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Full Focus

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

Hamburg 2010
from the album All Good Things

 

 

 

'Full Focus' is a series where musicians and others discuss a jazz track or tracks in detail. The idea is that you are able to listen to the track that is discussed as you read about it.

 

Alex Hitchcock Quintet All Good things

 

Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock was born in London. His first instrument was the violin, but at nine he switched to alto saxophone. It was listening to Coleman Hawkins and Joshua Redman that caused him to turn to the tenor sax. Alex studied English at Cambridge, while becoming part of the jazz scene in the city and director of the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra. With them, he toured Istanbul before returning to London and the Royal Academy of Music where he first established his Quintet. He graduated in 2016.

The Alex Hitchcock Quintet released their album All Good Things in May 2019. The band: Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone); James Copus (trumpet, flugelhorn); Will Barry (piano, fender rhodes); Joe Downard (bass) and Jay Davis (drums) has been described as: 'A powerhouse quintet that combines a compelling, adventurous ear for melody with virtuosic improvising'. 

2018 was a breakthrough year for them when they won first place at the Conad Jazz Contest at the 2018 Umbria Jazz Festival, and embarked on a 15-date nationwide tour promoting their debut EP 'Live at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals' launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. They played Ronnie Scott's Club and the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, going on to play at the Royal Albert Hall and Jazz in the Round, as well as touring Spain, Hungary and Poland and appearing on BBC Radio 3, JazzFM and Hungarian television. 

Of the album All Good Things, Alex says: 'We've tried to find a positive response to the division and uncertainty currently being felt across the UK and further afield. I've tried to write optimistic music that doesn't avoid subtlety and more challenging sounds, and has space for dissonance. Some of the songs are eclectic but this doesn't detract from a common thread and distinctive sound world running through the album, with strong melodies and virtuosic improvising holding it together'. Click here for details and samples of the album.

 

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

 

For our Full Focus article, Alex talks about the track Hamburg 2010 from the album All Good Things.

Listen to the track here: ​

 

 

 

I wrote this tune about the time Fulham, the football team I support, reached the final of the Europa League in 2010. I know that might sound a bit trivial, but as an achievement by a group of players at a much smaller club who used spirit and togetherness to make up for what they lacked on the technical side, it was really impressive. Plus, I’ve always valued the escapism in the way football makes you really, genuinely care about something you know doesn’t matter at the same time.

I had paid over the odds for a ticket from a tout on eBay, so went on one of the overnight supporters’ coaches, leaving from the Fulham stadium, to save money. The single chemical toilet broke before we had reached Dover on the way out, and the TV at the front of the coach was showing 'Only Fools And Horses' on 24 hour repeat, with sound. We were dropped on the Reeperbahn, in the middle of Hamburg’s red light district, at about ten in the morning and spent the day wandering around the city and mingling with the Atletico Madrid fans who were very friendly, on the whole, maybe because they saw the result as a foregone conclusion. Anyway, we did lose – in the last minute of extra John Paintsiltime to a deflected Diego Forlán strike – and we headed back to the waterlogged car park where the coach driver was sitting cross-legged in the luggage compartment with a portable stove, about to cheer us up with bacon sandwiches.

One thing that particularly stayed with me was the Fulham right back John Paintsil’s pre-match lap of honour around the stadium. He would always do both a lap before and after every game, applauding the fans, regardless of the result, which sort of entrenched his status as a fan favourite. Seeing him do it in this huge stadium against the background of the floodlights and the towering stand opposite us lit up with flares and camera flashes really stayed with me.

 

John Paintsil

 

 

 

This is the first track of the album, and I wanted to showcase Jay’s drumming because it’s so important in defining the band’s sound and the texture of the music. Jay is amazing to play with because he always finds new ways to approach the same material over the course of a run of gigs, making sure the dynamic and feel of the music is always fresh and original. So I wanted to create some asymmetrical gaps for him to pull around with some subtle brushwork, against harmony that shifted between light and dark.

Given that the harmony in lots of places is a bit oblique, I used the interval of a fifth to keep a sense of openness and breadth, so you can hear that in the opening melody over the drum solo (0.11), the first bassline (0.43), the main melody (0.57), the sax and trumpet refrain at (1.27), and the closing melody after the solos at (4.44). I think there’s a contrast as well in the relative expansiveness of the sax and piano solos against the more tightly structured form. Towards the end of his solo (4.36), Will starts bringing in a ‘3 over 4’ piano figure that anticipates the rhythm of the closing melody. The piano figure, along with the horn melody, overlays a slower rhythm that contrasts with the feeling of momentum set up by the 12/8 meter that built up during the piano solo, leading into the more restrained outro trumpet solo (5.31).

Here, I wanted the out-of key moments in the piano arpeggios to stretch the listener’s ear outside of the warm harmony a little, and to spur James on in his improvisation. The time signature is a triplet feel in 7 (divided up into 5/5/6/5) but James floats over the time which I think stops the closing section feeling unnecessarily complex. He’s an incredible improviser, and will come up with something that’s totally fresh and inventive no matter what you throw at him!

We had a fantastic tour and it was great to see lots of people come out and enjoy the music all over the country. Now the tour has come to a close I'm looking forward to recording the next album with the quintet with more music we've been road-testing over the past few months.

 

Click here for Alex Hitchcock's website.

 

Alex Hitchcock

 

Alex Hitchcock

 

 

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2019

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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Alan Benzie Trio - Sunken Ruins
Sam Braysher - Braysher On Bird
Tori Freestone - My Lagan Love / In The Chophouse
Matthew Read Trio - Burke and Hare