What the papers say
ANDY ROBSON reviewing The Real Note Vol. 2 (Jazzizit) for Jazzwise 2014
"Following the satisfying "Vol. 1" comes the understandably titled "Vol. 2" of this band’s exploration of contrafacts: new compositions built on well known chord sequences. So "Green Dolphin Street" is born again as “Shark Avenue”, "I Got Arrhythmia" grew out of "I Got Rhythm" (yup, the cheesiest thing about this release are the terrible puns!) and “Broadway" is based on, um, oh no, that is “Broadway" done pretty straight. The puns of course aren’t just verbal: Gascoyne and O’Higgins make play referring to the originals, making sure we’re aware of the great tradition this erudite pair are drawing from. But principally they’ve created their own set of originals, mostly pitched in a nu-bop frame, always swinging (impossible not to with that rhythm section), always inventive. It’s also a pleasure to hear O’Higgins increasingly lyrical on soprano, notably on "Shark Avenue". Something borrowed, something blue (notably the opening “Darkness") and something special indeed.”
BRUCE LINDSAY reviewing The Real Note Vol. 2 (Jazzizit) for allaboutjazz.com 2014
It's the facts. Many inquisitive people spend their lives in pursuit of the facts. For the questing jazz musician, by contrast, the contrafacts take precedence. That's certainly the case for the UK's Gascoyne O'Higgins Quartet. The band's second collection of such tunes based on the chord changes from Songbook standards, The Real Note Vol. 2, features nine of them.
Bassist Geoff Gascoyne and saxophonist Dave O'Higgins co-lead the group, which is completed by pianist Graham Harvey and drummer Sebastian De Krom. It would be hard to find a more experienced or intuitive quartet on the UK jazz scene. Fast workers, too: the album was recorded in a single afternoon in February 2014.
It seems almost de rigeur to give contrafacts titles that at least hint at the original source. Many hours of fun might be had simply by perusing such titles and guessing at the source material. The Gascoyne O'Higgins Quartet has a neat line in such titles, ranging from the pretty obvious (O'Higgins' "I Got Arrythmia" and "Shark Avenue") to the more subtle (Gascoyne's "Five Moods"—"I'm In The Mood For Love" in 5/4 time—and "Vision").
Contrafacts may sound like technical exercises for the up-and-coming jazz student, but in the hands of the Gascoyne O'Higgins Quartet they're fresh and rewarding takes on much loved old favorites. "Vision" (a waltz-time take on "You Stepped Out Of A Dream") is absolutely gorgeous: O'Higgins' lush tenor sax tone perfectly suits the warm romance of the melody, the three rhythm section players providing effortlessly cool support. "Embrace," Gascoyne's re-working of "Embraceable You," is languid and seductive—Harvey's lyrical solo is a standout—while the bassist's "Autopsy" rolls good-naturedly along at a similar pace toCount Basie's "Topsy," which gave it inspiration. "Shark Avenue" shares this good humor and mid-tempo swing, a nod to the friendly dolphin rather than the deadly shark.
The Real Note Vol. 2 also features two "non-contrafacts." "Broadway" gets a fast tempo treatment with solos from O'Higgins on tenor, Harvey and De Krom—every one swings, despite the super-quick pace. "Sophisticated Lady" matches the warmth and lush romanticism displayed on "Vision." O'Higgins' tenor once again takes the lead role, Harvey's solo is as sophisticated as the song demands. Solos or ensemble playing, contrafacts or classics, The Real Note Vol. 2 is a class act.
PETER VACHER reviewing Got the Real Note (Jazzizit) for London Jazz News 2014
Putting a couple of seasoned pros like saxophonist Dave O’Higgins and bassistGeoff Gascoyne together in a quartet session might seem like the same old thing but not so. The two main protagonists, ably supported by Graham Harvey on piano and drummer Seb DeKrom, composed a special series of contrafacts for the album – that’s the posh word for creating originals from familiar harmonic structures – which allied to the standards, blues and other pieces which round it out help to make this an out-of-the-ordinary get-together.
The album’s title track, written by Gascoyne, hardly hints at its origins in ‘Alone Together’, DeKrom’s ticking rhythm underpinning a stop-start motif, with Harvey’s piano in reflective mode, ahead of O’Higgins' engagingly sinuous tenor and Gascoyne’s supple bass solo. ‘Lady Face’ by O’Higgins, based on Dameron’s ‘Lady Bird’, has the requisite Blue Note feeling and moves well, the quartet feel-good at its best, as the composer sets out on a stirring exploration before Harvey’s nimble, boppish solo scores, emphasising his emerging status as a soloist of real consequence.
The album standout, ‘You’re Nicked’ is a tricky blues with ‘a New Orleans 2nd-line groove’ as the notes have it and they’re right. This is an infectiously danceable thing, soprano in for tenor and all the better for it with DeKrom’s street beat in step with Harvey’s classy groove. Its equal is Gascoyne’s ‘Will There Ever Be’, another reinvention with a zigzag shape that inspires everyone. And so it goes, with plenty to bite on in this endlessly varied assembly of performances. Just to hear Gascoyne’s swinging line on ‘You’re Nicked’ is a joy in itself.
PETER QUINN reviewing The Loire Allstars (JVG Productions) for Jazzwise 2014
“From the very opening upbeat to Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes’s terrific “That’s All”, recorded by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and a host of others, this self-titled album from the Loire Allstars is outstandingly good on all fronts. Growing out of musical relationships forged over a decade of tutoring at the Loire Jazz Summer School, the quintet’s artistry and ineffable sense of connection shines through every bar. The skip-proof track list features everything from Djavan’s mid-1970s hit “Flor de Lis” to Cole Porter’s “I Love You”, a song that, incidentally, celebrates it’s 70th birthday in 2014 (one for this year’s Jazz Voice perhaps?) First recorded by it’s composer Abbey Lincoln on “A Turtle’s Dream (1994) and already headed for standard status, Anita Wardell is at her most captivating on “Throw It Away”. Taken from Joe Henderson’s classic 1963 Blue Note debut “Page One”, the purely instrumental “Jinrikisha” brings this hugely enjoyable set to a stirring close.”
Andy Robson reviewing “Standards” for Jazzwise June 2014
Sometimes you just need a hit to the soul: and O’Higgins delivers in spades with a collection that is just what it says on the tin, a set of standards, unadorned, unfussy and unapologetically straight-ahead. The artwork may suggest a Blue Note influence, but the twist on the set is that these are songs largely associated with Ol’ Blue Eyes. O’Higgins played Sinatra’s last London gigs in 1992, but there’s nothing nostalgic in O’Higgins’ readings; his years in partnership with the tough but tender Eric Alexander erased any over emoting from O’Higgins’ performances long ago. Instead he dashes and swings through the likes of “Wives and Lovers” as though the songs are freshly written and new to him. It helps that he has the likes of Aspland on board, so accomplished at accompanying singers and here as unpushy but lyrical as ever, notably laying down a deliriously romantic shape to “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”. De Krom is likewise in his element, and has a ball on “Close Your Eyes”. With a host of new releases to follow this year, O’Higgins continues not only to follow the Great Tradition but also to augment it.
ANDY ROBSON reviewing Got The Real Note (Jazzizit) for Jazzwise 2012
“Of course you’ve got to check out the bright young things, but if ever there was a band to default to when fads and fancies have been and gone, it’s this illustrious quartet. Their gift is to reach deep into the tradition and yet, through the writing nexus of Gascoyne and O’Higgins, they keep the quick of something new about them. This is especially true of ‘Got the Real Note’, which is a sequence of contrafacts: new tunes written to tried and tested changes. So the foundation of Gascoyne’s title track is ‘Alone Together’, while O’Higgins ‘Lady Face is overlaid on Tadd Dameron’s ‘Lady Bird’. (O’Higgins in turn re-arranges this tune on his big band outing with Pete Wraight).
There are variations on the formula: to honour the beauty of the tune, there’s a straight rendition of ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, made all the more moving by O’Higgins leaving the melody unadorned. Whatever the concept that underwrites the recording, though, its strengths remain the eternal verities: a damn fine tune (the smiling ‘It Turned Out Nice Again’), a boppish intensity (‘What Was That?’, which O’Higgins conjures from Cole Porter’s ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’), and swing enough to make your toes curl (on any track you fancy). Old and new as one: guess that adds up to timeless.”
JOHN FORDHAM reviewing Got The Real Note (Jazzizit) for The Guardian 2012
Jazzizit Records, the British swing-to-bop indie label run by double-bassist Geoff Gascoyne and vocalist Trudy Kerr has just released two bright new sessions. One is The Rhythm of Life, a warmly catchy, mostly original songbook album featuring pianist Tom Cawley, trombonist Ashley Slater and vibraphonist Anthony Kerr. Got the Real Note, however, is an all-instrumental cruise for Gascoyne's clever bebop quartet with saxophonist Dave O'Higgins. Much of the material is Gascoyne's (Cole Porter's Everything I Love and the Frank Sinatra vehicle I'm a Fool to Want You are the standard-song exceptions), but several of the new tunes are imaginative variations on the chord changes of old ones. O'Higgins's casually devious sax lines sometimes suggest the tenor sound of the late Zoot Sims or Ronnie Scott, while pianist Graham Harvey and drummer Sebastiaan De Krom put oiled wheels under the rhythms, and there's an attractive Cool School grace to the Slow Boat to China remake, Far East Ferry. It's the kind of thing to set straightahead jazzers quivering, but in the hands of these practitioners, there are surprises as well as nostalgia.
Dave Gelly, The Observer 19 April 2009
There's something about two tenor saxophones that seems to make sparks. About a year ago, inspired by three exhilarating nights at Ronnie Scott's, this pair went straight on to record this dazzling session. Because it was done "as live", in the course of one afternoon, the music has the kind of grip that polished and prepared jazz, however brilliant, never quite achieves. They're both such phenomenally good players that there's no question of rivalry, just a little extra sharpness to the performance. The same can be said for the rhythm section of James Pearson, Arnie Somogyi and Kristian Leth.
Eric Alexander/Dave O’Higgins
Ronnie Scott’s, London
Thursday March 27, 2008
When he emerged in the early 1990s, American tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander was hailed as the new sax star to watch, but his devotion to a big, bluesy, lazily-swinging tenor sound from as far back as the 1940s has sidelined him as a gifted neoclassicist. This week, he has been proving this to be an over-simplification.
Alexander has been operating in a formidable two-tenor partnership with Dave O’Higgins, in a lineup instigated by young Danish drummer Kristian Leth, and completed by the classy bass and piano partnership of Arnie Somogyi and James Pearson. The two saxophonists are both bop experts, so the repertoire stayed with standards, and hooky, improv-triggering tunes by Sonny Rollins and Steve Grossman. Alexander fruitfully joins the big sound of Dexter Gordon to the early, pre-free multiphonic investigations of John Coltrane, so the contrast between O’Higgins’ soulfully rough-edged playing and his pebble-hard, melodically zig-zagging solos provided unflagging variety, and a potentially formulaic gig got hotter and hotter as it unfolded. The classic two-tenor improvised counterpoint of legendary pairings such as Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, or Johnny Griffin and Lockjaw Davis, was exuberantly celebrated in the two saxophonists’ thundering finales.
George Shearing’s She invited a bluesy mid-tempo groove, and if Alexander slipped into a few trademark fills and embroidery on the ballad All the Way, a stomping jam on O’Higgins’ Frith Street Blues (with pianist Pearson breaking into a stride-piano firework display) brought a smile to the American’s face. It was very familiar music, but the participants’ enjoyment was infectious.
Jazz has a new image: Eric Alexander / Dave O'Higgins
By Jack Massarik, Evening Standard 25.03.08
Making a long overdue debut at Ronnie Scott’s — “I guess that’s so, apart from a couple of jam sessions” — is this fine US tenorist, who first impressed London a decade ago in a group led by Clint Eastwood’s bassist son, Kyle. A commanding improviser with a hard-edged yet warm sound, his probing harmonic approach reflects George Coleman more than the usual Rollins and Coltrane.
Tall and upright, he’s also one of the superfit new breed of jazz professionals, a product of jazz conservatories rather than smoky basements. He runs half-marathons and likes jogging around a new city before playing its nightclubs. Fans who braved a freezing Bank Holiday Monday to catch his opening night were rewarded with a well-paced set of flab-free contemporary jazz.
Though new to one another, Danish drummer Kristian Leth, Hungarian bassist Arnie Somogyi and British pianist James Pearson made an excellent rhythm section and tenorist Dave O'Higgins responded brilliantly to the challenge of playing alongside Alexander. At times their booting ensembles recalled the past glories of two-tenor groups such as Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons or Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. When they resume rivalries again tonight, they will probably sound even better.
CHRIS PARKER reviewing In the Zone (Jazzizit)
“one of the most vigorously compelling tenor players on the UK scene, and on this wholly enjoyable, powerful album, he nods to the great saxophonists – Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Dexter Gordon chief among them – who so clearly influenced him, without unduly compromising his individuality; In the Zone is archetypal O'Higgins: unpretentious, accessible, no-nonsense acoustic jazz addressed with skillfully controlled energy.”
“A stunning player in the neo-bop vein, with an apparently effortless flow of coherent ideas, beautiful time and a highly developed harmonic sense.”
“His professional presentation was an object lesson to the amateurishness of local players. His musicianship seemed boundless. Like his friend Martin Taylor did last year to our guitarists, Dave O’Higgins did to our sax players – gave them new and exciting challenges. And gave us mere listeners an exceptional night.”
ADELAIDE ADVERTISER, AUSTRALIA
“O’Higgins plays with quite exceptional fluency and his fund of ideas never runs out.”
“Dazzling post-bop tenorist with a magnificent range and a dramatic turn of phrase.”