The launch of saxophonist and composer Alex Hitchcock’s new album Dream Band (Fresh Sound) is at Ronnie Scott’s on 4 November. The album will be released on the Barcelona label Fresh Sound on 19 November. It is the fourth album which Alex has either led or co-led. The first was the quintet album “All Good Things” in 2018 (also on Fresh Sound) ,followed by “Outside In” in in 2019 for a different group with Cherise, Shane Forbes, Ferg Ireland and Will Barry (self-released) , and most recently “AuB” (pronounced Orb) , a two-sax quartet with Tom Barford (Edition). Interview by Sebastian Scotney
LondonJazz News: I’ve counted up the musicians on “Dream Band” and there are fifteen of them…Is your “Dream Band” in fact several bands… ?
Alex Hitchcock: Yes! I wanted to undercut any suggestion of sentimentality in the album title by having three different groups – the incredible breadth of musicianship around means that there are many possible dream bands. I’d love to make it into a series.
The ‘dream’ aspect of the title involves imagining line-ups of musicians who haven’t necessarily played together before, then writing music for those specific combinations. I get to play with a lot of brilliant musicians, and I wanted to document that.
LJN: There are no fewer than THREE different drummers on this album, why do you like working with each of them?
AH: Jas Kayser is always so locked in with the rest of the band, instantly reactive to everything that’s going on, and has a very wide range of influences – I was excited to hear how she would approach my music. She’s also a completely fearless bandleader if you check out her stuff as leader, particularly live.
I love Shane Forbes’ warmth as a person and a musician, he’s completely unshakeable and has an unmistakeable sound and pocket. He’s the drummer I’ve played the most with of the three on this record; I look up to him and have learned a lot from playing with him.
It’s quite hard to describe the experience of playing with Jason Brown in a way that does it justice but the depth, intensity, technique and range of his playing are a few things I think come across on this record, and elsewhere.
LJN: The newest collaborator here is cellist / vocalist Midori Jaeger. I’m thinking she will be basically unfamiliar to jazz audiences. What’s the story?
AH: I heard Midori’s voice and cello cover of a beautiful Glasshopper tune ‘Ember’ on her Instagram, and got in touch to ask if she would record on the album. It’s my favourite use of social media when musicians keep a ‘working diary’ of what they’re practising, as it opens you up to so many musicians you might not otherwise be familiar with. I wanted to hear her pizzicato cello comping as an additional texture to a piano/bass/drums rhythm section. Midori had already recorded on the album by this point but I saw her EP release gig at Green Note earlier this year (with Elliot Galvin, Rudi Creswick and Corrie Dick in the band) and was blown away. She has an amazing openness with audiences and a propulsive sense of time when accompanying herself on cello.
LJN: I understand it was Chris Cheek who first introduced you to the Fresh Sound label, it looks like a nice gesture to invite him to play…
AH: The nice gesture is definitely Chris’ for playing on the album! I got to play with him a couple of times when he was in the UK with Simon Woolf a few years ago, Mark Lockheart was even on one of the gigs so it was a privilege to play with them both at the same time. Fresh Sound has a great heritage going back to the records in the 90s and early 2000s capturing the close musical relationship between the Barcelona and New York scenes and Chris, along with people like Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jorge Rossy, was an integral part of that. So it was exciting when he introduced me to Jordi Pujol, who runs the label. When writing, I was imagining Chris’ tone on the melody of a particular tune ‘FSTL’ and his ‘singing through the horn’ sound makes for a great combination with David Adewumi’s more oblique approach on trumpet.
LJN: There is a producing / mixing credit for Sonny Johns. What is his story/ was his contribution
AH: Technically Sonny was recording rather than producing in the studio, but it’s testament to the way he works that I felt he played both roles. He’s really insightful, and has considered opinions about takes without making you feel at all judged, which is a good balance. His warmth, positivity and understated mastery of what he does set the tone for the three days’ recording.
LJN: Your degree was in English… and you have two singers..so I’m wondering… what words do they sing?
AH: None of mine! Midori wrote the lyrics to my tune ‘Wolf and Nina’, the first time anyone has put words to something I’ve written. And the lyrics to ‘Azalea’ are the original, as sung by Louis Armstrong. I particularly love hearing Cherise Adams-Burnett’s vocal tone (and incredible execution) in unison with tenor sax; I haven’t felt a need to hear words with that yet and think of the voice more as another horn in that instrumentation. Maybe in future I’ll think about writing music to existing texts but I’ve got to reach a technical and conceptual level as a composer where I can do them justice first.
LJN: This is your debut at Ronnie’s as leader…which presumably will be a proud moment…
AH: I’ve heard musicians there like Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Ravi Coltrane, Esperanza Spalding, Joshua Redman, and many others. It’s a good reminder that I’m only able to play music because of people like that. Having played there lots as a side musician and leading my own groups for late shows, it’s great to play a main show and I’m lucky to be able to do it. It’s the strength of the musicians in the band (Midori Jaeger, Deschanel Gordon, Ferg Ireland, Shane Forbes) that makes it an appealing gig and I’m excited for people to hear them play my music.