Followers of the vibrant UK jazz scene will already be familiar with Dave Hamblett as one of its most in-demand drummers, a musician whose depth of groove and range of timbre and dynamics make his playing quickly recognisable and thrilling. He has worked with a wide range of ensembles including the Yuriy Galkin Nonet and pianist Ivo Neame’s group (Neame also provides piano services here). What may be less readily known is Hamblett’s strength as a composer, and it is fascinating to see how his creative and supportive playing also translates to his writing, which feels relaxed, intuitive and confident.
As might be expected from a drummer, Hamblett’s compositions are energetic and exciting. They also demonstrate strong musicality and depth of awareness. He can write intricate, imaginative and unpredictable melodic lines such as on the opening Dark Sky but also shows a preference for imaginative arrangements (something afforded by the group line-up, with its dual saxophone front line and with both guitar and piano). The backings for many of the solos from saxophonists Josh Arcoleo and Joe Wright contribute to the overall momentum, whilst the various shifts in rhythm and feel are somehow both unexpected and very natural. Hamblett and his musicians are also adept at handling textural variations. Hamblett’s touch is deft and subtle on The Lighthouse, whilst Ivo Neame’s deployment of electric piano on the two part Zoom Out helps create a sense of mystery and wonder.
With Mercury prize nominated pianist Kit Downes about to release his third album Light From Old Stars, the science of astronomy and the activity of stargazing have provided bountiful inspiration for London’s young jazz musicians. Dark Sky, which builds gradually from impressionistic beginnings, captures some of the awe and incomprehensibility of the vastness of space before breaking into one of Hamblett’s characteristic tricky grooves.
It is pure speculation, but it feels as if the winning formula of bassist and composer Dave Holland might be a possible influence here. The gentle melody of The Park vaguely hints at Holland’s Looking Up, whilst the music is often glued by the very strong inter-relationship between Hamblett’s intricate groove playing and Calum Gourlay’s dependably clear, anchoring bass lines.
The improvising is informed and authoritative throughout, with Neame making creative use of space and varying phrase lengths in often unpredictable ways and Arcoleo using his trademark relaxed delivery. Guitarist Alex Munk seems very much like a musician to watch, his patient, motivic solos displaying a striking character and maturity.
Light At Night feels very carefully sequenced, with a slow building introduction, its ruminative ballads placed centrally and perhaps saving the best until last with the engaging, visceral asymmetrical rhythm of the title track, over which Hamblett cuts loose brilliantly. It is a confident first step in what will surely become a fruitful and exciting musical journey.