Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

July 26, 2016


A good mix of the old and the new in terms of both material and personnel, drawing on conventional jazz virtues but never sounding dated or stilted.

Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra

“A New Start”

(Trio Records TR596)

The saxophonist, composer and band-leader Pete Hurt, born in Nottingham in 1950, is one of the great unsung heroes of British jazz. Hurt moved to London in the 1970s and worked with the late Graham Collier before joining the collaborative group Redbrass. Together with the much missed pianist, composer and educator Pete Saberton he subsequently co-led the quintet Lighthouse.

A UK musician with an international reputation Hurt played with George Russell’s Living Time Orchestra and with the Carla Bley Very Big Band. Other large ensemble work included Andy Sheppard’s Big Co-motion band, the London Jazz Orchestra and frequent slots as a ‘dep’ for the regular members of Loose Tubes.

As an arranger he has worked in conjunction with the BBC Big Band and the NDR Big Band, in the case of the latter for a project involving the great British vocalist Norma Winstone. Hurt has also worked in the theatre playing in the West End musical “Blues In the Night” and writing the arrangements for “Five Guys Named Moe”. 

The roll call of musicians Hurt has appeared with is impressive and includes Billy Cobham, Abdullah Ibrahim, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Westbrook, Don Rendell, John Taylor, Bryan Spring, and Stan Sulzmann, so many of these now sadly no longer with us. He is currently a member of trumpeter Henry Lowther’s excellent Still Waters quintet and of saxophonist Chris Biscoe’s Mingus inspired Profiles group and has appeared on recordings by both bands.

Despite being such a busy and in demand musician Hurt has been somewhat under-recorded as a leader. In 1984 he recorded the album “Lost For Words” for Spotlite Records which featured a “small big band” (Hurt’s words) line up similar to the one deployed on this release. Ten years later his quartet featuring Saberton on piano, bassist Tim Wells and drummer Tristan Maillot released “Umbrellas” on the ACS label. In the same year several of Hurt’s compositions were featured on the album “Dance For Human Folk”, the London Jazz Orchestra’s recording with guest drummer Billy Cobham.

The inspiration behind “A New Start” dates back to 1984 and the “Lost For Words” album. In 2013 Hurt decided to resurrect his “small big band”  while adding a few new musicians to the line up. The personnel of the current incarnation of the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra is an effective cross generational mix of musicians ranging from veterans of the 1984 band (trumpeter Henry Lowther and tuba player Dave Powell) to the rising stars of today.

The material, all written by Hurt, is a similar mix of the old and the new with new compositions such as the title track and “Sabotage” mingling with pieces from all stages of Hurt’s career including the 1970s vintage “Forbidden Fruit”. Released on bassist Andy Cleyndert’s Trio Records imprint Hurt dedicates the album to the memories of Pete Saberton and composer, arranger and educator Eddie Harvey, both of whom remain highly influential to the leader.

The full line up on “A New Start” comprises of;

Pete Hurt – conductor, tenor sax

Tori Freestone – soprano sax, flute

Martin Hathaway – alto sax, flute

Josephine Davies – tenor sax, clarinet

Mick Foster – baritone sax, bass clarinet

Jim Rattigan – French horn

Noel Langley, Robbie Robson, Henry Lowther – trumpets

Nick Mills, Owen Dawson – trombones

Richard Henry – bass trombone

Dave Powell – tuba

Kate Williams – piano

Nick Costley-White – guitar

Mick Hutton – double bass

Jon Scott – drums

The first thing that strikes the listener is just what a BIG sound this seventeen piece band makes. The expansion of the line up was intended to provide more textures and colours, which it does most successfully, but it also gives the band an impressive degree of sheer power. Evidence of this appears on the opening title track which begins with a rousing big band fanfare before settling back into something more subtle and nuanced with richly colourful horn voicings but with flashes of that nascent power occasionally bubbling to the service. The featured soloists are Owen Dawson, who exhibits an admirable fluency on trombone, and Martin Hathaway on incisively needling alto sax.

“Thinking Of You” is shorter and less explosive than the opener with Hurt conjuring some lush, genuinely orchestral textures from his ensemble. The way in which he blends the low and high register instruments is truly masterful. Despite the occasional flashes of grandiosity this is essentially a high class ballad performance with featured soloist Josephine Davies’ assured and highly skilled tenor sax at the heart of the piece.

The new piece “Sabotage” is another excellent example of Hurt’s composing and arranging skills. Rich in textural colour and dynamic contrasts it includes some superbly orchestrated ensemble playing alongside a flowing and expansive solo from pianist Kate Williams followed by a solo of great clarity and majesty from the veteran trumpeter Henry Lowther.

Williams features again on the blithely swinging “Backfoot Samba” as she exhibits an admirable lightness of touch at the keyboard, ably supported by Hutton and Scott as the music temporarily switches into piano trio mode. Robbie Robson, a trumpeter of a younger vintage, also impresses and there’s a lively feature for the in-demand young drummer Jon Scott.

Hurt explores a different musical idiom with “Blues In The Dark” which features the coolly elegant, blues tinged guitar sound of Nick Costley-White. The blues also flavours Nick Mills’ subsequent trombone solo while Hurt’s orchestration has been compared favourably to that of Gil Evans.

The Evans comparisons are equally valid with regard to the sumptuously textured “Fog Juice” which combines richly colourful orchestration with probing solos by Robson on trumpet and Davies on tenor.

“Triangle” begins with the rich palette of the full Orchestra but subsequently develops into a feature for Williams, her lyricism subtly cushioned by the low key ensemble accompaniment, often with the flutes prominent in the arrangement. But there are also more grandiose passages featuring the whole ensemble as Hurt expertly mixes and blends the musical colours available to him.

The album ends with a highly effective updating of the 1970s piece “Forbidden Fruit” which opens with a fanfare featuring the bluesy sound of Costley-White’s guitar. A blues undercurrent remains in place throughout the piece which incorporates the agile dance of Freestone’s soprano sax, this answered by the incisive power of Hurt’s tenor as the leader temporarily lays down his baton. Mick Hutton’s supremely melodic and highly dexterous bass solo concludes the features on an unusual note while the closing ensemble passages are not quite the grand climax that one might have anticipated as Hurt continues to deliver the unexpected. 

Lovingly composed and orchestrated “A New Start” represents an impressive offering from Hurt. His compositions are consistently interesting and full of unexpected twists and turns and the arrangements are rich in terms of colour, texture, inventiveness and imagination. The musicians all play well, both individually and collectively, and there are some excellent individual features.

Genuinely a ‘Jazz Orchestra’ rather than a big band the Hurt ensemble represents a good mix of the old and the new in terms of both material and personnel, drawing on conventional jazz virtues but never sounding dated or stilted. It’s a combination that is likely to sound even better in the live environment and it is to be hoped that Hurt will be able to play some gigs with this richly vibrant and colourful collection of musicians. After a wait of over thirty years “A New Start” represents something of a triumph for its creator.   

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