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The Gaz Hughes Trio

Nuclear Bebopalypse

by Ian Mann

February 21, 2024


This is the sound of a trio of musicians having musical fun, revelling in the language of bebop but making it sound relevant for the 21st century.

The Gaz Hughes Trio

“Nuclear Bebopalypse”

(Self Released)

Gaz Hughes – drums, Andrzej Baranek – piano, Gavin Barras – double bass

Cheshire based drummer, composer and bandleader Gaz Hughes first made his name on the Manchester jazz scene playing in bands led by trumpeter Matthew Halsall and pianist Adam Fairhall.

I first heard his playing on Halsall’s albums “On The Go” (2011) and “Fletcher Moss Park” (2012), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. Hughes was also part of Halsall’s touring band.

With Fairhall he was a member of the ensemble that recorded the innovative “The Imaginary Delta” (2012) and was also part of Fairhall’s regular working trio.

As a sideman Hughes has performed with a veritable ‘who’s who’ of British and American jazz musicians, among them pianists Tom Kinkaid, Dean Stockdale and Brian Dee, saxophonists Alan Barnes, Greg Abate, John Hallam, Tony Kofi, Scott Hamilton, Marshall Allen and Nat Birchall, trumpeter Bruce Adams, trombonist Mark Nightingale, vocalist Ian Shaw and guitarist Remi Harris, these representing just a few names on a long and illustrious list. He has also worked as a session musician in the fields of pop and television. As an educator Hughes holds teaching posts at Salford University and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Hughes names his main drumming influences as Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Jimmy Cobb, Ed Thigpen, Jeff Hamilton and Alan Dawson, players he describes as being “drummers that are able to spell out form and melody when they improvise”.

In February 2020 Hughes released his first album as a leader, the sextet recording “Plays Art Blakey”, which does exactly what it says on the tin with a set of tunes originally recorded by various editions of Blakey’s famous Jazz Messengers outfit. The selection includes a number of modern jazz standards from composers of the calibre of Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Bobby Watson.

For the recording Hughes had assembled a stellar quartet featuring saxophonists Alan Barnes (alto, baritone) and Dean Masser (tenor) plus trumpeter Bruce Adams, pianist Andrzej Baranek and bassist Ed Harrison. The group also embarked on a massive UK tour in support of the album but this was inevitably curtailed due to the Covid situation. Nevertheless I was able to catch a hugely enjoyable performance by the sextet at the Market Theatre in Ledbury on March 6th 2020, one of the last gigs I saw prior to lockdown. My account of that performance, plus a look at the “Plays Art Blakey” album can be found here;

The ‘rhythm section’ of Hughes, Baranek and Harrison established a close rapport during the making of the Blakey album and on the live dates that they were actually able to perform. The three then came together as The Gaz Hughes Trio to record the digital only release “Beboperation”, which first became available in May 2022. The recording features Hughes’ arrangements of jazz and pop standards by composers such as Duke Ellington and introduces his ‘melodic drumming concept’.

Released in February 2023 and available both digitally and on CD the trio’s second album “Beboptical Illusion” featured the same personnel and another punning title. This time, however, the focus was on Hughes’ original writing with seven tunes by the drummer / composer and just one outside item, an arrangement of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”.

The album represented a major step forward for Hughes and my review of this impressive recording, an account from which much of the above biographical detail has been sourced, can be found here;

A year on and Hughes is back with another new album. The awful bebop puns continue but there’s change in the bass chair with Gavin Barras, a bandleader in his own right, taking over from Harrison. Hughes and Barras have previously worked together in the Matthew Halsall Band. “Nuclear Bebopalypse” retains the focus on original composition with all of the writing shared between Hughes, Baranek and Barras, with the drummer / leader contributing the lion’s share of the tunes.

Hughes is one of the hardest working musicians in the business and once again a mammoth tour is currently ongoing in support of the new release. It should be fully completed this time. I’m looking forward to catching up with Hughes in Shrewsbury on March 9th 2024 for a quartet gig that will see the core trio augmented by the guitarist Tim Williams.

The album commences with the Hughes composition, “The Message”, the title presumably a nod in the direction of Art Blakey. Barras and the composer set up a hard swinging groove that provides the launch pad for Baranek’s virtuoso piano pyrotechnics. Bluesy, swinging and sometimes highly percussive Baranek’s solo has attracted justifiable comparisons with the playing of Horace Silver, but he still brings his own personality to an exuberant performance. This is a trio that likes to have musical fun, and their shared enthusiasm and joie de vivre can be heard throughout this opening number, and indeed throughout the entire album. Barras is also featured as a soloist, combining a big, meaty bass sound with considerable dexterity as Hughes and Barras deliver crisp, and accurate support.

Baranek makes his compositional bow with the simply titled “AB’s Blues”, another fast moving number featuring some delightful interplay between the members of the trio allied to strong, swinging grooves and some scintillating individual solos from piano, drums and double bass. Hughes’  neatly constructed feature demonstrates something of his ‘melodic drumming’ concept.

Hughes’ “White Noise” brings a Latin element to the proceedings and is another lively piece that includes solos for piano and double bass. The impressive Gavin Barras released the excellent solo album “The Family Tree” in 2017, a recording that is also reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. Much in demand on the jazz scene in the North of England, and indeed nationally,  he has also worked with Halsall,  clarinettist Arun Ghosh, trumpeter / vocalist Sue Richardson, singer Zara MacFarlane, pianist Dean Stockdale, guitarist Anton Hunter and saxophonist Sam Andreae.

“Nuclear Bebopalypse Part 1” was written by Baranek and maintains the trio’s prodigious energy levels. The composer kicks things off with showers of notes cascading from the keyboard. His tumbling, frequently dazzling solo is supported by Barras’ rapid bass and Hughes’ vigorously brushed drums, the latter also enjoying a series of briskly brushed drum breaks. Baranek is a versatile pianist and an inspired soloist whose playing first came to my attention back in 2010 when he was a member of the Manchester based Magic Hat Ensemble, a quintet led by trumpeter Steve Chadwick. Baranek has also performed with saxophonists Casey Greene and Chris Gumbley as well as being a regular member of Hughes’ groups. Much in demand in the North and the Midlands he’s a musician who deserves to be better known nationally.

Hughes is the composer of “Nuclear Bebopalypse Part 2”, another high energy performance that is introduced by the leader at the drums. It’s a piece that has more of an orthodox jazz feel and moves along at a rapid pace with a crisp bass and drum groove that elicits a further outpouring of ideas from the impressive Baranek. Barras then takes over at the bass for another dexterous solo, followed by another hugely impressive drum feature. Hughes’ coaxes a broad range of sounds from his kit and his solos have the happy knack of continuing to engage the listener.

Also written by Hughes “Shootin’ From The Hip!” is introduced by the sound of unaccompanied double bass before hitting on an infectious, bluesy groove that provides the basis for Baranek’s joyous, subtly funky piano excursions.  These are followed by another exceptional bass solo from Barras. Hughes largely deploys brushes, his playing simultaneously subtle and propulsive.

Barras’ contribution with the pen is “Disinformation”, possibly a Charlie Parker inspired title, and a delightful slice of contemporary bebop introduced by Baranek and featuring the composer soloing on both bowed and pizzicato bass. Baranek subsequently stretches out more expansively at the piano, skilfully supported by bass and drums.

Following a series of largely high octane performances Hughes and the trio demonstrate the gentler side of their playing on the closing “Julie-Ann”. Written by Hughes this is a kind of rubato ballad paced by Barras’ hypnotic bass figure and Hughes’ skilled deployment of a combination of brushes and mallets. Baranek’s often beautiful solo features his most lyrical playing of the set and offers further evidence of his skill and versatility. It’s a delightful way to round off the album and suggests other musical areas for the trio to explore in the future.

Despite its retro trappings its impossible not to respond positively to the skill, energy and joyousness of these performances. This is the sound of a trio of musicians having musical fun, revelling in the language of bebop but making it sound relevant for the 21st century. This is a highly democratic trio and the standard of the musicianship is excellent throughout with skilful collective interplay augmented by some exceptional individual solos, with all three members being allotted a generous amount of time in the spotlight. Hughes steers things from the kit in a manner that combines subtlety with authority and he combines particularly well with Barras, the pair providing the mercurial Baranek with the platform from which he can express himself. The trio represents a very well balanced unit, and one that is well served by the engineering / production team of Hughes, Dave Speakman and Pete Maher.

The Gaz Hughes Trio are currently touring the album with dates running from February to October 2024. Please visit for the full schedule and to purchase albums.

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