Saxophone Today Magazine
Jan/Feb 2017 Issue
Billy Kerr Review
The Sugar Hill Trio
The Sugar Hill Trio THE DRIVE is available on Amazon
Based in the Harlem section of NY, the Sugar Hill Trio is made up of four musicians (explanation to follow) rooted in the “hard bop” school of jazz, with a look toward the future. The instrumentation, enjoyed by veteran saxophonists, Sonny Rollins and Lew Tabackin, is not meant for the slight of heart. Without benefit of a chordal instrument to reinforce the harmonic implications of the music, the horn player must be able to not only play melodically and rhythmically, but also make an undeniable case for the harmony as well. Christian Torkewitz meets all of those challenges with ease.
Torkewitz began his musical studies in Cuba, relocating to NYC in 2007 and establishing his own jazz orchestra and chamber project, “Vista,” which showcases his large ensemble compositions. He holds a D.M.A. in performance, composition and education from the Manhattan School of Music.
All the music on the CD, composed and arranged by Torkewitz and Walker, comes from the modern jazz repertory as well as three originals from the saxophonist. Incidentally, the two bassists alternate tracks, thus the name “trio.”
The CD opens with the up-tempo, Minority, by Gigi Gryce. The tune, which alternates between jazz-Latin and straight- ahead swing, gets a good reading with Torkewitz’s sure-fire approach. His sound is bright and pointed, good time and chops to burn. Torkewitz plays through the changes like nobody’s business, playing all over the horn without even breaking a sweat. His lines fall in place like so many ducks in a row. Boykins plays his own solid solo before Torkewitz and Walker trade fours for a couple of choruses, the head, tag and out. Nice way to start the disc.
Two tunes closely associated with the great John Coltrane, Spiral, by Coltrane and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by Jerry Brainin and Buddy Bernier get the requisite treatment in homage to the tenor giant. The tempo on the former is up and Torkewitz plays through the changes with ease, playing strong clean lines covering the entire range of the horn. The latter tune is played in the more or less traditional way, Latin to swing, again with the leader showing his ability to navigate through the harmony with aplomb. Nice solo by bassist Boykins, before the return of the theme.
Ask Me Now, one of the great jazz ballads written by Thelonious Monk, is played at a “businessman’s bounce.” Torkewitz plays the melody and the first chorus leading into a nice half chorus solo by Shamat on bass. Torkewitz returns for the bridge and final eight before a short cadenza and the final chord.
One of the most popular jazz standards, Like Someone in Love, by Jimmy Van Heusen, gets an unusual reading in a Latin flavored 7/4. The band plays through the tune making it sound like it was written in seven, and Torkewitz’s solo follows suite. His lines just pour out of the horn, each phrase making perfect musical sense. Walker is next after Torkewitz, soloing in seven (he did not cop-out and play free) before the recap of the melody.
My one reservation with the disc is that the tunes are basically head, solos, head; not much imagination as far as arrangements goes. Having said that, this recording is a good showcase for Torkewitz, and excellent tenor play, worthy of further consideration.
The Sugar Hill Trio is comprised of Christian Torkewitz on tenor and flute, drummer Austin Walker and either Leon Boykins or Dylan Shamat on bass. Torkewitz, who is originally from Germany but is now based in New York, is the lead voice throughout. The pianoless trio setting, Torkewitz’s sound at times, and his explorative spirit make one think of prime Sonny Rollins throughout parts of The Drive.
The musicians perform six jazz standards from the 1950s and ‘60s, a brief version of Phineas Newborn’s “Theme For Basie” (which they use a closing theme), Oliver Nelson’s “Handles” and three of the saxophonist’s originals. While the trio stretches out, takes chances and pushes themselves, the music on The Drive is an extension of bop rather than avant-garde. Christine Torkewitz is a melodic improviser, building some of his solos off of the themes and coming up with a steady string of rewarding ideas.
The highpoints include “Minority,” “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” and “Like Someone In Love” plus two features for Torkewitz’s flute. The close musical communication between the musicians, Walker’s occasional drum breaks, and the bass interludes all work well. The Drive is easily recommended and available from www.cdbaby.com.
The SUGAR HILL TRIO’s [Helge Christian Torkewitz-ts/flt, Austin Walker-drm, Leon Boykins or Dylan Shamat-b] debut release, THE DRIVE [idblm 031547] is a interesting recording [51:26] . To start with the 11 tracks (with the exception of 3 fine Torkewitz originals) are for the most part taken from the jazz book with compositions by Gryce, Coltrane, Monk and Newborn. Torkewitz is excellent on both tenor (where he has a definite Rollins attack though he rarely visits the lower registers) and flute which is clear, full and driving. Walker’s drumming pushes nicely with a Blakey-like insistence. A comment on the inside cover says the trio is innovative/avant-garde, not to my ears.
The youthful energy of young jazzbos trying to recapture the free jazz groove on classic tunes recorded basically in a pair of sessions—just like the old days. Bristling with vigor, these four cats hit hard and take you right back to the smoky basement club where after hours never ends. Smoky stuff that just drips hipster—in a good way.
George W. Harris’ Review of “The Drive”
“The Sugar Hill Trio consists of Christian Torkewitz on tenor and flute, Austin Walker on drums and either Leon Boykins or Dylan Shamat on bass. Torkewitz has an affinity to the tone of John Coltrane, and uses it well with the looping bass on the driving ‘The Night Has A Thousand Eyes’ and driving ‘Spiral.’ The rhythm team is peppy on the original ‘Handles’ and laconic on ‘Ask Me Now.’ Torkewi[t]z’s flute is moody on his own ‘Sunbeams’ and nimble with the snappy drums on ‘The Drive’ while the whole team bops well on ‘Minority.’ Lots of energy emitted here.”
All About Jazz Review of “The Drive”
Torkewitz’s second composition the ballad “Sunbeams,” benefits from his fine flute work whilst “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” is a breezy Rollins-esque workout and unsurprisingly, was recorded by the master on his 1962 album What’s New?. Torkewitz returns to the flute on Oliver Nelson‘s “The Drive” and proves he can deploy the instrument to great effect, even at near-breakneck speed.
Things slow down for Harry Warren’s “You’re My Everything” with Torkewitz evincing an elegant rendition of the melody. “Handles,” the final number composed by the tenorist, begins with a confident head and includes an excellent pizzicato bass solo form Dylan Shamat. Thelonius Monk’s “Ask Me Now” is a good example of how the trio’s use of space is put to great effect with the soulful sax seductively teasing out the melody.
The mood changes again with Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Like Someone In Love” and offers Austin Walker a chance to solo with surgical precision. The set closes with “Theme For Basie” where the trio demonstrates that it can work as well in tight formation as it does freely. This trio has talent and ability and has produced an album remarkably rich in tonal and rhythmic variety.