a suitably uplifting quality and finds room for eloquent solo statements from Hague on trumpet, Jones on melodic double bass, Blomfield at the piano and finally Waghorn on barnstorming tenor.
The title of “Great Minds” came about at a summer school when Hague and saxophonist Ed Jones discovered that each had written a tune based around the same chord sequence but entirely independently of each other. Hague’s piece develops out of Blomfield’s opening piano figure and has something of a Latin-esque feel about it, a quality enhanced by Whitlam’s colourful drumming. Solos come from Hague on trumpet and the consistently impressive Waghorn on tenor, plus the ever inventive Blomfield at the piano. There’s also an extended feature for Whitlam in the tune’s closing stages.
“Abraham” was written as far back as 2003 and honours the occasion when Hague jammed with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra following their appearance at Bristol’s Colston Hall. Swinging and bluesy the piece begins with sound of the leader’s unaccompanied trumpet and also features expansive solos from Waghorn, Blomfield and Jones.
“Loopy” is a more contemporary sounding piece written in ¾ and divided into three sections which are a major third apart, thus giving it a cyclic, perpetual motion feel. Ballad like in mood it features some of the quintet’s most lyrical playing with Hague soloing on velvety flugel horn and exchanging phrases with Waghorn’s more muscular tenor. The saxophonist also features as a soloist, as does Blomfield with a passage of limpid piano supported by Jones’ anchoring bass and Whitlam’s delightfully detailed cymbal work.
The quintet usually include a standard or two in their live performances. However as Hague remarks “the logistics of sorting out the royalties to include one on the CD eluded me”. Instead Hague contented himself with writing a ‘contrafact’ - “here is a bebop tune written on the changes of a favourite standard” he explains.
“ICU” develops out of Jones’ opening bass figure and subsequent dialogue with Whitlam’s drums. Hague deploys a cup mute to give the music an old fashioned, New Orleans type feel, a sound not often heard in contemporary small group jazz. Propelled by Jones’ bass groove the trumpeter takes the first solo and he’s followed by Waghorn’s old school style tenor. Blomfield positively dances around the keyboard, his solo leading into a series of thrilling exchanges between Hague (now un-muted) and Waghorn.
Of “Sing It Loud” Hague comments; “this tune has a very simple chant-like melody over some shifting harmony”. There’s a suitably incantatory feel to the music, a quality enhanced by Waghorn’s powerful, Coltrane inspired soloing. The saxophonist is followed by Hague on trumpet and Blomfield at the piano, both of whom also add substantial flesh to the bones of the composition.
The album closes with “Conflict Resolution” which Hague describes as “another rock anthem piece”. He continues; “after a certain amount of turmoil it resolves itself gently with some long notes in the horns over gently arpeggiated piano chords”. Appropriately it’s Blomfield’s piano that opens the piece, joined by Jones’ deeply resonant bass with Waghorn and Hague combining to state the melodic, anthemic theme. There’s an almost hymnal quality about the piece which includes solos from Hague on flugel and Waghorn on tenor, the pair also combining effectively. Blomfield’s solo is initially thoughtful and lyrical, gradually building in intensity before the piece eventually resolves itself in the manner that Hague describes.
It’s been more than six years since the release of “Cross My Palm” but on this evidence the long wait for Hague’s new album has been well worth it. The writing this time around is both more personal and more wide ranging and the playing from all five musicians excellent. Praise is again due to the production team of Hague and engineer Andrew Lawson at Fieldgate Studio for a pinpoint mix that ensures that each musician is heard with total clarity. Factor in Kate Hague’s beautiful cover photograph of the Albanian coast and you have a very classy package.
It is intended that the quintet will be touring the music from “Coming of Age” during 2019 with dates throughout the UK. Make sure you catch up with them when they’re in your area.
“Coming of Age” is available for streaming and download from Spotify, itunes and Amazon and physical copies from Bandcamp or direct from http://www.andyhague.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus