Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Imaginative, Hard-Swinging Change of Pace and a Smalls Gig by Saxophonist Nick Hempton

Saxophonist Nick Hempton has been a regular in the Smalls scene for at least a decade. His compositions swing hard, with an eclectic, ambitious edge and frequent detours into noir. His next gig there is July 14 at 10:30 with a killer, counterintuitive organ groove band including guitarist Mark Whitfield, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka

Hempton’s most recent album, Night Owl – streaming at Spotify – is a good introduction to what he can do with that band onstage – and a considerable change from his previous work. It features Koehler and Tainaka along with another purist guitarist, Peter Bernstein, playing a mix of originals and some pretty radical reinventions of standards.

Bernstein adds an unexpectedly bracing, clustering attack,echoed by Koehler while the band swing the blues in the album’s opening, title track. I Remember Milady’s is a somewhat wistfully altered, similarly bluesy cha-cha with a characteristically smoky solo from Hempton, Koehler launching a river with his.

The band shuffle with lickety-split verve through their take of After You’ve Gone, the bandleader making his scampering lines look effortless, Bernstein having fun with a series of spacy hammer-on phrases. Then they do I’m a Fool to Want You as a brooding bolero: the shadowy ambience of Bernstein’s cautious phrasing, Koehler’s muted backdrop, Tainaka’s brushwork and the smoke from Hempton’s tenor sax is where the noir really kicks in.

From there the band flip the script with the blithe 10th Street Turnaround: it’s akin to what Jimmy Smith might have done with a New Orleans ballad. Corner Bistro – a shout-out to a rare West Village landmark that’s still standing – has a slinky 60s funk shuffle lurking just beneath its shiny, somewhat acidic surface. Then the band shift into low gear with the balmy southern elegance of It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream.

Hempton’s catchy riffage and a long, majestic Koehler solo contrast with the massed, enigmatic harmonies behind them in Listen Hard, Speak Easy. They close the album with the expansive Macao Mood, a rather jubilant swing number that doesn’t sound the slightest bit Portuguese. Anybody who thinks that all organ-and-tenor records sound the same (are you listening, Harvey?) ought to hear this.

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July 10, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imaginative Postbop Tunesmithing from Nick Hempton

The shadowy red-and-black cd sleeve of Nick Hempton‘s new Posi-Tone album Odd Man Out implies noir but it’s mostly not. It’s a little less ambitious than Hempton’s 2011 album The Business but there’s a lot of tunefulness, clever composition and purist playing, a solid melodic postbop (and occasionally prebop) effort with Mike Dease on trombone, Art Hirahara on piano, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums.

They open with Nice Crackle, an altered dixieland bounce, Hempton’s expansive alto solo answered by a more rhythmic one from Dease. One of the album’s standout tracks, the ambitious narrative Five Ways Through Harsimus Cove tiptoes and then waltzes, takes the long way around through some sketchy territory and then suddenly they’re in the clear: the way they bring it back to the waltz theme midway through is great fun. By contrast, Winnie Blues is a straight-up, pretty predictably bluesy Hempton feature.

Their take of Billy Strayhorn’s Day Dream is languid and lyrical, Hempton’s gentle ornamentation slowly picking up steam. The album’s best track, The Set-Up, works a creepy Johnny Mandel-esque late 50s LA cool swing, Hempton choosing his spots, Dease taking a more gritty, squirrelly approach; they finally hit the noir head-on right before the end. The sense of suspense keeps going with Fifth Floor Run-Up, a latin vamp subtly cached under endless hints of a lickety-split swing that the band never hits head-on.

Nights and Mornings sounds like a rewrite of I Cover the Waterfront, morning slowly emerging out of night and then receding again. The suspense returns with The Slip and its droll nonchalance that the band absolutely refuses to give away: they keep walking and walking and walking and finally there’s a payoff when it’s clear that they made it out! The diptych A Bicycle Accident coalesces slowly into a funky shuffle and then morphs into a blithe mambo of sorts and has an ending that nobody sees coming. Streetlight Lament is less a lament than a fond, wee-hours reminiscence. The album winds up with an easygoing, bluesy take on Randy Newman’s Blue Shadows, more of a late afternoon than nocturnal theme. Hempton’s slightly smoky tone, purposeful playing and imaginative compositions make him someone to keep an eye on.

September 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic Tunefulness from Nick Hempton

File this one under melodic jazz composition – really, really good, interesting tunes and tasteful playing, classic late 50s/early 60s style. On saxophonist Nick Hempton’s new album The Business, the blues is always lurking somewhere, if not always centerstage, one reason why the hooks are so strong. Hempton goes for a clean, uncluttered tone and favors melody over ostentatious blowing. The first-class band on this session includes Art Hirahara on piano, Yotam Silberstein (who also appears on Jordan Young’s excellent new quartet album) on guitar, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums. Hempton has a thing for minor keys – his tunes often have a sardonic wit and a refreshing unpredictability, and the band rises to the occasion.

The first track is titled Flapjacks in Belo, samba-tinged with a long Hempton solo, Hirahara in late-night expansive mood, with a trick ending (something that will recur here, very enjoyably). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek Art Is in the Groove is a brisk retro swing tune seen through the prism of the early 70s, Hirahara delivering a period-perfect Joe Sample-ish solo on Rhodes, letting those reverb tones ring out for all they’re worth. One of only two covers here, Don Redman’s Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You gets going reaaaal slow, Hempton stays low and cool but then crescendos almost imperceptibly. The other, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s From Bechet, Byas and Fats is a real blast: it’s got a bass solo that’s almost a banjo tune, a lickety-split, sly Hirahara solo at doublespeed and a deliciously dark, bluesily climactic outro. It’s obviously a live showstopper for these guys.

Another real stunner here is the offhandedly moody Press One for Bupkis, Hirahara’s crescendo hitting the spot very satisfyingly, Hempton taking his time winding it out with suspenseful ambiguity. Likewise, the brooding jazz waltz The Wading Game has Panascia carrying its weight with an unexpected grace, Hirahara going out into the dark and coming back joyously, Hempton ratcheting up the intensity with a vividly bittersweet solo. The pensive ballad Encounter in E artfully works variations on a subtly modal bass theme up to a slinky bounce, Panascia’s matter-of-factly wary solo one of the album’s high points. With its casual sway, Cold Spring Fever is a showcase for both Silberstein’s rhythm playing (he goes into staggered ska for a bit underneath Hempton’s hazily acidic melody) as well as a nimble solo. The catchy, playful Not Here for a Haircut alternates between scurrying shuffle and straight-up swing – Hirahara once again can’t wait to get in on the fun and flip the script on the listener. The album ends on a jaunty note with the pretty self-explanatory Carry on up the Blues. Yet another winner from the Posi-Tone label, who are really on a roll this year.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment