“Unquestionably this album’s touchstone is brilliance!…”
Eric Meyers (The Weekend Australian)
“For my money this is the best Hammerhead album so far. Really top drawer playing from everyone plus great writing from bandleader Jason Bruer. A winner. 👍”
Also the official site for 2 of Sydney’s most popular bands:
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Hammerhead’s great rhythm section. It’s built on the immaculate drumming of Alex Hirlian,
the double bass of new recruit Dave Quinn, best-known hitherto as a member of Tom
Avgenicos’s outstanding quartet Delay 45, and the superb pianist Greg Coffin, who never
fails to astound me. Their impressive playing allows three outstanding horns in the front-line
to freely express themselves, so comfortably in the pocket of the rhythm section that they
need only coast to produce splendid improvisations. Leader/saxophonist Jason Bruer’s ten
clever compositions, which really sing, are arranged in order to feature rich three-part
harmonies, courtesy of second saxophonist Andrew Robertson, and trumpeter Simon
Ferenci. This music is essentially hard-bop, now a relatively old form, but the time-feels here
sound so contemporary, and are played so well, that the music here is a cut above much of
what’s been previously played in this classic genre.
Sydney composer and saxophonist Jason Bruer formed his sextet Hammerhead in 2010, and this new release represents the band’s third album to date. It is something of a gargantuan affair, clocking in at seventy-minutes, jammed with carefully crafted music. Hammerhead’s debut album, Mosaic (2014), saw Bruer deep-diving into the world of hard bop, exploring music associated with the legendary Blue Note label, replete with covers of Wayne Shorter and Oliver Nelson. But on second album Turning Point (2019), Bruer changed tack. While still delving into the essential sound of the hard boppers of the fifties and sixties, he switched to playing all-original music, a move he’s persisted with on I Didn’t Get to Where I am Today.
Bruer is an eclectic and driven musician, who confesses to an early love of artists like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Genesis, alongside Coltrane and Freddie Hubbard. Over the years he’s freelanced with The Models, Eurogliders, Steve Kilbey, and during an extended stint working as a session musician in London he played with Eric Clapton, BB King, Steve Winwood, Paul Weller, Bonny Tyler and others. But, when it comes to Hammerhead, there can be few doubts: he’s putting jazz front and centre.
Hammerhead incorporates a range of Sydney talent: Andrew Robertson on alto, baritone sax and flute; Simon Ferenci on trumpet & flugelhorn; Greg Coffin on piano; Dave Quinn on bass; and Alex Hirlian on drums. What is evident, right from opening track ‘Tumbleweed on George Street’, is how big this band sounds, with the frontline of horns spinning elaborate lines across Coffin’s groove-laden piano and Quinn’s busy basslines. Robertson’s flute acts to further enrich the colour palette, contributing a soft-hued veneer to this rapid-fire music. Most of all, there’s a dancing quality to be heard, recalling the jazz/funk workouts of Horace Silver, as heard on Song for my Father and The Jody Grind.
Bruer exhibits a sure-footed proficiency on tenor sax, his cresting tone full of clarity, as it dips and dives, plunging into the rhythmic density of Hirlian’s drums. Ferenci’s trumpet, on the other hand, positively soars, cranking out torrents of high notes, driving the music forward. On ‘You Know Why’, the pace is fast and hectic, the trio of horns oozing synergism, brandishing break-neck runs spun out over frenetic percussion. ‘Folk Song’, a gorgeous piece, finds Bruer on soprano sax, unfurling a gentle and attractive melody, buoyantly propelled by a snappy bass beat, and delicate cymbals. ‘Like Mike’ is classic hard-driving bop, stitched together from a string of melodies segueing from languid to fevered. Intricately envisaged, the piece is fashioned out of shimmering piano, intricate bass figures, and funky drumming, which act as a scene-setter for Bruer’s solo, his slow-burn tenor sax building a furious head-of-steam, nudging the piece into Coltrane-inflected modal territory.
While it’s clear Bruer and Hammerhead are not in the business of tearing down fences, I Didn’t Get to Where I Am Today divulges the sound of a band at the top of its game, putting a contemporary hard bop spin on a bundle of Bruer’s original tunes. There’s a density at work here, a complex layering that, at times, feels near orchestral, particularly on gentler, tracks like ‘More Questions than Answers’ and ‘The Yearning (Buddy’s Song)’, with their greater emphasis on impressionistic tone colours. At the same time, the album exudes elements of funk and soul, echoing the work of Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, and others. Bristling with accomplishment, it comes across as finger-tapping music, propelled by tight rhythmic energy, the sound of Hammerhead dishing out infectious grooves.
I really dig ‘I Didn’t Get To Where I Am Today’, the punchy new album from one of Sydney and Australia’s finest bands, Jason Bruer & Hammerhead, especially the track ‘Trane Of Thought’ and their other genuflections to giants of the jazz world.
The Hammerhead shark is known for its sensory qualities, and is harmless to humans. What better name for an Australian jazz group? Saxophonist Jason Bruer’s exceedingly clever arrangements of his ten compositions creatively upgrade and vary the conventional theme-solos-theme format. He makes good use of the brilliant pianist Greg Coffin, whose solos and incursions are one of the album’s many strengths. In Blues For Jonesy, Coffin is good enough to encapsulate the essence of the funk/blues genre in a brief solo. An outstanding rhythm section is completed by Brendan Clarke (double bass) and Alex Hirlian (drums). Other than Bruer, Hammerhead’s front-line includes Andrew Robertson (alto sax/flute), and alternating trumpeters Cam McAllister and Simon Ferenci, all consummate professionals. Turning Point recalls the great days of hard-bop, but has enough contemporary influences to locate the music in the present.
When the awards for Australian jazz band and album of 2019 are handed out later this year, there’s a fair chance that Hammerhead’s name will loom large. The Sydney sextet’s second release, following personnel changes, is pretty well what the title suggests. The record represents a turning point for Hammerhead and its founder/frontman, composer and tenor and soprano saxophonist Jason Bruer. Whereas 2014’s Mozaic was a genuflection to movers and shakers of the hard bop movement, the all-original Turning Point is coloured from an altogether wider compositional palette, mirroring Bruer’s desire to inject more diversity into the band’s repertoire. Hammerhead trawls deep and wide — from a hard swinging starter to a closing waltz; from a breathtaking ballad to a blues-based eulogy; from a classically informed fugue to funk-jazz. The rich counterpoint created within the horn and rhythm sections, the diversity of styles within the jazz spectrum and the inordinately high quality of arranging and individual and collective playing brings to mind those Oz champions of yore Ten Part Invention.