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Simon Spillett

Sienna Red


by Ian Mann

August 27, 2008


A buccaneering collection of Tubby Hayes inspired material played by an experienced and accomplished band.

Tenor saxophonist Simon Spillett made a big impression with his début recording “Introducing Simon Spillett”, also issued on Woodville Records.

“Introducing” made it clear that Spillett is the natural heir to the late, great Tubby Hayes who died prematurely in 1973. A world class soloist, Hayes’ death was a bitter blow for British jazz and he remains a celebrated figure to this day.

Hayes is Spillett’s main inspiration and the younger man is a considerable authority on his subject, having authored a book on Hayes and contributed to numerous liner notes including those to the recent Proper Box set, “The Little Giant” which is reviewed elsewhere on this site.

I was never lucky enough to hear Hayes during his lifetime. My discovery came via the imaginative re-issue programme undertaken by the now sadly defunct Mole Jazz in the early 80’s. “Mexican Green” and “Tubbs Tours” were early favourites and I later acquired a couple of live quintet recordings which saw Hayes joined in the front line by the dynamic trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar.

I was however fortunate enough to see Spillett deliver a fine set of Hayes inspired material on the Stroller programme at the 2007 HSBC Brecon Jazz Festival. Spillett was joined by “Introducing” personnel pianist John Critchinson, bassist Andrew Cleyndert and drummer Martin Drew. These three were of course also closely associated with the late Ronnie Scott who famously worked alongside Hayes in the twin tenor front line of the Jazz Couriers.

For Spillett’s latest recording “Sienna Red” Critchinson and Cleyndert remain on board with Spike Wells taking over from Drew at the drums. Wells was a close associate of Hayes, working with his quintet from 1968 until Hayes’ demise in 1973.

Wells’ involvement has inspired Spillett to concentrate almost exclusively on material either composed by Hayes or closely associated with him. As a former associate of Hayes, Wells has provided comprehensive album notes that explain the inspiration behind the choice of material and add greatly to the listener’s appreciation and enjoyment of the music.

As well as being a brilliant saxophonist Hayes was also an accomplished flautist and vibes player. Spillett does not attempt to replicate this side of Tubby’s talents, he simply sticks to his tenor and makes a very fine job of doing so. There is enough of Spillett’s own personality in these interpretations to refute any accusations of mere copying.

The presence of three such experienced and accomplished colleagues is also a big help. The evergreen Critchinson is an effortlessly swinging player, Cleyndert is one of the UK’s most dependable bassists and Wells adds that all important touch of authenticity to the proceedings.

Spillett has chosen a well balanced selection of Hayes material for the quartet to work on. One time Hayes trumpeter Ian Hamer wrote the opening “Mini Minor” , a minor blues that makes for a spirited call to arms with rousing playing from all four protagonists and particular Spillett himself.

The easy swinging “Lifeline” was originally written by Hayes for the Jazz Couriers but never saw the light of day on record. Spillett’s revival of it is more than justified with Critchinson making a particularly sparkling contribution.

Hayes’ “Sourayia” is the first of two ballad items that show the sensitive side of both Hayes and Spillett. Spillett’s velvety tones benefit from the sympathetic support of his accompanists and the thoughtful soloing of Critchinson. Cleyndert is also excellent, his solo interlude here being one of several excellent such contributions throughout the set. He also does a fine job at the production desk.

“Peace Pipe” by the American saxophonist Ernie Wilkins is one of my favourite Hayes pieces and appears in another form on “The Little Giant” box set. It fairly steams along with Spillett’s garrulous tenor to the fore. Everybody sounds as if they’re having a great time on this one, especially Wells as he really rattles the tubs.

“Rumpus” was actually written by Hayes during Wells’ tenure with the band. Ironically Spillett and his band mates take it at a more sedate tempo than Hayes used to play it, but even so it’s still pretty lively. Spillett handles the tricky theme with aplomb and Critchinson clearly enjoys himself as he stretches out.

“Ricardo” finds the band exploring bossa nova territory in amiable manner on another Hayes original.

“Pint Of Bitter” was written for Hayes by the great American trumpeter Clark Terry and is one of the most enduring items in the Hayes repertoire. Both bluesy and funky Spillett’s version is a swinging delight with some great blowing by the leader as the rhythm section get the groove right in the pocket.

There is a pause for breath with the second ballad of the album, Lalo Schifrin’s “The Right To Love”. Spillett’s understated playing and Critchinson’s beautifully crafted solo make this an album highlight.

The title track “Sienna Red” was written by Hayes shortly before his death and was played by his big band on their last radio broadcast. Spillett has transcribed the piece for quartet and made it into a feature for Wells in accordance with Hayes’ original intentions. Wells spirited drum fills are in the style of Philly Joe Jones as requested by Tubby all those years ago.

Finally we come to Sonny Rollins’ flagwaver “Oleo”, the kind of “tear up” that was a staple of Hayes’ live performances. The group take the album storming out in much the same way as they ushered it in. Wells again features prominently but there is great playing all round on this barnstorming closer.

Spillett is a player of great technical facility and should be a fixture on the UK scene for some time to come. It will be interesting to see if he continues to mine the Hayes seam or chooses to expand into other areas of the jazz repertoire. He certainly has the ability to stamp his own authority on the music.

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