Interview: Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock (AuB, Vortex 4 Feb and new album in May)

AuB is a London-based quartet led by tenor saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock, with Fergus Ireland on bass and James Maddren on drums. They combine fierce, virtuoso improvisations, electronic elements and collaboratively constructed compositions. The group’s debut album is being released on Edition Records in May, and they will be at the Vortex on 4 February. Interview with Alex Hitchcock and Tom Bradford by Sebastian Maniura. LondonJazz News: What does AuB stand for and how do you pronounce it? Alex Hitchcock: It’s pronounced ‘ORB’. We took the idea from Venn diagram terminology where ‘A union B’ is the total of all the different elements, represented by AuB. We wanted a way of suggesting the group is a combination of our musical personalities that still remain distinctive within the music. Someone also suggested it might stand for ‘Alex und Barford’, which we quite like. LJN: You’ve talked elsewhere about the collaborative compositional style and the blending of individual sounds that drives AuB’s sound, could you tell us a little about the writing process? AH: Tom and I get together and improvise, feeding off each other’s ideas and experimenting with the different textures we can create. We record this, and then separately we’ll take that away and adapt and elaborate on the best stuff we came up with spontaneously. It can lead to some unusual loops and structures as the original basis of the composition is improvisation and interaction, and then when James Maddren and Ferg Ireland – who have known each other for a very long time – get hold of it, the music tends to head off into all sorts of different directions…

Alex Hitchcock and Tom Barford. Photo credit: Dave Stapleton

LJN: The group incorporates the use of electronics into its compositions to sometimes give them an otherworldly quality, what inspired you to combine acoustic instruments with synths and electronics? Tom Barford: For years this band had been playing acoustically without any use of electronics but it was Dave Stapleton at Edition who encouraged us to explore adding other textures to our sound. Both Alex and I worked with Alex Killpartrick on our debut albums, which opened our eyes as to what was possible and excited us to hear what the hard-hitting sound of our quartet would sound like with his genius sprinkled in. The electronic side of the album is also inspired by years of listening to Snowpoet and Kneebody. LJN: Can you tell us about the new album? AH: It’s great to be on the Edition label that has put out albums by many musicians we really look up to, and one that we know can get the music out to a wide audience. We worked quite heavily on the post-production under a variety of different influences, and there are quite a few fun surprises, electronically speaking. Nate Wood mastered the record so there’s a lot of energy and attention to detail in the final tracks. We’ve got some really exciting gigs around May supporting the release, including supporting one of our absolute heroes at the Jazz Cafe, which are worth looking out for! LJN: The twin tenors sound has a long running history in jazz, why did you chose to combine Tom Barford’s sound with your own in this group? TB: Both Alex and I have been hugely influenced by the great tenor giants of the past but there are also so many incredible twin tenor albums around now. The Sonny Rollins Quartet with John Coltrane, Sonny Meets Hawk, and Sonny Side Up are among a long list of twin tenor albums I have grown up loving. The modern albums include Polar Bear, Seamus Blake and Chris Cheek’s ‘Bloomdaddies’ band. I think the twin tenor line up works especially well if the saxophonists have individually distinctive sounds and different approaches to improvising. I feel like myself and Alex are slowly but surely achieving this which is a very exciting feeling. LJN: What can listeners expect from your up coming gig at the Vortex on 4 February ? AH: It tends to be a very supportive crowd at the Vortex and that always positively affects the music whenever I’ve played there – you’re more encouraged to take risks and experiment when you feel like the audience is ‘on side’. We’re trying to develop the music and push it forward all the time, and continually road-testing it is a huge part of that. LINKS Band website 4 February at Vortex

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