David and Judith O’Higgins – His ‘n’ Hers album launch(606 Club. 10 October 2020. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
L-R: Dave and Judith O’Higgins, Jeremy Brown. Photo courtesy of Ubuntu Records
Jazz musicians who combine music with careers in medicine…what a very special group of people they are. There’s trumpeter Eddie Henderson, whose 80th birthday falls in just a couple of weeks. And also – as Dave O’Higgins remarked at last Saturday’s gig, the launch of the new album His ‘n’ Hers – no fewer than three saxophonists with direct connections to the 606 Club: eye surgeon Dan Reinstein, former orthopaedic surgeon Art Themen, and German-born forensic pathologist, Dave’s wife Judith O’Higgins. A part of her remarkable story will be told in my regular JAZZTHETIK column later this month, and republished in English here. Her fascinating autobiography, in German, which covers everything from investigating gruesome murders to playing second alto in a big band alongside the great Herb Geller, has been published by a major publishing house. (See also promo video below)
This gig at the 606 was full (with tables spaced out to comply with distancing guidelines). It was great to be back in that friendly and welcoming environment, and to experience music at close quarters, and made in the moment. Steve Rubie’s student years – another random medical trivia alert – were spent training to be a dentist, and there is probably no club proprietor in the world who has taken on the responsibilities of making his club rule-compliant and safe for both the musicians and the audience with the seriousness and determination that Steve has. The hard work by his team creates the right ambiance and this was a hugely enjoyable gig.
The His ‘n’ Hers album, just seven tracks, LP-style, echoes the Eddie Lockjaw Davis / Johnny Griffin ‘Tough Tenors’ tradition. Back in the day such pairings were always billed as a contest or a battle, but were always based on affinities, collaboration, complementarity, respect and affection. The O’Higgins-es both revere Dexter Gordon, and they started off with his loping tune Hanky Panky, originally recorded with Freddie Hubbard, the last tune on the His ‘n’ Hers album. The fact that the tune is reminiscent of Neal Hefti’s theme for The Odd Couple has to be an accident: from the point of view of saxophone timbre, and in most other respects, the O’Higginses do seem very well-matched indeed.
And they also have a very strong trio with them, who know each other well from other contexts, notably Stacey Kent’s group. Drummer Josh Morrison has the kind of crispness and precision one associates with Kenny Wahington in Bill Charlap’s trio, but also a constantly delightful way of leaning in with cross-beats and challenging the flow. Bassist Jeremy Brown never disappoints, and his craft of setting a pulse in motion with the perfect timing and weight and decisiveness made all the difference after Dave O’Higgins’ cadenza intro to “My One and Only Love”. And pianist Graham Harvey, supreme at the art of being a generous-spirited team-player sprung the most wonderful surprise in Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love For Me”, where he launched into a power chorus of thick harmony as if he was transformed momentarily into Richard Tee – Judith describes exactly that aspect of his playing at [2:12] on the video below.