Reviewing Peter Horsfall's delightful jazz EP How Can We Know? last summer, I expressed my hope that it would be the prelude to a full LP soon. Well, just over a year on, Horsfall has released his debut album, and the results more than build on the promise of the EP. With a title borrowed from Edward Hopper, a lovely cover design that tips its cap to Tom Waits, and beautiful booklet paintings by Cecile McLorin Salvant, Nighthawks is darker-textured and more ambient than How Can We Know? It's a complete, cohesive package that conjures nocturnal ambience across its 10 carefully sequenced tracks, which include three appealing instrumental interludes. Horsfall has described the album as "a tribute to the ballad form," and old and original material blends seamlessly, with Horsfall's vocals accompanied by sensitive backing from his Kansas Smitty's House Band bandmates: Giacomo Smith on sax, Joe Webb on piano, Ferg Ireland on double bass and Pedro Segundo on drums.
The absence of Horsfall's distinctive trumpet-playing may be a disappointment, but it's compensated for by the strength of his vocal performances here. The opening bar-room croon of the superb title track is instantly seductive, as Horsfall's light, airy tenor finds deeper resonances. Indeed, the album succeeds in bringing out a variety of fresh qualities in his voice while maintaining a consistency of tone, from a superb take on "Sunset & the Mockingbird," which weds new lyrics to Duke Ellington's melody, through the heartfelt declaration of "Couldn't Stop Lovin' You,” with its subtly swoony backing vocals and guest appearance by David Archer on guitar, to the elegant farewell of "This is Goodbye." In a silly season dominated by cobbled-together Christmas release cash-ins, the depth and authenticity of Nighthawks is immediately refreshing. It's a lovely album that deserves wide exposure.