Jazz Views, Sept 2021 for Inside Out
As a listener I have taken an interest in Hannah Horton for a couple of years now. There is something refreshing and special about her approach, interpretation and delivery. Now, Hannah is releasing ‘Inside Out’ which is a curated selection of her compositions and covers of numbers which Hannah feels speak to her musically and personally. As I write this, ‘Inside Out’ is playing and I am transported to a world of beautiful music, touched at times with an edge which is incredibly engaging. The recording is a balanced and fruitful journey for the listener with tracks ranging from easy going to traumatic and emphatic, emotive style.
Put together at a time during which Hannah has observed a plethora of changes, she says of the release, “Now feels like the right time to release ‘Inside Out’ for me, both as an artist and personally. The pandemic has been a weird and strange time for everyone. We have all been weathering the COVID 19 storm in our own ways. What with that, plus my father losing his long battle with cancer just before the first lockdown, putting my creativity into ‘Inside Out’, hanging out with my best friend and soul healer – music- has led me to release now.
Although the album was created during, I suppose, a time of grief, pandemic uncertainty and emotional ups and downs, ‘Inside Out’ is about turning that into an inner strength. It is a reflection that throughout life we grow, we, as humans, build resilience and how time teaches us confidence, inner strength and acceptance.”
Backed by a band which understands her interpretations – the essence of this album is synergy, topped with a reaching out and engaging with listeners across a broad spectrum. Ian Shaw adds his distinctive vocals to two tracks with emotive, powerful tones, making him the nigh-on perfect choice for this recording.
Hannah plays flute, bassoon and clarinet as well as saxophone and attended the Junior Guildhall School of Music and later Trinity College of Music, where she was inspired by UK musicians including Mark Lockheart, Tim Garland and Paul Bartholomew.
As well as pursuing her own career, Hannah is keen to encourage others and she runs ‘J Steps’ – an initiative to nurture talent of musicians who identify as female or non-binary, with the aim of balancing a historic lack of representation of women in jazz.
Horton describes her compositions as rooted in not only jazz, but also folk and funk. Her career so far has included playing alongside artists including Amy Winehouse, John Etheridge, Georgia Mancio and performances in many of the UK’s prominent jazz venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican and The 606 Club – which is the wonderful space she has chosen to launch the album on 22nd September.
‘Keep Walking’ announces the start of the album and is a Horton original. With a walking gait throughout, the music is warm, nuanced with delicate flavours and touches provided not only by Horton but also the band members, who are supportive and intuitive. The sax soars, rises and sings across the top, creating waves of luxuriously warm melody across steady, rhythmic accompaniment. The piano solo from Crawford includes some gorgeous disharmonic emphasis which add energy and add a perfect contrasting interlude to the smoothness of Horton’s sax on this number. Hannah describes the track as “The vibe of moving on, not looking back and knowing it is the right move for your freedom, independence, soul and resilience.”
‘Surfing Thermals’ is another Horton original, inspired by watching birds of prey gliding in the air, surfing on the thermal winds and you feel it in this number as the melody circles, loops around and returns again to the syncopated 6-note theme, deftly reflected in the bass line, interspersed with some dynamic and well-developed backing, including wonderful rhythmic changes from the percussion.
‘Frozen Light’ was inspired by the sight of haw frost putting Nature into a frozen pause, creating a “vision of frozen light as the sun shines through” and features Ian Shaw’s wonderfully tuneful vocals which fly above Horton’s steady scale descents before the sax rises to solo. Shaw adds warmth and at times, there is almost a whispered awe in his vocals to the wonder of Nature and the moment of frozen light.
Miles Davis’ ‘Nardis’ is given superb and respectful treatment by Horton. Davis famously quipped about playing the “notes which aren’t written” and here, Horton finds them and delivers a gorgeous version. The number is testament not only to Davis’ ability to write music for saxophone (he wrote it for Nat Adderley’s alto) but Horton’s interpretive skills on tenor and joyful improvisation skills. It features a beautiful bass solo from Statham and a piano interlude from Crawford too. Horton describes the piece as one of her favourites – “strong, emotional and groovy” and this just about sums it up.
‘Peacocks’ has become one of Horton’s signature tunes and she says she felt she just had to record it. The contrast here to the numbers which have gone before on this album is beautiful and Horton creates a delicate, curvaceous, emotive and evocative sound, reflected also in the extended piano solo. The number showcases Horton’s range and dexterity.
Chick Corea’s ‘Windows’ is swingy, and features some great working in the rhythm changes of tempo. Horton drops in, almost by-the-by, some intricate and lifting solo work across the top whilst the band provide steadfast support, not surprising with a Corea number, led by the piano line.
‘Horn Dance’ is Horton’s interpretation of a local Morris dance tune – and given that it is played at around 165 beats a minute – which Horton describes as ‘a slow horn dance’ it reflects Horton’s earliest memories of folk music. The deep notes of the baritone sax provide an almost excessively delicious ripeness to the sound.
The Sherman Brothers’ ‘Feed The Birds’ from Mary Poppins is given a driving calypso feel and this works a treat. Horton comments, “One of my favourite films, but this song makes me feel sad in the film, so I experimented with grooves, percussion and this is the result.” Absolutely nothing sad about this funky improvised interpretation.
Another Horton original ‘Breathing Out’ once again features the vocals (and lyrics) of Ian Shaw and is a slow, decorous number written as “a huge exhale, a letting go of struggles and sigh of release”, according to Horton. Shaw does not enter until around the 1 minute 20 mark but his vocals take the song into new territories as he sings about release and breathing out, letting go, which the sax responds to with a dynamic and emphatic solo. The final third sees Shaw’s vocalese interacting with the sax, creating a masterful and passionate delivery on both sides. A stand-out track on this fine album and a revelation, for me at least, of the supreme talents of both Horton and Shaw.
‘Escape’ is about vacations, feeling the heat of the sun and “knowing it is going to be a fantastic holiday”, as Horton puts it. In this track you can hear reflections of other standards but it is original Horton and glorious in its finesse and delivery.
I asked Hannah what playing music means to her personally and as a musician and how she sees jazz progressing after Covid. She told me , ” Hanging out with music and my sax is one of the best feelings. Music never lets me down, it is always there for me, and is my best friend. I am lucky to have met and learnt from fantastic musicians so far in my musical journey. Recording and collaborating with Ian, John, Nic and Rob was so great. These guys are not only amazing, but inspirational too and wonderful humans on top! It’s fantastic live music and all areas of the arts are starting to come back since the easing of restrictions. I have been buzzing after my 3 live performances in the past few months with an actual audience in the room! However, I think the world of live streaming has opened up accessibility and a different way of experiencing live music. Many jazz fans could not wait to go back and see live performances at venues, but also others who were not keen on travelling to those venues can now watch on their device which I think is kind of cool too! Perhaps this will allow more to listen and experience jazz. I have had amazing feedback from my ‘Jazz at the Cottage’ live streams which I started during the second lock down. They really kept me going, playing live albeit to no audience in the room, with live chat online. Having people watch and comment from all around the world is cool, although live with an audience tops this! I am really looking forward and excited for people to hear and experience ‘Inside Out’ live.
After listening (several times) to this album there can be no doubt Hannah Horton is a musician with a deep respect for original music and a talent for creating her own compositions with arrangements which are generous to those accompanying too. There is nothing esoteric about this album – it will appeal to a huge range of people. It is an album without flaw and one which it felt a privilege to review. Sammy Stein