When I heard that there was a Simon Spillett album in the pipeline, I got a little exited, for those of you that don’t know who Simon Spillett is, I suppose the easiest way to sum him up is to say that he’s one of the UK’s top jazz musicians and sits firmly in the ‘hard bop’ category of sax players. That is to say that his playing is fast, furious, exciting, and often sits on the very brink of what the instrument can do. I was then told that it was a big band album and, I’ll be honest, I was worried that it would result in a watered-down version of what he can do, his ferocious playing diluted by the army of musicians behind him, and was I right?
Hell no! This is big band music turned up to eleven!
I’ve always had a little problem with big band music, I find it very limiting, those sheets of dots being so intricately put together that there leaves little space for that crucial ingredient, improvisation. But here the band is so tight, so well versed that there are spaces for wonderful, powerful, energetic solos that lift the music into a different category altogether. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The reason for the title – if you hadn’t already guessed – is that the music played here is from the mind of Tubby Hayes (the UK saxophonist and band leader that died far too prematurely in 1973 at the age of 38), someone who has been an inspiration in Spillett’s own playing. What we have here are lesser known or even unreleased songs played by a hard swinging group of musicians which not only highlights the breadth of talent in UK jazz but also acts as a reminder that big band jazz music stretches beyond the classic setups of Ellington or Basey.
Opening track ‘Dear Johnny B’ starts with a fine drum intro before hitting the groove with layer upon layer of brass doing their thing and weaving musical magic, there are stops and starts, pauses and stretches before the solo… I don’t have the words to describe the solos on display throughout the album, they’re intricate, passionate and lift everything.
The band are stars, the music feels like a wave of power, catching you off guard and knocking you for six but the real winner here is the variation of music. It would have been easy to turn up, show off, lay down some jazz and go home feeling all very smug and pleased with yourself but the choice of songs move from swing to Las Vegas cool in ‘As Close As You Are’ and ‘Fish Soup’ and then into more relaxed, ballad-feel ‘Soft and Supple’ and ‘Peace’ before striking us again with the impressive ‘Rumpus’ and ‘She Insulted me in Marrakech’.
What I love about this album is the songs never outstay their welcome, most sit at around five or six minutes long and they keep the album feeling fresh because you don’t really have to wait too long before another belter turns up.
If you’re new to Tubby Hayes, this is a perfect place to start because I would imagine the recording quality is superior to anything available during Hayes’ time. Of course this album is meant as a homage rather than a rehash of things that have come before and it shines because of it, this is simply a group of musicians that love playing good music. If you like jazz, get this album. If you like big band music, get this album. If you like music that soars and lifts your soul, get this album. Honestly, it’s that good!