Paul Booth: ‘What matters is whether it’s good or not’

Pragmatic all-rounder Paul Booth has been moved by or moved among Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Riverdance and Steve Winwood. His latest record focuses on upbeat salsa - from a jazz point of view, naturally

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Depressed by the doomsters and gloomsters, or, indeed, by the very real doom and gloom that have so catastrophically constrained our lives for long, grim months of late? Well, let me prescribe an antidote in the form of the recently released, self-titled CD by Trypl, which comprises Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music so exhilarating and effervescent as to be guaranteed to delight even the most depressed of listeners.

“You’re right”, agrees saxophonist Paul Booth, who formed Trypl with trumpeter Ryan Quigley and trombonist Trevor Mires. “The album’s putting smiles on people’s faces, I think because it’s danceable, upbeat and fun and we all need that right now.”

Booth and his colleagues have collaborated on various projects in the past. “We’re great friends and we’ve done a lot of different music together so we’ve got that cohesiveness as musicians. We’d all spent time in salsa and Latin jazz groups when we were starting in the 90s and we thought ‘Why not try and do that but write our own music?’”

When the three musicians convened in the studio, joined by pianist Alex Wilson and others, the magic happened instantaneously. “The first day we thought we’d just play and see what happened. So we played BoJo, a tune I had, and [afterwards] we were like ‘If the very first tune we’ve played together as a band feels this good, then the rest is going to be a breeze.’ And it was!”

The only non-original on the album is Osvaldo Farrés’s Tres Palabras. “That’s a beautiful old Cuban bolero. We thought we should put a ballad on the album, something a bit gentler, as a breather in the midst of all the crazy stuff. We literally just did two takes and the version on the album is possibly the first take.”

Booth became an aficionado of Latin jazz early in his career when he worked with UK-based Colombian percussionist Roberto Pla. “That was brilliant. I didn’t know anything about that music and he was really supportive and helpful and would teach me about the rhythm and where to place the notes. Latin music is more in-your-face [than jazz] and you play in the middle of the beat, not behind it. After the first rehearsal he went through the music with me, helping me with certain phrases and then I was ‘Yeah, I get this now!’

“And also I’d been quite a soft player up until that point. I was coming from Stan Getz and Ben Webster. But you’ve got a 13-piece band with five percussion and five horns and it’s roaring and in-your-face and it’s hardcore salsa and then he points at you and you’ve got to solo! So I learnt to project over a band, which was really beneficial.”

Early in his career also Booth toured with world-conquering Irish dance extravaganza Riverdance for 18 months and indeed subsequently he returned to the show for several shorter stints. “I loved it. I hadn’t had any experience in that sort of music but it opened a new interest for me in Celtic and folk music which I love to this day.”

Booth adamantly refuses to sneer at rock music’s simplicity. ‘Are there elements of it that are simple compared to what I might write? Absolutely. But it doesn’t matter if it has [only] three chords. What matters is whether it’s good or not and I love it because it’s feel-good music’

Booth’s longest non-jazz musical relationship, however, has been with rock legend Steve Winwood in whose band he has played since the early 2000s. He admits that initially he was unfamiliar with the bands in which Winwood had made his name: the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith. “I didn’t come from the rock thing. I knew some of the songs like Keep On Running and I’m A Man but didn’t associate them with him. So when I got the call I had to do a bit of research and then I was like ‘Now I know who that is!’”

Booth hugely admires Winwood. “He’s a total gentleman and very nice to work for. And he’s great in letting you improvise. The arrangements stay the same but if there’s a solo I can interpret it how I feel and it’ll be different every night.”

Booth adamantly refuses to sneer at rock music’s simplicity. “Are there elements of it that are simple compared to what I might write? Absolutely. But it doesn’t matter if it has [only] three chords. What matters is whether it’s good or not and I love it because it’s feel-good music.

“And some rock musicians are spectacular. Like, we toured with the Allman Brothers Band with [guitarists] Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks and getting to hear them every night was awesome. And often they would get us up on stage which was brilliant.”

Booth acknowledges that a long period playing non-jazz music impacts on his jazz chops. “You definitely get rusty. If I improvise on a tune at 300 bpm, at that speed you have to think really, really quickly but if you’re not using your improvising ability your brain slows down. When I was on tour with Riverdance, in Singapore or Australia or wherever, I’d always try and find a jam session and let loose but there were a couple of times I went to a jam and didn’t feel good about my playing and I was like ‘Ooh, it might be time to leave Riverdance!’ I was maybe 25. At that stage I’d spent 14 years trying to be the best jazz musician I could and I felt I was starting to lose it a bit. So I left and went back to being a jazz musician.”

Booth has coped with the lockdown admirably. “It’s hard to maintain the balance between jazz and my other work but there is no commercial work now so it’s an opportunity to create and push my own music. So we’ve managed to get the Trypl album out; I’m trying to do my next album; the Bansangu Orchestra, [my] world music big band, have half an album done; and I’ve done lockdown videos. And lots of gardening!”