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Nick Hempton: Catch And Release

Dan Bilawsky By

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When it come to music release methods, there's nothing more stubborn or persistent than the single. Music has fallen in and out of love with so many different formats over the years, but the one-song-at-a-time method of digestion has weathered every shift, spat, and alteration that life and technology have thrown at it. In fact, it's stronger than ever in this download and post-download age. So what, pray tell, does that have to do with this album? Everything.

In 2014, saxophonist Nick Hempton decided to use a novel concept to tap into the single-seeking listener base. The premise was a simple and familiar one: release one song at a time. But the twist came with the hit-and-run approach behind these singles. Instead of recording an album's worth of music and dropping one song at a time, each song was an island—or an album—unto itself. A makeshift studio was put together in New York's Smalls Jazz Club on multiple occasions. Then Hempton and company would have a midday session where they would record a single song, later to be mixed and sent on its way all by its lonesome. Each and every part of the process was documented for all to see on a blog. The whole thing was dubbed the "Catch and Release Experiment," and it produced a good number of strong performances that existed as completely separate entities. Now, in a reversal of strategy, Hempton is catering to the album-loving crowd by bundling all of these pieces together on CD.

The album opens on the hip "Hanging For Life," a casual swinger that downshifts for a spell before returning to its original feel. Then Hempton welcomes guest tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon to the party for the lively, bop-leaning "Change For A Dollar." The band sounds tight, the two saxophonists have a chance to bat things around with traded solos, pianist Tadataka Unno gets a chance to shine, and the multiple winks at "Laura" are a smile-inducing cherry on top. Then there's "Target Practice," a number in three that gives drummer Dan Aran a little space to shine; "Montauk Mosey," which finds Hempton and guest pianist Rosanno Sportiello working in a wonderfully relaxed vein together; the Peter Bernstein-enhanced "The Third Degree," a Latin-inflected winner that would've felt right at home on a '60s Blue Note album; and "Nordberg Suite," a cheery, drummer-less small group number that brings trumpeter Bruce Harris into the mix. The final two pieces on the album dispense with the guests and focus on a core quartet of Hempton, Aran, pianist Jeremy Manasia, and bassist Dave Baron. Together they shift from uncertain terrain to a Coltrane-ish blues feel in five on "Catch Up" before closing out the album with the energetic title track.

While this was initially a single-centric project, Catch And Release makes a very favorable impression as a full album. When you consider the facts—these tracks were each recorded at different times, personnel changed from number to number, engineer Andrew Swift had to basically rebuild a studio setup each time Hempton wanted to record—you start to realize that this could've turned out to be an incredibly inconsistent release in terms of sound quality, vibe, and group dynamics. But it isn't. Hempton's vision and leadership, Swift's skills on the recording side, and the talented individuals on these tracks all help to make Catch And Release a solid and satisfying listen from start to finish.

Track Listing: Hanging For Dear Life; Change For A Dollar; Target Practice; Montauk Mosey; The Third Degree; Nordberg Suite; Catch Up; Catch And Release.

Personnel: Nick Hempton: saxophones; Dan Aran: drums; Dave Baron: bass; Tadataka Unno: piano (1-3); Jeremy Manasia: piano (5-8); Jerry Weldon: tenor saxophone (2); Rossano Sportiello: piano (4); Peter Bernstein: guitar (5); Bruce Harris: trumpet (6).

Title: Catch And Release | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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