The Night Has A Thousand Eyes
You're My Everything
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
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.