NEW CD TOUCHY
Review - David Sinclair
Clare Hirst has moved between the worlds of pop and jazz, playing saxophone
on some of the biggest stages in the world and on some of the most intimate.
But on her third album, Touchy, she combines the roles of composer, arranger,
soloist and bandleader with the calm authority of a musician who now inhabits
a musical world that is very much her own. With all but two tracks on
the album written by Hirst and performed for the most part with her current
quartet featuring Nick Ramm (piano), Tim Robertson (double bass) and Pat
Levett (drums), Touchy is an album of elegant, contemporary jazz with
a warm, personal resonance.
The title track is one of those instantly alluring tunes that starts off
on the borderlands of easy listening, but ends up somewhere altogether
different. This is the kind of trick that modern piano trios such as the
Estborn Svenson Trio or those post-ironic pranksters the Bad Plus are
given to, and while Hirst's silky sax carries the melody, the track is
also a fine showcase for the nimble piano playing of Ramm.
Pockets, a sprightly New Orleans type of groove, and On The Street Where
You Live, a lush reworking of the Frank Loewe standard, both feature Hirst
playing soprano sax; the same sensual voice, but a more urgent, astringent
Cherry Blossom (Sakura) is inspired by Japan's (unofficial) national flower
which blooms with magnificent beauty each spring, but for only a few days.
It is a number which reminds you to enjoy the good things in life while
you can, and having arranged the piece for just sax, bass and drums, Hirst
performs it with a joyful sense of harmonic freedom.
What Now is the album's funkiest track, borrowing inspiration from Miles
Davis's So What and prompting Levett to dip into the little bag of grooves
that he keeps somewhere about his kit and pull out a typically hip combination
of syncopation and swing.
Happiness has a bouncy feel with some intriguing harmonic implications,
reminiscent of Thelonius Monk. "I suppose this track is my attempt
at defining happiness," Hirst says. "It's a tricky state to
describe, so the tune is not as straightforward as it might seem. Happiness
doesn't exist without unhappiness, so it has a combination of both elements."
Seven is inspired by the David Fincher film of the same name, starring
Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman - a tale of ritualistic murder, based around
the concept of the seven deadly sins. Hirst's composition adds a different,
deliciously darker tone to the album. It is the seventh track on Touchy
and is, naturally, in seven time.
Come on Home is a ballad with the sort of spacious, haunting feel associated
with artists like Jan Garbarek of the ECM label. "My music has lots
of space in it," Hirst says. "I think that's because I was born
in Cumbria, on top of a moor, and I feel most at home on top of Orton
Scar, looking down on the mountains all around."
In contrast to such European influences, the album closes with Duke Ellington's
Purple Gazelle, a lilting melody which reflects Hirst's longstanding interest
in salsa music. Sonny Rollins, a master of this genre, remains one of
Hirst's great inspirations, and she began her career playing with the
South African pianist Mervyn Africa, a man with his own take on township
jazz. "I really wanted to put something in that calypso style on
this CD," she says. "It's such great fun to play."
It's a delight to listen to as well and, like all the tracks on this gorgeous
album, it captures the ever-shifting mood of a sophisticated performer
who has never lost her inquisitive edge. Hirst has come a long way with
her music. But it's still a Touchy affair.
Last review - The Guardian
Saxophonist Clare Hirst and pianist/vocalist Hilary Cameron
have joined forces to produce an album that radiates relaxed class from
start to finish. If (largely) Latin-inspired arrangements, delivered without
recourse to easy musical clichés, are your thing, Summer Song should
appeal no end.
It’s not just about these two, of course – an excellent rhythm
section consisting of bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Dave Smith have
more than a little to say, and there are also a couple of guest appearances
for good measure – but both are in top form, both also contribute
a composition to what is a thoughtful mixture of music.
Writers ranging from Harry Warren to Chick Corea (and there’s two
different musical outlooks for you) are represented, and are done equal
justice. Standards from different eras get the kind of makeovers proving
that unless you take a lethal weapon to it, a good song is always a good
song. Marvin Gay’s, I Heard it through the Grapevine is a neat example:
everyone knows the choppy intro and driving style of the original, but
the band slows things right down here, with a smoky performance led by
Cameron’s smooth vocals and some silky saxophone from Hirst. And
I’m Gonna lock my heart and throw away the key, an inter-war swinger
which could easily be corny in the wrong hands, is given an imaginative,
skewed intro into a straight ahead eight to a bar arrangement which swings
beautifully and gives Hirst the chance to cut loose on tenor.
Her soprano playing skills get a workout on the title track, Cameron’s
Summer Song, weaving around an interesting melody line sung by the composer
with guest Brendan Reilly, while My One And Only Love offers the opportunity,
taken with aplomb, for some classic sax and piano ballad work. Cameron’s
piano playing, whether helping back her own vocals or part of instrumental
tracks, is first class – considered, never overdone and bouncily
syncopated when the need arises – while both Herbert and Smith are
imaginatively consistent throughout.
The opening track, Clare Fisher’s composition Morning, which moves
on it’s gently Latin way from Cameron’s piano introduction
to Hirst’s soprano theme, is handled with taste and skill, providing
a taste of things to come on a fine production. Chris Borg The