The Jazz Man, Sept 2021 for Inside Out
Hannah Horton is a multi-instrumentalist who plays various saxophones in addition to flute, clarinet and bassoon. She studied at the Junior Guildhall School of Music and later at Trinity Laban, where her saxophone tutors included Mark Lockheart and Tim Garland.
Horton released her début album, “Forget Me Not”, as far back as 2012, making this second release long overdue. However Horton has been far from idle in the meantime, working prolifically as a sidewoman with vocalists Georgia Mancio, Irene Serra, Tina May, Natalie Williams, Polly Gibbons, Esther Bennett, Fiona Ross and Ian Shaw plus guitarists John Etheridge and Louis Thorne. As this list suggests Horton has a particular affinity with vocalists and her CV also includes performing alongside the late, great Amy Winehouse.
In addition to writing and performing Horton also runs J Steps, an organisation designed to nurture the talent of musicians who identify as female or non-binary, it’s main aim being to redress the historic lack of representation of women in jazz.
Like so many recent album releases “Inside Out” (which I also remember as being the title of a John Martyn album) is a product of lockdown and features a fifty-fifty mix of Horton originals and outside material, not all of the latter necessarily drawn from the established jazz canon.
Horton’s album notes describe the inspirations behind the album as follows;
“’Inside Out’ comes from within. The album is a reflection that throughout life we grow, we as humans build resilience and time teaches us confidence, inner strength and acceptance”.
“It’s about human emotion, trauma, exultation and more, and my response to these”.
“Inside Out” was recorded in March 2021 at Masterchord Studios with Horton specialising on tenor and baritone saxophones. The core group features pianist John Crawford, electric bass specialist Rob Statham and one time Nucleus drummer Nic France. Horton has frequently collaborated with vocalist Ian Shaw and the singer adds both his voice and his lyrics to two of Horton’s original pieces here.
Horton’s notes also offer further insights as to the inspirations behind the individual tracks, beginning with the opening original “Keep Walking”, which is about “the vibe of moving on, not looking back and knowing it is the right move for your freedom, independence, soul and resilience.”
Musically the piece exhibits a similar confidence with Horton’s tenor soaring above a syncopated groove that is not so much a walk as a strut. Pianist John Crawford, a superb accompanist but also a bandleader in his own right, steps out of the shadows to add an exuberant solo.
“Surfing Thermals” is another Horton original, this time inspired by “laying on the grass looking skywards, watching birds of prey gliding in the air, surfing on their thermal wings”. The mood is again buoyant and optimistic with an Afro-Cuban aspect added to the rhythmic grooves laid down by Crawford, Statham and France, with the latter’s drums and percussion featuring strongly in the arrangement. Horton’s sax sound has been described as being ‘vocalised’, this in the sense that her melodic lines could easily be sung (as opposed to the free jazz or avant garde ‘extended technique’ interpretation of the term) and as such she’s a great communicator, her style punchy and direct.
A third original, “Frozen Light”, features the voice and lyrics of guest vocalist Ian Shaw. As to the inspiration behind the song Horton states; “inspired by the vision of haw frost putting nature into a frozen pause, then the sun shines through giving a vision of frozen light”. Shaw’s words are simultaneously economical, descriptive and poetic and his delivery warm and empathic. The featured instrumentalist is the leader, whose baritone solo exhibits an impressive grace and fluency.
Miles Davis’ “Nardis” is the first of a run of standards with Horton declaring “This has become one of my favourite standards since divorcing, it’s strong emotional and groovy”. Of course this is a composition that has been recorded on numerous occasions by a wide variety of jazz artists but Horton’s version is up there with the best of them with the leader’s eloquence on tenor complemented by impressive cameos from Statham on electric bass and Crawford at the piano.
It’s all been fairly upbeat thus far but Horton’s version of “The Peacocks” now demonstrates her impressive skills as the interpreter of a ballad. “This piece has become one of my signature tunes, therefore we just had to record it”, she declares. There’s genuine emotion in Horton’s playing and she enjoys wonderfully sympathetic support from her bandmates, with Crawford adding an appropriately lyrical piano solo.
Horton simply describes “Windows” as “One of my favourite Chick Corea tunes”. Following Corea’s recent sad demise this is a tune that has been widely covered during 2021. Crawford introduces this performance at the piano and the piece swings gently and gracefully, gradually gathering momentum as Horton stretches out on tenor, followed by Crawford at the piano.
Horton has spoken of the influence of other genres on her writing, these ranging from funk to folk. Her roots in the latter find expression in her arrangement of “Horn Dance”, an adaptation of a local morris dance tune, of which she says; “Recorded at just under 170 bpm this slow horn dance has been given a twist! This is my all time favourite morris dance tune and my first memory of folk music.”
This lively and quirky offering represents Horton’s second outing on baritone sax and the tune works surprisingly well in a jazz context, with Statham soloing dexterously on electric bass and France supplying an impressive rhythmic drive.
Another unexpected selection is Horton’s version of the song “Feed The Birds” from the film “Mary Poppins”. Talking about her arrangement Horton states; “One of my favourite films, but this song makes me sad in the film, so I experimented with grooves and percussion and this is the result”.
The performance opens with a solo tenor sax cadenza from Horton, but later gathers pace with a joyous calypso style groove that underpins her fluent sax soloing. Crawford subsequently takes over at the piano, his sparkling solo maintaining the Caribbean feel. There’s nothing remotely sad about this playful arrangement.
Ian Shaw’s second contribution comes with the addition of his voice and lyrics on Horton’s song “Breathing Out”, which its composer describes as being “Written as a big exhale, a letting go of struggles, a huge sigh of release”. This time the composer features on tenor while Shaw sings his own lyrics with eloquence and conviction. The instrumental solo comes from Horton, who later duets with Shaw’s wordless vocals.
The album ends on an optimistic, upbeat note with the Horton original “Escape”, a paean to the delights of going on holiday, a simple pleasure denied to so many for so long. Horton describes this tune as being about “Hot vacation time! Feeling the heat of the sun and knowing it is going to be a fantastic holiday”. The mood is relaxed, optimistic and gently swinging with Horton making subtle allusions to other standards as she solos on baritone sax, followed by Crawford at the piano and Statham on electric bass.
Horton’s music could hardly be described as radical but it is hugely enjoyable and the upbeat, sunny atmosphere of many of the pieces represents something of a relief after months of lockdown misery. The leader shows an admirable fluency on both tenor and baritone saxophones and the playing from all concerned is excellent throughout. I have been a long time admirer of Crawford’s playing and it’s good to hear him in such good form here, both as accompanist and soloist. Having first heard France playing with Nucleus more years ago than I care to remember it has also been good to catch up with him again.
Horton herself is in the producer’s chair and the music is enhanced by an excellent recorded sound, so hats off too to engineers Ronan Phelan and John Prestage.
“Inside Out” has already been officially launched at London’s 606 Jazz Club but watch out for an EFG London Jazz Festival appearance from Horton and the quartet when they appear at the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club on November 13th 2021. For further details please visit http://www.hannahhorton.com – The Jazz Man