Nick Hempton is a straight-up mainstream saxophonist and leader who plays in a very confident manner and has a very appealing musical tone. On this album, he is joined by Art Hirahara on piano, Marco Panascia on bass, and Dan Aran on drums. Yotam Silberstein sits in on guitar for a few tracks. The group plays an appealing mix of standards and originals beginning with the medium up-tempo “Flapjacks In Belo” featuring some strong and assured saxophone leading the way, and a ripe piano, bass and drums feature. “Art Is in the Groove” has a strutting feel with a funky solo that has Hirahara switching to electric piano along with strong deep bass. Hempton re-enters with some sharp toned saxophone and then some guitar enters with a nimble brisk tone. The classic ballad “Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You” is opened with slow probing piano and lush saxophone. Hempton works the ballad really well, building his solo patiently from the ground up. The ringer in the set and what sets it apart from the many good post-bop albums out there is the group’s adventurous cover of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “From Bechet, Byas, And Fats.” Kirk’s music is ripe for re-interpretation and Hempton’s group does an outstanding job of it. After an excellent thick bass solo from Panascia, piano ups the pace and leads to a strong saxophone solo. They make the complicated track work really well, and it is closed out by an exciting section where saxophone and drums trade ideas. “Cold Spring Fever” goes for a more contemporary sound, at first coming off as a little glib, but quickly righting the ship with some excellent drumming and guitar accents. There’s an Atlantic-period Coltrane feel to the lightning fast saxophone in “Not Here For A Haircut” but Hempton never stumbles, playing with a great deal of confidence, building his solo architecturally. After a lengthy probing ballad “The Wading Game,” the group wraps up with a short blast of fun called “Carry on up the Blues” taking things out with muscular modern jazz featuring guitar and bass. This was a really well played and self-assured album, the band is a tight and focused, and Hempton is really a soloist and bandleader to watch. (Hat tip to the excellent blog Jazz Wrap for drawing my attention to this album.) The Business - amazon.com
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Luther Thomas - In Denmark (ILK, 2014) *****
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