Scott Hamilton Quartet, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London

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The Independent Culture

Before the young lions of the late Eighties began re-examining the Fifties and Sixties, Scott Hamilton had trodden an even earlier path, one that made him a rarity indeed: a young man during the Seventies heyday of fusion - when acoustic instruments were being left to gather dust and pop songs as unlikely as Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" were deemed appropriate vehicles for jazz musicians - who choose to look back to the Forties. This style, in which the swing era met the beginnings of bebop, was an unfashionable choice then and has hardly gained any more favour since, being considered fuddy-duddy and "straight".

Yet in the tenor saxophone of Scott Hamilton, a New Englander virtually adopted by old England, it has enormous charm and elegance. When Hamilton's quartet take to the stage, you can almost see an album cover from the Forties picturing Coleman Hawkins or Zoot Sims, a black and white image of suited horn players, while hearing a needle scratching shellac and bringing forth the big, warm, unhurried sound that characterised tenors of that generation.

The numbers are familiar, by the likes of Billy Strayhorn, or from shows on Broadway, that great thoroughfare to which they seem linked both harmonically and physically. This was a time when a beautifully placed note, allowed to swell and then trail off with a touch of vibrato, was valued more than a flurried demonstration of technique. Chords had yet to be altered as drastically as they were to be.

Hamilton's group perfectly conveys the unaffected joyousness of approach that makes this style seem so innocent and happy-go-lucky compared with what was to follow.

On one number, for instance, a simply-crafted head arrangement with an emphasis by the whole rhythm section on the second and fourth beats, ended with a unison note. As surely as a gong calls guests to dinner there immediately followed a two-bar break by the leader ushering in the straight swing of the solos. It's a formula as familiar as 12-bar blues, but when executed with such relaxed conviction, it is a thing of beauty. In his solo, Dave Green chose just to expose a walking bass-line, while Steve Brown's drum solo made one think of a Gene Krupa or young Buddy Rich, smiling as they used brushes on the snare. And when Hamilton came back in up a semitone, it was like a change of wine between courses.

Such touches can produce the greatest pleasure. Quite simply, when it comes to this neglected but nourishing style, no one cooks like he does.

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