Nick Hempton: The Business (2011)
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Saxophonist Nick Hempton's decision to call his second album The Business might be a comment on the commercial nature of jazz, or it might be a rather hubristic statement about the nature of his own music. Big, fat grooves, a real sense of swing, strong melodies and even stronger rhythms suggest that Hempton is right to name this album The Business on both counts: because this is a high-quality collection of straight-ahead jazz with an immediate accessibility.
Hempton, originally from Australia and now resident in New York, formed his band in 2005. The quartet appeared on his debut recording, the self-produced Nick Hempton Band (2009). Now signed to Posi-Tone, the original lineup is back for this second album's collection of Hempton originals plus two fascinating covers.
Hempton is equally adept on alto and tenor saxophones. On alto, his tone is dry and crisp, lending itself well to up-tempo, swinging numbers like "Flapjacks In Belo" or the slinky "Press One For Bupkis." His tone is somewhat warmer and more rounded on tenor, giving a smoky, late-night sound to the band's bluesy take on Don Redman's "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You."
Six years working together ensures that the band is tight and cohesive. Bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Dan Aran form a solid rhythmic foundation, and both display invention in their soloing. Guest guitarist Yotam Silberstein is used sparingly but to good effect, bringing a lightness of touch to his solo on "Cold Spring Fever" and joining Hempton in some fluid unison playing on "Carry On Up The Blues." Pianist Art Hirahara is also an effective rhythm player, adding some understated lines to underpin Hempton's lead playing. When Hirahara gets the chance to solo he shows himself to have a similar lightness and fluidity of his own, his solo on "Not Here For A Haircut" precise but swinging.
While the band's style is generally straight-ahead, blues is at the core of much of the music, lending it an emotional connection that's not always present in the contemporary mainstream. The Business is commercial, but not at the expense of the music's heart.
Track Listing: Flapjacks In Belo; Art Is In The Groove; Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You; Press One For Bupkis; From Bechet, Byas And Fats; Encounter At E; Cold Spring Fever; Not Here For A Haircut; The Wading Game; Carry On Up The Blues.
Personnel: Nick Hempton: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Art Hirahara: piano; Marco Panascia: bass; Dan Aran: drums; Yotam Silberstein: guitar (2, 7, 10).
Record Label: Posi-Tone Records