Artist: Adam Fairhall & Johnny Hunter
Album: Winifred Atwell Revisited
Label: Efpi Records
Year Of Release: 2022
Quality: FLAC (tracks)
1. Black and White Rag (5:03)
2. Roll Out the Barrel (Beer Barrel Polka) (6:03)
3. If You Knew Susie (3:31)
4. Taboo (9:20)
5. Boogie for Atwell (8:48)
6. My Old Man (Said Follow the Van) (5:53)
Adam Fairhall: piano
Johnny Hunter: drums, suitcase drums
Both stalwarts of Manchester’s creative music scene, Adam and Johnny’s piano/drums duo was first established as a vehicle to explore early jazz forms through an avant garde lens – something for which this combination is perfectly suited, being a favoured format in both Harlem stride and free music. Their latest project explores the repertoire and idiom of groundbreaking Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell, a much neglected figure of 1950s British popular music.
Atwell was enormously popular in Britain and Australia in the post-war era, selling over 20 million records, yet she is barely a footnote in jazz histories and histories of popular music. In a sense, her music falls between stools; containing too little improvisation to be regarded as ‘genuinely’ jazz, but too much a part of the murky pre-rock era of popular music to be considered by pop histories.
Nonetheless, Atwell forged a pioneering career as a Black female instrumentalist – she was the first Black person to have a no.1 hit in the UK. Her music brought together aspects of the honky tonk piano craze sweeping America with the music hall and pub piano traditions of Britain, resonating deeply with the mid-century revivals of ragtime and traditional jazz in both the US and the UK, and making boogie and ragtime household sounds. In this sense Atwell was a nexus point of various streams of transatlantic popular music.
Adam’s interest in ragtime, stride, barrelhouse, boogie and blues has been well-documented on previous albums, including The Imaginary Delta (SLAM, 2012; named Album of the Year by influential blog Bird is the Worm) and his solo album Friendly Ghosts (Efpi, 2017). His ability to mix these idioms with contemporary approaches has resulted in a distinctive pianistic voice. Johnny’s versatility and inventiveness as a drummer and composer has resulted in an equally individual musical personality. As with Adam, his vocabulary ranges across eras, from ragtime snare techniques (especially evident on the suitcase drum setup used here) to deft swing brushwork and clattering free textures.
Johnny and Adam have forged a close musical understanding via a number of projects, including their piano trio Fragments (Fragments, Northern Contemporary, 2019) and organ trio Revival Room (Revival Room, Efpi, 2021). Their communication, quick-thinking and sheer playfulness is fully evident in any context, but particularly so in this duo format. Winifred Atwell Revisited is not only a respectful tribute to a hugely important and overlooked musician, but an engaging and inventive album in its own right.