The other day I bought an album from eMusic, and by the end of the second track I already regretted it. I won’t tell you what record it was; I’ll just say it was the second album by a young alto saxophonist (the only album of his available on eMusic), and as I posted on Twitter yesterday, I should have taken the fact that it had the word “Cerebral” right there in the title as a warning. My own fault.
Here’s the thing. I have no problem with jazz musicians being smart. You’ve gotta have a certain baseline level of intelligence to want to play jazz, period. I just wish certain players wouldn’t advertise their smarts (or, more accurately, their level of education) quite so crudely in their compositions. Don’t launch an album with two minutes of unaccompanied, twisty-turny, knuckle-popping saxophone acrobatics and then slowly drift into some midtempo, rhythmically complex but melodically wan exercise in tricky scales and harmonic befuddlement. Start with a song. A composition that’ll stick in the listener’s ear and brain, something that’ll make them put your CD in the player a second, third and fourth time, anticipating hearing that hook again.
Australian-born, New York-based saxophonist Nick Hempton (also an alto player, by the way) understands this. The second CD by his quartet, The Business, is the product of a sharp and witty mind (track titles include “Press One for Bupkis,” “Not Here for a Haircut,” and “Flapjacks in Belo”), but it’s also the work of a kick-ass band. When they swing, they do it like they want you to get up and dance. There are sections of the piece “From Bechet, Byas and Fats,” a nearly nine-minute burner at the disc’s midpoint, that sound like they’re heading into Louis Jordan territory. And how does The Business begin? With “Flapjacks in Belo,” a piece that takes a Brazilian rhythm, then lights its tail feathers on fire. Meanwhile, the melody line is more than memorable; it’s practically unforgettable. It’s one of those hooks you’ll wish was available as a ringtone.
The whole record is like this. Even on ballads (there are two, of 10 tracks total), these guys burn it down. The band includes pianistArt Hirahara, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Dan Aran, and guitarist Yotam Silberstein, all but one of whom are part of Hempton’s working band. So maybe you should go check them out, minus Silberstein, when they celebrate the album’s release with a performance at Smalls on Saturday.
Posi-Tone Records, Hempton’s label and the subject of an article in the current print edition of Burning Ambulance, has provided me with five copies of The Business to give away. Want one? You should. To get one, email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me the names of a few of your favorite alto sax-led recordings (albums, individual tracks, whatever). You’ve got a week; winners will be chosen on Friday, September 2.
– Phill Freeman