Scott Hamilton Quartet grooving hard at Pizza Express Jazz Club

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Bassist Dave Green’s walking bass in thumb position cut scintillatingly through Scott Hamilton’s Ben Webster-style tenor saxophone during the head of chirpy opener, ‘I Just Found Out About Love’ by Nat King Cole, drawing whistles from the crowded floor. Hamilton listened to John Pearce’s playful piano solo with a blissed-out expression on his face as drummer, Steve Brown smiled cheekily on: this quartet have been playing all over Britain and Europe for 14 years and perform together like a well-oiled machine.

American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton has been a regular at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho since the late 1970s and tonight treated us to a set of classic jazz standards including tracks from the quartet’s 2014 album, Dean Street Nights, recorded live here on 4 January 2012.

‘Dream Dancing’ by Cole Porter contained intriguing minor to major and vice versa key changes combined with an expressive use of dynamics, and Hamilton played just behind the beat, lending the music a sultry laid-back appeal. Pearce’s imitation on piano of Hamilton’s melodic saxophone line segued neatly into his solo of syncopated chords and intonation-perfect Green manipulated the rhythm in pleasing, glitchy ways supported by Brown’s soft drumming.

The tone of Hamilton’s tenor saxophone was pregnant with emotion throughout Johnny Mandel’s heart-melting jazz waltz, ‘Emily’, followed by fast number, ‘Fine and Dandy’, executed with plenty of attack by all. Green inventively bent the fabric of this tune by ‘skipping’ notes and the melody could be deciphered in Brown’s solo, throughout which he skilfully managed to make the drums sound like a saxophone.

Ballad, ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’, had an unanticipated Count Basie big band feel to it, with Hamilton riffing on a single note, filling out the sound, and quoting from ‘Splanky’, composed and arranged by Neal Hefti for the Basie band. After an equally interesting version of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ which was heavily disguised with chromatic chord substitutions, Hamilton welcomed onto the stage gifted alto saxophonist, Allison Neale.

Neale is currently bandleader of a quartet featuring London-based jazz musicians Leon Greening, Steve Brown and Julian Bury. The musical affinity she shares with Hamilton was palpable when the pair traded fours on ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’. Playing more ‘on the beat’ than Hamilton, Neale possesses a light tone akin to that of West Coast jazz alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. Technically speaking, Neale is superb, however it was the depth of feeling present in Hamilton’s playing that left a lasting impression on the listener.

– Gemma Boyd
– Photo by Janet Lee