Peter Horsfall – Nighthawks
(APP Records APP 003. CD review by Mark McKergow)
The amazingly bittersweet voice of Peter Horsfall is front and centre in this tingling and focused collection of late night laments and atmosphere.
Horsfall is part of the swinging Kansas Smittys collective, lurking in their Hackney basement bar and emerging to present modern day takes on the swinging styles of vintage jazz. On their two CDs so far Horsfall has mainly featured as an accomplished trumpet soloist with occasional forays into song which revealed his voice to be spookily smooth, high and handsome. For this collection he chooses to set his horn aside completely and perform a set of mostly original songs with an unmistakeably small-hours vibe – Horsfall explicitly refers to Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks as an inspiration.
The opening title track Nighthawks starts with Horsfall’s voice an immediate and commanding presence – straight in and strong. We are immediately enfolded in a film noir aesthetic which carries through the 10 tracks, sparse backings and plaintive alto saxophone from Giacomo Smith. The band are all Kansas Smittys regulars who instantly gel with the vibe – Joe Webb gives sensitive support on piano and steps forward for solos on tracks like Then I Saw You where he takes a double-time bouncing feel to add variety.
Horsfall’s original songs which form the heart of the album all show a great appreciation for the nuances and harmonies of classic jazz. Similarly to Kansas Smittys, he manages to produce original work which is both highly compelling in itself as well as clearly drawing on, but not merely copying, the jazz traditions. Secretly moves around with confident modulations, while Couldn’t Stop Lovin’ You has controlled blues swagger, emphasised by the appearance of female backing vocals and taut 6/8 drumming from Pedro Segundo.
The album features two non-original tracks: piano legend Barry Harris’ Paradise provides delicious fodder for Horsfall and the band, while Duke Ellington’s Sunset & The Mockingbird is presented with a new lyric. That these tunes sit so easily within the overall album is a great tribute to Horsfall’s compositional skills. The closing track, fittingly entitled This Is Goodbye, makes room for a welcome double bass solo from Ferg Ireland. The album provides variety in three instrumental interludes, where the rhythm section trio gently introduce a new line or riff which floats past for a moment before the next song starts.
The revelation in this collection, though, is Horsfall’s voice and song writing. For this young man to produce and carry this stream of desolation, regret and contemplation is remarkable. He surely has a career as a singer with a wide appeal if he wishes to pursue it. Move over Curtis Stigers?
Nighthawks is released on 24 November and launched with a gig at Kansas Smitty’s on Wednesday 29 November 2017. Preview it at http://peterhorsfall.com/