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Linley Hamilton: Right On The Wavelength

Ian Patterson By

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Jazz is a social language, a social construct. It’s like religion in many ways; it’s how people choose to live their lives. —Linley Hamilton
Trumpeter Linley Hamilton has been a mainstay of the Northern Irish jazz scene for well over two decades. An in-demand session musician, Hamilton has played on over a hundred recordings of various stripes, lending his burnished tone to rock and pop artists and singer-songwriters alike. But it's as a jazz musician, jazz educator, jazz radio broadcaster, and not least, as an utterly tireless advocate of the music that he's best known.

With a quintet comprised of some of the very best jazz musicians North and South of the border, Hamilton has done as much as anybody to promote jazz throughout Ireland and his BBC radio show never fails to promote nationwide talent wherever possible. His tutorial residencies at the Sligo Jazz Project reveal a musician with a deep understanding of the mechanics of the music and one who recognizes the importance of mentorship to bring the next generation of jazz musicians through. With Hamilton it's all about giving back.

Hamilton's drive to delve deeper into the music has seen him undertake a PHD in performance and the good Dr. Hamilton—as he'll soon be known—is just as much at home talking passionately about the nuts and bolts of music as he is performing on stage. The stage, however, is Hamilton's natural habitat, and there he can cut it with the best. Over the years he's played with singer-songwriter Van Morrison, saxophonists Jean Toussaint and Alan Barnes, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, pianist Kenny Werner and drummer John Riley amongst many others.

As a leader, Hamilton has produced 4 albums, the latest of which, In Transition (Lyte Records, 2014) is his strongest personal statement yet. Highly melodic and grooving, In Transition's blues and swing is rooted in the tradition, but unlike previous recordings this one marks a step towards crafting a greater proportion of original compositions. In Transition also embraces more contemporary repertoire not usually associated with jazz.

The official launch of In Transition came at Belfast's very own jazz festival, Brilliant Corners, an occasion which Hamilton clearly relished: "It was very special," admits Hamilton. "We took two or three days to rehearse in Dublin and did a couple of gigs before just to make sure that the set worked."

The Belfast crowd's reaction to Hamilton's quintet—bassist Damien Evans, drummer Dominic Mullan, pianist Johnny Taylor and guitarist Julien Colarossi—and the new music it presented was hugely positive: "There was a lot of love in the air," admits Hamilton. "The festival had a very positive vibe. It was a full house, we were hot off two gigs and we saved our best for last. It was a great gig. The whole gig for me was about the band and the punters, and me explaining the processes that were involved in the making of the album and the choosing of the music and hopefully shining some light on the songs so that their experience was more enjoyable."

Everybody at the packed Crescent Arts Centre for Hamilton's quartet gig at Brilliant Corners went home with a free copy of In Transition. It was a nice gesture on Hamilton's part but one that suggests the worth of CDs these days is less as a money spinner and more as a savvy promotional tool: "In a small local scene like Northern Ireland it's my reward to the punters who follow me," Hamilton explains. "I run a jazz gig in McHughes every Saturday afternoon and it's a pin-drop audience of between sixty and ninety people. This is my reward for them, to bring my band up from Dublin and let them see me working in a slightly different arena."

Hamilton is acutely aware of the importance of his audience and the value it brings to the gig: "I always think of the punters who attend the gigs as equal to the musicians," says Hamilton. "It's a sort of a partnership. You need the audience to bring the best out of the musicians."

The trumpeter is also sensitive to an audience's expectations: "I think you need to bring the audience along with you," he says. "You maybe need to be playing stuff that they're going to be familiar with before you play something new. I know that I'm going to see a lot of the people in my audiences at least ten times a year so I carefully sculpt the sets with that information in mind. I make sure there's something new and something fresh."

Hamilton understands that the social environment where the music is made, where it's performed and where it's heard are all closely related and he talks with enthusiasm about the writings of ethnomusicologists Paul Berliner and Ingrid Monson on music and place, which have influenced his thinking.

Hamilton's own environment these past few years studying for a PHD in performance has had, by his own admission, a fairly profound effect on his approach to making music and consequently the sound he produces on his trumpet. The processes are ongoing, as suggested by the title of the new CD.

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