Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

January 02, 2022


The writing is intelligent and varied and the playing uniformly excellent throughout.

Secret Sessions


(Ubuntu Music – UBU0092)

Paul Booth – tenor sax, bass clarinet, Tom Walsh – trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards, Nichol Thomson – trombone, keyboards, vocoder, Chris Allard – guitars, Laurence Cottle – electric bass,
Ian Thomas – drums

Steve Hamilton – keyboards, Miles Bould – percussion, Ross Stanley – Hammond B3 organ

Secret Sessions is a project curated by saxophonist Paul Booth, a prolific and versatile session musician best known for his long association with Steve Winwood. His formidable abilities have also made him a first call sideman for an impressive roster of leading rock and pop artists, his credits including such A-listers as Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers Band,  Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, Marti Pellow, Brand New Heavies, Incognito, Jamiroquai and the Eagles.

However Booth’s first love has always been jazz and his credentials in this field are no less impressive. Among those with whom Booth has worked are bassists Davide Mantovani, Arnie Somogyi and Michael Janisch,  trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Ryan Quigley and Ingrid Jensen, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, saxophonist Alan Barnes, vocalist Anita Wardell, flautist Gareth Lockrane and drummers Clark Tracey and Clarence Penn. Booth has also recorded with the Cuban born player of the Galician bagpipes Wilber Calver. In addition his playing has graced the ranks of the BBC Big Band.

In addition to his exhaustive sideman credits across a variety of genres Booth is also a composer and band leader in his own right and also runs his own Pathways record label. His output as a leader includes the albums “It’s Happening” (2003),  “No Looking Back” (Basho Records, 2007), “Pathways” (2009) and “Trilateral” (Pathway, 2012), the last named featuring Booth’s playing with three different trios. His latest solo release is “Travel Sketches” (2019, Ubuntu Music), from which many of the above lines have been extracted. Full review here;

In recent years Booth’s growing interest in world music styles has led to him forming two different ensembles, the Patchwork Project and the Bansangu Orchestra. The début releases from both bands are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann;

Booth is also a co-leader of the Latin-Jazz ensemble TRYPL, which he fronts with trombonist Trevor Mires and trumpeter Ryan Quigley. The band’s debut was released on Ubuntu in 2020 and is reviewed here;

The Secret Sessions project began in 2019 and the first album appeared in early 2020. “Fragile Eagle” was a digital only release on the Ubuntu label and featured Booth alongside trumpeter Steve Fishwick, trombonist Trevor Mires, pianist Tom Cawley, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells.

For this second release Booth has selected an entirely new team, many of them session veterans, but all with deep jazz roots, as trumpeter Tom Walsh explains;
“The germination of this album came from the core of the band wanting to explore some original music off the back of touring with various pop/rock artists. Having worked together in multiple musical line-ups as sidemen for multiple bandleaders it made sense to come together and create some music under our own combined leadership. A lot of the players in this outfit are known for their work as top London session players, but wanted to revisit their jazz and improvisational roots. ‘Hoop’ presents an album of synth-tinged fusion coming from a group of contemporary jazz musicians with wide musical influences and experiences. Expect everything from powerful, horn led prog elements all the way through to gutsy, soulful ballad and blues playing”.

As the project co-ordinator Booth has used the same working methods that he deployed on the first recording. “It dawned on me that it could be fun to keep the musicians in the dark about who they were going to be recording with on the day” he explains, “the only information they had was instrumentation to aid their arrangements, and what time and where they needed to be”.

The programme features eight original compositions, with Booth, Thomson, Allard and Walsh all contributing two tunes each. The sound is broadly ‘fusion-esqe’, as described by Walsh, and despite the intentional spontaneity of the project there’s still the kind of professional sheen about the finished product that one would expect from this seasoned bunch of sessioneers. This is not to imply that the album is in any way bland, there is some intelligent writing and some superb playing here, but the finished sound is undeniably slick and polished.

Things kick off with Booth’s “Sinterval”, a highly rhythmic fusion style piece driven by Cottle’s electric bass and featuring the sophisticated blending of the three horns with Allard’s guitar. Walsh takes the first solo, effortlessly soaring up into the trumpet’s higher registers. Cottle’s liquidly melodic electric bass cools things down a little before the horns combine once more, with Booth eventually emerging to deliver a fluent and authoritative tenor sax solo. Guest Steve Hamilton, a member of Booth’s regular quartet, adds a splash of additional colour on keyboards.

Second guest Miles Bould plays a rather more prominent role on “Silo”, written by trombonist Nichol Thomson. The percussionist combines with kit drummer Thomas to bring a Latin-esque feel to a piece that fairly barrels along as it tips its hat to retro fusion styles, with the composer featuring on vocoder.

Booth’s second offering with the pen is the slow blues “Good, Bad Fortune”, which features the Hammond playing of guest musician Ross Stanley, a member of Booth’s regular organ trio. Solos come from Thomson, this time a more conventional offering on bluesy trombone, and Allard with a masterclass in controlled dynamics as he cuts loose with some articulate but soulful blues rock guitar.

The guitarist’s own “Erin” is another piece to showcase the more meditative side of the band. There’s a plaintive edge to Booth’s tenor while the composer demonstrates his versatility with a guitar solo that draws more obviously on his impressive jazz chops. Walsh then takes over with a fluent and graceful flugelhorn solo.

Walsh’s “Boz Pity” is a more conventional fusion offering, upbeat in feel with more impressive unison playing from the horns. At a guess I’d say it was the composer’s heavily treated trumpet that features on the first solo, but there’s no mistaking the brilliance of Cottle as he delivers a virtuoso excursion on electric bass. Drummer Thomas then features strongly in the tune’s closing stages.

Walsh’s second composition follows immediately. Named after a lake in British Columbia, Canada, “Cultus Lake” begins in calm and serene fashion with the crystalline tones of Allard’s guitar. The composer’s own fluent, velvety, slightly melancholic flugel also features before Allard’s elegant guitar takes over once more. This is an episodic piece of writing and the piece undergoes a dramatic change of pace, gathering momentum as Thomas’ drums help to power a blistering tenor sax solo from Booth as the once calm waters of the lake are ruffled by a storm.

Allard’s “Ocean Mirage” could almost be a companion piece, building from a similarly serene opening to embrace an almost anthemic quality, before shading off into a more forceful, groove driven section that fuels powerful solos from Booth on tenor and the composer on guitar. Finally we hear a reprise of the opening section.

Thomson’s second offering closes the album. The title “Stop Telling Us what Do Do” may be a surreptitious dig at the musicians’ rock and pop paymasters, but I like to think it might be a veiled reference to Boris Johnson and the Covid scare-mongerers, particularly as the music industry has been harder hit than most. However, I digress.
Musically the piece combines an underlying bluesiness with a slow burning anthemic quality with Allard’s guitar and the leader’s trombone initially, to the fore, augmented by that “synth-tinge” of which Walsh has spoken. The arrangement features Booth on bass clarinet but it’s Thomson that the first solo on trombone, eventually followed by Allard’s spiralling guitar.  But the piece is perhaps most striking as an ensemble performance, a validation of the Secret Sessions project and a demonstration of just how quickly and effectively this ‘supergroup’ of leading session musicians has cohered.

I’ve yet to hear “Fragile Eagle” but I certainly enjoyed “Hoop” and it would seem that Secret Sessions is a project with a good deal of music left in it. The album is a worthy addition to Paul Booth’s impressive jazz catalogue and it also acts as a good showcase for the other musicians involved, particularly Walsh and Thomson, both of whom are relatively new names to me. I’m rather more familiar with the playing of Allard, Cottle and Thomas.

As I’ve intimated previously the writing is intelligent and varied and the playing uniformly excellent throughout. The occasional use of synths and vocoder is handled tastefully and these elements are never allowed to become obtrusive, something that I’ll admit to fearing when I first read the press release. Instead the electronics are stitched carefully into the fabric of the compositions and ultimately enhance rather than detract. Well done to everybody concerned.

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