Saxophonist Hannah Horton’s second album release as leader is Inside Out. The album comprises of five original tunes, two of which have lyrics written by Ian Shaw, and five covers. Hannah has been described as a natural born improviser and is accomplished on flute, bassoon, and clarinet as well as saxophone. Hannah attended the prestigious Junior Guildhall School of Music and later the Trinity College of Music, where she was inspired by prominent British jazz musicians including Mark Lockheart, Tim Garland, and Paul Bartholomew.
The spectrum of emotions explored on Inside Out range from trauma to elation and are based on concepts and experiences that are felt and understood by society as a whole. Hannah explains the sentiment of the album perfectly by saying that:
“It’s about human emotion, trauma, exultation and more, and my response to these. It is a reflection that throughout life we grow, we as humans build resilience and how time teaches us confidence, inner strength and acceptance.”
This spectrum of emotion begins with an original composition ‘Keep Walking’ (see video at the end of this post). This is an uplifting, bright, positive tune that reflects Hannah’s idea of moving on without regret. Hannah’s sax carries the motif that recurs throughout the number and gives the feeling of forward motion. The piano of John Crawford gives the tune an added edge which contrasts nicely with the smoother sax tones. It is a very good start with excellent rhythmic support from Nic France on drums. ‘Surfing Thermals’ is inspired by watching birds of prey gliding in the air. There is a wonderful recurring sax theme in this tune that is stated from the outset, but it is the percussive Latin undertone that stands out for me that along with the counterpoint of pianist John Crawford – I keep going back to this track as it keeps delivering with each listen.
‘Frozen’ is the first of two tracks that features the lyrics and vocals of Ian Shaw. The interaction between vocal and sax is terrific to hear. Nik France keeps a subtle drum pattern playing beneath voice and horn, supporting both very well. The Miles Davis tune ‘Nardis’, written to be played by alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, sounds great played by the tenor sax of Hannah Horton. Electric bass player Rob Statham gets a chance to solo and takes it well. There are also some wonderful piano sections for John Crawford to show why Hannah would have chosen him to play on this album. This is a good tune played very well and it is easy to understand why Hannah describes it as one of her favourites.
The Jimmy Rowles number ‘Peacocks’ is one of Hannah’s signature tunes and is a different sound to what has gone before: more reflective in tone with washes of cymbal for the listener to immerse themselves in. The playing on this track is absorbing, emotive, delicate, and utterly compelling. Each musician adds their own layer to this beautiful tune that creates one of those numbers that will sound different on each subsequent listening dependent on the mood of the listener at the time. Chick Corea’s ‘Windows’ changes the mood and tempo with a more upbeat character. This familiar tune is interpreted so well by Hannah with nuanced light and shade in her playing. As one might expect from a Chick Corea number, the piano sections are strong but it when Hannah floats in over the top that the richness of piece is highlighted.
‘Horn Dance’ is something completely different. This traditional slow Morris dancing tune has the tempo turned up to 170 bpm. There is a great bass solo section punctuated by bursts of sax and piano in unison. This is a fun number to listen to and a fine example of how folk and jazz can be blended to good effect – but I really wouldn’t want to try and Morris dance to it. Many jazz musicians have taken music from film or stage musicals and created something quite wonderful (just listen to any number of takes on the music from My Fair Lady as an example) but ‘Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins? On paper it sounds the least likely of tunes from that film that would work but work it does. The percussion is great throughout and gives the tune a light funk groove that is far removed from the original film score.
‘Breathing Out’ is the second tune that features Ian Shaw on vocals. Hannah said that this number was “written as a big exhale, a letting go of struggles, a huge sigh of release” and it achieves its intended purpose. Ian’s vocals sound wonderful and with Hannah’s sax responding to his delivery in the way it does ‘Breathing Out’ emphasizes just how well two voices can come together to lift a tune to another level. The final track leaves the listener in an upbeat mood with its holiday feel, jaunty tune, and wonderful tone from the sax. ’Escape’ is just that, an escape from all that has gone before and a chance to get away.
This is the first album by Hannah Horton that I have heard – I have heard her play on other people’s releases – and I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to her work. Hannah’s original compositions are good, and I like the fact that she has the confidence to own five of the ten tracks chosen for ‘Inside Out’. Her covers too are strong and well chosen – and in the case of ‘Feed the Birds’ somewhat inspired. I also like that the album has made use of the vocal talent of Ian Shaw whose lyrics give an added dimension to Hannah’s compositions. This is a good album that has elements of fun, reflection, emotion, and variety and will be in the CD player as soon as it arrives from Bandcamp and for some time after.
Musicians: Hannah Horton – tenor and baritone saxophones; John Crawford – piano; Nic France – drums and percussion; Rob Statham – electric bass; guest vocals – Ian Shaw.
Tracklist: 1. Keep Walking. 2. Surfing. 3. Frozen. 4. Nardis. 5. Peacocks. 6. Windows. 7. Horn Dance. 8. Feed the Birds. 9. Breathing Out. 10. Escape.