Nick Hempton Slick (Triple Distilled 2021)


Cat’s foot iron claw, soul jazz freaks scream for more.

NIck Hempton - Slick


Nick Hempton (tenor and alto saxophone), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Kyle Koehler (organ), Fukushi Tainaka (drums)


in 2020 at GB’s Juke Joint


as Triple Distilled Records 004in 2021

Track listing

The Runaround
Liar’s Dice
Born To Be Blue
Short Shrift
Upstairs Eddy
People Will Say We’re In Love
Snake Oil
The Gypsy
Fryin’ With Fergus
The Masquerade Is Over

Gene Ammons was recognized as a ‘soul’ player. Figurehead of the development from ‘race’ music to soul jazz, “The Boss” or “Jug” was not an innovator but a people’s champion, king of the chitlin’ circuit of black clubs who synchronized modern jazz and blues. Nick Hempton is a postmodern ‘soul’ player. Born in Sydney, Australia and a New York City stalwart for years, Hempton’s meaty but sophisticated style, inspired not only by Ammons but also by Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine and Sonny Stitt (switching equally fluently between tenor and alto sax) is an instantly recognizable delight. He’s smooth, he’s juicy and his tone wears a three-day stubble beard. Hempton, to paraphrase King Crimson, is a 21st century chitlin’ man.

For a couple of years now, Hempton has led an organ group featuring guitarist Peter Bernstein, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka, veteran of the Lou Donaldson band. It released Night Owl in 2019, now there’s Slick, recorded on analogue gear at GB’s Juke Joint, one of the reasons why Hempton’s latest outing full of blues-drenched originals and standards is such an enjoyable listen, the musical equivalent of high-class ebony wood. Why so few jazz artists reach back to the warmth – and the force of limitations that comes with it – of vintage engineering is beyond me.

Hempton’s catchy original tunes, based on shuffle, Latin and boogaloo beats, smoke from beginning to end, not least because the saxophonist demonstrates a canny sense of dynamics and tells uplifting stories earmarked by forceful howls, like foghorns in the misty night. Personalities blend like sour, sweet and umami, lusty Hempton with crystalline Bernstein and vibrant Koehler. Bernstein, typically consistent architect of layered passages, plays like an eager young lion. He’s on top of his form. Koehler finds a good balance between grease and bop, his lines swirl around the smoke rings of the juke joint, his comping is subtle and stimulative.

In the borderland of hard bop and soul jazz, these fellows are champions. Hempton’s alto playing is lovely, as People Will Say We’re In Love from Rodgers and Hart (from the musical Oklahoma that also spawned Surrey With The Fringe On Top) convincingly demonstrates, though I prefer the unbeatable tenor/organ combination. It’s been a while since I’ve heard such a warm-blooded interpretation of the blues ballad Born To Be Blue, a long while, and it compares well with the versions of Grant Green and Bobby Timmons.

The band’s most urgent attraction besides shuffle fest Fryin’ With Fergus (catchy titles like Snake Oil, Liar’s Dice and Upstairs Eddy further reflect Hempton’s postmodern chitlin’ aesthetic; note, too, the ‘worn’ black sleeve), no doubt, is Hempton’s uptempo bop tune Short Shrift. Their wheels are on fire and explode. Better watch out for Hempton’s tight-knit NYC organ combo crew.

Nick Hempton

Find Slick here.

Nick Hempton Band at GB’s Juke Joint


Live from GB’s Juke Joint in New York City, lockdown-audience of camera men and engineer, comes saxophonist Nick Hempton and his band featuring guitarist Peter Bernstein, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka. Having a ball. Nick Hempton, typically sharp-dressed jazz cat out there to entertain folks with sophisticated and accessible hard bop, presents tunes from both his latest release Night Owl and forthcoming album, nameless to date.

Hempton puts myriad edgy dots on his fluent tenor sentences, embellishing his husky sound with mischievous smears and slurs here, witty halve valve shenanigans there (wit is reflected as well through his stage manner, notably the introduction of the masked band: “.. the very handsome Kyle Koehler – Please control yourself, people!”) Hempton’s soulful tenor ignites cooker Back On The Dole, the lightly groovin’ Latin-tinged The Cove Crawl and the blues-based Night Owl (shuffle) and Tenth Street Turnaround (fat bounce), the latter highlighting the agile Koehler, who finds his most intense and crunchy groove of the evening.

The band hits its tightest pocket on Short Shrift, crisp, up-tempo cooker featuring a nifty and archetypical stop-time device. Short Shrift and Ellington’s ballad It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream feature Hempton on alto sax, equally adept as on tenor, simultaneously lyrical and meaty and with hip inflections of the blues especially on It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream. The ballad reading by ace guitarist Peter Bernstein, enthusiastic and in fine form throughout, is especially touching and reveals a passion for one of his great forebears, Grant Green.

In his own way Hempton extends the uplifting vibe of giant fellows like Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, their mixture of heat and excellence. Timeless real jazz, hopefully to be enjoyed again in a live audience setting as soon as possible.

Nick Hempton Band

Nick Hempton (tenor and alto saxophone)
Peter Bernstein (guitar)
Kyle Koehler (organ)
Fukushi Tainaka (drums)

Live stream recorded on December 28 at GB’s Juke Joint, New York City.

Go to Nick Hempton’s website here.

Find the GB’s Juke Joint show on demand here

Nick Hempton - Night Owl

Nick Hempton Night Owl (Triple-Distilled 2019)


Gritty, entertaining and thoroughly modern. Saxophonist Nick Hempton’s Night Owl keeps the flame of organ combo jazz burning brightly.

Nick Hempton - Night Owl


Nick Hempton (tenor & alto saxophone), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Kyle Koehler (organ), Fukushi Tainaka (drums)


at G.B’s Juke Joint Night Club, New York City


on Triple-Distilled in 2019

Track listing

Night Owl
I Remember Milady
After You’ve Gone
I’m A Fool To Want You
10th Street Turnaround
Corner Bistro
It Shouldn’t Happen In Dreams
Listen Hard, Speak Easy
Macao Mood

Nick Hempton has been a fixture on the New York scene since 2004. Besides notable cooperations with Roy Hargrove, Joe Magnarelli and Peter Bernstein, the Australia-born tenor and alto saxophonist has released five albums as a leader, four of which were recorded with the Nick Hempton Band, a group that brought him to venues and festivals around the globe. Cherishing a particular passion for classic 60’s organ jazz, Hempton has finally come around to produce a full-blown session of the archetypical format of sax, Hammond organ, guitar and drums. Assisted by guitar maestro Peter Bernstein, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka, Hempton presents a set of blues-based original tunes like the shuffle grooves Night Owl and Macao Mood, boogaloo-ish Corner Bistro, the Latin-tinged tune I Remember Milady, the greasy backbeat-driven Listen Hard, Speak Easy and ballads I’m A Fool To Want You and It Shouldn’t Happen In Dreams.

Night Owl is a hot barbecue, its smells mingling with chatter and claxons on the corner of Lexington & 110th Street, neon signs keeping an eye on the hustlers, smoke rings swirling around the customers of the dingiest bar uptown, sax wailing… The nightlife, it ain’t no good life, but it’s my life… The album combines barroom excitement with modern jazz finesse, the blend that is the prerequisite for first-rate soul jazz. The sax playing of Hempton is firmly on the forefront and shades of Stanley Turrentine, Dexter Gordon, Lou Donaldson and a sleazy and husky bite complete the accessible style that is all Hempton’s own.

Bernstein is his customary crystalline, slightly angular yet melodic self, Koehler is a lively, tasteful player and Tainaka’s accompaniment is meaty and swinging – Tainaka’s resume includes stints with Lou Donaldson, Lonnie Smith and Melvin Rhyne. At one time, during After You’ve Gone, the band’s flow might remind you of the fluent bop groove of Sonny Stitt’s organ group with Don Patterson. Stitt, by the way, followed a long line of interpreters of the composition like Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. Like his forefather, Hempton is the kind of guy that devours the harmonically active changes. A moment later the quartet delivers a slice of touching balladry. Hempton’s sweet-tart take on It Shouldn’t Happen In Dreams, subtle shifts of the beat underlining heartbreak and a sense of foreboding, is the mark of a thoroughly mature jazz musician. Night Owl is highly entertaining evidence of Hempton’s flexible and passionate approach of organ jazz.

Nick Hempton

Find Night Owl on Amazon here.

Check out Nick Hempton’s website here.