Out Now


Review - David Sinclair

Clare Hirst has moved between the worlds of pop and jazz, playing saxophone on some of the biggest stages in the world and on some of the most intimate. But on her third album, Touchy, she combines the roles of composer, arranger, soloist and bandleader with the calm authority of a musician who now inhabits a musical world that is very much her own. With all but two tracks on the album written by Hirst and performed for the most part with her current quartet featuring Nick Ramm (piano), Tim Robertson (double bass) and Pat Levett (drums), Touchy is an album of elegant, contemporary jazz with a warm, personal resonance.

The title track is one of those instantly alluring tunes that starts off on the borderlands of easy listening, but ends up somewhere altogether different. This is the kind of trick that modern piano trios such as the Estborn Svenson Trio or those post-ironic pranksters the Bad Plus are given to, and while Hirst's silky sax carries the melody, the track is also a fine showcase for the nimble piano playing of Ramm.

Pockets, a sprightly New Orleans type of groove, and On The Street Where You Live, a lush reworking of the Frank Loewe standard, both feature Hirst playing soprano sax; the same sensual voice, but a more urgent, astringent tone.

Cherry Blossom (Sakura) is inspired by Japan's (unofficial) national flower which blooms with magnificent beauty each spring, but for only a few days. It is a number which reminds you to enjoy the good things in life while you can, and having arranged the piece for just sax, bass and drums, Hirst performs it with a joyful sense of harmonic freedom.

What Now is the album's funkiest track, borrowing inspiration from Miles Davis's So What and prompting Levett to dip into the little bag of grooves that he keeps somewhere about his kit and pull out a typically hip combination of syncopation and swing.

Happiness has a bouncy feel with some intriguing harmonic implications, reminiscent of Thelonius Monk. "I suppose this track is my attempt at defining happiness," Hirst says. "It's a tricky state to describe, so the tune is not as straightforward as it might seem. Happiness doesn't exist without unhappiness, so it has a combination of both elements."

Seven is inspired by the David Fincher film of the same name, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman - a tale of ritualistic murder, based around the concept of the seven deadly sins. Hirst's composition adds a different, deliciously darker tone to the album. It is the seventh track on Touchy and is, naturally, in seven time.

Come on Home is a ballad with the sort of spacious, haunting feel associated with artists like Jan Garbarek of the ECM label. "My music has lots of space in it," Hirst says. "I think that's because I was born in Cumbria, on top of a moor, and I feel most at home on top of Orton Scar, looking down on the mountains all around."

In contrast to such European influences, the album closes with Duke Ellington's Purple Gazelle, a lilting melody which reflects Hirst's longstanding interest in salsa music. Sonny Rollins, a master of this genre, remains one of Hirst's great inspirations, and she began her career playing with the South African pianist Mervyn Africa, a man with his own take on township jazz. "I really wanted to put something in that calypso style on this CD," she says. "It's such great fun to play."

It's a delight to listen to as well and, like all the tracks on this gorgeous album, it captures the ever-shifting mood of a sophisticated performer who has never lost her inquisitive edge. Hirst has come a long way with her music. But it's still a Touchy affair.


Last review - The Guardian

Saxophonist Clare Hirst and pianist/vocalist Hilary Cameron have joined forces to produce an album that radiates relaxed class from start to finish. If (largely) Latin-inspired arrangements, delivered without recourse to easy musical clichés, are your thing, Summer Song should appeal no end.

It’s not just about these two, of course – an excellent rhythm section consisting of bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Dave Smith have more than a little to say, and there are also a couple of guest appearances for good measure – but both are in top form, both also contribute a composition to what is a thoughtful mixture of music.

Writers ranging from Harry Warren to Chick Corea (and there’s two different musical outlooks for you) are represented, and are done equal justice. Standards from different eras get the kind of makeovers proving that unless you take a lethal weapon to it, a good song is always a good song. Marvin Gay’s, I Heard it through the Grapevine is a neat example: everyone knows the choppy intro and driving style of the original, but the band slows things right down here, with a smoky performance led by Cameron’s smooth vocals and some silky saxophone from Hirst. And I’m Gonna lock my heart and throw away the key, an inter-war swinger which could easily be corny in the wrong hands, is given an imaginative, skewed intro into a straight ahead eight to a bar arrangement which swings beautifully and gives Hirst the chance to cut loose on tenor.

Her soprano playing skills get a workout on the title track, Cameron’s Summer Song, weaving around an interesting melody line sung by the composer with guest Brendan Reilly, while My One And Only Love offers the opportunity, taken with aplomb, for some classic sax and piano ballad work. Cameron’s piano playing, whether helping back her own vocals or part of instrumental tracks, is first class – considered, never overdone and bouncily syncopated when the need arises – while both Herbert and Smith are imaginatively consistent throughout.

The opening track, Clare Fisher’s composition Morning, which moves on it’s gently Latin way from Cameron’s piano introduction to Hirst’s soprano theme, is handled with taste and skill, providing a taste of things to come on a fine production. Chris Borg The Guardian

  The Bellestars compilation album Belle-issima is out on Edsel Records MEDCD 747 released 24 May 2004 featuring Clare in the role that made her a star of TV's "Never Mind the Buzzcocks". Also out is a DVD of LiveAid which will have Clare's performance with David Bowie on it.
  Clare's new CD with Hilary Cameron is called Summer Song and is out now on 33Records. see the discs page for more info and sound files.