Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Hannah Horton

Live in Soho

by Ian Mann

April 26, 2024


Horton and her band play with verve, skill and flair and all four musicians can be proud of their contributions. The writing is intelligent, melodic, varied and accessible.

Hannah Horton

“Live in Soho”

(Self Released)

Hannah Horton – tenor & baritone sax, Tim Lapthorn – piano, Rob Statham – electric bass, Nic France- drums

Describing herself as a “Melodic Maverick” Hannah Horton is a multi-instrumentalist who plays various saxophones in addition to flute, clarinet and bassoon. She studied at the Junior Guildhall School of Music, Goldsmith’s College and later for a Masters at Trinity Laban. Her saxophone tutors have included Mark Lockheart and Tim Garland.

Horton released her début album, “Forget Me Not” in 2012 and followed this in 2021 with “Inside Out”, an album favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Horton has worked prolifically as a sidewoman with vocalists Georgia Mancio, Irene Serra, Tina May, Natalie Williams, Polly Gibbons, Esther Bennett, Fiona Ross and Ian Shaw plus guitarists John Etheridge and Louis Thorne. As this list suggests Horton has a particular affinity with vocalists and her CV also includes performing alongside the late, great Amy Winehouse when both were members of NYJO.

Originally from rural Essex Horton’s career was interrupted by a difficult set personal circumstances, hence the lengthy interim between her first two albums. A musician who has always sought to ‘put something back’ she is an acclaimed educator and also runs J Steps, an organisation designed to nurture the talent of musicians who identify as female or non-binary, its main aim being to redress the historic lack of representation of women in jazz.

“Inside Out” featured a quartet that included bassist Rob Statham and drummer Nic France with John Crawford in the piano chair. The same musicians also appeared on the earlier “Forget Me Not”. “Inside Out” also featured guest vocals from the great Ian Shaw, who appears on two of the nine tracks.

For this live recording documented at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London Horton, Statham and France are joined by pianist Tim Lapthorn as they perform a mix of Horton originals, largely sourced from “Inside Out”, plus a fascinating mix of ‘outside’ material.

In her album liner notes Horton says of this live recording;
“‘Live in Soho’ was recorded at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho in January 2023, my leadership debut at this iconic venue. I was not expecting to get an album out of this show! But as soon as I heard the recording from the desk after the gig I could not wait to share it with you. So grab yourself a drink, snuggle up in your favourite spot and join me and my quartet Live in Soho”.

The album commences with “Feed The Birds”, a song from the film “Mary Poppins” and a piece that appeared on the “Inside Out” album. Horton say of her arrangement;
“I love the musical Mary Poppins, but this song always a made me feel sad. When we went into the first Covid 19 lockdown I experimented with different vibes and grooves and came up with this, the band liked it, so we kept it! The track opens with a sax cadenza, inspired by birds flying up and down. I hope it makes you feel happy!”
This live performance follows a similar trajectory to the recorded version with Horton’s airy, unaccompanied tenor sax intro eventually leading into a calypso inspired groove featuring the sounds of Statham’s electric bass and the patter of France’s hand drums. Horton’s sax soloing is fluent and joyous and she’s followed by Lapthorn, who emulates his predecessor by bringing something of a Caribbean quality to his intelligent and inventive soloing. The performance concludes much as it began with an unaccompanied sax cadenza, followed by a short piano coda. The overall mood is vibrant and joyful and places a strong focus on melody, but with plenty of room for the soloists to express themselves.

The ornithological theme continues with “Surfing Thermals”, a Horton original and another tune from the “Inside Out” album. She says of this piece;
Living in the country I love to lay on the grass looking skywards, watching birds of prey gliding in the air – surfing on their thermal winds. When I first moved to my thatched cottage over 10 years ago there were hardly any birds of prey in the air, now there are lots of buzzards and kites which is lovely to hear and see. This piece opened with the drums who are the wind, on which the birds (sax) surf.
The intro features the leader’s sax in conjunction with France’s colourful and inventive drum patterns, played with a combination of bare hands and sticks. The mood is again positive and joyous and a kind of Afro-Cuban groove eventually emerges, with France’s drums continuing to play an important role in the arrangement. As befits the tune’s title it’s the kind of groove that allows Horton’s sax to soar. The piece incorporates a second sax and drum episode, this time more obviously a feature for the excellent France.

The first ‘outside’ item is an arrangement of the Gil Evans composition “Las Vegas Tango”, of which Horton says;
This piece is written by Gil Evans, who I first fell in love with for his arrangements for Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain. In fact I did my dissertation at Goldsmiths College on ‘The arrangement of Gil Evans in the cool period’. I felt playing this piece on the baritone gave the melody passion and depth.
Following on from “Surfing Thermals” this piece is also ushered in by the combination of sax and drums, but this is a much more atmospheric intro, the mood more sombre and reflective. A seductive tango style groove then emerges, subtly providing the impetus for Horton’s baritone sax ruminations as she probes deeply, playing with a remarkable fluency and really exploring the sonic possibilities of the instrument. Lapthorn, a bandleader in hos own right, demonstrates his versatility as a pianist with a slyly inventive solo within the overall tango framework.

The Horton original “Keep Walking” was the confident opening track on the “Inside Out” album. Horton says of the piece;
“This is about moving on, not looking back, and knowing it is the right move for your freedom, independence, soul and resilience. It was inspired by my divorce and learning to navigate a new path and trust my own judgement in my own skin. The track has a kind of strutting groove, a forward motion and a bit of fun too.”
In my review of “Inside Out” I commented on the ‘strutting’ nature of the groove and that confidence and assertiveness is again present here. Horton takes the first solo, boldly expressing herself as she stretches out fluently on tenor. Lapthorn follows on piano, more thoughtfully at first, but then beginning to stretch his wings with some more exuberant playing.

“Escape”, the upbeat closing track on the “Inside Out” album was written as a paean to the delights of going on holiday, a simple pleasure denied to so many for so long during the pandemic. Horton says of this composition;
“I wrote this piece about going on holiday. I love to go away somewhere warm! That feeling when you get off the plane of knowing it’s going to be a good time in the sun, taking it slowly, winding down and being warm through to your bones – that’s what this piece is all about. The opening of sax and bass playing the unison melody and then the drums and piano come in creating the feel good holiday vibe.”
The mood of the piece is relaxed and sunny and features Horton soloing with an impressive fluency and agility on baritone sax. Lapthorn and Statham enter into the holiday spirit by inserting some amusing musical quotes into their respective piano and bass solos.

“Inside Out” saw Horton interpreting the Chick Corea composition “Windows”, a piece that is rapidly becoming something of a modern jazz standard. This time round she features another Corea tune, the brilliant “Sea Journey”, of which she says;
“This piece by Chick Corea is one of my favourite standards. Whenever my quartet perform this piece we are always asked if we’ve recorded it – well now we have! Rob sets this piece up on bass with an opening cadenza beautifully.”
“Sea Journey” is also one of my favourite Corea tunes. I first heard it many years ago on vibraphonist Gary Burton’s superb 1976 album “Passengers” . The line up on Burton’s album featured two electric bassists, Steve Swallow and Eberhard Weber. It may be that Horton is also familiar with this recording and it’s totally appropriate that Statham should introduce the piece, his solo owing something to the melodic approach of both Swallow and Weber. Eventually it’s his bass pulse that kick starts the tune, with Horton stating the melody on tenor before handing back to Statham for a virtuoso solo that incorporates something of the guitar like electric bass sound often adopted by Swallow. The leader then stretches out more expansively on tenor. The tune’s insistent rhythmic vamp is then adopted by the other players as drummer Nic France roams the kit. Horton then resumes command as the quartet set sail for home. Corea’s piece represents a brilliant vehicle for soloists and this scintillating group performance earns a rousing reception from the discerning audience at the ‘Pizza’.

Horton digs deep into her back catalogue with “Forget Me Not”, the title track of her 2012 debut album. As ever there’s a story behind the tune, as Horton explains;
I wrote this piece in dedication to my gran after she died. She was an amazing lady and I loved going to stay with her when I was a child. She was very green-fingered and loved her greenhouse and garden. I always remember the smell of her greenhouse with tomatoes growing inside. But…tomatoes isn’t a great name for a tune! So her other love was forget me nots. I love to grow these in my garden in her memory. I’m not too sure she would’ve liked a funk tune, but I do know she would’ve loved having a tune written for her.”
As Horton remarks this is a tune with a sturdy funk groove that acts as the springboard for the leader’s gutsy baritone sax soloing, her tone rousing and fruity. Horton digs in for the long haul, displaying an astonishing fluency and stamina on the ‘big horn’. Eventually Lapthorn takes over, but it’s only a temporary respite as Horton subsequently trades phrases in vigorous fashion with piano, bass and drums. It’s a real tour de force from the leader and the quality of the performance is rewarded by another vociferous reaction from the crowd.

The final piece is “Horn Dance”, a traditional folk tune that also appears on the “Inside Out” album and which has its roots in the world of morris dancing, as Horton elucidates;
“This is an arrangement of my favourite morris dance melody, danced by the Thaxted Morris Men. This dance is always the final dance of the Morris Men weekend in Thaxted where many troops from all round the UK come together and dance all weekend. The village is plunged into darkness and you can hear the melody played on the violin before you see the dancers. It is a very magical and eerie experience.”
This “slow horn dance with a twist” is delivered in a speeded up arrangement that includes another fleet fingered electric bass solo from Statham, plus the leader’s earthy baritone sax soloing. Lapthorn and France help to ensure that the music has an impressive rhythmic drive as the set concludes on an energetic note.

This was obviously a hugely successful night for Horton and you can see why she wanted to get this music ‘out there’. She and the band play with verve, skill and flair and all four musicians can be proud of their contributions. Engineer John Prestage, who was also part of the team on “Inside Out”, also deserves credit for the quality of the sound.

The audience clearly loved it and anybody who was at the ‘Pizza’ on that January night will surely want to have this album as a souvenir of the event. For those who already own “Inside Out” it’s maybe quite not so essential, but nevertheless there are still a number of tunes here that Horton has not previously documented on disc.

Ultimately though this album should be judged on its own merits and on these terms it’s a terrific success. Horton’s writing is intelligent, melodic, varied and accessible, often with real personal stories behind the tunes. Her choices of outside material are interesting and varied, including arrangements of cinema and folk tunes alongside the works of such great jazz composers as Gil Evans and Chick Corea. Most importantly the playing is excellent, and particularly so from the leader, whose playing on baritone is often quite remarkable. In addition it all benefits from the energy and frisson of live performance.

“Live in Soho” will be officially released on Monday, April 29th 2024 but the official album launch event will take place tonight, Friday 26th April 2024 at the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club in Kennington, south London. Apologies for the short notice, but get there if you can. You won’t be disappointed.



blog comments powered by Disqus