Alex Hitchcock – dream band
(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 625. Album review by Graham Spry)
It is a tribute to tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock that he has become a respected name in London’s currently vibrant jazz scene, where it is hard to stand out in a crowd of so many highly accomplished young musicians vying for attention. He has played with talented cohorts such as James Copus, Joe Downard and, of course, Tom Barford with whom he was co-leader of AuB. His current album dream band is his second album on fresh sound new talent, a Spanish record label that released albums crucial in the early careers of such luminaries as the Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper. And in this way, Hitchcock is in truly great company.
As he is also on dream band, which in fact consists of three such ‘dream bands’, with whom he recorded on three separate sessions over three days, the results of which are interleaved on the album’s sequence of tracks. Although there is no sense of discontinuity in the sequencing, to give full credit to the featured musicians, it is probably best to consider the tracks according to those playing on them.
It is perhaps a surprise to those who have followed Hitchcock’s career so far to find such a prominence accorded to vocal tunes, starting with the opening track Wolf and Nina, that features Midori Jaeger on voice, lyrics and cello. Accompanying Hitchcock and Jaeger on this track are Will Sach on bass, Jas Kayser on drums and, on piano, Deschanel Gordon, the deserving winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020 competition. This ensemble also performs on the instrumental Overcome Any Obstacle with a Horse, whose subject matter possibly inspired the album’s cover photograph of a pair of white horses. Midori Jaeger and Hitchcock duet on Duke Ellington’s tender Azalea, the only non-original song, whose spare arrangement highlights an aching quality in Jaeger’s voice.
The second of Hitchcock’s dream bands consist of Noah Stoneman (piano), Ferg Ireland (bass) and Jason Brown (drums). They perform on Yeshaya, Embers and Simulacra; and with percussionist Luisito Quintero on Move 37. These are all jazz instrumentals, which together with their abstract titles are recognisably typical of Hitchcock’s sound on his first album All Good Things and the album AuB with Tom Barford.
The third dream band is probably the one which most inspired the album’s title, as it features the distinguished composer and tenor saxophonist, Chris Cheek, who has performed with the greatest New York musicians of his generation and the man who originally introduced Hitchcock to fresh sound new talent. He performs on the atmospheric FSTL on which Cherise Adams-Burnett provides wistful wordless vocals, as she also does on to love itself which is sandwiched between two evocative instrumentals aptly entitled intro and outro. These tracks sound like a new direction for Hitchcock that one hopes he will continue to explore on future albums. The band on these tunes includes Will Barry (piano), Joe Downard (bass), Shane Forbes (drums) and, on FSTL, David Adewumi (trumpet). This ensemble reappears on the album’s closing track, And Then, which gives space for the musicians, especially Forbes, to fully express themselves.
With three quite different ensembles and their diverse styles, there was always a danger that dream band could sound inconsistent and tonally uneven, but thanks to the inspired sequencing and the strength of Hitchcock’s compositions this is never the case. There are several tracks which stand alone, in particular the ones on which Midori Jaeger and Cherise contribute, but the whole album is successfully held together by Hitchcock’s remarkable and adaptable saxophone tone. Like all the best albums, dream band is not only complete in itself but also suggests many exciting courses of future development.
LINKS: dream band on Bandcamp – Release date is 19 November 2021