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Hilary Noble

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Biography of Hilary Noble

After years playing percussion and saxophone with such diverse artists as Bobby Sanabria, Entrain, Bo Diddley, Charles Neville, Lettuce, Clifford Thornton, Eric Krasno and Bob Moses, HILARY NOBLE has finally produced his own recorded statement, demonstrating what he can do as a jazz saxophonist, Afro-Latin percussionist, and composer. While influenced heavily by Latin jazz, his project resists categorization.

"I hear more harmonic freedom, more collective improvisation, more timbres on the saxophone, more formal openness," says Noble.

In short, he wants to continue the work of fusing Afro-Cuban rhythmic elements with the freedom of post-Coltrane jazz, something that at times borders on what he calls "Latin free jazz."

Although he greatly admires and acknowledges the influence of those who have been pushing the music in this direction (e.g. Fort Apache Band, David Sanchez, Papo Vasquez), he feels that there is room for his own contribution. From the beginning, Noble knew that in order to bring his vision to life he would need musicians able to shift from one musical language to another, in mid-sentence if necessary. His first impulse was to call his old colleague from Ascencion, Bobby Sanabria. Throughout his illustrious careers as both sideman and leader, Sanabria has demonstrated consummate musicianship, passion, and creativity.

Both deeply attuned to Afro-Latin rhythmic sources and willing to place them in new and unexpected settings, Sanabria's was just the kind of spirit Noble wanted on his record, both as player and producer. His first suggestion was to bring in his rhythm section from the Bobby Sanabria Big Band, Ascencion, and Cuarteto Ache, which consists of John di Martino on piano, and Boris Kozlov on bass. While each is a flawless stylist in his own right, together di Martino, Kozlov and Sanabria have the kind of rapport rarely seen in a rhythm section. They are indeed capable of switching languages in mid-sentence, and all it takes is the subtlest nod or glance to make it happen.

The ensemble got together at Peter Kontrimas' studio just outside Boston, and spent two days laying down the basic tracks. The synergy was immediately apparent. On the second day, guest artist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers, joined them. Noble confesses that at this point, "we were beginning to run out of music. We had some sketchy 'heads', but no rigorously worked out expositions." It was precisely at this point that the band began to draw on its deepest improvisatory resources and play its bravest music. "Rumb'azul" exemplifies the way heterogeneous elements come together: listen to Neville's liquid New Orleans-bred soprano saxophone languorously sliding over the bristling bed of Afro-Cuban percussion within the open modal framework. A basic rumba is transformed with collective improvisation, eventually giving way to a "wall of drums" provided by bata, congas, cajon, and drum set. The result embodies, Noble hopes, the kind of freedom in relation to the clave that lives up to the ideal of Latin free jazz.

Hilary Noble
"Noble Savage" (Whaling City Sound)
Hilary Noble is not only an all 'round saxophonist - playing tenor, alto and soprano on different tracks here - he's also quite the percussionist, making congas his specialty. But he seems most at home on the tenor sax, going loco on his oddly titled "Seven Effects of Highly Habitual People," settling into a mellow mood on pianist Andy McWain's lovely "Dream Dance." If performing in duet, quartet and quintet formats wasn't enough to show Noble's flexibility as an artist, his talents as a writer - with the exception of the unfocussed "Terra Australis" - make it clear. Bop influences are obvious, as are Cuban rhythms, but the songs that work best are those with complex structures - "Ile-Olorun" and "Sanduga Mofongo." The timing changes are unexpected, the music is grand. B+
- Ed Symkus

Allaboutjazz.com


Hilary Noble: Noble Savage (Whaling City Sound)
Noble plays percussion and saxophones (tenor, alto, and soprano) in the Latin ensemble Ascencion. Ascencion is led by drummer Bobby Sanabria, who not only plays on Hilary’s Noble first outing as a leader but also servers as producer and brought along the rest of the Ascension rhythm section, bassist Boris Kozlov and pianist John diMartino.
“It’s fairly simple,” Noble suggests. “I’m both a saxophonist and a percussionist and I’ve been hired for both as a sideman. I’ve done straight-ahead gigs, pop gigs, Afro-Cuban gigs, and I was thinking ‘How do I bring them together?’” He describes Noble Savage as “Latin free jazz,” which explores through vibrant Afro-Cuban rhythms the freedom of modern jazz in the saxophone and other lead solo instruments.
This saxman’s tenor blazes through “The Fire Next Time” and “Rumb’azul” in a firestorm that roars with the freedom and power of Ayler and Coltrane. The freewheeling sax quartet workout “Seven Effects of Highly Habitual People” is also more modern jazz than Latin jazz. “Ile-Olorun” captures Noble’s take on how ‘Trane might have approached on saxophone a traditional Yoruba vocal chant, set to a churning Afro-Cuban rhythm. Two percussion / saxophone duets erupt between Sanabria and Noble, the Afro-Cuban “Guiro Moderno” and “(N)eurotrash.
Noble recreates “Jelly Roll,” composed by Charles Mingus to honor the seminal Mr. Morton, as a traditional jazz blowing session, opening the perfect spot for guest Charles Neville, himself a member of one of the founding families of modern New Orleans music, to blow some alto, and for Koslov, who simultaneously maintains the bass chair in the Mingus Big Band, to play one of Mingus’ own basses on this Mingus tune.

Fusing sax, percussion is a Noble profession (Boston Herald, 10/11/02)

Hilary Noble’s route to modern Afro-Cuban jazz passion is about as circuitous as it gets.

When he was 8 and growing up in Geneva, Switzerland, his parents turned him on to John Coltrane. “I remember Coltrane’s Atlantic (Records) compilation really knocking me out,” said Noble.

But instead of taking up a reed instrument, “I became obsessed with hand drumming,” he recalled. “I just started banging thing anywhere around the house. Then I saw these Moroccan doumbek drums in the music store and I was able to pick them up. It was Switzerland, you know? You go with what’s there.

”And then he made another discovery in Geneva: Ray Barretto’s Latin jazz albums.

Eventually, Noble made his way to Berklee College of Music, where the scene was especially vibrant during the late ‘70s—reedmen Branford Marsalis, Ralph Moore and Greg Osby were classmates. By that time Noble had decided to become both a saxophonist and a percussionist.

Now, he’s releasing his debut album as leader, on which he declares his love for both Afro-Cuban sounds and modern jazz. On “Noble Savage”(Whaling City Sound), the Boston resident makes a worthy contribution to the foundation
laid down by pioneers Mario Bauza and Dizzy Gillespie, who presided over the marriage of Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz harmonies during the 1950s.

While Noble’s music is closer in spirit and approach to such contemporary Latin jazzers as Jerry Gonzalez and his Fort Apache Band, there’s a definite nod to the tradition. But the leader’s penchant for the adventurous edges of jazz, and his choice of sidemen, make the CD anything but a throwback. A stint spent studying in Cuba in 1998 only added to Noble’s immersion in that island’s sounds, which show up heavily on the new album.

Joining Noble is drummer and percussionist Bobby Sanabria, with whom Noble worked years ago in Sanabria’s first Ascencion band. Also on board is Sanabria’s rhythm section, pianist John DiMartino and bassist Boris Kozlov, and guest saxophonist Charles Neville, of Neville Brothers fame.

All except Kozlov will perform with Noble on Tuesday at Scullers as the ensemble Conclave. They’ll appear together again at “Steppin’ Out” in the World Trade Center on Nov. 9 and at Ryles on Nov. 21.

Noble is no stranger to either the local or national scene, having worked with Bob Moses, Entrain, Max Creek, Soulive and others.

“It’s fairly simple,” he said. “I’m both a saxophonist and a percussionist and I’ve been hired for both as a sideman. I’ve done straight-ahead gigs, pop gigs, Afro-Cuban gigs and I was thinking, ‘How do I bring them together?’”

The result is Conclave and “Noble Savage”, only the start of something very, very good.

Review: By David Lewis, Cadence

WCS 016 - Noble Savage

Hilary Noble


In his debut as a leader, this multi-reed man sounds like a Cuban master as he shows such compelling technique on conga drums during "The Fire Next Time," "Rumb'azul," "Ilé-Olorun," "Sandunga Mofongo," and the brief duo features "Guiro Moderno" and "(N)eurotrash." Yet although educated in the States, Noble was born in Switzerland. While his playing in "Ilé-Olorun" (Yoruba for "House of God") emulates John Coltrane's technical ambitions to incorporate Yeruba chants into his saxophone style, the tempo shifts during di Martino's piano solo recall the Miles Davis quintet of the '60's rather than Coltrane's quartet. While Coltrane and Davis are all too familiar as
musical influences, the playing on this project sustains the highest level and the engaging solos by Noble and di Martino in "The Fire Next Time" establish the standard for what is to come. Noble's band demonstrates excellent rapport during their sensitive interplay in the modal ballad "Relapse". Bass player Kozlov's solo is a high point as is his arco work during the ballad "Dream Dance," while the upbeat style of his playing is showcased in the infectious Nawleans march in "Jelly Roll." Reedman Charles Neville guests on a few tunes and his most engaging interplay with Noble occurs during the rousing finale of "Terra Australis." Yet it was the hyper fragment "(N)eurotrash" that took my ears by surprise, and if the title conveys some mocking insinuations, this is an area where Noble's music could definitely grow in unique ways. It will be interesting to hear what it does.

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