by Ian Mann
January 25, 2022
An excellent start to the New Year for Cheltenham Jazz Club. Amazingly this was Hague’s first visit to the Club, but on this showing it probably won’t be his last.
Andy Hague’s ‘Double Standards’ Quartet, Cheltenham Jazz Club, The Victory Club, Cheltenham, Glos. 24/01/2022
Andy Hague – trumpet, flugelhorn, Jonathan Taylor – piano, Henrik Jensen – double bass, Gwilym Jones – drums
Cheltenham Jazz Club’s first event of 2022 saw the Bristol based musician Andy Hague visiting the town with his ‘ Double Standards’ quartet. This line up recorded the album “Release”, issued in early 2021 on Hague’s own Ooh Err imprint.
Hague is one of the stalwarts of the Bristol jazz scene in his various roles as multi-instrumentalist, composer, promoter and educator. Primarily a trumpeter he has released six albums as a leader including 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.
Both “Release” and “Cross My Palm” are reviewed elsewhere on this site, as is the excellent quintet recording “Coming Of Age”, which was issued in 2018.
In addition to his Quintet, Double Standards and Silverado (Horace Silver) projects Hague also leads the instrumental salsa band Conjunto Gringo and the Andy Hague Big Band, with both ensembles featuring the cream of Bristol’s jazz talent.
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.
He is the organiser of the weekly Friday night sessions at Bristol’s long running Be-Bop Jazz Club, currently domiciled at The Hen & Chicken in the city’s Southville District.
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.
The multi-talented Hague is also an accomplished and increasingly in demand drummer. He has worked in this role with small groups led by pianists John Law and Dave Jones and has appeared in this capacity on three recordings by the latter. Indeed all of my most recent sightings of Hague have been of him performing on his ‘second instrument’ as the drummer with the Dave Jones Quartet, the most recent of these being at Kidderminster Jazz Club in July 2021. After a long gap it was good to see him playing trumpet and flugel again, and to be reminded of just how skilled a brass player he is.
Tonight also represented my first visit to Cheltenham Jazz Club for some time and I’m indebted to club officials Gil Emery and Ken Sheather for inviting me along. Ken had emailed to ask me if I would be okay with them quoting from my review of “Release” when publicising the gig, which of course I was more happy with. Having enjoyed the album so much I then enquired in turn if the Club would be willing to issue a press pass for me to cover the live show and I’m delighted to say that they felt able to accommodate me.
The show was at the Victory Club, just a short distance away from the town centre. This is one of two venues used by the Club, the other being the Irving Studio Theatre at Cheltenham’s famous Everyman Theatre.
On arriving at the Victory Club I realised that I had visited the venue several years previously as a ‘punter’ for a Cheltenham Jazz Club event featuring pianist Jonathan Gee and his band. The Victory Club is a social club for ex-service personnel and their families. It occupies Burlington House, an impressive Regency building. Jazz events are held in the Ballroom, a well appointed performance space that lends itself well to live music. On a cold January night the room was warm and welcoming, as was the reception that I was given by Gil, Ken and the other Jazz Club members, plus the Victory Club staff. Another plus was the presence of an upright acoustic piano, which was skilfully deployed by the quartet’s Jonathan Taylor.
In his liner notes to “Release” Hague explained that the album was very much a product of the Covid 19 pandemic.
“The group has never had a fixed line up, and over the past seven months of lockdowns and restrictions I have hardly seen any of my usual Bristol based playing colleagues. So, when planning this recording it seemed a good opportunity to work with some different musicians from further afield and not to worry too much about the practicalities of travel to possible future gigs, should there ever be any”.
The musicians Hague approached included pianist Jonathan Taylor, at one time domiciled in Bristol but now based in London where he runs the Junior Jazz Programme at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Hague and Taylor used to play together fairly regularly during the pianist’s Bristol days but more recently only met in their capacity as educators. This recording allowed them to renew their acquaintance as musicians with Hague praising Taylor’s “lucid right hand lines and wonderfully melodic comping”.
Danish born bassist Henrik Jensen leads his own group Followed By Thirteen, an ensemble that Hague, wearing his promoter’s hat, has hosted on a number of occasions at The Be-Bop Club. As a fan of Jensen’s playing, and particularly his “singing bass tone”, Hague extended an invitation to the bassist to join the Double Standards quartet. The fact that Jensen had recently moved to the Somerset town of Frome, not so far away from Bristol, also helped to make him an ideal choice for the recording. Jensen is another musician who has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on a fairly regular basis, both as the leader of Followed By Thirteen and with ensembles such as the New Simplicity Trio, North Trio, Jensen / Ehwald Duo and the Will Butterworth Quartet.
For the drum chair Hague selected the youthful talent of Gwilym Jones, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire who has since gone on to complete a Masters at Trinity in London and to begin to establish himself on the capital’s jazz scene. “At just under half my age I thought it would be good to have someone with more maturity and experience on the session” jokes Hague.
For my part I recall seeing Jones performing on a number of occasions during his Birmingham days, twice as part of the annual Birmingham – Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival (2014, 2016) and once as part of saxophonist Claude Pietersen’s group Zwolfton when they supported Sons of Kemet at the Hare & Hounds in King’s Heath, Birmingham back in 2015.
On his website Hague describes the Double Standards quartet as “playing nice arrangements of less commonly played standards plus tunes by some of the jazz greats. Line up varies”. The group now seems to have solidified into the album line up, with Hague regularly describing the current quartet as his “dream band”.
In October 2020 they managed to sandwich in a gig at The Hen & Chicken during the interim between the first and second Covid lockdowns. “After seven months with no gigs it was great to let off some steam”, remembers Hague. They then went into Crescent Studio in Swindon to record the album in the company of recording engineer Damon Sawyer.
Despite Hague’s description the band name the quartet’s repertoire is not entirely standards based. Indeed, the programme on “Release” was divided equally between Hague originals and outside material. Four of Hague’s compositions were actually written during lockdown and boast suitably apposite titles. The album also revisits two earlier original pieces, “Blue Swinga” and “Damon Blues”. The remainder of the programme features five jazz standards plus an arrangement of Nick Drake’s “River Man”.
Thankfully things have slowly changed for the better since 2020 and live gigging is now a regular part of life again for Hague and his fellow musicians, albeit in circumstances that still remain difficult. There was still an element of social distancing in force at the Victory Club but Gil, Ken and the musicians themselves were all more than pleased with the turn out for this event, particularly on a cold Monday night in January.
A value for money programme consisting of two hour long sets was largely drawn from the “Release” album and kicked off with “This Is The Moment”, written by Fred Hollander and delivered in gently swinging fashion by the quartet with fluent solos from Hague on trumpet, Taylor at the piano and Jensen on bass.
The classic ‘Blue Note’ sound has always been an influence on Hague’s playing and writing and this was evident in his own Latin inflected “Easing Restrictions”, which saw the composer continuing to excel on trumpet as he shared the solos with pianist Taylor.
Hague moved to flugel for Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vain”, with Jones initially deploying brushes. However Jensen’s increasingly propulsive bass lines and Jones’ switch to sticks helped to ensure that this ‘not quite ballad’ evolved into a medium tempo swinger with Taylor taking the first solo at the piano, followed by the leader on graceful and elegant flugel. Jensen’s impressive dexterity then served as a welcome reminder that he is one of the most accomplished double bass soloists around.
Wayne Shorter’s jazz waltz “United” is a tune that has variously been recorded by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, trumpeter Woody Shaw and pianist George Colligan. The Double Standards version commenced with a sparky dialogue between Hague on trumpet and Jones at the drums, before the piece later evolved to incorporate expansive solos from Hague and Taylor plus an extended and highly explosive drum feature from Jones. Overall this was a quartet performance that was positively bristling with energy.
Hague’s arrangement of the jazz standard “You Go To My Head”, written by Fred Coots, was inspired by an Art Pepper version recorded as part of the alto saxophonist’s “Night at The Village Vanguard” live series from 1977. This saw Hague moving to flugel for another tune that began as a ballad before gaining unexpected momentum as Jones again abandoned brushes for sticks. Jensen took the first solo here, followed by Hague and Taylor.
The first half concluded with the title track from “Release”. The lengthiest item on the album this is a composition of two parts and commenced with an atmospheric introduction featuring Hague’s trumpet fanfare above the sounds of arco bass and mallet rumbles. The music then morphed into more recognisable hard bop / Blue Note territory with both Hague and Taylor taking the opportunity to stretch out with fluent and expansive solos. Jones was also to feature strongly throughout, rounding his performance off with a neatly constructed solo drum passage.
The second half kicked off with Hague’s own “A Reckless Majority”, the title derived from a newspaper misprint from the summer of 2020. The tune bore something of a resemblance to the classic Lee Morgan jazz hit “The Sidewinder”. It certainly sounded as if it could have graced a classic Blue Note album in days of yore. Hague’s bravura trumpet solo exhibited something of Morgan’s brilliance, while Taylor’s Latin inflected piano solo epitomised the ‘lucidity’ of which Hague has spoken. This live performance of the tune also incorporated a feature for Jensen at the bass.
The late singer-songwriter Nick Drake’s “River Man” is a song that has become increasingly popular with jazz musicians in recent years, with American pianist Brad Mehldau, who has also covered “River Man”, perhaps the best known champion of Drake’s work in a jazz context.
This piece saw Hague switching to flugel and sharing the solos with Taylor, who delivered his most lyrical playing of the set, with Jensen providing attractive counter melodies from the bass. This was the sound of four jazz musicians exploring the hidden depths of the superficially simple “River Man”.
Hague remained on flugel for the jazz standard “Like Someone In Love”, written by Jimmy Van Heusen. Again this progressed from ballad territory into something more forceful, while still retaining an essential gracefulness. Solos here came from Hague, Taylor and Jensen.
The only piece not to be sourced from the album was an arrangement of the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s tune “Roy Allan”, a tribute to the composer’s father. This featured an attractive mix of strong melodies and contemporary grooves and incorporated solos from Hague on flugel, Taylor on piano and Jensen on bass.
Hague’s own “Blue Swinga”, based on fellow trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa”, also incorporates elements sourced from saxophonist John Coltrane and pianist Bobby Timmons - “Plagiarism at its best!” joked Hague. Borrowing from such luminaries the piece is undeniably attractive, and as its title suggests it swings furiously, packing quite a punch. Taylor was at his most inventive at the piano, Hague back on trumpet, delivered a blazing solo and Jones was also a dynamic presence throughout, culminating in a series of fiery exchanges, first with Hague and then with the Taylor / Jensen axis.
“Damon Blues”, Hague’s tribute to fellow trumpeter Damon Brown served as an encore. This playful blues, which also closes the album, took its theme from one of Brown’s scat vocal lines and was introduced by the combination of bass and drums, with Jensen and Jones eventually joined by Taylor and Hague. More conventional soloing came from Jensen on bass, Hague on trumpet and Taylor on piano, with Jones again trading ideas with his fellow musicians before the close.
All in all this represented an excellent start to the New Year for Cheltenham Jazz Club. Amazingly this was Hague’s first visit to the Club, but on this showing it probably won’t be his last. My thanks to all the band members for speaking with me at the break and afterwards, and also to Gil and Ken and all at Cheltenham Jazz Club.
I now hope to visit the Club on a more regular basis. Forthcoming shows include;
Monday 28th February 2022 – Andrew Cleyndert Quartet at The Irving Studio Theatre (Everyman)
Monday 28th March 2022 – Matt Ridley’s ‘Antidote’ Quintet at The Irving Studio Theatre (Everyman)
Friday 8th April 2022 – Nat Birchall Quintet at The Victory Club
Wednesday 22nd June 2022 – Clark Tracey, ‘ A Tribute to Stan Tracey’ at The Irving Studio Theatre (Everyman)
For further information please visit; http://www.cheltenhamjazz.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus