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The Scott Hamilton Quartet at Harborough Jazz Club
9th January 2011
Scott Hamilton is a formidable master of the tenor saxophone and, surely, the world’s leading exponent of his style. So, it was a considerable coup, as well as a great privilege, for the members of Harborough Jazz Club to secure his services for a gig within its monthly programme.
He was supported by a rhythm section comprising some of the best musicians in British jazz. John Pearce, classically trained, and accompanist to such artistes as Art Farmer, Warren Vache, Tommy Whittle and the late Kenny Davern, bristled with ideas on the piano.
Bass player, Dave Green has accompanied and recorded with many of the world’s leading jazz musicians, including Paul Gonsalves, Buddy Tate and Ben Webster.
Drummer, Steve Brown has long been ‘first call’ of many of the greatest jazz artistes, including Scott himself, Junior Mance, Charles McPherson and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison.
With such a line-up, the Quartet couldn’t fail to impress - nor did it disappoint on this occasion. Scott’s playing bubbled with energy and ideas from first to last. His sound is not original, but rather derives from traditional masters such as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and, perhaps, Illinois Jacquet - but his interpretation is original. One of his greatest assets is his ability to sound totally at ease and relaxed with any number he chooses, no matter its complexity - in other words, to convey a complex set of ideas in an accessible format which takes his audience with him. This approach, combined with the insistent, underlying and ever-present rhythm which is such a fundamental characteristic of his playing, translates into an elegant and uniquely definitive style.
This gig comprised largely well-recognised standards with a few lesser-known numbers thrown in. Few saxophonists can rival Scott in a ballad. His rendering of I thought about you was a superb performance - tender, almost caressing - and supported by a lilting, melodic solo from John Pearce.
By contrast, the belting pace of I want to be happy found Scott blowing powerfully and the rhythm section swinging hard, driven by Steve Brown conjuring up frenetic polyrhythms and Dave Green driving hard on the bass.
This ability to create great and memorable contrasts is one of the outstanding features of Scott Hamilton and his accompanists. There is no let-up in the variety of approaches - old standards are invigorated freshened up with the unique Scott Hamilton treatment.
It is almost impossible to pick a high spot of the event. The poignant Hoagy Carmichael ballad, Skylark, would surely be a contender. Immaculately played with a lyrical rendition full of high emotion, Scott’s performance was flawless from the first to the last top note. Others might choose the sprightly-paced Just in time, or the timeless Stardust, a delicate offering from Scott, simply dripping with feeling.
This is a gig that will live long in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to have been there. Such is the pace of life, the Quartet was due straight back on the road for another gig some three hours’ distance away, later in the day. Scott Hamilton richly deserves to be in such great demand.
A capacity audience, packed into the cosy events suite of the quaint Angel Hotel, was left in no doubt from the first dulcet tones of the opening number - I just found out about love - that Scott’s consummate performance with the tenor saxophone has remained undiminished through a career spanning 40 years or so. His tone and phrasing remain as full-bodied and acutely observed as ever.