Award-winning London saxophonist Alex Hitchcock presents a new 4-track EP, Outside In, in which he showcases his talent not just as a musician and improviser, but also as a canny bandleader and composer.
The EP features an incredible cast of musicians like rising star Cherise Adams-Burnett on vocals, drummer Shane Forbes (perhaps best-known for his work with MOBO-winning quartet Empirical), pianist Will Barry (Jasper Høiby) and bassist Fergus Ireland (Ashley Henry).
Speaking about the talented players, Hitchcock says: “Each musician here has a distinct voice, so I wanted to bring them together into one unified sound carrying both rhythmic fire and harmonic subtlety”.
You can watch a live video of the band filmed at the Royal Albert in New Cross, South-East London earlier this year once you’ve finished watching the visual check out the entire four-track Outside In EP before heading to Bandcamp, where you can buy it.
Overall, the EP is perfect from start to finish – an absolute must listen!
We spoke to Hitchcock about the creative process behind the new EP, musical inspirations, Desert Island Records and more.
Can you talk us through the creative process behind your new EP ‘Outside In’?
I tend to write best when I’m really busy, in the gaps between other things, because it’s more stimulating and it’s easier to respond to things that are going on or that I’ve heard. We won the Peter Whittingham Award in 2018 and received funding from HelpMusicians UK, so writing for this EP felt a bit like a commission. It gave me a bit of space to try and get the music right (which is a lucky position to be in), so I got up early, made coffee, sat at the piano – but that style of writing doesn’t work for me really. The music ended up being made up of fragments of different bits I had brought together, that I thought would give the musicians something to get their teeth into, but also make sense as part of a sequence. I think the videos we made capture that sense of fragmentation as well – I knew I wanted to collaborate with artists who could bring a different perspective to the music and Iris Abols’ animation/collage approach worked really well. I sent her a track with very little context or explanation so that she could improvise in a way that mirrored the improvisation within the music. Iris made this video and said: ‘I wanted to visually express the idea that we’re always waiting/chasing something else, something magic. And that thing we’re searching for is usually disappointing or just confusing. I wanted to play with visuals and surprise the viewer with landscapes that don’t end up as expected or scenes that last longer’. It was pretty much the first time I’d got to collaborate with artists outside music, so that was pretty exciting.
What was your favourite moment in creating this new project?
Definitely, the first time we got to play the music live, as we’d played quite a bit in rehearsal and in the studio at that point, so everything felt much more freed up playing in front of an audience. That particular gig (Tom Sankey’s night at the Royal Albert in Deptford) is one of my favourite places to play because the audience is really close up and the atmosphere is always really supportive – given the breadth of stuff that’s on there it feels like people always go with open ears and are pretty receptive. Tom cut some footage from that gig with video from the studio (watch above), I think there are some great shots in the live part in particular that capture the feel of the gig really closely.
There’s some serious talent on the EP. How did you connect with Shane Forbes, Will Barry, Fergus Ireland and Cherise Adams-Burnett?
I’ve known Will the longest, we’ve played all kinds of gigs together over about ten years, and it was important having someone in the band who knows you and your music really well. Ferg and Shane I knew from the London scene – I already knew well what brilliant musicians they were and was looking for a way of playing more with them both. I met Cherise through Kansas Smitty’s and we’d also played together a little with Ashley Henry, so I knew about her voice but also how good she is as an improviser, which was important for how I imagined live gigs with the project. I knew that I wanted to bring musicians together that all had really distinctive voices but who could also internalise the music quickly, make it come off the page, and they did that straight away. There are certain pairings in the band who have been playing together for a long time, like Ferg and Shane, or Will and I, but I think the recordings sound like the band had been together for much longer than it actually had.
Which jazz artists, both new and old inspire you the most?
I know it’s an easy answer in a sense but you can’t look past John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, who are obviously towering figures in Black American music, and without their innovations none of the music that followed on from them would have been possible, or wouldn’t exist in the same way. In terms of saxophone I’m inspired by the technique of people like Mark Turner and Melissa Aldana, and there are people like Otis Sandsjö, Shabaka Hutchings and Colin Stetson who are pushing forward what’s possible on the instrument. I know I’m one of many who is inspired by Ambrose Akinmusire’s music and his willingness to avoid resting on his considerable achievements – each of his last three albums have been quite a marked departure from the one before, particularly the most recent one. Similarly, Kit Downes went down the less than obvious path of recording his debut ECM album on church organs around the UK and has a knack for finding incredibly well-suited collaborators for his music (Aidan O’Rourke/Tom Challenger/Lucy Railton). I’m finding myself particularly inspired at the moment by people taking risks and going in directions you might not expect based on their previous work. Lots of people are doing innovative things with improvised music, like Makaya McCraven, who records gigs and then chops them up and edits the fragments together. The great bassist Tom Herbert told me about the Japanese musician Damo Suzuki, who travels around the world playing fully improvised concerts with local musicians everywhere he goes. I saw a gig by the multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu at the Jazz Gallery in New York in January, who was working with reactive video projections and got everyone in the audience to write their own obituary just as the gig started. I’m also inspired and encouraged day-to-day by the musicians I get to play with on the London scene, who are continually composing, arranging, commissioning and putting on nights and gigs as well as playing.
Any artists bubbling under the radar you want to shout out?
I wouldn’t necessarily describe these people as ‘under the radar’ as they’ve all done great stuff already, but there are loads of younger musicians who are making great music at a very early stage in their careers. Joel Ross’ album ‘KingMaker’ on Blue Note is a pretty major statement and deservedly brought his incredibly exciting improvisation to a wider audience. Maria Chiara Argiro’s new album ‘Hidden Seas’ is one of my favourite things I’ve heard recently, cinematic but intricate at the same time, really harmonically satisfying, with a great band, and mastered by Kneebody drummer Nate Wood. Joe Downard is a brilliant bassist who has just recorded his first album with each of the tracks inspired by one of Junichiro Tanizaki’s ‘Seven Japanese Tales’. It mixes acoustic piano with synthesisers/electronics, and incorporates spoken word artists and producers from outside jazz. Shirley Tetteh is a guitarist who can fit into lots of different contexts, and I particularly like her music with her own band Nardeydey. Lex Korten is a fantastically creative New York-based pianist and it’s so gratifying to see him now being called by musicians like Tyshawn Sorey, Ari Hoenig and Jaleel Shaw. Bruno Heinen is also a great pianist, based in London, and is touring a project that reimagines a series of eight Bartók improvisations. Marc Michel is a Lyon-born drummer who has incredible touch and writes beautiful music that I wish people heard more of. I think this is almost all from 2019 – there’s obviously an incredible amount of stuff going on at any given time.
What would be your Desert Island Record?
Tricky question but if it’s going to last me on a desert island I’d go for something uplifting with tons of vibe and warmth like Cannonball Adderley at the Lighthouse or Eddie Harris’ ‘The In Sound’. Cannonball’s announcements on the Lighthouse record are great and would probably be all the human contact you’d need…
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Any last words?
Thanks for asking! Hope you enjoy the EP, and that your readers might find something they like amongst the music I’ve mentioned above if they haven’t heard it already.