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Johnny Hunter / Mark Hanslip / Olie Brice: Divisions

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Johnny Hunter / Mark Hanslip / Olie Brice: Divisions
Divisions might seem a strange choice of title for such a cohesive set. It is the name of a four-part suite written by drummer Johnny Hunter for this all British trio completed by bassist Olie Brice and tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip. As well as his own dates, such as Pale Blue Dot (Northern Contemporary, 2020) for string quartet, sax and drums, Hunter also stokes the fires of Cath Roberts' Sloth Racket and the collective Spinningwork (NEWJAiM, 202z). Perhaps the divide in question refers to that hoary chestnut as to whether composition and improvisation are separate entities or two sides of the same coin. Judging by the seamless way in which the threesome moves in and out of time and tune, Hunter's position must be that such distinctions are artificial at best.

Certainly Hunter's charts allow a lot of agency: simple but with enough substance to serve as building blocks for both collective and individual flights of fancy. There is a melodicism which pervades the set, evident even in the leader's careful attention to pitch and timbre, on display as much when he plays the heads as in the subsequent interplay. A regular partner, Hanslip in particular brings a lyrical sensibility to the spacious conversational exchanges, whether in considered short phrases or reflective moments interspersed among agile sprints. Indeed there is almost something reminiscent of Ornette Coleman in the way he dances over the morphing rhythms.

Brice reaffirms his place as one of the foremost improvising bassists on the UK scene. He enjoys an especially strong connection with Hunter—they perform together regularly, not least in Brice's Octet, as heard in one half of the wonderful Fire Hills (West Hills, 2022)—such that they switch almost at will from time to free and back again, without ever leaving behind an animating pulse. It is also showcased in a drum and bass interlude on "Part 3" in which the focus constantly shifts between them without ever becoming a solo.

The communication between all three, honed on a tour which preceded the recording date, results in both compactness and clarity of intent. "Part 2" opens in an atmosphere redolent of tension, full of grinding arco, whinnying saxophone and cymbal froth. It builds gradually towards a crescendo, with Brice's overtones and Hanslip's multiphonics braiding pleasingly en route, but never quite lets go, and is all the more effective for opting out of easy resolution. Bowed bass and wailing saxophone also feature prominently during the prickly "Part 4," the most spirited cut, which nonetheless ends with Brice's slow walking foregrounded in a surprisingly reserved conclusion to a fine disc.

Track Listing

Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

Personnel

Mark Hanslip
saxophone, tenor
Olie Brice
bass, acoustic

Album information

Title: Divisions | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Discus Music


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