Live Review: North Ark at The Verdict
New Generation Jazz: North Ark
The Verdict, Brighton
Friday 20th December, 2019
Pianist Joe Hill released North Ark’s eponymous debut album back in 2018 and since then they’ve appeared at last year’s Love Supreme Festival. Usually the band features alto saxophonist Tom Smith and trumpeter James Davison, but for this New Generation Jazz performance they were replaced by Damon Oliver and Luke Vice-Coles.
The opener, The Way You Look Tonight, was a new take on an old standard featuring a unison intro of Jack Tustin’s double bass with Hill’s skillful left hand, followed by the horn section playing a punctuated version of the melody. Spice Up began with an absorbing intro featuring unisons with bass clarinet and double bass that continued throughout Boz Martin-Jones’ eloquent drum solo. The gentle sounding Bishop to D9 showcased the talents of bassist Jack Tustin and included an outstanding solo from Alex Hitchcock that saw him exploring the range of the instrument and combining melodic development with fast virtuosic phrases. Luke Vice-Coles delivered an adroit solo on Ice Cream before Damon Oliver did the same on Ninety-Nine, though it’s unclear if the two tunes are related. Mike Walker’s Clockmaker ended the first set, arranged by Hill and with interweaving melodic lines, and served as a feature for highly skilled bassist Jack Tustin.
The second set began with Green Park, the opening track of their debut album, which began with a distinctive piano ostinato before illustrating Hill’s intelligent melodic counterpoint writing. The slow and meditative Palisades featured more impressive writing for bass, together with skilled soloing from trombonist Rory Ingham. Bumblebee Man is an intriguing composition and featured a fine solo from Joe Hill, emphasising that he’s not just an excellent composer and arranger but also a top-class pianist. Neighbours featured a ‘brass battle’ with trumpeter Luke Vice-Coles trading melodic lines with trombonist Rory Ingham. The band ended their final set with Oliver Mason’s Train Ride, a mimetic soundscape of different tonal colours.
All of the tunes exhibited Hill’s talent for composing and arranging, complemented by some remarkable solos. His arrangements displayed an impressive complexity and exhibited a mature understanding of both the history of jazz and its contemporary stylings. He also utilised the different instrumental timbres to good effect.
Photo: Anya Arnold