Hazelrigg Brothers: Synchronicity – An Interpretation Of The Album By The Police

Pennsylvania piano trio stays close to the originals, showing the latter's compositional strength and susceptibility to jazz interpretation

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While re-imagining classic songs from the pop canon is far from a new trend in jazz circles, things have certainly progressed from Stan Getz blowing over a bossa take of Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind or Paul Desmond rearranging Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecilia as a lively samba.

Indeed, in more recent years we’ve heard, dare one say, more intellectual responses to commercial pop from the likes of Herbie Hancock jiggering the music of Joni Mitchell, drummer Dylan Howe dissecting David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy period, Brad Mehldau rethinking the Beatles catalogue and the Bad Plus releasing a record re-conceiving Rush, Radiohead, Black Sabbath and Burt Bacharach. 

In company with the above, and having themselves previously recorded an album of rock tunes made famous by Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Sting (2017’s Songs We Like), the Hazelrigg Brothers  – pianist George and double bassist Geoff, along with John O’Reilly Jr. on drums – here celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Police’s Synchronicity album with a live performance of the whole record, adroitly arranged in its original sequence for piano trio.

The record is sonically warm and engaging from the off as the group swings through The Police’s 80s opus, kicking things off with a sprightly reading of Synchronicity I and a bright piano ostinato pushed along by a rock-style brush pattern on toms. Throughout the piece, and other arrangements here, it’s uplifting to hear the original lyric lines work particularly well on piano, underpinned with light accompaniment that builds in intensity around riffs, solos or freer, improvised moments.

Having played on the previous Hazelrigg record, O’Reilly brings strong, creative ideas to the music whilst remaining sensitive to the original songs and the respective grooves for each. Under the melody line for Walking In Your Footsteps, fingered in unison by piano and bass, the sticksman plays a seductive tom and cross-stick rumba figure, before flipping to a more nuanced Latin pattern for the bluesy O My God and later a slick samba groove for Synchronicity II. Listeners conversant  with the Police record will recall how two tracks, Mother and Miss Gradenko, stuck out as challenging and unfitting. Yet here they translate surprisingly well into instrumental form. The former throws up some of the trio’s most complex playing with bowed bass, knotty, classical-esque piano runs and crisp snare tattoos sounding not unlike a downsized Return to Forever – especially when what sounds like Spanish-style castanet playing is thrown into the mix.

The prodigious hit Every Breath You Take is stunning and easily stands as a set highlight if only for Sting’s seductive vocal line being beautifully sewn into place on bass. Here, Geoff Hazelrigg’s warm, lyrical side comes to the fore as he balances between softly fingering the verse and chorus and bowing the bridge. It builds beautifully, with swells of cymbal and the familiar ostinato on piano hammered hard towards the tune’s final bars. Elsewhere, tracks such as Tea In The Sahara and bonus track Murder By Numbers are easier for the trio to translate, given the original songs have a natural swing to them. Tunes like King Of Pain and (one of my Police favourites) Wrapped Around Your Finger are more open to experimentation and interpretation rhythmically whilst retaining clear traces of their original rock and reggae roots, respectively.

Away from some remarkable arranging and interplay from all three, what’s maybe most impressive about this set is it stands up as a great recording with or without prior experience of the Police original. The Hazelriggs make this music their own and, learning that this particular album was one in regular rotation in the Hazelrigg household in 1983, you can clearly hear their enthusiasm perfectly captured, making for an arresting set.


Discography
Synchronicity I; Walking In Your Footsteps; O My God; Mother; Miss Gradenko; Synchronicity Ii; Everything Breath You Take; King Of Pain; Wrapped Around Your Finger; Tea In The Sahara; Murder By Numbers (46.00)
George Hazelrigg (p); Geoff Hazelrigg (b); John O’Reilly Jr. (d). Recorded live and mixed and mastered at Becker Mastering, California, 2023.
Outer Marker Records OM01-100D