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THE SUGAR HILL TRIO

The Drive

SELF-PRODUCED [51:26]

 

 

 

 

Minority

Open Circle

Spiral

Sunbeams

The Night Has A Thousand Eyes

The Drive

You're My Everything

Handles

Ask Me Now

Like Someone in Love

Theme for Basie.

Christian Torkewitz (tenor saxophone, flute); Austin Walker (drums); Leon Boykins (bass, tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,11); Dylan Shamat (bass, tracks 7, 8, 9, 10)

Recorded August 2015 and February 2016, Samurai Hotel, NYC

 

I’m not wholly sure that the band’s strapline in this card gatefold album quite does the thing justice: “The Sugar Hill Trio is a modern day innovative/avant-garde jazz combo who’s wide breadth of musical repertoire extends and expands popular music from a time once forgotten…” Let’s not get all prissy about the spelling/apostrophe debacle, or indeed the tautology; let’s focus instead on that mélange of confused thoughts. Of course it’s a ‘modern day’ band – no one surely expects it to be in the studio simultaneously in 2016 and 1925 – but what’s with that ‘from a time once forgotten’ malarkey? It sounds like a portentous film voice over. Is a Harry Warren piece really from a time once forgotten? Jimmy van Heusen? John Coltrane? And when wasn’t the time forgotten, or when did it cease to be forgotten – when The Sugar Hill Trio got their chops around it?

No, this is all a pointless introduction to the band, made even worse because there’s nothing else in the card inlay about the trio except tunes and personnel. They need a new copywriter who can write English and they need to up their promotional game.

Much of this is a pity as the band takes good, straight-ahead tunes and puts them through the blender of a largely tight, toned, brisk ensemble spearheaded by Helge Christian Torkewitz on tenor and flute. Bassists Leon Boykins and Dylan Shamat alternate, depending on the recording location. Drummer Austin Walker is a consistent presence throughout. Torkewitz is a sinuous-toned tenor player whose exchanges with Walker, in particular, prove galvanising as the latter is a kicking figure throughout, muscular and alert. It’s true that sometimes the mood is unrelieved as it can so often be in a piano-less group if there is not enough variety of mood, tempo and texture. By the time we reach Coltrane’s Spiral things have indeed become somewhat samey so it’s good that on the next track Torkewitz slows tempi and picks up his double, the flute. The bass solo over Walker’s cutely virtuosic stick work in The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is an effective means of infusing difference before the tenor play’s long-lined rather Rollins-like playing takes over.

You’re My Everything is taken mid-tempo and doesn’t mine the ballad romanticism of the classic Al Bowlly recording which really was made, as the band’s puff would have it, in a time once forgotten – except it’s never been forgotten and is for all time. The band honours the tangential lope of Monk’s Ask Me Now and approach Like Someone in Love in a rather oblique way; this is one of the less impressive tracks, lacking distinction. To end with Phineas Newborn’s Theme for Basie does sound stylistically odd; it’s not exactly arch but does sound forced – as if Muggsy Spanier had decided to play Kind of Blue.

This and other moments strike an uncertain note in an uneven though not undistinguished album. Better promo needed though.

Jonathan Woolf


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