by Ian Mann
February 01, 2021
A very classy offering from Hague, featuring some accomplished original writing and some absolutely terrific playing from all four participants. A fine album delivered from the throes of lockdown.
Andy Hague’s Double Standards
(Ooh Err Records Ooh Err 008)
Andy Hague – trumpet, flugelhorn, Jonathan Taylor – piano, Henrik Jensen – double bass,
Gwilym Jones – drums
This latest album from the Bristol based trumpeter and composer Andy Hague sees him introducing a new quartet, with a line up as listed above.
Hague is one of the stalwarts of the Bristol jazz scene in his various roles as multi-instrumentalist, composer, promoter and educator. This new release, which appears on his own label, Ooh Err Records, represents his sixth album as a leader and follows the excellent quintet recording “Coming Of Age”, which was issued in 2018. Review here;
Other previous recordings include 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.
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.
Hague is an 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 two recordings by the latter.
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.
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”.
In his liner notes to this first Double Standards recording Hague explains that the album is 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 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 has recently moved to the Somerset town of Frome, not so far away from Bristol, also helped to make him an ideal choice for this session. 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 back in 2015.
As alluded to previously “Release” is very much a product of lockdown, something that is reflected in the album title and artwork. “Release” features Elene Bouvier’s archive photographs of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, plus an image, probably a ‘selfie’ of a mask wearing Hague.
There is also a photograph of the quartet in live performance. Remarkably the group actually managed to squeeze in a live gig at the Hen & Chicken in Bristol in October 2020 between the first and second lockdowns. “After seven months with no gigs it was great to let off some steam”, observes Hague.
Shortly after warming up at the Hen & Chicken the quartet went into Crescent Studio in Swindon to record the album in the company of recording engineer Damon Sawyer.
Despite the band name the quartet’s repertoire is not entirely standards based. Indeed, the programme on “Release” is divided equally between Hague originals and outside material. Four of Hague’s compositions were actually written during lockdown and boast suitably apposite titles. He also revisits two earlier pieces, “Blue Swinga” and “Damon Blues”. The remainder of the programme features five jazz standards plus a version of Nick Drake’s “River Man”.
The album commences with a standard, Fred Coots’ “You Go To My Head”. It’s an unexpectedly gentle start with the tune delivered in a broadly ballad style, with Hague and Taylor demonstrating a flowing lyricism on flugel and piano respectively as they exchange fluent solos. Jensen and Jones provide excellent rhythmic support, subtly swinging and responding to the tempo changes with skill and aplomb. Jones sensitive performance behind the kit does indeed demonstrate that maturity of which his leader speaks.
Next up is the Hague original “A Reckless Majority”, which bears something of a resemblance to the classic Lee Morgan jazz hit “The Sidewinder”. It certainly sounds as if it could have graced a classic Blue Note album in days of yore with Hague’s ebullient trumpet solo exhibiting something of Morgan’s brassy insouciance. Taylor then takes over with a Latin inflected solo that epitomises the lucidity of which Hague has also spoken. Jensen and Jones offer suitably propulsive support and the impressive young drummer enjoys something of a feature in the latter stages of the tune.
It’s back to the standards repertoire for a relaxed, gently swinging version of Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vain”, with Jensen’s bass walk and Jones’ deft drumming propelling Taylor’s expansive, quote dropping (“Swinging On A Star”) piano solo and Hague’s subsequent outing on effortlessly fluent trumpet. Jensen enjoys his first solo of the set, a dexterous, big toned, still swinging excursion on double bass.
Approaching nine minutes in duration Hague’s title track is the lengthiest item in the set, metamorphosing out of a collective, trumpet led fanfare into a medium paced swinger that again sounds as if it could have been lifted directly from a Blue Note classic. The piece offers both Hague and Taylor to stretch out in highly inventive fashion as the piece negotiates a series of tempo changes, the various twists and turns also allowing Jones to feature strongly once more.
The policy of alternating standards and originals continues with Fred Hollander’s “This Is The Moment”, another medium paced, gentle swinger featuring solos from Taylor and Hague, plus a finely nuanced display from the subtly swinging rhythm section, with Jensen again coming to the fore as an inventive and accomplished bass soloist.
The next original is Hague’s “Blue Swinga”, a piece based upon “Blue Bossa”, a composition by the late Kenny Dorham (1924-72), one of Hague’s trumpet heroes. Here the quartet really up the energy levels, swinging furiously and with Jones in particularly dynamic form and really driving the band. Hague responds with a blazing trumpet solo, an effective blending of fire and fluency, while Taylor also stretches out joyously. Jensen is a propulsive presence throughout, while Jones crowns a fine performance with a series of dynamic drum breaks.
Things cool down again nicely with a delightful arrangement of Nick Drake’s “River Man”, which sees Hague soloing thoughtfully and lyrically over Taylor’s gently rolling piano vamp and Jones’ deft cymbal work. Later Taylor is given the opportunity to demonstrate his own fluency as a soloist. Overall this is an impressive performance of a song that has become increasingly popular among jazz musicians in recent years.
The Hague original “Easing Restrictions” introduces a modal element into the proceedings, the oddly syncopated rhythms providing the launch pad for the blues inflected solos of Hague and Taylor. Again there’s a strong Blue Note influence.
Jimmy Van Heusen’s enduringly popular “Like Someone In Love” is given a relaxed and elegant reading by the quartet, with Hague featuring (I think) on flugel. The subtly propulsive rhythms of Jensen and Jones encourage the inventiveness of both Hague and Taylor, with the pianist also soloing gracefully and expansively. Jensen also features as a soloist with a typically fluent and inventive excursion on double bass.
A less familiar and more obviously ‘modern’ item is Wayne Shorter’s somewhat angular jazz waltz “United”. This is introduced by a dialogue between Hague and Jones, but is later expanded to incorporate solos from both Taylor and Hague, plus a further feature for the consistently impressive Jones.
Hague’s own “Angst” re-introduces the modal leanings of the earlier “Easing Restrictions”, but in even more of a hard hitting, bluesy way. Hague’s powerful trumpet solo is particularly hard hitting, while Taylor’s piano playing is also authentically bluesy. A piece that is destined to become something of a live favourite, one hopefully imagines.
The album concludes with a final original, “Damon Blues”, Hague’s dedication to his fellow trumpeter Damon Brown, and specifically the latter’s scat singing. Introduced by a bass and drum dialogue the piece has an agreeably playful feel to it, alongside the requisite blues elements. Jensen is the first featured soloist, his extemporisations capping a fine all round display throughout the album. Hague follows on trumpet, then Taylor at the piano, both are characteristically relaxed, fluent and inventive.
There may be nothing dramatically original here, but like its predecessors “Coming Of Age” and “Cross My Palm” this is a very classy offering from Hague, featuring some accomplished original writing and some absolutely terrific playing from all four participants. Hague and Taylor solo with grace, fluency and imagination and are offered corresponding support from a swinging, sympathetic and highly versatile rhythm section, with young drummer Jones turning in a particularly impressive and mature performance. That’s not to take anything away from Jensen, who also shines in a rather more mainstream context than I’ve heard him in previously.
The quartet are well served by engineer Sawyer and with Hague himself attending to the mixing and mastering the sound quality is excellent throughout.
The final triumph of course is Hague’s, who has delivered a fine album from the throes of lockdown. Let us hope that when the Covid situation eventually begins to improve he will be able to take this fine new quartet out on the road. On this evidence Double Standards promises to be a hugely exciting live attraction.
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