Album Review: Hexagonal – McCoy and Mseleku
McCoy & Mseleku
(Hexagonal Records – HRCD101)
John Donaldson’s piano style – dynamic, exciting, heavy with dense left hand chording and furious pentatonic runs – has drawn comparisons with that of McCoy Tyner, and he worked extensively with maverick South African pianist/composer Mseleku before the latter’s untimely death. Ensconced in his Hastings stronghold, he has written a set of well plotted arrangements of tunes by both these inspirations, and assembled a muscular band of UK A-listers to play them. Opener Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit sets the scene – Tyner’s original piano figure is re-written for the horns, who deliver the part with a swaggering gusto, leading into a pounding straight-eighths groove that bursts into soaring swing under Greg Heath’s fluent tenor solo. Fellow Hastings resident and Mseleku accompanist Simon Thorpe combines with powerhouse drummer Tristan Banks to keep the grooves locked and tight – The Man From Tanganyika is taken as a rollicking afro 12/8 that adds a convincing update to the seminal original recording, while Mseleku’s My Passion is played with a grace and subtlety that highlights what an outstanding composer he was; the Mseleku material stands up consistently well against the better-known Tyner classics. It’s fun comparing the contributions from the two trumpeters, with Flowers’ warm tones and lyrical accuracy offset by Collins’ fire and flash. The internationally acclaimed, currently under-represented Jason Yarde reminds us what an outstandingly characterful player he is, on both alto and baritone; the lesser-known Heath more than holds his own in this exalted company. With so many powerful contributors the leader’s own piano is almost sidelined but there’s room for pithy statements on Joy and Mseleku’s astonishing Angola, the latter also providing a feature for Banks to demonstrate what’s what in terms of modern drumming. For Tomorrow is a contemplative, beautifully arranged closer. The album’s highlight is an 8 minute workout on Tyner’s Fly With The Wind – full of imaginative arrangement details, powerfully and precisely delivered, with everyone playing up an absolute storm. Catch them live if you can.
John Donaldson, piano, arranger; Greg Heath, tenor sax & flute; Simon Thorpe, bass; Jason Yarde, alto & baritone sax; Tristan Banks, drums & percussion; Graeme Flowers, Quentin Collins, trumpet & flugelhorn