Album of the Week \\ Ashley Henry has a transatlantic vision on debut album ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’

6th September 2019
Pianist Ashley Henry has entered into the transatlantic realms, revitalising the pathways of collaboration across the ocean. 

Words: Tina Edwards

For most people listening to ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’, a 15 track album presented via a six month Sony campaign, it will be their first interaction with South London pianist Ashley Henry. It’s a confident debut, supported by several high-accolade collaborators, from Grammy award-winning Keyon Harrold to established drummer and producer Moses Boyd

‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ is intriguing in its name and bold in its statements. Ashley Henry is putting himself forward as a ‘serious’ Jazz musician to be name-dropped in conversations alongside his collaborators such as Theo Croker and Chicago’s Jazz icon, Makaya McCraven

The organic, swaying beats of ‘Elipsis (Interlude)’ and leading single ‘THE MIGHTY’ are a clear window into J Dilla’s influence on Ashley. Meanwhile ‘Between the Lines’ reflects a grime attitudes and the vocal, orchestral  ‘I Still Believe’ represents his appreciation for the straight-ahead, with the support of up-and-coming Gregory Porter type figure, Milton Suggs. ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ is self-assured and displays Ashely Henry’s vision for an album that celebrates a full rainbow of black music. 

Despite hailing from fertile South London, Ashley has both sidestepped and played within its surrounding Jazz scene; before reaching the door of a major label, the pit stops of Ashley’s journey thread from BRIT School (Adele, Jessie J, Loyle Carner) to Leeds College of Music, to a 5ives record on Jazz re:freshed, means his path is a distinctive one. Ashley recently toured the world as part of Christine and the Queens‘ live band – Vocalist Chris, FKA Christine, described Ashley as a “the ultimate piano player… a beats futurist”. For his activity both in the Jazz and left-field pop scenes, Ashley’s path is unique to his London contemporaries. 

Vocalists with important messages to share are given space to do so on this record. Joshua Idehen, who featured on Sons of Kemet’s Mercury-nominated album ‘Your Queen is a Reptile’, rips defiant verses on stand-out track ‘COLORS’, presenting truths about appropriation, racial discrimination and identity in London; “We bring the colour to the mural. We bring that chorus to the song. Racist nonsense? Look how we responded. We brought the carnival to notting hill”. Meanwhile, charismatic future star Judi Jackson shines on two tracks, notably the opener ‘Star Child’. She’s a singer who truly understands the emotive mechanics of her voice and its possibilities, and brings complementary soulfulness to Ashley’s approach. 

Ashley’s up-tempo cover of ‘Cranes in the Sky’ risks being loungey – Solange’s melody is played almost note-for-note on the keys, until Ashley’s arrangement unfolds, putting his own improvisation at the forefront. Although not the most imaginative track to cover, it perfectly accentuates the themes of the album’s curation. 

‘Dark Honey (4thestorm)’ is a composition that results from the increasingly legendary 2017 CHICAGOxLONDON sessions at Total Refreshment Centre. Drummer Makaya McCraven snaps and clicks his sticks across the kit with an old-skool Jazz drive and an intense rumbling solo only two minutes in, whilst Ashley strolls nonchalantly on the Rhodes, underpinning two trumpeters, London’s James Copus and Chicago’s Jaimie Branch. Ashley’s modesty on this track, as with much of ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ allows his fellow musicians to take up decent space, gifting us a satisfying and non-egotistical record. It’s one of the more straight Jazz tracks on the album, completing itself with a warm scat from Sahra Zoe Ahmed Gure. 

Meanwhile, UK crew gather on hip-hop inspired ‘Realisations’; co-produced with Moses Boyd, it also features features Ezra Collective’s Dylan Jones, bassist Ferg Ireland (Ruby Rushton) and saxophonist Binker Golding as well as The Cinematic Orchestra regular Luke Flowers

There’s a clear sentiment across ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’; pianist Ashley Henry has entered into the transatlantic realms, revitalising the pathways of collaboration across the ocean, whilst presenting himself as a confident keys player, producer, composer and arranger. The many collaborations on this record are fruitful embellishments and the tracks are richer for it. Next however, we crave a record that puts Ashley Henry’s keys, as well as his vision, a little more front and centre.

Order Ashley Henry’s ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’

Check out a previous AOTW: Myele Manzanza’s ‘A Love Requited’

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