Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

March 07, 2024


An avant garde jazz album that still remains relatively accessible thanks to its blend of intelligent composing, highly interactive collective improvising and overall sense of adventure and fun.

Michael Moore / John Pope / Johnny Hunter

“Something Happened”

(New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings NEWJAiM16)

Michael Moore – alto saxophone, clarinet, John Pope – double bass, Johnny Hunter – drums

The circumstances behind this recording from the Anglo-American trio of saxophonist / clarinettist Michael Moore, bassist John Pope and drummer Johnny Hunter are perhaps best explained in the album press release, part of which is reproduced below;

“In the Spring of 2022 ‘Something Happened’. American born but long resident of Amsterdam and in-demand reeds player Michael Moore visited the UK to perform six live dates in collaboration with one the most exciting Northern rhythm partnerships available, John Pope on Double Bass and Johnny Hunter on Drums.
With each musician bringing compositions to the table, the band had minimal rehearsal and in perhaps the purest jazz fashion spent the week working out their compositions on the bandstand in front of live audiences. The seventh date of that tour resulted in this recording session especially commissioned by the label for the regular NEWJAiM Recordings haunt Blank Studios in Newcastle upon Tyne.”

With all three musicians contributing to the writing process this is very much a trio of equals with Moore bringing four compositions to the repertoire, Hunter three and Pope two.

Michael Moore was born in California in 1954 but moved to Amsterdam in 1982. Since that time he has led something of a transatlantic existence, working with both American and European musicians and appearing on more than thirty albums, many of them released on his own Ramboy record label. Among those with whom he has collaborated are the Americans Fred Hersch and Marilyn Crispell (both piano), Mark Helias and Mark Dresser (both bass), Dave Douglas (trumpet) and Gerry Hemingway (drums) and the Europeans Ernst Reijseger (cello), Han Bennink (drums), Tobias Delius (reeds) and Alex Maguire, Benoit Delbecq and  Achim Kaufmann (all piano). With Reijseger and Bennink he was part of the acclaimed trio Clusone 3.

Newcastle based John Pope has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of his own quintet and as a member of the electro-jazz trio Archipelago. He also works in a duo with violinist John Garner. All of these acts have had albums released on the NEWJAiM imprint and all are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Pope’s increasing commitment to improvisation has also seen him performing with an impressive range of British and international collaborators, among them saxophonists Moore, Evan Parker, Tony Bevan, Paul Dunmall, Chris Biscoe and Cath Roberts, multi-instrumentalists Joe McPhee and Mick Beck, violinist Faith Brackenbury, harpist Rhodri Davies, pianists Alexander Hawkins and Laura Cole, guitarist Anton Hunter and drummers Paul Hession, Tony Bianco and Han Bennink.

Released by NEWJAiM in 2021 “The King’s Hall Concert” features Pope as a member of the trio Telemaque, alongside McPhee and Hession. Review here;

The live recording “From Wolves To Water” (NEWJAiM, 2023) features Pope and pianist Laura Cole as guests of the trio Beck Hinters (Mick Beck - bassoon, sax, whistle, Anton Hunter – guitar, Johnny Hunter – drums). Review here;

Pope is also a member of the ensemble Sentient Beings, which also features Faith Brackenbury, Tony Bianco and Paul Dunmall. This line up recorded the excellent album “Sentient Beings” (2023), which is reviewed here;

Liber Musika is a project in which Pope explores the music of such AACM associated jazz composer / improvisers as Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell.

Cartoon is a trio which teams him with the more senior figures of Chris Biscoe (reeds) and Roger Turner (drums, percussion). He has also recorded as a duo with Biscoe, this occasioned by Turner’s temporary absence due to illness.

Meanwhile Pope and MacCalman also work in an improvising trio with laptop artist Shelly Knotts, with whom they recorded the digital album “No Bones”.

Pope has also worked with the rave / punk jazz outfit Ponyland and the experimental electro-acoustic ensemble Midnight Doctors.

Based in Manchester drummer, composer and improviser Johnny Hunter leads his own long running quartet. The JHQ’s latest album “A Consequence In Three Parts” (Efpi Records, 2023) is reviewed here and is the source of much of the following biographical detail.

 Hunter is also a busy and versatile musician whose skills are very much in demand in the bands of others.  He has worked extensively with his brother, guitarist Anton Hunter, appearing with Anton’s trio and with Anton’s large ensemble Article XI. The brothers also team up with saxophonist and bassoonist Mick Beck in the improvising trio Beck Hunters. The Hunter brothers are also part of the jazz/ska/dub sextet Skamel.

Hunter has often been featured as a member of the various bands led by, or associated with, saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts, these including Sloth Racket, Favourite Animals, Word of Moth, Spinningwork and the Anglo-Swiss sextet MoonMot.

Hunter works in a duo with pianist Adam Fairhall, the pair releasing the album “Winifred Atwell Revisited” in early 2022. Review here;

 Hunter and Fairhall are also part of the improvising trio Fragments, alongside bassist Seth Bennett This trio’s eponymous début album was released by Northern Contemporary in March 2019. Review here;

Hunter and Fairhall, together with saxophonist Mark Hanslip, comprise Revival Room, an ‘organ trio’ that features Fairhall playing a Hammond B3. This trio’s eponymous album was released by Efpi in 2018.

Fairhall also plays organ with Spacefood, a trio that also features Hunter and guitarist David Birchall. Drawing on the 1970s for musical inspiration this line up released the intriguingly titled album “Once They Get Here (Taps Head) It’s Game Over Man” in 2022.

Hunter is a regular member of bassist John Pope’s quintet and has also collaborated with a wide range of other musicians, among them  vocalist Nishla Smith, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, bassists Gavin Barras, Olie Brice and Michael Bardon, guitarist Chris Sharkey, saxophonists Dee Byrne,  Nat Birchall, Pete Lyons, Michael Moore and Martin Archer and pianists Richard Jones, Misha Gray, John Donegan and Laura Cole.  He has also drummed for the large ensemble the Manchester Jazz Collective.

He has collaborated and recorded with Liverpudlian musicians in the bands Blind Monk Trio and Marley Chingus and has recorded albums with both.

Released in October 2023 the “Something Happened” album was recorded over the course of a single day in June 2022 and I’d guess that it is pretty much a ‘live in the studio’ recording, with engineer John Martindale at the controls. The result is a free-wheeling selection of original compositions, these providing the platform for the trio’s collective improvising, with group interaction representing an essential component of these performances.

Things kick off with Moore’s “Providence”, which features the leader’s fluent alto improvising above Pope’s muscular but agile bass and Hunter’s relentless polyrhythmic flow. Pope is briefly featured as a soloist while Hunter eventually comes to the fore with a surging solo drum feature. Moore occasionally threatens to branch out into the realms of extended technique but overall this is a surprisingly melodic piece centred around an attractive sax motif / theme. It’s the kind of music that fans of the saxophone trios of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson could relate too.

Hunter’s “A Simple Change” goes further out and is much more loosely structured. It’s more obviously ‘free jazz’ and one can sense the players listening intently to each other as they bounce ideas around, these developing into a remarkable clarinet solo from Moore, supported by Pope’s grounding bass and Hunter’s colourful and exotic drumming. Alongside the boisterous improvisations there are also gentler, more reflective moments, such as the beautiful clarinet led passage that closes the piece.

Pope’s “Undulation” kicks off in belligerent fashion with the squall of Moore’s alto and the bustle of Hunter’s drums. But there’s also a bebop rooted theme that keeps the piece within the bounds of accessibility and which acts as the foundation for the subtly probing solos of Moore on alto and Pope on bass.

Hunter’s “First Half of May” is an unexpectedly tender ballad featuring the soft, woody tones of Moore’s clarinet allied to Pope’s melodic double bass and the composer’s delicately brushed drums. It’s a delightful trio performance that puts the emphasis firmly on the sheer beauty of Hunter’s composition.

Moore returns to alto for his own “Anything Can Happen”, which as its title suggests is a more loosely structured, free-wheeling piece that incorporates harsh sax multiphonics and whirlwind drumming but also includes more spacious, conversational moments. The sax and drum dialogue is punctuated by Pope’s double bass solo, before Hunter and Moore eventually muscle their way back in.

The centre piece of the album is the near thirteen segue “Some Moore / Middle Of The Road”, actually written by Hunter. Pope and Hunter combine to create a rolling, undulating groove that forms the springboard for Moore’s alto sax ululations, these occupying a hinterland somewhere between Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. Subsequently the music becomes more impressionistic and loosely structured, with the musicians again listening to each other very closely and responding to each other ‘in the moment’. The rolling groove and main sax melody subsequently re-emerge before the music shades off into a pensive bass / drum dialogue, with Pope deploying both bowed and plucked sounds as the soft, high register sounds of Moore’s alto also add to the nocturnal atmosphere. There’s an eerie beauty about this closing section, an extended collective rumination that is surprisingly gentle and fragile. At times the music seems to occupy an almost liminal piece, fading away almost imperceptibly at the close.

Pope’s second contribution with the pen is titled “Piffle” and features some rather more vigorous and mischievous collective instrumental interplay. With Moore wrestling some extraordinary sounds from his instrument as the rhythm section respond gleefully it sounds as if the members of the trio are having great fun.

The final two pieces are composed by Moore, beginning with “May-Ting”, an extraordinary piece that combines the scuffle of free jazz with a playful ‘hoe down’ section, these punctuated by gentler, more reflective trio episodes.

The album concludes with “Bug Music”, another piece that blends the rumbustious with the exploratory via a performance that is constantly evolving, thanks to the sharp eared interaction of the three musicians. One gets the impression that Moore is a musician who likes to have ‘serious fun’ and that in Pope and Hunter he has very much found kindred spirits. “Bug Music” combines gnarly free jazz with more playful episodes and embraces sounds that include sax multiphonics, bowed bass and even (I think) whistling.

“Something Happened” is another creditable addition to the NEWJAiM catalogue, an unashamedly avant garde jazz album that still remains relatively accessible thanks to its blend of intelligent composing, highly interactive collective improvising and overall sense of adventure and fun. Given that Moore is based in Europe it’s possible that this trio could get together again and thus become more than just a one off collaboration. Let’s hope that this can happen.

Although I’m readily familiar with the playing of Pope and Hunter this album represents my first real exposure to that of Michael Moore, notwithstanding the fact that Moore has been an important presence on the international jazz scene for many years. I guess it’s because his visits to the UK are comparatively rare. I was impressed by his playing as both a saxophonist and a clarinettist and also by his witty and intelligent writing. His adventurous approach to music making, which strikes a good balance between seriousness and humour, is refreshing and he’s certainly a musician I’d like to hear more of. A delve into the back catalogue should make for a rewarding listening experience.




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