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Secret Sessions

Secret Sessions – Hoop, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 30/11/2023.

by Ian Mann

December 04, 2023


A phenomenal evening of music making at The Marr’s Bar.

Secret Sessions – Hoop, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 30/11/2023.

Paul Booth – tenor sax, Ryan Quigley – trumpet, Nichol Thomson – trombone, Chris Allard – guitar, Tomasz Bura – keyboards, Laurence Cottle – electric bass, Ian Thomas – drums

Secret Sessions is a project instigated by saxophonist and composer Paul Booth. Although Booth has amassed an impressive jazz back catalogue featuring the music of his own groups he is also a prolific session musician who has worked with many of the biggest names in pop and rock as well as playing with the Strictly Come Dancing touring band.

Booth’s various jazz projects, including his quartet plus the larger ensembles Patchwork Project and the Bansangu Orchestra, have been featured on numerous occasions on the Jazzmann web pages.

Together with trombonist Trevor Mires and trumpeter Ryan Quigley Booth also leads the UK based Latin-Jazz ensemble TRYPL, whose eponymous début recording was released in 2021. 

Of course Booth isn’t the only jazz musician whose primary income is derived from playing more commercial music. The Secret Sessions project began in 2019 when Booth booked some studio time and e-mailed a host of other session playing jazz musicians, inviting them to come and record with him. Inevitably many were busy with commercial projects, but those that responded were also requested to bring along some of their own compositions. The focus of Secret Sessions was to be the playing of original music.

Booth also had the idea of not telling the musicians who else they would be recording with. “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 first album in the Secret Sessions series appeared in early 2020. “Fragile Eagle” was a digital only release on the Ubuntu record label and featured Booth alongside trumpeter Steve Fishwick, trombonist Trevor Mires, pianist Tom Cawley, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells.

The partnership between Secret Sessions and Ubuntu continued and 2021 saw the emergence of a brand new group and the album “Hoop”, a title that has subsequently become a band name. This time Booth was joined by trumpeter Tom Walsh, trombonist Nichol Thomson, guitarist Chris Allard, electric bass specialist Laurence Cottle and drummer Ian Thomas. The core line up was supplemented by additional keyboards and percussion on selected tracks. Booth, Thomson, Allard and Walsh all provided compositions with Walsh making the following observation regarding the finished album;
“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”.

The “Hoop” album enjoyed a good critical reception and Booth messaged jazz promoters around the UK asking them to book the band. Dave Fuller of Music Spoken Here responded positively and Hoop were originally scheduled to appear at the Marr’s Bar in May 2023. This had to be re-scheduled due to Booth’s Strictly commitments, but anybody who witnessed tonight’s performance would surely agree that it was well worth the wait.

Given the commitments of its members it was impressive that the majority of the “Hoop” album line up was present this evening with Booth, Nichol, Allard, Cottle and Thomas all in attendance. Ryan Quigley, Booth’s colleague from TRYPL, came in on trumpet while Tomasz Bura took the keyboard chair in place of album guest Ross Stanley. Given that this was a band of seasoned session professionals it was no surprise that they fitted in seamlessly, both impressing with their sight reading skills, and particularly Quigley who had been drafted in as a last minute replacement and who had heard Hoop’s music for the first time on the journey down from Sheffield where he had been rehearsing with another act.

The reputations of the musicians in this stellar septet resulted in what was probably the largest attendance yet at a Music Spoken Here event at The Marr’s Barr. An enthusiastic and supportive audience enjoyed two sets of music with the programme including original compositions from the members of Hoop, including the absent Tom Walsh, plus favourite tunes from the Brecker Brothers and from John Scofield.

The performance kicked off with Booth’s composition “Sinterval”, the opening track on the “Hoop” album. Cottle, Bura and Thomas quickly established a sophisticated funk groove that provided the platform for the big, powerful sound of the triple horn front line. Newcomer Quigley took the first solo, throwing down the gauntlet with a blistering trumpet feature and showing no signs of hesitation or nervousness. Cottle followed on electric bass, demonstrating the kind of Jaco style chops that have made him such an in demand player and a musician who has acquired something of a cult following. Finally we heard from composer Booth with a suitably robust tenor solo. A terrific start.

Next up was another Booth composed piece, also taken from the album. “Good, Bad Fortune” was introduced by a drum roll from Thomas and was a slow blues featuring suitably bluesy guitar chording from Allard. Thomson’s rasping, bluesy trombone solo reminded me of the great Gary Valente’s playing with the late, great Carla Bley. Allard subsequently took over with some fiery blues rock guitar soloing, before Thomson returned for a series of lively guitar and trombone exchanges.

Although instigated by Booth the Hoop group is a democratic unit and announcing duties were shared around the band. Generally whoever had written the tune got to introduce it. Nichol proved to be a particularly engaging announcer, combining elements of surrealism with a wry Scottish wit. He promised us that his composition “Silo”, also sourced from the “Hoop” recording would sound a bit “Weather Report-ish”, which I guess it did with its punchy horn lines and cerebrally funky rhythms, and with Bura fulfilling the Joe Zawinul role on electric piano. Booth took the first solo, followed by the trombone / keyboard dialogue between Thomson and composer. This was the first piece to sound radically different to the recorded version, which also features Thomson on vocoder and sees guest percussionist Miles Bould imparting the piece with more of a Latin flavour.

Allard took up the compositional reins and assumed the announcing duties for “Erin”, a tune from the album that is dedicated to his young daughter. “What did she do to deserve that?” was one band member’s jocular response to a piece that does actually demonstrate a gentler side of the group, but without dropping the energy levels too drastically. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, subsequently joined by electric bass and drums and eventually by Booth and the rest of the horn section, the piece also included fluent and graceful solos from the composer on guitar and Quigley on trumpet. A version of this composition also appears on Allard’s recent solo release, the excellent “Melodic Collective”. Review here;

Thomson, who at one time played with the late, great saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker, got to announce the final item of the first set. This proved to be an explosively funky version of the Brecker Brothers tune “Sponge” that saw concise but blistering solos from Thomson, Quigley, Booth and Allard, all of whom were featured twice in a series of ‘cameo solos’ propelled by the ferocious funk grooves generated by Cottle, Thomas and Bura.  A dynamic collective performance that sent the audience into the break feeling suitably energised.

Set two commenced with “Boz Pity”, a tune from the “Hoop” album by trumpeter Tom Walsh, whose absence from the bandstand allowed his colleagues to indulge in a bit of playful mickey taking. Taking its title from a Star Wars reference this was another highly charged funk offering with the horns again combining to create an impressively big sound. Solos came from Thomson on trombone, Cottle on electric bass, Bura on electric piano and finally the mighty Ian Thomas at the drums.

Also from the album Allard’s “Ocean Mirage” is an episodic piece that moves through a series of distinct phases. An atmospheric intro featuring delayed guitar effects shaded into a more upbeat, groove driven section featuring solos from Quigley on trumpet, Booth on tenor sax and the composer on soaring guitar. After the fireworks came a reprise of the more reflective opening section.

At this juncture the group abandoned the album repertoire, after having performed six of its eight tracks. The John Scofield composition “Let The Cat Out” featured the guitarist’s typically infectious blend of blues and funk, with tight, propulsive grooves fuelling feisty solos from Quigley on trumpet, Bura on electric piano and Allard on guitar.

Thomson introduced his own composition “Little Steve’s”, a piece originally performed by the Super Highway Band, an outfit that included the composer on trombone and Nigel Hitchcock on saxophone. Thomson studied at the famous Berklee Music College in Boston, MA, USA and the piece was named for a favourite musicians’ eatery near the College. Fuelled by big, hard hitting grooves the performance saw Thomson and Quigley exchanging solos before entering into a series of blazing trombone and trumpet exchanges. Booth then waded in with a towering tenor solo. Terrific stuff.

Hoop then signed off with a second Brecker Brothers tune, the blues “Inside Out”. Ferocious funk grooves helped to trigger incendiary solos from Thomson on trombone and Quigley on trumpet, arguably the latter’s best of the night. Guitarist Allard and keyboard player Bura responded in kind, helping to round off a phenomenal evening of music making at The Marr’s Bar.

The only thing to put a damper on the proceedings was Booth’s onstage announcement concerning Birmingham based trumpeter Bryan Corbett, a musician that might conceivably have been a part of the Secret Sessions project. Corbett has experienced a re-occurrence of an ongoing illness,  Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia and requires live saving surgery, the cost of which will run to some £50,000. Brand New Heavies saxophonist Richard Beesley has launched a JustGiving fundraising page to help cover the costs and it was good so see Booth and Hoop getting behind the appeal and helping a fellow musician.

As a long time fan of Corbett’s playing I was deeply shocked by this news, I’d seen him play a brilliant set with a trio of Welsh musicians at Brecon Jazz Club as recently as October 10th 2023. Music Here regular Justin McKeown had seen him twice even more recently than that, so it must all have flared up very quickly. Let’s hope that the fund raising campaign and the operation itself are successful and that Bryan’s life and musical career can be saved. The link to the Justgiving page is here, please help if you can.

I don’t want to end my review of such a brilliant and successful gig on a sad note so I’ll leave the last word to my mate Steve, who was attending his first Music Spoken Here event. “Shit Fucking Hot!” was his erudite appraisal of Hoop’s marvellous performance.




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