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Peter Horsfall: Nighthawks

Bruce Lindsay By

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The title of Peter Horsfall's Nighthawks may call to mind the iconic Edward Hopper painting, or maybe Tom Waits' Hopper-inspired Nighthawks At The Diner (Asylum, 1975). A few bars into "Nighthawks" it becomes obvious that Horsfall and Waits both take inspiration from the painting ("Nighthawks lead a lonely life...")—but Horsfall's melancholy vocal stands in sharp contrast to Waits' gritty growl.

Peter Horsfall is probably best known as the trumpeter and vocalist with Kansas Smitty's House Band, a young London-based band with its own bar (called Kansas Smitty's, unsurprisingly). Nighthawks is Horsfall's first album under his own name, with support from a bunch of Smitty's members -and it's one of the year's most original releases.

On the surface, there's nothing too unusual going on. A young jazz singer (the trumpet stays in its case), a bunch of original songs (co-written with saxophonist Giacomo Smith , whose alto playing is excellent throughout) plus a couple of covers, an acoustic band that swings but stays sympathetic to the singer's needs—it all stays pretty close to the standard template employed on any number of okay-but-forgettable jazz vocal albums. But Horsfall veers away from that template in a number of ways: a lyrical and instrumental mood that harks back to the '30s, a focus on song structure and melody rather than extended solos or vocal gymnastics, a love of the ballad, a set of laid back songs that supply a perfect backing to early-hours slow dances.

"Bittersweet" is an adjective that's been applied to Horsfall's voice, but while repeated listenings to this album emphasise the sweetness in his sound, there's little if any bitterness. Plaintive might be a more apposite description. It's great to hear a young male singer who's channelling Al Bowlly rather than Kurt Elling and who does so with great sincerity (making even the rather kitschy tweety-tweets and creme de la creams of Barry Harris's "Paradise" sound romantic).

Nighthawks' finest moment comes with "Couldn't Stop Loving You": a song that sits as firmly in '60s soul territory as it does in the world of '30s jazz, thanks to Joe Webb's piano, David Archer's subtle guitar and the graceful backing vocals of Cherise Coryna Adams-Burnett and Renato Paris. Al Bowlly metamorphoses into Al Green? Not quite, but Horsfall's long, soaring, notes are heading that way. "I say to you, our love is through, this is goodbye" sings Horsfall on the album's heartbreaking closing track. Hopefully, it's not goodbye to Horsfall, just "So long."

Track Listing: Nighthawks; Then I Saw You; Interlude 1; Secretly; Paradise; Interlude 2; Sunset & The Mockingbird; Couldn’t Stop Loving You; Interlude 3; This Is Goodbye.

Personnel: Peter Horsfall: vocals; Giacomo Smith: alto saxophone; Joe Webb: piano; Ferg Ireland: double bass; Pedro Segundo: drums; David Archer: guitar (8); Cherise Coryna Adams-Burnett: backing vocals (8); Renato Paris: backing vocals (8).

Title: Nighthawks | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: A.P.P Records


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