‘… that makes this set so enjoyable and that allows repeat listening to spot new sounds, textures, and interactions.’

John Pope Quintet – Citrinitas

New Jazz and Improvised Music: NEWJAIM17

John Pope: double bass, percussion; Jamie Stockbridge: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Faye MacCalman: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Graham Hardy: trumpet, flugelhorn; Johnny Hunter: drums kit, glockenspiel.

Recorded live April 17th – 18th 2023 by John Martindale and Luke Elgie at the Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Michael Moore / John Pope / Johnny Hunter – Something Happened

New Jazz and Improvised Music: NEWJAIM16

Michael Moore: alto saxophone, clarinet; John Pope: double bass; Johnny Hunter: drums, percussion

Recorded June 6th 2022 by John Martindale at Blank Studios, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Beck Hunters, with Laura Cole and John Pope – From Wolves to Water

New Jazz and Improvised Music: NEWJAIM19

Mick Beck: tenor saxophone, bassoon, whistles; Laura Cole: piano; Anton Hunter: guitar, effects; Johnny Hunter: drums, percussion; John Pope: double bass

Recorded live October 1st 20222 by John Martindale at The Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

John Pope and Johnny Hunter have forged a fearsome reputation as one of the most interesting, exciting and in-demand rhythm sections on the UK jazz scene. This three recordings, all released in October 2023 from the impressive New Jazz and Improvised Music imprint, puts them in contexts that have unique and distinct challenges. The contexts vary in terms of the grouping of players: a trio without an obvious chordal instrument, a quintet where an established trio add Pope and Laura Cole, and Pope’s own quintet, Citrinitas. Across all three recordings a common feature is the way in which Pope is able to uncover the melodic centre of each bar. Even in the freest of the jazz sessions, he is the eye of the hurricane bringing a sense of calm and order to whatever is happening around him. Hunter, on the other hand, is as often as not to be found in the role of disrupter-in-chief, seeking to provoke and cajole his fellow musicians into directions they might not have imagined – but always ready to complement and enhance what they are doing.

On the ‘Something happened’ set, US saxophonist Michael Moore travelled from his home in Amsterdam to play a series of six gigs with Pope and Hunter. He brought three tracks to the final recording, Hunter three, and Pope two. But the choice of which pieces to include had been developed through the live sessions rather than lengthy rehearsals. The opening track, ‘Providence’ from Moore, swings with a deceptively simple melodic hook and bouncing bassline around which

Hunter throws fire-crackers from his drumkit. This captures the exuberance of the players and shows how well they synched musically. The next track, ‘A simple change’ from Hunter, is musically more complex and has an ebb and flow that seems to work from the detailed drum patterns into saxophone lines that respond to these and bass lines that respond to the sax lines. Here the ways in which the trio handle gaps that you might expect a chordal instrument, such as a piano or guitar, to fill in a variety of clever ways. So much so that the absence of an obvious chordal marker goes unnoticed and the listener’s attention is on the ways in which the piece unfolds. The longest track in the set, also from Hunter, is track 6 ‘Some Moore / Middle of the road’ which develops over some 13 minutes. Beginning with a bass line that brings us into the swing of classic bop, the piece immediately veers off into sinuous saxophone lines that explore a world of influences and musical languages. The bass provides both a running commentary on these lines and also attempts to persuade the fellow musicians to get back into the bop motifs that he’d originally introduced. In a clever piece of composing and playing, the trio effortlessly change gears in and out the bop idiom to drift into a closing ballad. This is followed by another piece, ‘Piffle’ in which Pope starts a bass line (this time a walking line) that invites the others to ponder and elaborate on. And, once again, the elaboration is in the less obvious directions. It is this ability to spot the obvious and then wrong foot the listener by moving in a different direction that makes this set so enjoyable and that allows repeat listening to spot new sounds, textures, and interactions.

The Beck Hunters set begins with applause. This not only emphasises that the set is live (taken from a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Corey Mwamba’s Freeness show) but also centres the start of the piece in the silence that comes when clapping stops. Into this space, Pope builds a languid bass line over which Beck’s bassoon develops a swirling improvisation. This is interrupted by crashed chords from piano and guitar, before whistles and what sounds like a mixture of bassoon an electronic remixes of it herald Cole’s stabbed piano lines. Underneath this, Pope’s bass continues to provide both the rhythmic and melodic focal point. As the piece develops over 35 minutes or so, Beck switches from bassoon to tenor saxophone, and Cole’s piano playing shifts between sheets of crystalline sound and bold, vibrant chords. Anton Hunter’s guitar and effects disturb and disarm the listeners and provoke the group in different directions. Beneath the quintet, Pope and Johnny Hunter provide an object lesson in grounding, steering and releasing freely improvising musicians. Around 20 minutes in, the group drift into a meditative phase but this is just them regrouping for several final assaults to excite the listeners before the piece closes in a superbly constructed coda in which each musician seems to be playing individual lines but which hangs together with great clarity. The piece ends on the repetition of a single bass note. It is the sort of performance that you might expect the audience to take a breath before bursting into rapturous applause – but we don’t get the audience in this recording.

Pope’s Citrinitas quintet (named after a process from alchemy) is also recorded live. The set kicks off with ‘Free Spin’ which has an irresistibly funky groove and three -line horn section playing the riff. Cleverly the piece then develops into post-bop territories to showcase each of the soloists, regrouping, and closing, around the infectious riff. Pope and Hunter shift up and down the gears as the enthusiastically support the solos and lay into the groove in the unison parts. ‘Through the Earth’, track 2, has Pope developing a beautifully textured bass line that leads into an ensemble melody. I really enjoyed the ways in which the quintet seamlessly move from the well-coordinated ensemble playing of cleanly defined riffs into near chaos, particularly on ‘World Dancer’ track 5, or ‘Quantum Stepper’, track 7. And the ways in which the quintet can glide into meditative tranquillity, as in the closing section of ‘A Procession of Heads’, track 4, where Pope’s arco bass playing is joined by Stockbridge’s bass saxophone in a majestic march. What shines from the set is not only the

delicacy of Pope’s compositions and their ability to create immediate and lasting effects on the listener but also the exuberance of the players. This is definitely a band to seek out and luxuriate in their live performances.