AuB (pronounced ORB) is the eponymous debut album from the London based quartet masterminded by saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock. United by a fiery desire to make music together, their debut is expressive and intoxicating, ambitiously bringing together individual ideas around which they improvise, developing new lines of thought and opening up fresh avenues of creativity. It’s a record that defines them as exciting, young and progressive musicians.
The band name and album title allude to their collaboration as the driving force. It originates from the points on a Venn diagram, the unity of A and B, at which the combined forces are greater than the sum of their parts. AuB represents the synergies created through the development of the collective voice and sound: when two minds come together with a common purpose to create something collectively greater. Ultimately, the music on the album would not have materialised without this deep collaborative ethos. Propelled by the driving rhythm section of Ferg Ireland and James Maddren, the music interweaves cross-rhythms with deft melodies and catchy hooks, playfully delighting and surprising in equal turns.
There’s a deft skill and radiance from this quartet that reminds me somewhat of Michael Brecker’s recordings through the 1990s and 2000s. It’s sharp, witty and inventive, with both saxophonists rising to the challenge and providing some startling virtuosic moments. The writing and collaborative effort works exceptionally well here, with Hitchcock and Barford sharing so many imaginative ideas, obviously on the same wavelength, with a sharp intensity and youthful boldness.
The stylistic approach and killer groove on “Not Jazz”, could be a tune penned by Chris Bowden in his prime. The band’s use of synths is also a fascinating feature, often heralding a change of pace or clever bridge to a tune, all making for a very engaging listening experience. The saxes combine so well on “Valencia” you’d have thought they’d been playing this piece together for decades. A natural combination of intuition and musical intelligence. The driving bass line on “Calvadoss” is mirrored by the swinging drums as the two saxophonists combine and intertwine in a classic way, each one bringing something new and inspiring out of the other. This is an audacious piece of music, one of my favourites on the album, sounding like a post-Bowie era Donny McCaslin in its originality. “Ruflo” pairs the two saxes together in a more traditional jazz style, the bass laying the foundation for some excellent soloing. “Ice Man” has a more jazz/pop feel to it, with some gorgeous ideas blazing a fresh trail. I particularly love the way the saxes take a back seat at times, in this case allowing the bass to take a wonderful solo. “Dual Reality” pairs the saxes together, sounding like a small sax chamber orchestra, reminiscent of similar pieces in years gone by from the likes of Tim Garland and Andy Shepard. The captivating “Doggerland” and “Groundhog Tuesday” both have an edgy Chris Potter feel to them, with a cool, uncompromising virtuosity.
This album just gets better and better the more I listen to it. Invigorating stuff from an exciting quartet. One can only surmise there be great things ahead for AuB.