Recklessly venturing from the eastern fringe of Exmoor to the edge of Dartmoor, I headed for a gig in the former stannary town of Ashburton. The venue was the Arts Centre, housed in a former Methodist chapel built in the 19th century, and the gig was a stop on the tour by the Hugh Pascall Quintet. It was well worth the journey across the county line.
Pascall’s excellent 2022 album, Borderlands (Attica Records) featured a quartet – Liam Dunachie (piano), the almost ubiquitous Oli Hayhurst on bass, and Jay Davis (drums) – but for this tour and their forthcoming album, Viewfinder, they are augmented by James Allsopp on tenor.
The gig kicked off with a striking version of Vincent Youmans’s Without A Song (now 94 years old yet still sprightly) but the rest of the evening’s programme consisted of originals, including a couple of pieces from that new album, some (Avion and Easy E) from Borderlands, and a couple of new, relatively untried but impressive compositions.
Their approach is classic hard bop of a standard that would have been perfectly at home on the Blue Note label in its heyday. Equally stylish and arresting on trumpet and flugelhorn, whatever the mood, Pascall displays some Lee Morgan influence, more evidently in his writing on numbers like Obelisk than in his playing. Allsop consistently delivered exciting and interesting solos. Hayhurst was as strong and dependable as ever, matched by Davis. They each contributed imaginative, well-crafted work both in solos and in support.
Dunachie had, it turned out, recently injured his left hand in a cycling accident but, although he occasionally rested it, you would scarcely have known there was a problem: his playing was fluent and supple, with a number of absorbing solos and a lot of resilient comping and counter-melodies.
The tour continues, so look out for them round your way. The band was booked by Andy Williamson, himself a saxophonist as well as singer, bandleader and teacher. He has been a prime mover in founding and running the Ashburton Arts Centre, which is owned and run by a not-for-profit company set up in 2018, and the Ashburton Community Choir. He told me that the Arts Centre has hosted a staggering 900 events since that time, with a bias towards jazz but also featuring other genres, such as classical music. An impressive track record for this atmospheric venue, which deserves to go from strength to strength.
Hugh Pascall Quintet at Ashburton Arts Centre, 25 June 2023