Dean Street Nights

Scott Hamilton Quartet
Dean Street Nights
Woodville ***1/2
Lost in time, this record of a January night in Soho belongs as much to the 1950s as it does the London of two years ago.
The American saxophonist’s association with Pizza Express Dean Street goes back decades and there’s even a picture of him on the wall wearing a hard hat the time the club had the builders in to increase the size of the place back in the 1990s. I was lucky enough to catch this very band, Hamilton here with his long-running quartet of pianist John Pearce, bassist Dave Green, and drummer Steve Brown, two days earlier during their residency (having not heard Hamilton play live since a Belfast appearance during the Troubles).

During the set I heard earlier that January week some of the songs took 15 minutes to unfold, and at the tempos Hamilton and the quartet play that’s a pleasurable eternity. Their interpretation of the Mandel/Mercer song ‘Emily’ made a deep impression that time and the melody has never left me since. ‘Emily’ isn’t here alas and the longest song is a version of Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ clocking in at a relatively measly 13 minutes and 12 seconds. Live Hamilton never hurries (even on ‘Cherokee’, included here) and I think he’s even better here than the night I turned up.

Dean Street club engineer Luc Saint Martin who knows the place inside out has captured the sound of the room immaculately and you can hear audience members properly registering their appreciation. Somebody goes ‘yeah’ for instance in just the right gap, after 22 seconds, on ‘Sweet and Lovely’, and Hamilton responds. 

The Steinway sounds supper-club bright just as it is in this basement room and the drums have come up well, probably better than if you’re actually there sat in a lesser spot on a stool at the narrow end of the bar or on a long table near the swing doors where the draught sometimes affects the sound.

In Hamilton’s hands the past is always present, the future an impossible dream. On ‘If I Had You’, that past not as distant though as 1928 and an extraordinary early version of the song by Fred Elizalde and His Music with singer Al Bowlly (later killed in the West End during the Blitz). Yet Hamilton's jazz is still a world away from most contemporary saxophone styles today. This Woodville release isn’t available as a 78 or on vinyl but with Scott Hamilton it might as well be, a bit of crackle would only add to the atmosphere. ‘If I Had You’ is the best thing in terms of tempo and characterful tone of the seven songs, Hamilton sounding at his most Ben Webster-like, a rare talent, on an album that has charm and poise. It could never have been captured in a studio in quite the same inspirational way. Stephen Graham

Released on 24 February