Gaz Hughes Trio: Nuclear Bebopalypse

Drummer Hughes leads piano and bass in a vibrant, well-integrated set of originals that nods to the piano trios of the late 50s


Since his 2020 album, Gaz Hughes Sextet Plays Art Blakey, British drummer Hughes has released three more bop/hard-bop inspired recordings with his trio. The first, the 2022 Beboperation, comprised rearrangements of standards by composers such as Duke Ellington, Rodgers & Hart, Johnny Green and Sonny Rollins. Beboptical Illusion followed in 2023 with seven original compositions by Hughes and an arrangement of Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady. Now he’s released Nuclear Bebopalypse with eight originals – five of them by Hughes and the remainder from pianist Andrzej Baranek and double bassist Gavin Barras. Barras replaces Ed Harrison, who featured in Hughes’s previous recordings.

Hughes was the first drummer in the Matthew Halsall band and featured in their early Gondwana label recordings. As well as leading his own outfits, he’s performed at home and abroad with an array of jazz artists including Scott Hamilton, Marshall Allen, Harry Allen and Greg Abate. Interestingly, he’s also collaborated with several rock artists, such as Suzi Quatro.

Hughes tells me that his drumming influences are the melodic drummers such Ed Thigpen, Jeff Hamilton, Max Roach and Art Blakey. In his own words, the new album “nods to the piano trios of the late 50s but keeps moving forward musically”.

The jaunty opening track, The Message, has Baranek recalling Horace Silver, with great walking bass and marching drums. The pianist’s composition AB’s Blues follows, with smart bass and drum soloing while, despite its title, White Noise has a distinct bossa-nova feel. A second contribution from Baranek, Nuclear Bebopalypse Part 1, has silent-movie chase music with brisk piano. It contrasts with the more swinging nature of Hughes’ composition Nuclear Bebopalypse Part 2. Next, Shootin’ From The Hip! has a resonant bass opening and catchy soloing from Barras, hip piano and subtly rhythmic drums. Disinformation, written by Barras, has arco and pizzicato bass, agile piano and elegantly understated drumming. The mesmeric closing number, Julie-Ann, with hypnotically insistent bass and graceful piano, has splendidly muffled mallet-work by Hughes.

This crisp and incisive trio is anchored by the drummer with subtlety and finesse. He’s never overpowering and doesn’t go in for over-the-top drum solos. It’s a superbly collective effort – each member is original in their individual improvisation and collaborative interplay but no one seeks to overshadow another. On 25 January the trio embarked on a 43-date UK tour with additional gigs in Portugal and Dublin to promote the album. If you want to catch them live, the details are on Gaz Hughes’ website.

The Message; AB’s Blues; White Noise; Nuclear Bebopalypse Part 1; Nuclear Bebopalypse Part 2; Shootin’ From The Hip!; Disinformation; Julie-Ann (44.24)
Hughes (d); Andrzej Baranek (p); Gavin Barras (b). UK, 18 & 19 July 2023.