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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.

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