I was impatient to hear the tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton in person, so his November teaming at the Pizza Express with George Masso (trombone) and cornetist Warren Vaché, musicians that I admire, compelled attention. As all readers will know, Hamilton has received critical accolades from all sides, for both his recordings and public appearances. I’d known him only from some of those records, where his evocation of classic big-toned tenor had seemed remarkable in one so young.
Hamilton’s improvisations seem a trifle short on originality for all the attractive expertise that underpins them
Playing live, Hamilton’s improvisations seem a trifle short on originality for all the attractive expertise that underpins them. He has a fetching command of tonal variation, a sinuous and tantalising grasp of rhythmic nuance and a feeling for swing that together hold out nothing but hope for his future development.
Hamilton’s companions deserve praise too. Vaché was superb, whether on cornet or flugelhorn (where his range is unusually impressive), constantly reaching for new things to say, as on It’s You Or No One, where his duet with pianist Roger Kellaway was pure delight. Vaché pushes his technique to its limits and is an adventurous musician, whose control and dynamic skill mark him as something special. Masso, for his part, impressed as a flexible and dexterous player, warm-toned and happily individual in his phrasing and harmonic adroitness. His solo feature, Strutting With Some Barbecue, was conceived as a languid bossa-nova, emphasising the trombonist’s keen musical intelligence and reminding us of the woeful limitations imposed on Masso when he plays for ‘World’s Greatest’ Jazz Band.
Kellaway (who has lived in London for the past few months) is another whose music shows a lively command of idiom and a consistently creative approach. Wit and compositional sense make each of his solos a procession of invention (as on You Took Advantage) and Londoners should seek him out wherever he appears. Ably supported by Ron Rubin (bass) and drummer Alan Ganley, Kellaway complemented the front-liners at every stage and helped them to offer an appreciative audience an evening of rewarding and firmly swinging small-band jazz.
In time, Hamilton will find a voice that is truly his own: for the while, the tenorist can do worse than continue to consort with musical companions of such outstanding capacity.