September 2018 saw ten years since the death of the South African musician Bheki Mseleku and Hastings-based sextet Hexagonal, will be performing his music at a brace of gigs in Lewes and Hastings, at the start of December.
They will be playing selections from their debut album McCoy and Mseleku (Hexagonal Records 2018), which pairs the music of Msleku with that of another major pianist-composer, McCoy Tyner.
Hexagonal are the perfect band to do justice to this exciting and high energy music. Leaving aside the fact that the collective consists of six of the best musicians active on the UK scene today, several members of the band have actually worked with McCoy and Bheki, lending the album a distinct authority and authenticity. Composer and reeds player Jason Yarde had the ‘pleasure and pressure’ of working with McCoy Tyner, while bassist Simon Thorpe and pianist John Donaldson toured with Bheki Mseleku in the years leading up to his death.
Although four band members are Hastings residents, one hesitates to describe Hexagonal as a ‘local band,’ given their success at a national level. Notable milestones over the first year of the band’s existence include Scarborough Jazz Festival, Herts Jazz Festival, playing at Chelsea’s legendary 606 Jazz Club on International Jazz Day 2018, and broadcasts on BBC Radio.
And as individual musicians, they are all very much in demand as instrumentalists and composers in their own right, having worked with everyone from Quincy Jones to Van Morrison.
But it’s true that the group came together in Hastings, and they took full advantage of the town’s fertile musical scene, to develop the concept of the band through live performance. Particularly supportive was the FILO pub with its regular jazz nights: indeed, the band started life as the FILO All Stars.
Despite this, given their busy careers, it’s still something of a struggle to get the six of them in the same room at the same time and nothing short of a miracle, that they recorded the album.
But how lucky we are that they did! Every track is a winner, with hooky melodies, blistering horn solos from Jason Yarde, Greg Heath, and (depending on the weather) Graeme Flowers or Quentin Collins on trumpet, and endlessly inventive polyrhythmic backing from Donaldson, Thorpe and standout drummer, Tristan Banks.
It’s not all fireworks though; the beautifully mellow ballads ‘My Passion’ and ‘Ballad for the Saints’ (both by Mseleku) provide well-judged moments of contemplation, with the former allowing Donaldson’s lyrical piano to come to the fore.
Wonderful as the album is, there’s always an energy and unpredictability about live performance: that’s what improvisation is about, after all. But if you need another reason to go and see them, these two upcoming gigs will offer not-to-be-missed opportunities, to hear some of the band’s original compositions.
• Thursday December 6th, The Con Club, Lewes, 7.30pm
• Friday December 7th, Kino Teatr, St Leonards, 7.30pm