Paul Booth

Warm early this morning as the phone rang Paul Booth switched off his fan. The bandleader, saxophonist, composer has signed to the Ubuntu label and he explains in this interview firstly why he chose Martin Hummel’s indie jazz label that has quickly become a leading new force on the UK scene over the last few years. ‘‘I knew people already on the label. Martin got in touch and we met up. I had heard good things but we hadn’t met. We hit it off immediately. I had an album in the can. I sent some mixes across to him.’’

Those mixes became Travel Sketches, a mellow yet absorbing, beautifully played modern mainstream quartet album that stands out in terms of the quality of the writing, and which was recorded in March in Birmingham at the East Side club of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

The rhythm section of Dave Whitford on bass, Andrew Bain playing drums and Steve Hamilton on piano are on the record with Booth who was last heard by marlbank jamming on his vintage Conn saxophone at the Riverside hotel in Sligo a year ago. Earlier this summer Paul returned once more to the banks of the Garavogue where in Sligo he has been on the jazz faculty for a few years. He enjoys it there and it is full on. ‘‘We are working in the morning doing masterclasses and ensembles, the gigs begin at 4pm and continue on until 2am.’’ He will be returning to Ireland later in the autumn to play the Cork jazz festival after appearing last year with his Bansangu orchestra.

Blessed with a warm and powerful tenor sound there is a pastoral aesthetic at work on Travel Sketches perhaps slightly paradoxical given that the album was recorded in an urban big city environment. ‘‘Dave had become available,’’ Paul who lives in Ramsgate says. “We were good friends which is nice: You need that first. We had worked together in a backing band for someone else, a guitarist called Jamie Dean who is from my area in Kent.’’ 

What you hear is what happened, mostly one-takes — Paul Booth

Back in Birmingham earlier this year where Andrew Bain teaches at the Conservatoire home to the East Side, the repertoire Booth brought to the recording was shaped around original composition by Booth plus a version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ is included. The idea was to strip down production to make the album feel as if it were a gig.

Preparing, Paul brought in engineer Alex Bonney, who is also a trumpeter and who Booth had worked with in the band of bassist Michael Janisch. Bonney brought his own portable set-up along. Asked about the tender, powerfully moving song, a Gabriel hit duet with Kate Bush in the 1980s when it first came out, Paul confirms that he does play ‘Don’t Give Up’ live. He explains: ‘‘A couple of years ago I heard it on the radio and it is a beautiful song with such a strong melody. We played it at sound checks and it became a closer at gigs.’’ Expanding and more generally he notes: ‘‘Travel Sketches was written while travelling.’’ At the launch gig this week the quartet will play tunes from the album plus additional material.

Booth also produced Travel Sketches and chose not to go into a studio where otherwise the players would have had to record in specially separated insulated settings for sound engineering reasons. This was because he says he: ‘‘Wanted the recording to feel like a gig and people could come in to listen if they wanted to. We set up in the round. What you hear is what happened, mostly one-takes.’’

The Booth approach to producing is not to be too heavy handed. He says he likes to ‘‘dish out encouragement’’ — and when he is not playing himself in other situations having produced for other artists might suggest paring back a track in length say from 8 minutes to six minutes. He stresses he is not a sound engineer but in his own home studio he edits and tweaks on Pro Tools. The mastering on the new album, which he did not attend, was done at Air in London.

Playing live the quartet did not for the most part use stage monitors at East Side except for the bass amp. There were no issues about hearing the piano, he tells me, although on the ‘‘raucous’’ piano track as he refers to one particular track attention was needed to think about hearing the piano on the day in performance a bit more.

Originally from the historic city of Durham in the north east of England he was home schooled as a child and did his A-levels at the early age of 16. He had also lived in Spain as a young boy and later as a teen at the Royal Academy of Music in London he studied jazz saxophone during the Graham Collier pioneering years. He was there first in 1993 — jazz had begun at the Academy only at the end of the 1980s. His second study was piano. Later Booth would develop his interest in flute and clarinet.

As a teenager he began to play with the Colombian bandleader master timbalero, Roberto Pla. Paul says he used to play at the Farringdon Jazz Bistro in central London in 1994 and Pla heard him there first. ‘‘It was absolutely brilliant playing with him. He was the nicest guy.’’ Paul got into the latin-jazz scene a lot and played with other salsa bands around the time moving and extending his interests away from his earlier influences of Ben Webster and Stan Getz. He learned how to power hard above a 15-piece salsa band, a very different discipline to that which he had hitherto been accustomed, and with Pla performed salsa, Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican but not so much merengue which he however did with other bands that he joined at that busy time.

His own parents were into 1940s swing bands and he says he ‘‘probably grew up listening to a lot of that.’’ They liked the Great American Song book as well as swing. In his early career Booth played with two versions of the Glenn Miller ghost bands beginning in France with the European Miller and in the UK with the Ray McVay version. Booth’s more recent work this last decade with legendary global rock and blues icons is legion and includes not only Eric Clapton but also Van Morrison — and the list is a long one.

Beyond jazz over the last 12 months he has performed with music theatre legend show singer Elaine Paige in New Zealand and then his long time gig inside the Steve Winwood band continued in tour dates opening for Steely Dan who in the past he has also played with. Most recently he was heard by many thousands playing baritone saxophone for The Eagles at Wembley Stadium.

On his own projects Paul last year played the Margate Jazz Festival not far from home in Kent with the world music big band Bansangu Orchestra which he had formed with Kevin Robinson of Jazz Jamaica renown and guitarist Giorgio Serci. Bansangu will be back in action playing the 606 club in London on 15 September and before that (tomorrow) on Tuesday 27 August Booth plays with his Travel Sketches band at Pizza Express Jazz Club in London launching the album.

Interview by Stephen Graham