Nick Hempton – The BusinessNative Australian saxophonist Nick Hempton has recently released “The Business” on Posi-tone Records. Hempton plays both alto and tenor saxophone as well as having composed all but one of the tunes on his second release. Hempton is joined by fellow bandmates Art Hirahara, piano; Yotam Silberstein; guitar; Marco Panascia; bass and Dan Aran on drums.

Nick Hempton’s quintet on “The Business” represents a 6-year relationship for the group. They are a cohesive unit who often work together in New York City and beyond, not just another studio all-star group who have assembled for one recording.

Hempton chooses to open up with his Flapjacks In Belo, a medium-up bossa played on alto saxophone. The spirited group has a traditional, mainstream sound – very easy on the ears. Hempton weaves through the changes effortlessly while his rhythm section confidently accompanies behind him. Hirahara’s piano solo and particularly Dan Aran’s drums behind the same are also highpoints hit on the opening tune.

The hard-swinging Art Is In The Groove reveals that Nick Hempton is equally comfortable on tenor sax. Hirahara’s electric piano lends a wonderful sonic diversion from the acoustic piano heard previously. Marco Panascia and Yotam Silberstein chug along on bass and guitar respectively eventually setting up things for Hempton’s tenor. Among Hempton’s influences listed is Dexter Gordon. His general concept of time, feel and sound are clearly reminiscent of the late great tenor player, yet not a copy at all. Silberstein solos followed by an easily overlooked killer swing vamp before the return of the final melody.

After hearing Hempton on both alto and tenor I could hear qualities of both horns on Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You. The slow and swinging blues played on tenor provides a perfect opportunity for Hempton and the rest of the group to get down and dirty.

Hempton returns to the alto again for Press One for Bupkis, which is one of the three longest cuts on “The Business.” It is not completely obvious that the tune is set to 5/4 time from the onset. The group swings and the soloists play effortlessly over this odd time signature, which at least partially feels like a jazz waltz.

From Bechet, Byas, And Fats allows Marco Panascia to take a chorus on bass for the first time. As the title implies, this cut draws upon an earlier jazz tradition, weaving in and out of various swing feels. The abrupt accelerando about midway into the tune results in a shift in time to a  new, blistering pace. Hirahara, and particularly Hempton demonstrate that they have no problem playing tempos. Even Dan Aran gets and opportunity to trade a bit on drums.

The sparse and brooding, Encounter At E begins with the two main voices of alto and piano that is then augmented by bass and drums. The tune gains momentum periodically only to fade back into a near blank sonic canvas.

Up to this point in the recording nothing has sounded quite like Cold Spring Fever. The rock feel in Aran’s drums along with Silberstein’s syncopated guitar comping suggest a much different palette from which the soloists to choose.

Not Here For A Haircut further lends credence to the fact that Nick Hempton and his group can play tempos. This up-tempo barnburner first features Hempton on alto, which is presumably his most comfortable voice. Hirahara solos while Hempton and the rest add some well-placed kicks behind the pianist.  Not to be outdone by the others, Dan Aran showcases some quick hands on two short but well-executed drum breaks before the melody out.

Panascia gets an unusual solo spot right up front on the quiet and subdued waltz The Wading Game. Both Hirahara and Hempton solo as their choruses begin to swing harder only a few bars in. Hempton weaves a wonderful solo before returning to the melody.

Among my favorite tunes recorded on Nick Hempton’s “The Business” is the final track Carry On Up The Blues. This is the perfect closer. Hempton swings hard outlining the harmonies and occasionally taking it out just enough to spice things up. Silberstein solos on guitar taking it slow and simple at first. He then proceeds to string together a series of 8th note lines interspersed with tritones and blues licks. The two play the melody in  a fitting unison to put the period on the end of the sentence that is “The Business.”

The press kit that accompanies Nick Hempton’s “The Business” reveals that Hempton’s youth was “misspent playing Rhythm & Blues and Ska…” Although some may see time spent learning outside the jazz tradition as less than optimal, Nick Hempton has turned it into a style. It appears this diverse set of influences early on indeed makes Hempton’s jazz “original, approachable, and always swinging.”

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