by Ian Mann
November 09, 2015
An excellent album and a recording that feels like something of a breakthrough for the supremely talented Tom Hewson. “Treehouse” glows brightly throughout.
Tom Hewson Trio
(CamJazz CAMJ 3316-2)
Tom Hewson, originally from Kent and a graduate of New College in Oxford is a young pianist and composer who was mentored by the late, great John Taylor.
Now aged thirty Hewson leads a number of projects including a quintet (with George Crowley - sax, Nick Malcolm - trumpet, Ferg Ireland - bass, James Maddren - drums) and the electric trio Identity Parade (Alam Nathoo - sax, Pete Ibbetson – drums). In 2012 he released “Slightly Peculiar” an album of original music for solo piano that attracted a considerable amount of critical acclaim. Two years later he was awarded first prize at the 2014 Nottingham International Jazz Piano competition.
As an in demand sideman he has worked with drummer Asaf Sirkis, guitarist Ant Law and saxophonist Mark Lockheart. He is also a skilled vocal accompanist and has collaborated with singers such as Nicky Schrire and Fini Bearman.
However the main focus of Hewson’s creative talents is his ‘Treehouse’ trio featuring vibraphonist Lewis Wright and bassist Calum Gourlay. It’s probably thanks to the John Taylor connection that Hewson has been able to release this superbly recorded on the Italian Cam Jazz imprint, Taylor’s label for over a decade following his departure from ECM.
Federico Scoppio’s liner notes make reference to Hewson’s many influences from classical ( Ravel, Debussy) to jazz (Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Jimmy Guiffre, Dave Holland) to contemporary rock and electronic music (Radiohead, Aphex Twin). It’s true that elements of all of these can be heard in the Trio’s music (Wright and Gourlay also contribute tunes to the album) but ultimately this is a very fine jazz album made by three supremely gifted musicians and improvisers.
The press release also finds Hewson acknowledging the influence of jazz pianists ranging from Oscar Peterson through Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk to Paul Bley.
With a drummer-less instrumental configuration it’s inevitable that the music to be heard on “Treehouse” will be categorised as ‘chamber jazz’. However with Wright and Gourlay on board and thanks in no small part to Hewson’s own left hand there is no lack of rhythmic invention and variation. This is a recording that is consistently vital and absorbing and very far from bloodless. Yes, there are many moments of beauty but this is music that is never bland and goes way beyond mere ‘prettiness’. There are moments when the rapport between Hewson and Wright reminds me of the chemistry between Chick Corea and Gary Burton - yes, “Treehouse” really is that good.
The high quality of the production is also a significant factor in the album’s success. The album was recorded over the course of a single day at the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building in Oxford with saxophonist Josh Kemp acting as engineer. The album was subsequently mixed by Kemp and Hewson and mastered by Danilo Rossi with producer Ermanno Basso overseeing the whole process.
The album commences with Hewson’s tune “Sparticle”, a composition that hints at the influence of John Taylor and includes lengthy passages of flowing solo piano as well as plenty of characteristically sparkling interplay between Hewson and Wright while Gourlay initially occupies his traditional anchoring role. However this is a very democratic trio and following the expansive solos by Hewson and Wright the bassist contributes his own succinct and highly melodic solo in the closing stages of the piece.
Hewson’s title track exemplifies the trio’s rhythmic inventiveness with Hewson’s quick-fire rhythmic motifs helping to fuel Wright’s lightly skipping flights of fancy at the vibes. The pianist’s own solo is a beguiling mix of melody and rhythm and a more than ample demonstration of his immense technical abilities.
The brief “Lifting”, which clocks in at under minute, is credited to Wright and is a tantalising improvised snippet of solo vibes. At first Wright deploys a hard, clanking, highly percussive metallic sound before shifting to shimmering, ethereal, space like timbres that seem almost electronic. The press release mentions the influence of Frank Zappa on Wright’s playing and composing. More obvious is that of contemporary vibes players such as the Americans Matt Moran, and Jason Adasiewicz and the UK’s own Jim Hart and Corey Mwamba. Wright’s sound goes far beyond that of Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson or even Gary Burton.
Hewson’s “Not Relevant” features one of his most memorable melodic motifs and is the vehicle for some terrific interplay between all three musicians. The piece also exhibits an impressive degree of emotional and dynamic contrast as it undertakes several twists and turns during its five and a half minute duration. In the hands of these three gifted performers the ‘chamber jazz’ instrumental configuration becomes liberating rather than restrictive.
Also by Hewson “Gelsomina” is more obviously about beauty, a ballad that includes a delightfully melodic Gourlay bass solo amidst the lyrical piano and delicately luminous vibes.
Credited to Hewson “Splitting” is a brief passage of solo improvised piano lasting a little over a minute that still manages to retain an underlying lyricism despite its moments of avant garde inspired dissonance.
It acts as the precursor to “Glitch” which manages to combine a very modern rhythmic, edgy urgency with a more light-hearted conventional jazz feel. Gourlay even plays walking bass at one point as Hewson and Wright deliver good natured but dazzling solos. It’s a good example of Hewson’s traditional and contemporary jazz influences coming together.
“Silver Strands” is a fully fledged composition from Wright, a piece that that exemplifies the beauty of the sound of the vibes as Wright’s singing overtones combine with the lyricism of Hewson’s piano on a slowly unfolding piece that exhibits something of a Steve Reich influence with its subtly interlocking melodic and rhythmic patterns. There’s a delightful solo from Wright himself during the tune’s latter stages.
“Lingering” is a short passage of improvised double bass credited to Gourlay which features eerie, grainy bowed sounds. It only lasts forty eight seconds but Gourlay is a musician who has recorded an entire solo bass album, “Live at The Ridgeway”, released earlier in 2015, a record that is surprisingly accessible and well worth hearing.
The “Treehouse” album concludes on an exuberant note with Hewson’s tune “Beanie’s Bounce”, a playful tribute to conventional jazz virtues and to bebop pioneers such as Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. The easy collective rapport of the trio is again evident and there are also some brilliant individual moments including a bravado passage of unaccompanied piano from leader Hewson and an effervescent vibes solo from Wright, these punctuated by a final bass feature from the excellent Gourlay.
“Treehouse” is an excellent album and a recording that feels like something of a breakthrough for the supremely talented Tom Hewson. It’s not often that a young British musician gets to record for a major European label with international distribution and in musical terms Hewson has seized the opportunity with both hands. “Treehouse” glows brightly throughout and even the brief solo improvised episodes hold the attention, something that risked sounding like an unnecessary indulgence actually provides very effective punctuation in the context of the album as a whole.
Hewson, Wright and Gourlay will officially launch the album on the evening of Monday 16th November 2015 at The Forge in Camden Town. This EFG London Jazz Festival appearance will also include a celebration of the life and music of John Taylor. For further information please visit http://www.theforgevenue.org or www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk
I shall be in London for the Festival but won’t be able to cover this particular event. However the Treehouse trio is a band that I would very much like to see live and I note that Hewson’s website states that further dates are due to be scheduled for February 2016. Hopefully I will get my opportunity then. In the meantime keep checking http://www.tomhewson.com for further announcements.
blog comments powered by Disqus