Hammerhead

Melodies that you can hold onto, grooves that get under your skin, and an electricity that reminds you of first listening to jazz as a teenager.

Jasmine Crittenden – musicaustralia.org.au

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About the band

Powerhouse sextet known as Hammerhead emerged onto the Sydney music scene in 2011, drawing from a rich array of influences harking back to the late 1950s and early 1960s ‘Hard Bop’ movement. Formed under the leadership of internationally acclaimed tenor saxophonist Jason Bruer, the ensemble consists of Andrew Robertson on alto saxophone and flute, Simon Ferenci on trumpet, Greg Coffin on piano, Alex Hirlian on drums, and David Quinn on bass.

Their debut album, ‘Mozaic’ (2014), paid homage to the pioneers of the hard bop genre and garnered widespread acclaim both in Australia and Japan. Since then, Hammerhead’s musical trajectory has evolved into a collection of original compositions penned by band leader Bruer, reflecting an eclectic blend of influences encompassing urban jazz, hard bop, funk, and chamber jazz. This shift underscores a significant contemporary evolution in their artistic approach and style.

In 2019, the ensemble released their 2nd album, ‘Turning Point’ to, featuring ten original compositions by Bruer. This release showcased a broader spectrum of compositional diversity, aligning with Bruer’s vision to diversify the band’s repertoire drawing from his disparate influences. The album received widespread acclaim both here in Australia and also the UK and ABC jazz still plays it.

This shift in style and focus on an all original repertoire has earned Hammerhead national recognition and acclaim captured by their dynamic live performances. Their ascendance has seen them grace the stages of prestigious jazz festivals across the country, including The Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival, Sydney Conservatorium International Jazz Festival,  Manly Jazz Festival, Thredbo Jazz Festival, Capital Jazz Festival (Canberra) & The Inner West Marrickville Festival. Additionally, they have delivered sold-out performances at esteemed venues such as Gods Cafe, Smiths Alternative & The ANU in Canberra, the Wollongong Conservatoire of Music, Finding Filmores in Kiama & The Jazz Basement in Wodonga..In 2019, they headlined the ‘Jazz Up North’ concert series at the Tanks Art Centre in Cairns and performed in Brisbane, Queensland. They have maintained a monthly residency at Lazybones Lounge in Sydney for close to ten years as well as regularly performing at Foundry616 & Venue505

2023 saw the release of their 3rd studio album ‘I Didn’t Get To Where I Am Today’. It garnered many reviews including a 4.5* review in ‘The Australian’ and legendary jazz pianist Mike Nock hailed it as their best album to date. It contains 10 new original compositions from bandleader Jason Bruer. The music was written during the pandemic and resultant lockdowns and is Bruer’s artistic response to his first-hand experiences as a sufferer of long Covid. Bruer is currently writing new material for another album which they hope to record next year.

Check out the feature on Hammerhead at australianjazz.net

Listen to the band

album-art

The band

Jason Bruer (tenor sax),  Andrew Robertson (alto sax and flute), Simon Ferenci (trumpet), Greg Coffin (piano), Alex Hirlian (drums) and Dave Quinn (bass)

Previously released

Jason Bruer
Unquestionably this album’s touchstone is brilliance, derived principally from

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.

Eric Meyers

The Weekend Australian

Stars

I Didn’t Get To Where I Am Today is Jason Bruer & Hammerhead’s third outing with Bruer (tenor and soprano sax) as bandleader, composer and arranger. Each member of Hammerhead can, however, take credit for the searching dialogues and energy driving his music.
Perhaps a reflection on COVID sensitivities, “Tumbleweed on George St” features a lilting introduction by Andrew Robertson (alto and baritone saxes, flute) and confirms my feeling that flute does not get the exposure it deserves.
“A Folk Song” has the saxophones repeating a nostalgic refrain until its deconstructed final version. At 9:15 minutes, and my current favourite, “More Questions Than Answers” takes its time multiplying ideas that are partially taken up by various ensemble members, only to generate further complexities. The plaintive ballad “The Yearning (Biddy’s Song)” is beautifully realised in Bruer’s saxophone conversation with Greg Coffin’s subtle piano meanderings and a gloriously paced, unravelling finale. Pieces like “You Know Why?”, built around Alex Hirlian’s robust drumming, and “Pig Face”, which has Dave Quinn’s double bass laying down stepping-stones for Simon Ferenci’s excoriating trumpet, are closer to the hard bop sound that was prominent in Bruer’s pre-COVID album Turning Point. And, harking back to Bruer’s funk influences, the two tribute pieces, “Some Monk Funk” and “Trane of Thought”, lay down strutting sax and piano grooves respectively.
I Didn’t Get To Where I Am Today may not blow your socks off but does repay close listening. Bruer’s most nuanced album to date, goes to show that good things can come from isolation and adversity.

Jurate Sasnaitis

Dingo Jazz

Stars

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.

Des Cowley

Rhythms Magazine

The original compositions on this recording offer a significant shift in approach to Jason Bruer’s previous release Mosaic. Bruer has made numerous changes to his Hammerhead band’s line up to facilitate this change of direction. He’s ensconced young gun Alex Hirlian on drums, Brendan Clarke is now the bass player and the trumpet and flugelhorn players, Cam McAllister and Simon Ferenci are now holding fort in the horn line and Greg Coffin is now on keys. So it’s basically a new bigger band along with Andrew Robertson who’s come for the ride on alto saxophone and flute. All told, that’s quite an impressive assembly. You’d be hard-pressed to find a tenor player better suited to this atmosphere than Bruer or a group of musicians as well-matched to his vision. It’s no longer a secret that Bruer writes about as well as he plays — superbly. His fiery band gets out of the gate with a bang on the two openers, Sychophanticide and Conversations, two perfectly crafted showcases, that turn out to be stylish, straight ahead funk sessions. By the time they arrive at the comforting ballads of Breath and A Fugue Too Many plus the very slinky Sixth Sense, the frisky fire of the band reaches full bloom to softer ideals with some gorgeous flute playing from Robertson, into a comfort zones where world class pianist Greg Coffin feels right at home. Apart from shining a spotlight on Bruer, who excels on every track with his distinctive voice on tenor and soprano saxophones, an extended analysis of all of the soloists’ virtues is beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it is to say that each of them display incredible musicianship and make essential contributions to this recording. Taken as a whole, this recording represents a superb and innovative, career-capping achievement

Barry O’Sullivan

Jazz and Beyond

Stars

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.

Tony Hillier

Rhythm Magazine

“If you want to hear how good Australian Jazz has become give a listen to ‘Turning Point’, the latest CD by Jason Bruer’s Hammerhead, an exceptional recording that ticks all the right boxes”.

Mike Nock

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.
Eric Meyers, The Australian

Smokin grooves, fat as fuck!
Julien Wilson

Great compositions and playing, Bruer has a real knack for horn writing
Barney McAll

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