London saxophonist and composer Alex Hitchcock, a rising star of British jazz, has a special relationship with the Barcelona scene. As well as releasing his first album on the Fresh Sound New Talents label (2021), he often visits the city to play and record with local musicians. At the end of October he performed at Robadors 23 with his Delightful Quintet, including the creative Katerina Kochetova on piano and the local talents Félix Rossy (trumpet), Juan Pablo Balcázar (double bass) and Carlos Falanga (drums). Hitchcock has just released a triple album (Dream Band: Live in London) recorded live at London’s Vortex club on three consecutive nights.
Alex Hitchcock at Robadors 23, a jazz club at the heart of Barcelona’s old town (25th October). Photos by Hal Masonberg.
How was the creation and recording of your new work?
It took about two months to compose, I wrote it during the pandemic. We recorded it live at Vortex for three days in a row, with a different band every night. Two or three weeks before I had sent the music to the performers. On the days of the recording, we met in the morning at the club to rehearse and recorded live at night. It was a really tiring but really fun three days.
The album features up to 15 different musicians. How did you choose them?
I’ve tried to put together a combination of musicians that interest me. Some combinations are quite well established, like Kit Downes and Louis Right, two musicians who grew up together in the same village in England and have been playing together for twenty years. Then there are musicians who have never played together before, like Rob Luft and Mark Kavuma, so I’ve also tried new combinations of people I’ve never played with before, but who I’m very interested in. I think the London jazz scene is very strong: it has breadth, but also a lot of depth, and I wanted to document it.
Where do you get the inspiration for such a distinctive sound?
The inspiration is the musicians themselves. It’s easier and more exciting to write music if you do it for someone you can hear in your head as you write. I could hear Liselotte Ostblom as she sang, or what the music would sound like with James Maddren or Alexandra Ridout would play. Their creative voices are quite unique. Although I didn’t know what the final combination between all of them would be like, the truth is that I trust these musicians, so I give them the music and wait to see what happens.
What artists would you say have most influenced you as a musician?
It’s a good time to be a musician, there’s a lot of music being produced and it all sounds very different. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of free music, abstract music… Artists like Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Ed Blackwell….. I think that has influenced the way I write. My songs are not free at all, but I think some of the melodies on the album are quite abstract. I like it when music is structured, but at the same time has free elements, and I think some of the musicians on this recording really draw that out, like Kit Downes, in the way he arranges the piano. When you write, influences come through, even if you don’t want to write the same as others. At the same time, I’m a product of everything I’ve heard before and I have to accept that.
Despite Brexit, your play quite a lot in Europe, and especially in Barcelona.
The Brexit makes it logistically more difficult to tour in Europe, but I try to maintain the connection with musicians from the EU. In Barcelona I’ve always felt very welcomed, both by the musicians and the audience. You have a great club, the Jamboree. Milano has just closed, but it was also a fantastic club to play in. I started coming here when I played with Félix (Rossy) – with whom I’m going to record tomorrow – and through him I’ve met people from the scene, who have later become friends, like Andreu Baker, Andreu Pitarch, Lluc Casares…. I suppose it also has something to do with the fact that my first album was released by Fresh Sound New Talents. Jordi Pujol was the first person who gave me a record deal, so I’m very grateful to him. On the other hand, I feel that the connection between Barcelona and New York is historically very strong and I love the music coming out of New York. And Barcelona is a great city.
In the UK, young people seem to be more interested in jazz these days.
I think so. Musicians like Shabaka Hutchings or Ezra Collective have made jazz a very broad genre and more interesting for young audiences. When you look behind it you see people like Tomorrow’s Warriors, who do an amazing job helping a lot of young musicians. It’s great that we have these people pushing the boundaries… The British scene is quite diverse, it’s not just white men, and that’s very good.
What are your plans for the near future?
At the end of November I’m moving to New York, where I’m going to record with friends there and also try to play in some clubs. In March I’ll be touring Europe – I’ll be at Jamboree on the 12th – and I’ll also be playing with the project we have with Ant Law and Sun-Mi Hong. Also, with my band AuB (two saxes, drums, double bass and electronics) we will release a new album next year.