Nick Hempton. The name even sounds old school, doesn't it? From the opening notes of the alto saxophonist's debut, Nick Hempton Band
, it is clear that Hempton and his quartet are after that old Blue Note feel and sound. And, for the most part, they succeed. This is a turn-back-the-clock, no-holds-barred blowing session. And what's more, it's obvious that these cats can play
But the similarities to 1950s and '60s Blue Note end with the music. What make this band unique are the diverse backgrounds of the musicians. Hempton hails from Australia, drummer Dan Aran
is Israeli and bassist Marco Panascia was born in Sicily. Pianist Art Hirahara
's heritage is Japanese, though he grew up in the Bay Area. On Nick Hempton Band
, these diverse musicians show that it's not only Americans who can hold down a pretty serious groove.
The opening "Get This..." commences with Hempton blowing over rumbling chords from the piano, reminiscent of John Coltrane
's "Alabama." The band then lapses into a groove à la Dave Brubeck
Quartet's "Take Five," and it's off to the races. Hempton takes the first solo turn, staying very much within the changes as he blows up and down the scales. Though the feeling of the tune is relatively dark and minor chords abound, Hempton nonetheless manages to sound joyous, bringing to mind the effervescent Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
. Hiaharara's turn is next, and his solo is more understated, alternating between syncopated runs and watery chords. Panascia's accompaniment is especially astute, his elastic tone not unlike that of Eddie Gomez
's "Serenity" is another highlight as Aran lays down a funky backbeat at the heada shame it isn't maintained throughoutand adds color to Hempton and Hirahara's virtuosic solos.
The most memorable Hempton composition is the palpably urgent "The Times." Clocking in at eight-and-a-half minutes, this is a post-bop vehicle that especially allows Hempton to stretch out and show his chops. Hirhaara adds to the exigency with quick, choppy chords, spurring Hempton to even greater heights as the rhythm section follows along.
Innovative or not, there's no question this is good music. Hempton shows himself to be an astute composer, and each band member is given ample room to solo. The result is a very strong debut outing from yet another band of international musicians. It can only be additive to the jazz tradition that so many young musicians overseas are becoming hip to America's classical music.