The year in recorded jazz has ended beautifully, for me at least, with the arrival of this album by British band Hexagonal. The music is a 50:50 mix of compositions by pianist McCoy Tyner and multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku. Until you listen to it, you might wonder what these two have in common. It’s a hard question to answer – there is certainly a subtle ‘African’ feel to the album as a whole. But whatever the reason, the combination works wonderfully well – perhaps because unless you are already familiar with the tunes, you’ll be hard put to attribute their individual authorship.
Hexagonal are a sextet, or maybe a sexandahalftet, since the trumpet/flugelhorn slot is divided between Graeme Flowers and Quentin Collins. Pianist John Donaldson has taken on the arrangement duties, and done a fine job of it, teasing out a variety of rich melodies, vibrant harmonies and infectious grooves.
The band is impressively hip, with the collective chops to glide through complex rhythms (e.g. Mseleku’s Angola, Tyner’s Fly with the Wind) and gentle latin grooves (e.g. Mseleku’s Joy) with equal finesse. The latter quality is helped in no small measure by a supple rhythm section – Donaldson, Tristan Banks on drums and Simon Thorpe on the bass. Greg Heath also shines on tenor sax and flute, as does Jason Yarde on alto and bari. Thorpe and Donaldson both toured with Bheki Mseleku, while Yarde has had the ‘pleasure and pressure’ of working with McCoy Tyner, lending a sense of authenticity to these performances.
Stand-out tracks? There aren’t any. They’re all great, without exception. Solos? Likewise: it would be invidious to single any of them out. Let’s just say that in these grim times, the optimism of the music shines through like a shaft of sunlight on a winter’s day.
Although Bheki Mseleku died ten years ago from diabetes, at the time of writing 80-year-old McCoy Tyner is happily still with us, and has New York gigs in the diary for next year. Listening to this album has made me wish he would come to the UK, and soon. Hexagonal don’t seem to have any live dates, but in the meantime we can bathe in the warmth of this beautiful, finely-crafted album.