In 2005, Australian-born alto saxophonist Nick Hempton assembled a group of players to launch an assault on the Big Apple's vibrant jazz scene. His quartetwith musicians from around the globe including Israeli drummer Dan Aran, Sicilian-born bassist Marco Panascia, and pianist Art Hirahara (the only naturally-born American in the group, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area)has been performing at jazz venues in the New York area ever since. The quartet's self-titled debut contains intelligent renditions of three familiar standards and five originals from Hempton, delivered in a modern/mainstream style that's quite inviting.
Opening up with Hempton's "Get This...," the saxophonist wastes little time in establishing his dominance over the music by peeling off solid solos, while providing space for Panascia to feature some of his stern bass work. The bassist leads off "The Times" with a brisk solo of his own before Hempton weighs in with another meaty sax phrase. Not to be left behind, drummer Aran pounds the cow hide and Hirahara rounds out the rhythm work with deliberate piano runs to complete a splendid musical collaboration.
Hempton is especially pronounced on the album's first standard, delivering a heartfelt and emotive performance on a cushy version of Benny Carter's "Lonely Woman," tastefully conveying the heartbreak feeling of its title. Changing direction for a moment, the band takes off on the upbeat and lively original, "I'm A Nurse, I'm An Engineer," firmly establishing its ability to swing. Providing a very fine new arrangement to Joe Henderson's "Serenity" where, alongside the barn-burner "Trivia," Hempton lays down some of his best alto jousts of the album.
The session winds down with "The Artful Roger," a perky and very boppish number on which Hirahara showcases his more than ample chops with some quick and nimble finger play on the piano. The finale is considered a bonus track, finding the band performing its only slow ballad with a kind treatment of Burke/Van Heusen's "But Beautiful." Featuring a guest appearance from vocalist Jimmy Lategano, it turns out to be a very humble tune, with the drummer on the brushes, the piano man dishing out warm chords, and Hempton toning down his versatile alto voice to accommodate the mood.
The Nick Hempton Band is one of a new crop of very fine jazz groups ready to take the baton and keep jazz moving forward. To this noble endeavor, the debut of Nick Hempton Band is a perfect example of just how good modern jazz music can sound.
Personnel: Nick Hempton: alto saxophone; Art Hirahara: piano; Marco Panascia: bass; Dan Aran: drums; Jimmy Lategano: vocals (9).