An ambitious UK jazz statement...

Ashley Henry has always sought out different conversations. The ultra-talented pianist is extremely flexible, capable of moving between different worlds, while still maintaining his devoted roots in jazz.

New album ‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ epitomises this instinct. It’s a record of enormous breadth, one that moves from post-bop to Solange via the Manchester rap scene, while still remaining resolutely a UK jazz artefact.

Opening with stellar Judi Jackson collaboration ‘STAR CHILD’ the record in a way feels like musical autobiography, with the pianist utilising the force of his past and present experiences.

MC Sparkz and trumpeter Keyon Harrold ignite the wonderful album highlight ‘Between The Lines’, while the inspirational force that is Makaya McCraven works on the intriguing ‘Dark Honey (4THESTORM)’.

But it’s not all stellar guests. The central combination – Ashley Henry, bassist Daniel Casimir, and Sam Gardner on drums – have incredible interplay, with their easy chemistry allowing elements of everything from grime to punk to sluice through their jazz stylings.

An effervescent take on ‘Cranes (In The Sky)’ by Solange is the perfect encapsulation of this, a driving, inspired performance that veers from Ramsey Lewis to D’Angelo in its ruthless swing. ‘Ahmed’ is another golden moment, while the appearance of Binker & Moses – themselves an incredibly potent UK jazz combination – amplifies the energy levels still further.

Ending with Ben Marc’s contributions to ‘THE MIGHTY’, this is a record that feels whole, a finely balanced experience that moves effortlessly between vastly disparate influences.

A composer equally at home in post-bop and neo-soul, Ashley Henry has rightly won acclaim everywhere from Christine and the Queens to Loyle Carner. This album, though, feels like the moment he truly emerges onto his own platform, a daring, brave, and highly lyrical performer who sits at the cusp of all manner of dexterous, fluid ideas.

‘Beautiful Vinyl Hunter’ is a triumph in every sense – seek it out.

8/10

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