AuB (pronounced ORB) is the self-titled debut album from the London-based quartet masterminded by saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock.
When two talented artists collaborate the fruits of their labour is ‘AuB’ or as defined - ‘when two minds come together with a common purpose to create something collectively Greater’. AuB
One half is the winner of the 2017 Kenny Wheeler Prize Saxophonist Tom Barford, who learnt to play the saxophone from the age of 9. This young gun continues to feed our rapacious appetite for music. Tom's previous performances have included Ronnie Scott's, BBC Proms and session work on the LEGO movies.
The other half is Alex Hitchcock who has been on the jazz scene for some time and is widely recognised as the saxophonist for Resolution 88 and founder of the Alex Hitchcock Quintet. I managed to briefly catch up with Alex during the lockdown. He explained how the band members talked about the project 4 years ago; however, it was not until June 2019 when the album came to fruition at the Giant Wafer Studios, Wales. Alex and Tom wrote alternate tracks, finally collaborating for the improvisation.
Fergus Ireland (Ferg) is on upright - bass royalty. When he's not playing for the likes of Ashley Henry, Ruby Rushton or Tenderlonious aka Edward Cawthorne he manages to record with this latest project AuB.
Drummer James Maddren appears on a list as long as a music rap sheet that includes Tim Garland, Trish Clowes, Jacob Collier and Martin Speake.
Together the band have valued provenance, different styles and contrasting contributions. The press pack describes their feel as “Think, Phronesis meets Polar Bear". However, having reviewed the Blue Note All-Stars (Our Point Of View) in 2017, this duo is as entertaining as Marcus Strickland and Wayne Shorter, heightened by the skilful use of synthesisers. There is plenty of attacks, decay, sustain, and release for the technical listener.
The album has been very well put together by multi-talented musicians and mastered by Nate Wood (Kneebody, Tigran Hamasyan) at Kerseboom Mastering.
Not Jazz certainly is Jazz, with a delayed syncopated bass swinging to a melodic sax duet. There is a delicate balance of instruments moving from the bass to the sax, then to the drums. The order flows well, and playing feels natural, this is an exciting and appealing composition.
Take a listen here:
By contrast, a contemporary and sombre feel is expressed in Valencia which is not too dissimilar to chamber music as performed at the Lincoln Centre. This is also one of the shorter tracks on this album that maintain the overall balance. The nuances of each instrument deliver an intimate performance, and each musician is engaged in articulate banter..
Calvados is a funky up-tempo strut, while my favourite tune on the album is Ice Man. The track is fresh and refreshing. The playing is zen and skilful. The saxophones convolute in a charming conversation.
Overall, the album has been well-produced, and it is reassuring to hear the Edition label have kept the standards high with the introduction of this collective. In terms of commercial potential, these are challenging times as record labels, distributors, online stores and streaming platforms all compete for a slice of the pie. Despite that, I would add this to my collection, and another yes for vinyl.
If you like this, you may also like Marquis Hill - The Way We Play. Take a listen here
Alex Hitchcock - Tenor saxophone/synthesisers
Tom Barford - Tenor saxophone/synthesisers
Fergus Ireland - Double bass/synthesisers
James Maddren - Drums