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Linley Hamilton: Strings Attached

Ian Patterson By

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You just play the music that moves you. I never think of anything I play as beneath a jazz musician. I never think of jazz as the higher art. I appreciate all music. —Linley Hamilton
Nearly all recordings are labours of love. Passion and a huge amount of work are the essential ingredients. Some recordings in particular, however, mark the realization of a life-long dream. For Northern Irish trumpeter, BBC jazz broadcaster and university lecturer Linley Hamilton, Making Other Arrangements (Teddy D Records, 2018) is just such a recording.

Backed by a cracking, small jazz ensemble—some of the finest musicians in Ireland—Hamilton has fulfilled a burning, career-long ambition by adding strings to songs that he has held dear down the years. The twelve-piece Camden String Orchestra, with Cian Boylan's lush arrangements, bring a romantic lustre and orchestral flare to classic songs from the jazz cannon and the worlds of pop, musicals and cinema. Yet despite the arrangements, Making Other Arrangements is fundamentally improvised music, with fine individual performances throughout. At the centre of it all though is Hamilton, who, whether on trumpet or flugelhorn, plays with lyricism, exquisite melodic sensibility, emotional nuance and great technical finesse.

The roots ofMaking Other Arrangements go back twenty five years or more, when Hamilton was embarking on a career as a professional musician with a love of jazz.

"I was always a big jazz listener but I wasn't one of those guys who would put a jazz record on, take it off, and put another one on," Hamilton relates. "Generally, if I found a record it was on for five months. "

The first album that struck a deep chord with the young Hamilton was a live album by Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan's quintet Alive in New York (Muse, 1980). Rodney and Sullivan's early 1980s quintet was one of the finest post-bop bands of the day -Hamilton was hooked. "It was nuts," he says. "I played it so often it had to be forcibly taken off by someone else in the house—either that or they were going to move out." The next album to impact Hamilton would effectively fire his imagination to envisage his own recording with strings, one day in the future. The album in question was Freddie Hubbard's Ride Like the Wind (Elektra/Musician, 1982).

"Freddie was such a great straight-ahead, bebop and post player, maybe the best," ventures Hamilton. "I got hooked on Freddie. On that album he used strings, an orchestral ensemble with flute, French horn and flugel horn—not dissimilar to the line-up I'm using on Making Other Arrangements. He wrote this one tune "Brigitte" for his wife and I fell in love with that tune. I thought, god, someday, someday I'm going to record that. A quarter of a century later Hamilton has done just that. "Brigitte" is the second track on Making Other Arrangements, showcasing Hamilton's outstanding playing, as personally recognizable in his own way, as Hubbard's was. No less significant is the role, here and throughout the album of pianist arranger Cian Boylan.

Boylan and Hamilton struck up a friendship while both were studying for a Masters in Jazz Performance in Dublin in 2008. Jazz lovers, both were equally open to all sorts of other music. With Making Other Arrangements drawing inspiration from the compositions of Dizzy Gillespie, Ivan Lins, James Taylor, David Foster, Michel Legrand Abdullah Ibrahim, Artie Butler, Frank Golde and Peter Ivers, Hamilton required an arranger with open ears. Boylan was the obvious choice.

"Cian [Boylan] is very similar to me in that he loves jazz but he also loves rock, pop and singer-songwriters—a very eclectic mix of music," explains Hamilton. "I've played an awful lot of his arrangements in different concerts in the National Concert Hall [Dublin's premier formal concert hall] and I thought it would be really nice if he did the arrangements because it would be maybe a less angular approach to the harmony and it would make it a soloists album, which is what I wanted it to be."

The ten tracks are peppered with fine improvisations from Hamilton, Boylan, guitarist Nigel Clarke and saxophonists Ben Castle and Brendan Doyle—the latter pair who also double on woodwind instruments. Bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Guy Rickarby, like the strings, play a more supportive though essentially bouyant role. Doyle and Rickarby, in particular have long associations with Hamilton. The former played with Hamilton in the Irish Youth Jazz Orchestra when both were in their teens, while Rickarby first recorded with Hamilton in 2001. "Having those two guys on the record means a lot to me personally as well as musically," says Hamilton.

Choosing the tracks for the album was perhaps the easiest part of the equation, the stylistic variety attesting to Hamilton's wide tastes in music. "All the songs seemed really obvious," says Hamilton. Being a radio presenter I get fifteen albums a week in the post and I get to fall in love with tracks every week. Over the years I've just made a mental note—uh huh, that one's going to be on it."

The final track on the album, "Carmel," was written by Hamilton's wife, Maggie Doyle. It's a sunny tune, almost Burt Bacharach-esque, though with underlying complexity. "I put it on the album because it was intervallicly active and then resolved," says Hamilton, who then laughs at his own PHD speak. "What I mean," he clarifies, swiftly removing his professor's hat, "is that in the first two bars there are big intervals in the melody, which is quite unusual, and then it resolves to much smaller intervals. I loved that. The whole album came out very organically like that."

The only vocal track on the album, the Franke Golde/Peter Ivers tune "Louisiana Sunday Afternoon" features Dana Masters. This was another track that Hamilton had made a mental note to record one day, having first heard Diane Schuur's version from her album Talkin' 'Bout You (GRP, 1988).

South Carolina-born, Northern Ireland-based Masters, a compelling live performer, has been a regular collaborator with Hamilton in recent years and is much in demand, featuring frequently with Van Morrison. Her performance on this one track is typically brilliant -soulful and powerful.

"Dana's a tremendous singer and she's writing a lot of stuff -more R&B. She was forced in to the jazz world by me. But she can do it all. She's the real deal," enthuses Hamilton. Although a last minute hitch with her children meant Masters couldn't make the Dublin recording date she didn't panic, finding a quick, local solution to the problem. "She went into a local studio with an engineer called Maddy Weir at about ten o'clock in the morning. She did just three takes and sent them down. We were all just blown away. It was ridiculous. I'm very proud of her. If people don't know her they should check her out."

Dublin was, for many reasons, the logical location to record Making Other Arrangements. Boylan owns the Camden Recording Studio, the historic city centre studio that has welcomed the likes of New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Fifty Cent, The Pogues and Gregory Porter. Ruadhri Cushnan, the mastering engineer, has an office upstairs above the studio. "Everything was in the one building. It didn't seem sensible to do it anywhere else," remarks Hamilton, who is fulsome in his praise of Boylan, Cushnan and engineer Conor Brady. Then there is the Camden String Orchestra, which in some ways had a very big billing to live up to.

The twelve-piece string section, augmented by double bassist Redmond, are all important session players in Ireland. They were brought together for this recording session by Kenneth Rice, himself a significant violinist in Ireland. Whereas the jazz ensemble had the relative luxury of four days to record, the strings did all their tracks in one day. The Camden String Orchestra, named for the occasion after the recording studio itself, leave a large musical imprint on the album, and says Hamilton, made a major impression on the day.

"When they came into the room there was great commotion and bustle. They have big cello cases and everything and they were very animated and chatty. When they warmed up it was a pandemonium of chaotic noise and then this amazing thing happens. The conductor taps the stand and all of a sudden its total silence, followed by this incredible sound -this magnificently honed, tuned and fantastic sound. You're standing there watching the bows go up and down and their concentration as they read the parts. I was in bits. I spent most of the day just trying to keep it together. Then suddenly it's all over and it's crash, bang, whoosh, wallop, bows and instruments in cases and it's 'see you later.' You have this magnificence for three hours and then they hit the off button. And I was thinking, how did that happen? It's unbelievable."

Hamilton also lavishes praise on Boylan for his elegant, intuitive arrangements. "Cian's a genius He's the Vince Mendoza of Ireland. I had a good idea of what I wanted but he was able to translate it in really quite an incredible way. When I heard his arrangements there was stuff I never saw coming but there was no way I was going to change a thing. He got inside my head and translated it onto the page."

With everything taken care of Hamilton found himself in, for him at least, a rather unusual position. "It meant that for the first time in twenty years I was able to do one of my own sessions without having to be in charge. Normally, it's chaos for me and the playing's the last thing you think about, but Cian and Conor took all that pressure off me and I was able to relax and focus on my playing."

The quality of the ensemble playing, the vibrancy and fluidity of the soloing throughout the album has much to do with the approach adopted by Hamilton to the recording sessions. "Most of it was done in one or two takes. We had some rehearsals but whenever the light went on we didn't overdo it because the idea is to keep yourself fresh mentally as well as physically. Then we had an hour off before we recorded the next track so that everyone's head was fresh. You've got to keep the head fresh because it's still an improvised record so for all the solos you're having to engage with the spaces being created in the environment and if your head's tired and you start thinking about something else it's not going to happen for you."

Hamilton had dreamt for years about making an album with strings, with a clear idea of the songs he wanted to include and the way he wanted the record to sound, but as fate would have it the formation of the trio Sazeracs along with Stephen Davis and pianist/singer Kyron Bourke in 2015 would greatly impact the future project. Hamilton explains: "Kyron does Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor and Nick Cave and he decided it do it with this very unusual trio of him on piano, left-hand bass and vocal, drums and trumpet and he wanted us to play freely. He didn't want to restrict us to melodies."
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