Album reviews

Chris Ingham Quartet – ‘Hoagy II’

Chris Ingham Quartet – Hoagy II
(Downhome Records DOHO006 – Album review by Mark McKergow)

Chris Ingham and his comrades dig further into the songwriting magic of Hoagy Carmichael and come up with another crop of well-chosen and artfully presented delights to brighten anyone’s day.

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Pianist and vocalist Chris Ingham has a knack of choosing interesting projects to entertain the jazz world from his base in Suffolk.  Having formed his quartet in 2013, Ingham put together shows (and matching CD collections) exploring the work of Hoagy Carmichael, Dudley Moore and Stan Getz. Nine years on from the first volume, Ingham is revisiting Carmichael’s sizeable output. The resulting 15 tracks leave one in awe of the composer’s range and depth; with classics like Lazy River, The Nearness Of You and Heart And Soul still to draw on, the repertoire is instantly dripping with class.

The quartet is made up of Ingham’s long-time rhythm players Rev Andrew J Brown on double bass and drummer George Double, joined by Paul Higgs on trumpet. Brown, now a Unitarian minister in Cambridge, and Double are regulars with Ingham at Bury St Edmunds’ Hunter Club, and it is very heartening to see such high-quality music regularly being promoted in the then country & western dominated musical desert in which I grew up decades ago. Paul Higgs has previous with groups as diverse as the NYJO and the Royal Shakespeare Company and brings a superb sound to the album, echoing the lightness and agility of Carmichael’s great friend cornetist Bix Beiderbecke – a fine reason to feature a brass soloist on these albums.

Hoagland Howard Carmichael (1899-1981) was, of course, one of the finest songwriters and composers of his age, or any other. Working with many lyricists including Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Ned Washington and Harold Adamson, Carmichael’s long career saw him writing tunes for classics like Georgia (featuring Beiderbecke’s last recording on its initial outing), Stardust and My Resistance Is Low (all tackled by the group on the previous Hoagy album). Unlike Bix who died in 1931 aged just 28, Hoagy had a long and glittering career rich in recognition and variety, and this album shows both his facility with jaunty witty numbers and (perhaps even more memorably) his way with a ballad.

Don’t Forget To Say No, Baby (lyrics Cee Pee Johnson and Lou Victor) is a grand opener, very much in the former category of clever wordplay and rattling traps. The song dates from 1942 and is a light-hearted take on a serious topic – wartime infidelity.  Ingham’s vocals sit happily in the mix, while Higgs arrival for a neat solo sets the tone for the set . The Monkey Song (lyric unusually by Carmichael himself) comes from the 1952 movie The Las Vegas Story, telling the unlikely tale of King Rebop, a drumming monkey and a missionary. It’s a droll outing presented with great gravitas by Ingham. Jubilee (lyric Harold Adam) rattles along with great swing, pre-war entertainment used by Louis Armstrong in the 1938 Mae West movie Every Day’s A Holiday.

These up-tempo numbers are fine entertainment, but it’s on the slower numbers that Carmichael really brought the human condition into focus. 1931’s (Up A) Lazy River (lyric Sidney Arodin) is given a stride-ish treatment with Ingham taking the band out for the verse before the chorus arrives in suitably languid fashion; neat piano and trumpet excursions follow. Rockin’ Chair (tune and lyric by Carmichael) from 1930 is a most unlikely vehicle for a hit, an end-of-life reflection which became a staple of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars repertoire after the war (and provided Carmichael with a stable income into the bargain). The band produces a neat slow outro. The Nearness Of You (lyric Ned Washington) is surely one of the greatest songs of all time, presented here in medium swing with Andrew Brown’s bassline pushing forward, in fine tension with Ingham’s behind-the-beat vocal.

The performances on the album are all first-class, the arrangements neat and interesting, and the variety beyond reproach. I’m very happy to reveal that the rhythm section get space on the only instrumental, I Walk With Music, a joyous uptempo swinger where Brown and Double get well-earned solo breaks. Hoagy II will make a very fine post-gig souvenir as Chris Ingham tours it around the UK in the coming months. Or…why not get in ahead of the game, and buy it now?

LINKS: Hoagy II on Chris Ingham’s Bandcamp
Chris Ingham gigs

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