by Ian Mann
October 26, 2015
The standard of the writing is high throughout and the quality of the compositions allied to some excellent individual and collective musicianship makes for a very satisfying album.
Tim Richards’ Hextet
(Track Records – Track CD0215)
Pianist, composer and educator Tim Richards has been a fairly frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages both with his long running trio and with the now defunct nine piece band Great Spirit, a direct descendant of the fondly remembered Spirit Level, the group with which Richards first made his name.
Great Spirit’s 2006 album “Epistrophy” was one of the very few records to gain a five star accolade from the Jazzmann and I was also lucky enough to review the band playing live at a Jazz Coventry event at the Arts Centre at Warwick University at around the same time. In 2010 I reviewed “Shapeshifting”, the most recent album by Richards’ trio, an impressive enough record but ultimately not quite as satisfying as the magnificent “Epistrophy”.
Richards latest project is a six piece band that he calls his Hextet and which he describes as being formed out of the ashes of Great Spirit, the nonet having folded not long after that live date in 2006. The personnel of Hextet is a fascinating blend of youth and experience with trumpeter Dick Pearce and tenor saxophonist Ed Jones remaining from Great Spirit and with trio member Dominic Howles on double bass. Great Spirit always encouraged and featured talented young musicians and the ‘young guns’ this time round are rising star vibraphonist Ralph Wyld and drummer Pete Ibbetson.
The two previous Richards albums that I have covered have mixed group originals with covers of pieces by such pianist/composers as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Bobby Timmons but this time round the compositions are sourced entirely from within the band with Ibbetson being the only member not to contribute with the pen. The standard of the writing is high throughout and the quality of the compositions allied to some excellent individual and collective musicianship makes for a very satisfying album.
The record opens with Richards’ title track which develops from his introductory piano motif to deliver a typically colourful arrangement that features rich horn voicings and the shimmering brightness of Wyld’s vibes. Jones is the featured soloist with an authoritative excursion on tenor that includes some Middle Eastern sounding inflections in its early stages.
“Joe’s Outside” by trumpeter Dick Pearce is up next, a bright, bouncy, riffy tune that is reminiscent of classic 50s and 60s Blue Note recordings. Pearce, Wyld and Jones are the featured soloists with the young vibraphonist flying around his instrument as the punchy horns plus Richards, Howles and Ibbetson provide terrific rhythmic propulsion.
The next three pieces are Richards originals that make up the “Shamanism Suite”, a work commissioned by Gloucester Jazz Live and first performed at the 2009 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by the Gloucester Youth Jazz Orchestra directed by Richards. The new Hextet arrangements were in turn debuted at Kings Place in London in February 2014.
The first movement of the suite, “Lucid Dreaming” features Richards as a soloist for the first time and represents a welcome reminder of his talents. There’s also an engrossing dialogue between the horns of Pearce and Jones that makes effective use of counterpoint, plus a typically sparkling vibes solo from wunderkind Wyld.
“Spirit Walking” then slows the pace a little with a lustrous arrangement that incorporates concise but effective solos from Wyld, Jones and Pearce.
The final part, “Shapeshifting”, has already been lifted and deployed as the title track of Richards’s 2010 trio album featuring Howles on bass. The Hextet arrangement adds a Latin twist to the tune’s blues inflections and a lively, hard grooving performance elicits joyous solos from Richards and the splendidly fluent Pearce.
Ralph Wyld’s contribution with the pen is “Storebaeltsbroen”, an impressively mature piece of writing with a title inspired by a massive suspension bridge in Denmark (apparently it means ‘Great Belt Fixed Link’). The composer’s lustrous vibes introduce a piece that spans a variety of moods and colours and features some gorgeous playing from both Jones and Pearce plus a dazzling vibes solo from Wyld himself.
It’s perhaps appropriate that the Richards tune “Tollbridge” should be scheduled next, a composition dredged from the archives that first appeared on the 1994 Spirit Level album “On The Level”. The quality of the writing and playing more than justifies its revival. There’s a majestic and dramatic quality about Richards’ writing that invokes expansive and absorbing solos from both himself and Jones with young drummer Ibbetson also producing a commanding performance.
Also by Richards “Discovery” is much lighter in tone with a relaxed and sunny atmosphere that is instantly appealing. With Howles and Ibbetson driving things along at a brisk clip there is some delightful group interplay plus bright, joyful solos from Wyld, Jones, Pearce and Richards. It’s a piece that delivers on the optimism inherent in its title and live or on record is surely guaranteed to raise a smile.
From the pen of Ed Jones “Clandestine” now steers the album in a very different direction. This is an ambitious, eight minute plus composition that begins with an extended and highly atmospheric intro as glacial piano and vibes combine with low register arco bass and the rustle and shimmer of percussion. An assertive theme develops with the introduction of the horns and there’s a a bristling sense of urgency throughout the piece, a vaguely unsettling atmosphere that helps to generate strong solo statements from Richards and Pearce. Ibbetson is again in terrific form as his busy drumming spurs the soloists and he also gets to enjoy an impressive drum feature in the closing stages of the piece.
Bassist Dominic Howles is a prolific composer with a number of solo albums to his credit. His tune “Ease Up” closes the proceedings here, lightening the mood again with its playful exuberance. Punchy horns combine on the theme before Jones delivers the first solo on r’n'b style tenor. Richards’ long running love of the blues is expressed in his solo and on the evidence of this album Dick Pearce is playing better than ever. Wyld weighs in with a relaxed vibes solo and there’s a brief feature for the impressive and effervescent Ibbetson.
Although there are no genuine surprises here “Telegraph Hill” represents an impressive statement from Richards. It’s been quite some time since the final Great Spirit album and it’s good to hear Richards writing and arranging for horns and vibes once more (Great Spirit featured Roger Beaujolais as its resident man with the mallets). There are some typically engaging Richards tunes here and his colleagues also make substantial contributions with the pen, with the pieces by Wyld and Jones in particular adding real depth and colour to the repertoire.
Hextet are due to play at Chichester Festival on June 24th 2016 and are planning to tour elsewhere in the UK during the spring. At the time of writing one date has been confirmed at the Bonington Theatre in Nottingham on June 2nd. This is a band that should be well worth seeing so keep checking http://www.timrichards.ndo.co.uk for other events.
“Telegraph Hill” is available from Bandcamp https://timrichards.bandcamp.comblog comments powered by Disqus