What is immediately striking about the music presented on Hi Ha
by the youthful Catalan quartet Hat, is just how original it is. This is in no small part due to the influence of Sergi Sirvent, who contributes the lion's share of the tunes and plays piano in a style which is tremendously personal.
The title track opens with skipping brushes and a chittering bass which lays the foundation for restrained solos by guitarist Jordi Matas followed by Sirvent on piano. The rhythm section of drummer Oscar Domenech and bassist Marc Cuevas sets a fast pace here that is not repeated elsewhere on an album which is primarily about composition and not virtuosity. The use of space and adherence to texture are key to the group's music.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the most overt influence on the music, in fact, the only discernable influence is that of Miles Davis on "Major Unminor and "Canvis where Sirvent's minimalist fender Rhodes dabbling instantly recalls early electric-period Miles. Matas's edgy and vaguely psychedelic interventions on "Canvis contribute to a bewitching atmosphere where the tension rises and falls almost imperceptibly. Great restraint is shown by all four members of the quartet, and whilst an admirable trait, at times one almost wishes the musicians would stretch out and throw a little more caution to the wind.
On the Marc Cuevas tune "Vent cymbals and piano evoke the sound of the wind while Jordi Matas's guitar plies a mellow course, as laid back as a Jim Hall ballad. Although the more reflective compositions on Hi Ha are not short of atmosphere, it is on the looser, more jam-like pieces where the band really comes to life.
Throughout the eight compositions, Sirvent demonstrates the originality of his voice on the keys. His playing can be fractious, and at times his staccato phrases seem like half-born ideas, yet there is no lack of elegance or power in his phrasing. At other times the notes tumble as though of their own momentum. In the midst of his free-playing style he flirts fleetingly and subtly with the blues and displays flickers of Ellingtonian flair, whilst obeying a logic all his own. The weaving interaction between Sirvent and guitarist Matas is one of the strengths of Hi Ha and it is often a job to decipher who is holding the reins and who is riding shotgun.
Although Sirvent hasn't a voice to write home about, there is something totally convincing in his delivery on the album's only vocal track, "Everyday is a New Beginning. Domenech's drumming is consistently impressive, laying down brisk drum rolls as Matas's ugly, yet nicely distorted guitar tunings (think Richard Thompson) combine with Sirvent's powerful piano riff and vocal exhortations to close the album on a spectacular note.
Hi Ha is an intriguing offering. One hopes that Sergi Sirvent is able to juggle his myriad projects in such a way that Hat is able to reconvene on a regular basis. There is chemistry between the four musicians which alludes to the possibilities of greater music to come.
Personnel: Sergi Sirvent: fender rhodes, Petrof piano, vocals; Jordi Matas: guitar; Marc Cuevas: bass; Oscar Domenech: drums.