Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nick Hempton: The Business

Nick Hempton (sax)
The Business (Posi-Tone Records; 2011)
Dan Aran (drums)
Marco Panascia (bass)
Art Hirahara (piano)
Yotam Silberstein (guitar)

I first encountered Nick Hempton through Smalls Jazz Club in New York. The group is tight and fierce. It's a true, swingin' yet basic hard bop outfit that should instantly attract the attention of even ardent non-jazz fan. Nick Hempton, originally from Australia then transplanted to New York, has been on the scene for just a few years. Hempton's style is like a young Dexter Gordon, but don't underestimate Nick Hempton or his band for just another revivalist of hard bop. Hempton can craft a tune and his long standing quintet can cut some powerful chords.

After fighting it out to get gigs at the various venues around the city, Hempton finally landed a fairly regular gig at Smalls. That open environment definitely permeated the group's debut album, Nick Hempton Band (self produced; 2009) which included some terrific numbers including the infectious opener "Get This" and the midtempo rhythms of "Serenity". Marco Panascia and Hempton share some wonderful passages throughout. Hirahara and Aran also add a strong element of unity for the group as evident on the groovy "The Artful Roger" which could feel at home on any Tubby Hayes record. A solid debut that really shouldn't be missed.

The freedom and cohesiveness of the group are tightened on the new release, The Business (Posi-Tone; 2011), now adding Silberstein as guest on a couple of tracks. The group and Hempton  display a real sense of growth over the last two years. Hempton sounds bigger and mature. His compositions are also very well rounded as the buoyant, "Art Is In The Groove" demonstrates with great toe-tapping beats from Aran. But even more delicious is the killer organ and guitar work from Hirahara and Silberstein that gives the track a sizzlin' Jimmy Smith flavour. Hempton wails but is more determined to let his bandmates shine. The standard "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" (one of my favourites), is exquisitely executed by the group. The bluesy, gospel delivery by Hempton has all the elements of a late night club date. The rest of group lay back and follow but tone is rich and unified.

"Encounter At E" is a lovely original ballad that is the best number I've heard from Hempton so far in my short time following this group. The group adds a great deal of colour to Hempton's material here but it still retains a soft tone and glides gently along allowing the listener to absorb every note. Panascia delivers some great lines late that are moving, and accompanied by Hirahara's smooth well balanced touches on the keys. Hempton's performance is romantic and very lyrical while the composition itself brings out the best in the group.

The band closes out with a high spirited "Carry On Up The Blues" featuring astounding performances from both Silberstein and Hirahara. Hempton rockets the group through most of the beginning of the piece before turning the show over to the group. It's a great display of what this band does live. The Nick Hempton Band seems to do what most groups have trouble with - delivering the same patterns and energy that are conveyed in the live performance and translating that to record. The Business is evidence that bop is alive and well and can be delivered both on stage and off. An excellent second record from a group and a leader that are getting better and better with each outing.

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