Tim Richards’ Hextet – Telegraph Hill
(Track CD0215. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)
A name synonymous with great British jazz of the last thirty-five years, pianist Tim Richards brought us the invention of his quartet/quintet Spirit Level back in the ’80s and ’90s, followed by the excitement of nine-piece Great Spirit (with the likes of Tony Kofi, Jason Yarde and Seb Rochford). Both were impressive bands when heard live.
Now, with Great Spirit stalwarts Dick Pearce on trumpet and Ed Jones on tenor sax, he invites to his Hextet (a sextet) long-term colleague Dominic Howles (bassist in Richards’ trio project) as well as two rising stars from the current scene – vibes player Ralph Wyld and drummer Peter Ibbetson. Their new album Telegraph Hill exudes the familiar characteristics of Tim Richards’ playing and writing – buoyant, grooving melodies and arrangements which sparkle with his players’ individual, improvisatory freedom (as well as some of their compositional contributions).
It would be difficult not to get caught up in the verve of the pianist’s soundscapes – on the one hand, possessing straight-ahead accessibility, but then bristling with big tunes, emphatic playing and frequent swing. The opening title track is very much imbued with Richards’ blue-sky inclination, the piano riff he sets down paving the way for bright, solid trumpet and tenor interaction which broadens into engaging soloing – and the clear resonances of Ralph Wyld’s vibraphone enhance the weightlessness. Pearce’s Joe’s Outside bubbles with all the excitement of a classic Johnny Dankworth theme, its memorable, tight horn phrases inviting punchy improvisation over Peter Ibbetson’s animated tom patterns; the spikiness of Richards’ own Lucid Dreaming features the chordal grandeur of his playing, as well as a satisfying contrapuntal extemporisation from Jones and Pearce; and the slower openness of the pianist’s Spirit Walking emphasises the detail of his arrangements, featuring sumptuous solo work amongst brassy stabs.
Latinesque Shapeshifting (from Richards’ 2010 trio album of the same name) maintains its infectious piano groove, though its main theme is revved-up considerably by trumpet and tenor, with Ibbetson fizzing at the kit; and the pin-sharp confidence of Pearce’s soloing might easily suggest Freddie Hubbard. It’s a pleasure to catch the compositional maturity of Ralph Wyld in Storebæltsbroen (literally “Great Belt Fixed Link” and the name for the huge suspension bridge and tunnel linking east and west Denmark). The searching, intertwining horn arrangements in this tune snap into a fast swing over which his vibes soar. The appropriately programmed Tollbridge follows, alternating statuesque grandeur with Dominic Howles’ walking-bass swing and the deep fluency of Jones’ tenor imaginings – Richards’ writing here is particularly luscious… as well as smile-inducing.
Discovery is characterised by sunny, retro-style melodies and mid-tempo nonchalance, the players clearly basking in its amiability before the piano-stated dark shadow of Ed Jones’ Clandestine is cast – abstract disquiet which, however, seemingly cannot help but break free into bluesy, horn-flailing ebullience. And the album culminates in the tuneful exuberance (to distant echoes of Quincy Jones) of Dominic Howles’ Ease Up.
It’s great to find Tim Richards ‘mixing it up’ again with his personnel, injecting the richness of these original compositions/arrangements with snappy, intelligent improvisation.