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Arts Festival Review: Colin Hemmingsen Quartet

Colin Hemmingsen Quartet

Reviewed by Tyler Hersey

Colin Hemmingsen Quartet
Sunday, March 5
National Bank Festival Club


Under an imminent curfew at the Festival Club - dub-rockers Salmonella Dub were due to begin a set on the nearby outdoor stage - Colin Hemmingsen and his quartet played it safe during their well-attended afternoon jazz concert. While thoroughly enjoyable and swinging, the show rarely pushed the sonic boundaries which these players have been known to transcend. For the Sunday festival crowd, however, it was probably just right. The group provided a nice taste of Hemmingsen’s new album, The Rite of Swing, and managed to squeeze in their whole set before the party began next door. Sometimes it is best just to read your audience, and this particular crowd was summed-up by the emcee’s post-show announcement that someone had lost a hearing aid during the show, and could we all please be careful not to step on it as we exited.

Firmly rooted in the sound of contemporary swing, Jazz School stalwarts Colin Hemmingsen and Phil Broadhurst have developed a signature sound which combines Broadhurst’s dense piano chords with Hemmingsen’s deep, tasteful leads on bassoon and saxophone. At times, the group worked like a bebop quartet, trading short solos until a drum break late in the tune. Alternately, particularly on Broadhurst’s ballad “Higgins”, they demonstrated a wonderful ability to build a group sound with many layers of texture and emotion. The rhythm section of drummer Lance Philip and bassist Nick Tipping was excellent throughout. Whether pushing a driving samba feel or laying back underneath a ballad, they provided just the right support for each song. Tipping’s bass locked in tightly with the kick drum, complemented by exact and exquisite ride cymbal work by Philip.

Hemmingsen’s new album, and likewise this concert, focused on compositions by New Zealand jazz artists. Anita Schwabe contributed two songs: the grooving, moody 'Pohane', and a galloping take on Brazilian tradition with 'Gilberto Gets a Samba'. Hemmingsen quickly showed his versatility on the bassoon, echoing the reedy passing tones of a saxophone on the first tune, and looping, trumpet-like phrasing on the latter. In lesser hands, the bassoon may seem incongruous with the jazz setting; however, Hemmingsen’s perfect touch and subtle articulation rendered the orchestral instrument even more expressive than his later explorations on soprano and alto sax.

Broadhurst penned what were perhaps the best tunes of this set: the aforementioned ballad 'Higgins', a tribute to late drummer Billy Higgins, and the upbeat latin feel of 'Santa Margherita'. The ballad was beautifully rendered by all, beginning with stately triplet arpeggios passed from left hand to right in the lower midrange of the piano. Philip swished his accompaniment on the snare with light brushwork, while Tipping added resonant bass chords which filled the club tent. Both Hemmingsen and Broadhurst subtly stated the melody in their solos, adding the occasional tasteful chromatic run to skilfully link phrases together. 'Margherita', by contrast, was an up-tempo number which incorporated some great bluesy licks and superb melodic runs into its framework. An extended bass solo from Tipping was most welcome, and he took the opportunity to fully explore the range of his instrument, from a high re-statement of the melody to low, tight runs which fit squarely into the pocket of Philip’s drumming.

Although this may not have been the quartet’s most exploratory or transcendent performance, it was a nice representation of the music included on Himmingsen’s new CD. And judging by the post-concert line snaking its way around the merchandise table, this sound should prove popular with many lovers of jazz and original New Zealand music.

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NZ Arts Festival: Colin Hemmingsen
Scoop Full Coverage: Festival 2006

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