Ashley Henry ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ LP/CD (Sony Music) 5/5

The historical relationship between jazz and the major record label system has been both productive and problematic throughout its history. Larger budgets and departmental infrastructure has sanctioned and fostered many of the jazz greats we adore, but the majors have also been guilty of stifling creativity within the genre. And thus, in 2019 jazz has a peculiar relationship with major record labels. The debate regarding the benefits or otherwise of contemporary jazz artists signing to a major is for another time, but this leads us to Ashley Henry’s debut album, ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ – which is released on Sony Music Entertainment. Home to Mariah Carey and Beyoncé (but also Weather Report and much of Herbie and Miles’ catalogue), Henry signed with Sony in 2017, which was quite surprising, especially considering there were other more well known and established UK jazz artists at the time. Nonetheless, in 2018 the successful ‘Easter’ EP was released on Sony, a pre-cursor to this 15-track album.

Henry’s band generally consists of Daniel Casimir on bass and Eddie Hicks on drums with Henry playing piano and Fender Rhodes, with additional guests and line-up changes occurring during the record. The first track, ‘Star Child’ utilises the vocals of Judi Jackson for this initial jazz ballad, before it moves into a robust double-time groove with Judi’s jazz poetry moving the track away from its more static beginning. The brilliantly rousing ‘Realisation’ features a larger ensemble with supplementary players Binker Golding adding saxophone, Dylan Jones playing trumpet and percussion played by Ernesto Marichales, with Ferg Ireland on bass and Luke Flowers on drums. The more R&B themed ‘Between The Lines’ includes Keyon Harrold (aka Sparkz) on rap vocals, a track that may have been better left as an instrumental.

Guest duties on ‘Introspection’ are handled by Florida born trumpeter, Theo Croker, for this excellent Rhodes and trumpet double-header, with Henry’s vividly melodic electric piano solo an obvious highlight. Track six is a cover of the superb Solange original, ‘Cranes (In The Sky)’, from 2017, which sees the group transform this modern pop/soul classic into a bounding jazz trio romp. A fantastic club track and one that will definitely receive a lot of attention from the DJ fraternity. ‘I Still Believe’ possesses a jazz standard quality, although it’s a new composition written by Henry and featured vocalist Milton Suggs. The confidence presented here by the vocalist is astounding and possibly why one initially thought it was a cover, but the name Milton Suggs is familiar to this writer so after some digging it seems that Milton Suggs Sr., played bass on many legendary jazz records. These include Shamek Farrah’s classic Strata-East ‎album ‘First Impressions’ and the incredible bassline on the Byron Morris’ jazz dance masterpiece ‘Kitty Bey’. The discography of Milton Suggs Jr. must also require investigating after this performance.

‘Sunrise’ is another uptempo number with its brilliantly fiery piano, bass and drum setup which will undoubtedly be a crowd-pleasing live piece, while ‘Dark Honey (4TheStorm)’ includes esteemed drummer Makaya McCraven on this vibrant 6/8 workout. Other worthwhile mentions should go to ‘Battle’ with again Binker Golding on saxophone and Moses Boyd on drums for another club jazz creation. But with 15 tracks totalling 1 hour 10 minutes in length, ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ is a time-intensive record which requires repeated plays. It isn’t a 100% pure jazz LP with its touches of R&B and hip hop, although, jazz is the overseer and the musicianship throughout is exceptional. And even though the album is released on Sony, it sounds like an independent jazz record and it could have been released on any small label in the UK.

It is impossible to predict where the UK jazz scene will be in a few years, but it’s hopeful that Sony will continue to allow Ashley Henry to maintain his musical freedom as he possesses the appropriate attitude and ability to have a long and fruitful career irrespective of trends and fashion.

Damian Wilkes

Live Dates:
11TH SEPT – L’ESCARGOT LONDON/UK
10TH NOV – ORANGE CLUBMUNICH/DE
11TH NOV – BADEHAUSBERLIN/DE
12TH NOV – HÄKKENHAMBURG/DE
13TH NOV – DE ROMAANTWERP/BE
14TH NOV – ENJOY JAZZ FESTIVAL – LEITSTELLE HEIDELBERG/DE
16TH NOV – SUPER-SONIC JAZZ FESTIVAL – PARADISO AMSTERDAM/NL
19TH NOV – EARTH LONDON/UK
20TH NOV – POP UP DU LABEL PARIS/FR