by Ian Mann
July 19, 2021
Hazel's overall vision combined with Waterman’s brilliance as a soloist makes for a winning combination and this updating of Ra’s still visionary music for the 21st century is highly effective.
Paul Hazel / Steve Waterman
“Out Of This World With Sun Ra”
(Bamboo Radical BAM21011)
Paul Hazel – percussion, guitars, programming
Steve Waterman – trumpet, flugelhorn, wind synth
David Westmore – electric bass – Track 1, cover art
Jonathan Edwards – acoustic piano – Track 2
Kim Waterman – vocals – Track 4
Gethin Woolcock – lead guitar – Track 4, mastering engineer
Trumpeter Steve Waterman has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages over the years, both as the leader of various small groups and of his big band, the Steve Waterman Jazz Orchestra.
A highly versatile musician he has also featured extensively in the bands of others, among them those of bassist Ben Crosland, guitarist Dan Messore, saxophonists Alan Barnes, Don Weller, Glen Manby and Robert Fowler, pianist Andrea Vicari, drummer Clark Tracey and the Latin collective Heads South.
In addition to these names he has worked with such giants of the genre as Carla Bley, John Surman, Andy Sheppard, Tony Coe, Chucho Valdes, Michael Garrick and Graham Collier.
In 2019 Waterman performed his own “Concerto for Jazz Trumpet and Orchestra” with the Surrey Mozart Players at the Electric Theatre in Guildford.
An acclaimed educator he holds teaching posts at Trinity College of Music in London (his alma mater) and at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and the Purcell School in London. He also teaches at summer schools and workshops all over the globe.
His versatility as a trumpet player is perhaps best illustrated by his excellent album from 2010 “Buddy Bolden Blew It!”, a history of jazz trumpet that charts the development of the instrument from the pioneering Bolden to more contemporary figures such as Kenny Wheeler and Tom Harrell.
Waterman is mainly associated with jazz rooted in the mainstream and bebop traditions, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to see him linking up with the electronic music producer Paul Hazel for this EP featuring their joint arrangements of four Sun Ra tunes.
I may have heard plenty of music from Waterman over the years but prior to Steve kindly forwarding me this EP for review I was previously unfamiliar with Paul Hazel.
Best known as a producer Hazel is also a musician and composer who has written for television and film as well as pursuing parallel careers in the worlds of musical technology and music education.
He views his work as being multi-disciplinary and he has recorded frequently, both as a solo artist and as a member of the bands Skeleton Crew and Blue Train.
Initially based in London Hazel now holds a teaching post at Gower College in Swansea, after having previously worked for fourteen years at Swansea College of Art. He is also the founder of the Swansea Laptop Orchestra.
Additional information regarding Paul Hazel and his work can be found at his website http://www.paulhazel.com
With Waterman holding a teaching post at the RWCMD in Cardiff it may be that it’s the ‘Welsh Connection’ that brought these two very different artists together. That, and a shared love of the music of Sun Ra. Waterman, and pianist Dave Jones, another Jazzmann regular, had guested on Hazel’s previous EP release “Osaka Story” (2020).
The duo describe their idea for this new record as;
“Taking Sun Ra material and treating it in it a wholly contemporary way, rather than just producing pseudo-Arkestra arrangements. We have tried to retain the elements of improvisation and risk taking that we all love about Ra, whilst developing a colourful palette of unusual modern instrumental combination of timbres”.
The majority of the instrumentation is performed by the duo but there are also significant contributions to individual tracks by the guest musicians listed at the top of this article. The EP appears on Hazel’s own imprint, Bamboo Radical.
Waterman’s playing is placed front and centre and its unusual to hear him in such a contemporary setting, with Hazel providing percussion and programming and electronically manipulating the sounds of the trumpet and flugel. Opener “New Day” also features an underpinning electric bass groove provided by guest David Westmore, the bedrock for Hazel’s accompanying percussion and his swirling electronic textures. Meanwhile Waterman steps out front to deliver a powerful solo that includes guttural, vocalised Bubber Miley style plunger muted trumpet, as the sounds of vintage jazz collide with those of contemporary club culture. The trumpeter solos with great power and fluency, very much the eye of this electronic storm.
“Somewhere In Space” begins in authentically spacey fashion and features the other worldly sounds of Waterman on wind synth. It later explodes into life with a dub / Latin style groove, with guest Jonathan Edwards adding acoustic piano to the mix. Waterman later features more conventionally as a trumpet soloist, stretching out eloquently above the infectious grooves.
“Mu” finds Hazel featuring more prominently as a guitarist, in addition to his role as percussionist and soundscaper. The establishment of a dirty, rumbling funk style groove, topped by Waterman’s increasingly stentorian trumpeting, recalls electric era Miles Davis and the piece plays out with the sounds of Hazel, the multi-instrumentalist.
The final, and lengthiest piece, is an arrangement of “There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)”, introduced by the sound of Kim Waterman’s ethereal, multi-tracked wordless vocals. Hazel then sets up a lazy, funk style groove that acts as the backdrop for guest Gethin Woolcock’s soaring, bluesy, dirty sounding lead guitar. Kim’s voice drifts in and out of the mix and when Steve joins the proceedings his trumpet still sounds like electric era Miles. It’s not all sound and fury however, Hazel adds some acoustic guitar and Kim’s vocals continue to permeate the music before an anthemic closing section featuring a hypnotic, steadily building groove and Waterman’s soaring trumpet incantations.
I’ll admit to not always being the biggest fan of Sun Ra’s music but I very much enjoyed this EP. I can’t make comparisons between these arrangements and the Ra originals, but I was impressed by the quality of the compositions and by the duo’s treatment of them.
Hazel reveals himself as a skilled arranger and producer, a ‘sound artist’ if you will, and as a highly accomplished multi-instrumentalist. His ability to handle ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ allows Waterman the freedom to express himself and he plays brilliantly throughout, soloing with a breathtaking combination of power and fluency.
The guests all make substantial contributions, with their performances also skilfully shaped and manipulated by Hazel. His overall vision, combined with Waterman’s brilliance as a soloist make for a winning combination and this updating of Ra’s still visionary music for the 21st century is highly effective.
Waterman retains his musical identity within the format of contemporary production and it may be that this collaboration introduces his playing to a new audience. That said his existing jazz fan-base shouldn’t be frightened off by this excursion into the realms of electronica, it’s still very much Steve Waterman, jazz trumpeter par excellence, and for me it made a pleasant change to hear his playing in a different context.
His partnership with Hazel appears to be a very productive alliance and one that I anticipate will continue. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.
This EP, together with other recordings by Paul Hazel, is available from;