Hannah Horton, tenor and baritone sax.
John Crawford, piano.
Rob Statham, bass.
Steve Taylor, drums.
The best saxophonists are able to display the instrument’s many, quite contrasting facets: urgent and piercing with tender; soulfully expressive with punchy and raw; joyous with wistfully melancholic. But the real test of a jazz performer is whether she can swing. And for that purpose, the baritone is not the first of the saxophone family to leap to mind. Hannah Horton’s performance was remarkable by any standard—and all the more because she favoured the baritone over her tenor throughout both sets.
There was so much about this gig that made it a compelling evening: a varied and engaging set list; the cohesiveness of the band (and the impression that they were enjoying themselves almost as much as the audience); arrangements that allowed each of the musicians ample room for solo improvisation without falling back on familiar patterns; and above all, Hannah’s powerful but nuanced playing. For a start, there was her stamina: long melodic lines that must have taken her to the boundaries of circular breathing, but without any apparent risk to either her stamina or her musical invention. Early in the first set, we were treated to one of her own compositions—a truly lovely number that brought Abdullah Ibrahim to mind. And as though the baritone wasn’t enough of a challenge, we had compositions by Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny and even a charming rendering of a Morris folk tune.
For all the variety of material and styles, the band seemed to excel at infectious dance rhythms—the funk tune toward the end of the second set included. This was the stuff of a band that’s more than the sum of its parts, but their individual talents deserve a mention. John Crawford’s piano excursions were riveting: certainly Latin-influenced; and in a few instances they could have been tagged, ‘Monk goes to Cuba.’ His lightning-speed runs, and double arpeggios – (an approximate term for what he was up to)—made the music seem to somersault. And then the magic: perfectly poised landings. Another side of his musicianship was his careful accompaniment to the Getz ballad.
Jazz bores can endlessly discuss acoustic vs. electric bass, but these debates aren’t possible to sustain while a master musician is at work on either instrument. Rob Statham’s electric bass was set to a deeply resonant tone which suited both baritone and tenor perfectly; and his playing had a compelling melodic quality, even when he wasn’t soloing. He took centre stage for the opening for one of the Chick Corea numbers. Even Steve Swallow would have been impressed. Steve Taylor completes the point that this was a rhythm section that wasn’t just a rhythm section. He was resourceful, responsive and varied. And although not every drum solo has a musical point to make, his did.
The funk tune (another of Hannah’s own compositions) flowed into the evening’s final number: ‘Mercy, Mercy Mercy’—a delightful high on which to end an evening that really didn’t have any lows.