James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – ‘Yorkshire Suite’ – London Jazz News
James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – Yorkshire Suite
(New Jazz Records. Review by Adrian Pallant)
The premise of this live recording is heartwarming and should appeal to anyone interested in the continuation of the UK big band jazz scene.
In 2014, composer and trumpeter from Belfast James Hamilton was commissioned to write a sequel for the Yorkshire Festival to celebrate the life of Jazz Yorkshire (the funding body that merged with Manchester Jazz to become Jazz North). But that recording, captured a year later in front of an audience at Seven Arts in Leeds, went silent for five years – until now. As seen in other releases this year, the Covid-19 restrictions have given Hamilton space to review his records. This resulted in the mixing and mastering of his Yorkshire Suite – a reflection of the people and places of ‘God’s County’. It is essentially a four-track EP, although many albums have also veered towards the half hour mark; and the thirteen horn players, guitarist, pianist, bassist and drummer from James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (JHJO) feature now-familiar names, including saxophonist matt andersontrumpeter Kim Macari and trombonist matte ball.
Equally heartening are Hamilton’s intentions for this music. Drawing inspiration from his youth group years, the moves are intentionally designed with increasing levels of difficulty, so that they can be accessed by groups of young people of varying abilities. Self-deprecatingly, he explains: “This is not a subtle, nuanced work of contemporary jazz – there is a JHJO catalog where you can already find that. It’s a shameless tour de force of cheesy big band music”. Additionally, study scores and parts will be available – as will audio – on a pay-per-view basis.
So, “cheesy”? Not at all. For these ears, only serious music. This lively, breathing performance might emit a rare cracked note or an uncertain harmony; but what stands out is the fervor and improvisational freedom of this group, at times imbuing Hamilton’s work with a splash of fanfare color. In fact, Hamilton researched his subject before writing, asking locals what their county meant to them, and his titles interestingly (even amusingly) reflect their responses.
The valleys‘Waking horn harmonies involve the sunrise over an endless patchwork of lush greenery bound by frames of gray drystone. But his statuesque confidence changes with the guitarist Harry Ormethe smooth groove of, while chaining the solos of the trumpeter Simon Dennissaxophonist Will Howard and trombonist Tom l’Anson could easily transmit the leaping passage of a charabanc far away. The mainstay of the city thrifty, backed by deep trombones, features sizzling spotlights from saxophonist Matt Anderson and trumpeter Kim Macari – a solid wall of “NY City in NY Moors,” if you will! A real highlightTell it like it is (in other words, “call a spade a spade”) slowly unfolds a straight Christmas hymn familiar to church organists as “Yorkshire” – but bringing it into a township vibe is inspired, with exuberant solos by Ball, Dennis and saxophonist Marc Ellis. Finally, taking up a piano figure from the opening movement, Home is all a place can hope to be (what more could you ask for?) basks with pride in the tightly meshed afterglow of the ensemble horns and the military snare drum.
James Hamilton has received a Jazz Yorkshire Award for Composition, a British Composer Award, the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and has been nominated for Eddie Harvey and Ivor Novello awards. Other JHJO recordings are available, including The Causeway Suite and Lost tapes.
As for this joyous hymn transfiguration… it could well be a question of “greeting the happy morning” this December 25th.
Yorkshire Suite is released today, December 7, 2020, and available on Bandcamp
Categories: CD review