Johnny Hunter, Mark Hanslip, Olie Brice
Divisions
Discus 153CD
(2023)
Available formats: CD/DL

 

“A terrific recording by a terrific trio. One of the best free jazz releases of the year so far.” – Brian Marley

“It’s resourceful, confident, articulate and bold.” – Steve Day

“With the comradery that grounds the group made clear via their intrinsic sense of communication, this recording is a delightfully emancipated invitation to the listener, overall.” – Barney Whittaker, PRESTO MUSIC

Johnny Hunter – drums, composer
Mark Hanslip – tenor saxophone
Olie Brice – double bass

A suite of four new compositions from Johnny Hunter, performed beautifully, stylishly, and most creatively by this trio of great players. The music treads a fine line between free jazz and free improvisation, areas where these musicians live easily and naturally. By turns exciting, textural, sensual, joyously cool.

Johnny writes “The recording came off the back of the trio’s tour where they were performing purely Free Improvisation. The interest is in how they would now treat some composed material. The simple but strong melodies provide a stark contrast to the freedom experienced during the improvisation.”.

Reviews

Listen to the way Johnny Hunter’s drum technique handles the first minute’s worth of Divisions Part 1. Pause and effect, compressed roll to cymbal, pause again, lift the sax line, spread it, go round the toms and then put the whole thing down with definition on the ride cymbal. Then repeat. Beat it back and forth as if there’s something extra to say. There is. Mr Hunter is spacing out Mark Hanslip’s Rollinsesque tenor melody so it can speak eloquence to dry studio resonance. It’s lovely clever stuff creating a kind of cradle, allowing the lone horn to press forward on a constant wave of sprung rhythm. Gee, by the time they hit the short drum-break your ears are already convinced they’ve heard the earth move. Divisions Part 2 begins with Olie Brice’s bowed bass grinding the engagement of three sides of this triad. There are no other instruments required. Wind, strings, and that interactive bat&ball percussion, all perfectly match each other. And if one should divide and rule, it is only momentary; this is a fair division of labour. Division Part 3 is the shortest track at 7.45. Initially Mark Hanslip is giving out a masterclass in how to play the tenor saxophone. Without fear or favour to the instrument’s vast ‘jazz history’, Hanslip has got it all here. Neat riffs, cool blurt, smooth blues, twisted coils of improvisation jiving and diving into defined time, there’s a sense of urgency, yet it sings. This may appear surprising, because it’s the Hunter percussion palette that is constantly pressing the measures as precise figures of mathematics. On the page it sounds complicate but the ears hear it as a flowing thing. Even the hi-hat solo clicks into place, flicks and ticks a juggling balance spaced with fast accents and full-stops. Division Part 4 starts by taking a few short breaths then very quickly moves into three voices on a mission. I wasn’t there, I don’t really know, but it sounds to my ears that Parts 1, 2, & 3 have led Johnny Hunter & Co to a point of departure. Part 4 has an ‘improviser’s confidence’ about it. They’ve done the setting out of the store, now play out the implications. It’s resourceful, confident, articulate and bold. Brice’s bass is busy, the drums draw on all the hardware of the kit to propel forward and Mark Hanslip’s tenor sax doesn’t over egg it. Instead he glides in and out of his compatriots as if taking stock of their sounds. He’s a generous tenor. This album is under forty minutes in length. For me, it’s not a problem. I’ve been coming back to it for about four weeks. I never play it through once; it goes ON repeat, maybe for the whole evening, four or five times. Divisions: three musicians, four parts; this is the kind of music that doesn’t rush what it is putting out even when the tempo (retro alert) takes to the fast lane. It was recorded in 2019. The world has changed since then. The need to hear quality is still a requirement. Alex Bonney has done a clean, clear burnished job on the mix and mastering. Treat yourself and put it on repeat. – Steve Day, August 2023

Featuring Mark Hanslip on tenor sax, Olie Brice on contrabass and Johnny Hunter on drums & compositions. Thanks to the Martin Archer’s Discus label, (as well as FMR & Slam), a couple of dozen British musicians, both older & younger, have been given an opportunity to compose, record and have released around 150 discs over the past decade plus. I’ve heard the work of saxist Mark Hanslip through his collaborations with Paul Dunmall, Tony Bianco & Nostalgia 77 (with Keith & Julie Tippett). Brit bassist Olie Brice has also worked with Paul Dunmall as well as with Alex Ward, Ingrid Laubrock & Neil Metcalfe. Drummer & main composer, Johnny Hunter, has worked with the Ron Caines/Martin Archer Band & other Archer projects. This disc was recorded by Mr. Archer in 2019 with all songs composed by their drummer, Johnny Hunter. This disc is broken into four pieces, each named “Divisions”, parts 1-4. “Part 1” starts off as a modest piece with a thoughtful written theme up front and a bit freer in the midsection which includes an expressive bass & drum solo (superb mallet work). “Part 2” begins with a bristling, spirit-jazz bowed bass intro, sublime mallet-work and sprawling, slow-burning tenor. “Part 3” has one of those great, hypnotic, memorable, repeating bass lines at the center. As the piece evolves, the trio’s tempo picks up as the tension starts to simmer. “Part 4” has a medium-paced into which soon erupts into a furious, pumping, quick, tight, powerful and soaring thoughtfully. Olie Brice’s inventive acoustic bass playing is at the center of the trio’s sound, speeding up, slowing down, walking quickly and always working tightly with the drums and tenor sax simultaneously. This is a most formidable trio who always sound focused, free-wheeling but rarely completely free. Each piece is between 8 & 11 minutes and each one is episodic, a small series of connected scenes or short stories. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC

Johnny Hunter (drums), Mark Hanslip (tenor sax) and Olie Brice (double bass) give us a fascinating sound experience with their new album, ‘Divisions’, divided into four movements simply titled Part 1 , Part 2 , etc. These parts, without challenging the conventions of contemporary jazz, nevertheless lead the listener on an intense sonic journey. From the first notes of the theme of the first track with the initial statement of the sax and double bass, the skillful interplay that will unfold throughout the album immediately becomes evident. An interplay interrupted in some moments by the solos of the protagonists who seem to want to deepen aspects of the conversation had up to that moment with a personal reflection. Again in the first track this happens about 4 minutes from the end with the double bass, to which the drums then respond, as if to underline or comment on the ideas exposed by Brice , and then launch into his own rhythmic invention. The different pieces (all compositions by Hunter ) demonstrate the trio’s ability to create evocative and evocative settings. The deep, subdued and disturbing atmospheres created by the introduction of drums and double bass (played with the bow) of the second track throw the listener into anticipation of a musical event which materializes with the entry of the sax onto the scene, which however he only continues to explore the psychology of uncertainty together with his accomplices in a clever way that increasingly tends towards free. The music flows freely, without certain boundaries, inducing the imagination to wander until the evanescent conclusion. The third part clearly contrasts with the cadenced rhythm of its theme, which, after a slight decline to regain momentum, then opens to the convincing sax solo, a solo that becomes more and more collaborative and less and less closed in defined meshes, both rhythmic and melodic. , to sometimes flow into energetic flashes of rapid virtuosity, and then gradually leave the scene to the rhythm section. Which redesigns, in a surprising and unexpected way, a new situation, more jagged and nervous, before returning to the theme. The fourth part, finally, introduces us to a world of swing, free and groovy, and robustly energetic, which without at all disdaining the continuous pulsation then admits moments with more extensive, dense and magmatic sounds – with the drums and sax going to experimenting with more daring territories before returning to hint at an almost mainstream swing. But it is only a contrasting element with which listening also elaborates the most out-of-the-box sounds and the freest virtuosity that is unleashed before opening to the sly final with the double bass solo supported by the ideas of Hunter’s drums. It is a very successful album that joyfully exposes crucial aspects of acoustic musical collaboration and improvisation. Rating: 9/10 – Alessandro Bertinetto, KATHODIK https://www.kathodik.org/2023/10/23/johnny-hunter-mark-hanslip-olie-brice-divisions/

Divisions might seem a strange choice of title for such a cohesive set. It is the name of a four-part suite written by drummer Johnny Hunter for this all British trio completed by bassist Olie Brice and tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip. As well as his own dates, such as Pale Blue Dot (Northern Contemporary, 2020) for string quartet, sax and drums, Hunter also stokes the fires of Cath Roberts’ Sloth Racket and the collective Spinningwork (NEWJAiM, 202z). Perhaps the divide in question refers to that hoary chestnut as to whether composition and improvisation are separate entities or two sides of the same coin. Judging by the seamless way in which the threesome moves in and out of time and tune, Hunter’s position must be that such distinctions are artificial at best. Certainly Hunter’s charts allow a lot of agency: simple but with enough substance to serve as building blocks for both collective and individual flights of fancy. There is a melodicism which pervades the set, evident even in the leader’s careful attention to pitch and timbre, on display as much when he plays the heads as in the subsequent interplay. A regular partner, Hanslip in particular brings a lyrical sensibility to the spacious conversational exchanges, whether in considered short phrases or reflective moments interspersed among agile sprints. Indeed there is almost something reminiscent of Ornette Coleman in the way he dances over the morphing rhythms. Brice reaffirms his place as one of the foremost improvising bassists on the UK scene. He enjoys an especially strong connection with Hunter—they perform together regularly, not least in Brice’s Octet, as heard in one half of the wonderful Fire Hills (West Hills, 2022)—such that they switch almost at will from time to free and back again, without ever leaving behind an animating pulse. It is also showcased in a drum and bass interlude on “Part 3” in which the focus constantly shifts between them without ever becoming a solo. The communication between all three, honed on a tour which preceded the recording date, results in both compactness and clarity of intent. “Part 2” opens in an atmosphere redolent of tension, full of grinding arco, whinnying saxophone and cymbal froth. It builds gradually towards a crescendo, with Brice’s overtones and Hanslip’s multiphonics braiding pleasingly en route, but never quite lets go, and is all the more effective for opting out of easy resolution. Bowed bass and wailing saxophone also feature prominently during the prickly “Part 4,” the most spirited cut, which nonetheless ends with Brice’s slow walking foregrounded in a surprisingly reserved conclusion to a fine disc. – John Sharpe, ALL ABOUT JAZZ https://www.allaboutjazz.com/divisions-johnny-hunter-mark-hanslip-olie-brice-discus-music

The punches come in thick and fast for this chordless trio, as they scrupulously grapple between passages of strong melodic content and free improvisation. Recorded way back when in October of 2019, Divisions is four-part suite which traces the line between order and chaos, doing so with remarkable intricacy and feel. With the comradery that grounds the group made clear via their intrinsic sense of communication, this recording is a delightfully emancipated invitation to the listener, overall. – Barney Whittaker, PRESTO MUSIC https://www.prestomusic.com/

“Divisions” features a trio comprised of three of the UK’s leading improvising musicians, drummer Johnny Hunter, tenor sax specialist Mark Hanslip and double bassist Olie Brice. All have appeared regularly on the Jazzmann web pages in a wide variety of musical contexts, performing music that has either been pre-composed or fully improvised, or more frequently a mixture of both. Collectively they have too many mentions for me to examine them all again here, so I’ll just concentrate on this particular recording, which does indeed explore the interstice between composition and free improvisation, a musical hinterland with which all three musicians are acutely familiar. The album was recorded at Discus Music Studio in Sheffield in 2019 but the mixing and mastering process was first delayed by the Covid lockdowns and then by “life generally”. Martin Archer of Discus Records, who recorded the original session, says “we are delighted to make it available at last, somewhat belatedly. Of course, the music itself is timeless”. Johnny Hunter explains the scenario behind the recording further; “The recording came off the back of the trio’s tour where they were performing purely Free Improvisation. The interest is in how they would now treat some composed material. The simple but strong melodies provide a stark contrast to the freedom experienced during the improvisation.”. The compositions in question are all by Hunter himself and the four resultant performances have been described as a “suite”. They remain untitled, aside from the functional “Part 1” to “Part 4” appellations, hence there are no verbal clues to aid the listeners’ interpretation of the music. That said each “Part” (or even “movement”, if you will) has its own distinctive musical character. The title “Divisions” is most apt as the trio explore not only the divisions between the individual “Parts”, but also the divisions between the compositional and improvisational processes. The result is music that is both engaging and surprisingly accessible. Each “Part” is based upon a single Hunter composition (as opposed to each containing a number of compositional ‘fragments’). “Part 1” clocks in at just over ten minutes and commences with Hanslip stating the melodic theme, closely shadowed, indeed almost mirrored, by the leader’s drums. As Brice’s bass is added the music becomes more discursive with a finely balanced rapport between bass, drums and tenor sax, with some commentators having drawn parallels between Hanslip’s playing and that of Sonny Rollins. I’ve always regarded Hanslip as being one of the most melodic of the ‘free jazz’ saxophonists and this quality is apparent throughout “Divisions”, no matter how deeply he probes. It’s certainly very much in evidence here as he stretches out with the support of Brice’s muscular bass and Hunter’s busy but subtle drumming, the latter’s playing full of nuance and detail. Brice eventually takes over with an extended passage of unaccompanied double bass that combines a huge tone and an impressive dexterity with a great sense of musical awareness that embraces all the qualities of sound, space, structure, and even swing. This solo episode is followed by another involving Hunter, an immaculately constructed and innately musical feature that combines the sounds of drums and cymbals, played with a variety of sticks and mallets, to mesmerising effect. Eventually the opening theme returns to allow the trio to examine one final variation. This opening item may be structured like a conventional bebop tune (head-solos-head) but it feels very different and the overall sound is still that of ‘free jazz’, but a style of ‘free jazz’ that is still very approachable. “Part 2” is totally different in character and commences with the grainy timbres of Brice’s bowed bass and the eerie sounds of Hunter’s cymbal scrapes, mallet rumbles and the chiming of small percussion. It’s a slow burner of a track that retains its dark and pensive mood throughout with Hanslip adding wisps of tenor sax melody as Brice continues to play arco bass, these two exchanging phrases, the intertwining shards of melody underpinned by Hunter’s mallet rumbles. Shimmering percussion comes briefly to the fore and the piece eventually resolves itself with the sounds of breathy tenor sax and cello like arco bass. This is a highly atmospheric and evocative piece that is also strangely beautiful, but in its own dark and slightly unsettling way. The introduction to “Part 3” is as close as the trio get to ‘straightahead’ jazz with the catchy post bop style theme acting as the jumping off point for a Hanslip sax solo that embraces various elements of jazz history before becoming more abstracted. He may be playing the tenor but there’s definitely something of an Ornette Coleman quality about the music. Brice is a fiercely rhythmic presence, his powerful bass motif driving the introductory theme and acting as the fulcrum for Hanslip’s solo. Brice’s playing allows Hunter the opportunity to roam and his playing is quietly energetic, exploring all areas of his kit and culminating in a quirky solo that subsequently evolves into a dialogue with Brice. The initial theme then returns briefly before the close. “Part Four” introduces itself with a quirky, catchy, lurching melodic motif that helps to launch the trio’s improvisations. They’re in a bullish mood, confident and almost swaggering as Hanslip embarks on a solo, supported by the sounds of busy bass and bustling drums. There are more elements of Coleman style harmolodics as the music becomes more abstracted and goes through a series of tempo changes, cooling a little after the initial adrenalin rush. Brice then takes up the bow as we move into a more obviously freely improvised section, eventually culminating in a rumbustious sax and drum dialogue, overlain with arco bass. Brice then assumes the lead, playing melodic pizzicato bass on the quieter closing section. It may have been some four years between the initial recording session and the final album release, but nevertheless “Divisions” has been well worth waiting for. Many of my favourite albums of recent years have trod a fine line between composition and improvisation and many of these have involved either Brice or Hunter, and often both together. “Divisions” fits neatly into this lineage with Hunter’s compositional sketches providing a suitable framework for the trio’s improvisations. The presence of some kind of structure allows the music to remain relatively accessible but still allows plenty of scope for improvisation and self expression. The album is relatively short by modern CD standards, essentially with two ten minute tracks and two eight minute tracks, but as the Bard once said “Brevity is the Soul of Wit” and no single piece here is allowed to outstay its welcome. Hunter’s self imposed limitations serve to channel and distil the trio’s efforts, resulting in music that is intelligent and sharply focussed. The standard of the playing and the level of group interaction is excellent throughout with old friend Alex Bonney presiding over a typically pinpoint mix that emphasises all the subtlety, power and detail of the trio’s playing. Just to make it a ‘family’ affair Hanslip provides the album artwork and (as already noted) Discus label owner Martin Archer recorded the original session. A fine team effort all round and it’s good to see this music ‘out there’. Let’s hope that some more tour dates for this excellent trio might be the result – although they’re all doubtless working on other projects by now. – Ian Mann https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/johnny-hunter-mark-hanslip–olie-brice-divisions

Drei Discus-Scheiben hintereinander, auf denen Martin Archer nicht mitspielt, das ist ungewöhnlich. Andererseits sind trotz seiner Allgegenwart auf dem eigenen Label Star¬allüren und Egozentrik das letzte, was man ihm nachsagen kann. Divisions (Discus 153CD) ist eine Komposition des nordenglischen Drummers JOHNNY HUNTER, die er mit MARK HANSLIP an Tenorsax und OLIE BRICE am Kontrabass eingespielt hat. Brice hat auch von Hastings an der Südküste aus seine Finger im Spiel mit Alex Ward, Paul Dunmall, Cath Roberts, Somersaults, Loz Speyer’s Inner Space, auf „Spinningwork“ auch schon mit Hunter. Hanslip verbindet die Erfahrung im Olie Brice Quintet mit dem Knowhow bei Hun¬ters „Pale Blue Dot“. Denn Hunter ist nicht nur durch Engine Room Favourites, „Felicity’s Ultimatum“, Ron Caines / Martin Archer Axis und das Forensic Trio ein von Archer hoch geschätzter Drummer, sondern einer mit eigener Gestaltungskraft. Die entfaltet er hier in einer 4-teiligen Jazz-Suite, die die auf gemeinsamer Tour gekosteten Freiheiten zügelt zugunsten melodischer Motive, die Hanslip schwelgerisch auskostet, zu kontrapunktisch summendem Pizzicato, selber ‘singenden’ Fingerkuppen, Hunters tänzelnd wirbelnden Sticks. Im ‘Part 2’ fesseln knurrige und lichte Bogenstriche zu metallischen Tupfen und tockeligen Beats, denen sich Hanslip, der übrigens auch das abstrakt gestreifte Artwork beisteuert, mit melancholischem Hauch anschmiegt. Gefolgt von einem groovigen Allegro mit wieder kernigem Pizzicato, trüffelndem Horn, klackender Interaktion von ostinatem Bass und rührigen Sticks. ‘Part 4’ beschleunigt noch die rollende, polternde Drehzahl und den sprudeligen Flow bis zu krächzenden Wellen, kurzen, rauen Stößen, diskanten Strichen, mündet aber in bluesig gezupftem Moll. Musik gewordene Lebenserfahrung?  – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY [BA 121 rbd]

The trio deftly negotiate a tightrope between free jazz and more straightheaded improv. – JAZZWISE

Blurring the line between composition and improvisation or using a snippet of melody as a springboard for improvisation, two clichés that can describe many modern jazz or free improvisation records. Drummer Johnny Hunter, bassist Olie Brice and tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip stand out by giving importance to the melody. In doing so, the three Englishmen distanced themselves somewhat from the great tradition of British improvised music. Composed by Hunter, Divisions is conceived as a four-part suite. Simple melodies often serve as a starting point, but return in the improvised segments to better nourish them. “Part 1” has an Ornette Coleman feel to it. “Part 2” is shrouded in an aura of mystery. “Part 3” is propelled by an inquisitive bass line. Finally, “Part 4” begins with a two-speed melody that doesn’t hint at what will happen next and reveals a surprisingly swinging Hunter. The musicians know each other well, which is reflected in the excellent symbiosis between Hanslip and Brice. We only regret the occasional lack of restraint from the leader. – Alan Drouot, CITIZEN JAZZ https://www.citizenjazz.com/Hunter-Hanslip-Brice.html

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