Alto saxophonist Nick Hempton is a funny man. Though not discernable from the picture on the cover of his debut, Nick Hempton Band, his liner notes tell all.
Australia-born Hempton landed in New York in the winter of 2004, with the aim of putting a band together. The first pick was easy; he already knew drummer Dan Aran. But Hempton needed to do more than march to the beat of his own drummer. His search continued and he came upon bassist Marco Panascia, who fit into his scheme of things. Fate continued to be kind and pianist Art Hirahara became the third chosen one. With his band in place, Hempton took five originals, three standards and four eager musicians into the studio.
Savvy enough to write strong tunes, Hempton is also a sumptuous player. He lets melodies flow out of his horn and saturate the air before turning them into compelling ideas through earthy and articulate phrasing. He loses no time making that apparent as he swings into "Get This...," a title somewhat obvious as to ongoing intention. Once the music comes on, the band shows just where it is at, with swing the calling card on this captivating tune. Hempton lets the feeling seep in and then turns his attention to fabricating resoundingly colorful textures. Hirahara is a fluid player, his tone modulated and easy and countenancing his path of flowing notes and emphatic chords.
"I'm A Nurse, I'm An Engineer" has a jaunty beat sniffing at a Latin melody. Hempton carves tensile phrases that he jolts into bop territory. Hirahara is once again the other side of the coin, driving the pulse with some firm help from Aran and Panascia. "The Artful Roger" adds another bright spark, with Hempton in his comfort zone playing with fervor and undiminished passion, and his band proving that he chose well.
"But Beautiful" drops a velvet curtain on the CD, with singer Jimmy Lategano dripping melancholy while stirring the embers of the song's emotion, as Hempton kindles a warm glow.
Being the clever fellow he knows he is, Hempton at the very end of the liner notes tells the reader not to read but to listen to the music. Do both, and have twice the fun.
Personnel: Nick Hempton: alto saxophone; Art Hirahara: piano; Marco Panascia: bass; Dan Aran: drums; Jimmy Lategano: vocals (9).