28 October 2006

Sam Young, Wayne Kelly, White Eagle

It was another successful outing at the White Eagle last night: two bands, several jams and another ArtSound recording.

The Sam Young Quartet opened the night with a guitar-based sound that you seldom hear in the jazz scene. That’s a shame, because this was an interesting and involving set, reminiscent to me of the 60s/70s electronic jazz of Miles (the era of Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson). SYQ comprised Sam Young (drums), Jarrah Jones (guitar), Aron Lyon (guitar) and Gareth Hill (bass). They played originals, variously by Gareth, Sam and Aron, as well as Wayne Shorter’s “Mascalero”. The music was mostly intense and pensive, but there were occasional dramatic flourishes (for example, Sam’s opening for his original, “The breaks”) and the final tune by Aron was more upbeat. Most guitar solos and melodies were played by Aron, accompanied by Jarrah’s chordal work. I’ve been impressed by Jarrah’s chordal work in several performances. His interesting voicings and free movement over rhythmic structures generally loosen up a band. They particularly suited this era. Aron was playing with rich effects and the combination with Jarrah made for a modern sound with complex heads and solos. Sam and Gareth are both highly capable players in their own rights, both as accompanists and as soloists, so the performance was a joy (if you can say “joyful” for this style of music). The sound was a little muddy at times, and there were some problems with hum, but otherwise much enjoyed.

The Wayne Kelly Quartet followed with a very different style of music. This was more straight-ahead rhythmically, harmonically more defined, instrumentally less effected and with more clear distinction of solos. So, it seemed more structured or patterned than the fluid style that SYQ played (although really it wasn’t). But these guys were so professional. They played tight, over complex tunes, and passed great solos around. The music was original – plenty of tunes from Wayne’s recent CD, and a few by Mike. WKQ were Wayne Kelly (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass), Mike Price (guitar) and Mark Sutton (drums). There were tons of high points to note. Amongst others, I remember: excellent accompaniment by Brendan (he’s a great bassist, with an unusual sweet and rounded tone); an excellent solo at the end from Mark; a very appropriate tune by Mike called “Young guns” (he’d see lots as the head of the Jazz School) with a very appropriate solo (including sweeps, patterns and sidestepping, which are outside Mike’s normal style); Brendan’s charts falling from his new music stand and him organising them with his feet while playing (funnier than most jokes you commonly hear on stage); Wayne’s great tunes from his recent CD. Wayne gave away some of his influences in the names of a few tunes: “Mr Hank Mobley” and “Dr Kirkland Blues”. Overall, highly professional and highly swinging.

The night finished with a few student jams. The next White Eagle session features the Jess Green Sextet with Neils Rosendahl on 7 Dec.

  • http://myspace.com/jazzatthewhiteeagle
  • TTMaker – scheduling software for jazz festivals

    If you’re planning on running a jazz festival, or similar event, this software looks like a real timesaver. It keeps a record of musicians, bands and venues, and provides options which avoid scheduling conflicts. You input list of musicians with their details, the bands they play in, venues with available equipment and setup details for the event (dates, daily start and end times, length of sets, time between sets, etc). TTMaker provides programming options for bands taking into account musos playing in different bands. When you’ve chosen the best program from the scheduling options, TTMaker provides web pages or prints of schedules, bands and members, etc.

    Click on image to view full size

    It’s a pretty simple concept but it seems eminently helpful – in avoiding stress for organisers, and in saving time. I watched the process of fitting my band into the Moruya program at the last minute. It was obviously difficult for the scheduler, Michel, to finalise a workable program, given that one member was playing in the Jazz School Big Bang, another was playing in two other bands, and I was playing in one other band. So, it seems to me to be a good investment, at least for an event of the scale of Moruya.

    It also stores personal details of musicians and bands. So as a by product, it can produce a variety of relevant lists, eg, musicians with instruments and phone numbers, bands with members’ names, bands with contact details, bands by style.

    TTMaker is developed by Roots Software in Melbourne and was built in conjunction with the Wagga Jazz Festival. The proprietors can be emailed and they respond quickly and seem helpful. You can download a demo version which will manage a small event, or pay for standard or professional versions. It seems well worth investigating if you’re toying with organising a festival.

  • http://www.rootsoftware.com/
  • Wagga Fest program created with TTMaker
  • 23 October 2006

    Moruya Festival 2007

    Moruya staged its annual jazz festival over the weekend. Moruya’s a small and pleasant town on the South Coast. Like the town, the event is intimate and entertaining. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with as many musicians as audience (or perhaps more musicians), esp given the presence of the full Jazz School and several large ensembles and choirs. The ANU School of Music is the mainstay of the festival: they presented their three large ensembles and lots of smaller bands. But there are also various other regulars, several school ensembles, a surprising number of vocal groups, and a few feature acts.

    The ANUSM (ANU School of Music) Big Band played on Friday night and wowed the crowd at the local Golf Club. The played a sleek, professional performance. They’ve been playing out a lot recently, and it shows. Their upcoming performance at Wangaratta should be a worthy one. The Commercial and Recording Ensembles played in the Air Raid Tavern. I saw only parts of each performance. The Tavern is a smaller venue, and the volume was pretty intense, and I thought maybe some members were a bit tired after plenty of playing, but both gave powerful and interesting performances. (In case you read my earlier post on the three ensembles, my current favourite is the Big Band :->)

    Isomorphism was a drum-free trio led by Hannah James (bass) with Patrick Hutchins (tenor sax) and Matthew Lustri (guitar). They played nice versions of standards and latin tunes, and opened the festival for me with good straight ahead soloing.

    Team Zissou were an interesting piano trio comprising Phill Jenkins (bass), Ben Foster (piano) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). They started with the beautiful and touching Beatles tune “She’s leaving home”, so it was an obvious winner for me. I spoke to Phill later about playing modern pop songs in jazz, and he mentioned several CDs which were influential for this band: Herbie Hancock’s “New standards”, and Brad Mehldau’s “Day is done”. Team Zissou are gentle and inventive, with solos moving smoothly between the very competent players. I liked this one.

    Swinging Affair was another Jazz School band. They played standards, mostly vocals-based, but with a few instrumentals. On the day, SA comprised Alison Flett (vocals), Matt Sykes (drums), Joseph Lloyd (alto sax), and two players who sat in: Carl Morgan (guitar) and Hannah James (bass). Alison has a strong voice, and selected some great songs. I especially liked “End of the love affair”, previously performed by Billie Holliday and others and Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile. This band created and held a steady, insistent swing, and performed some great solos. Carl shows real talent, despite only being a first year student, and he’s obviously being watched by other students with admiration. He’s playing fast and interesting solo lines with odd but satisfying twists. Hannah, too, is playing great, solid bass lines, and is ever-reliable in that role. Matt and Jo were also impressive. This was enjoyable and it kept a good-sized audience for the whole hour, despite some very cool winds blustering around the Monarch Beer Garden. Nice one.

    Overhead Project is Jazz School-related, being led by, and made up partly of, ex-students. OP plays a smooth style of modern jazz that I associate with the US West-Coast: smooth guitar; gentle tempos; laid-back but exploratory soloing. Michael Coggins (guitar) leads the band, with Valdis Thomann (trombone), Gareth Hill (bass) and Ben Braithwaite (drums). This was music to loll you into musings and deep thought: very satisfying and very far from post-bop. As a bass player, I’ll single out Gareth Hill. His solos were perfect for the context, and he was later to impress in a few other bands as a very able bop player (at breakneck speeds for long durations) and a tasteful electric bassist. My drummer mate loved Ben’s subtle drumming in this band, and I enjoyed both Michael’s soft and supremely tasteful solos, and Valdis’ well-structured solos showing considerable chops on this difficult instrument.

    Straight Up performed brilliantly as always. I’ve written elsewhere about this trio, and I can’t help but rave. Eric Ajaye (bass) is the leader and a revered player around town, as are the ubiquitous Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). No attitude here: all supportive smiles, intense activity and great performances. Michael bends over the piano, working it with his immensely fast solos, classical overtones of flailing hands, occasional synth slides and frequent outside playing. Eric matches with fluent bass support and fast and complex solos at the highest level of the art (he played acoustic double bass for this set). Chris accompanies the others with sharp and apt playing and always smiling and watching and aware of the others. These guys are masters. My piano mate wondered how the piano stands up to the beating, and my drummer mate commented on the pertinent drumming. As a bassist, I just sit in awe! Straight Up performs the festival circuit. See them if you can.

    John Mackey’s quintet became a sextet when Miroslav Bukovsky was able to arrive earlier than expected. It was another eye-opener of intense, loud, sometimes frantic post-bop. John Mackey (tenor sax) was leader, with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet) in the front line, and a rhythm section comprising Michael Azzopardi (piano), Sam Young (drums), Gareth Hill (bass) and Carl Morgan (guitar). John played with speed and rabid, screaming passion, as always. But he opened my ears again with a long and more gentle closing solo passage on a ballad (don’t remember which). It was intensely beautiful, and a reminder of the more soothing side of 1960s impassioned jazz. Miro played lovely fast solos, and contributed several wonderful originals, including one modal piece that I loved. (I didn’t keep notes on the night, so can’t provide titles). I’ve written above of Garth’s hot bop playing (it was impressive, and displayed that incredible stamina needed for a bop bassist), and Carl’s great playing over the weekend (hard to believe he’s a first year student), and Michael’s always hot. Sam’s playing impressed both me and my drummer friend. He was playing his heart out with triplets and interesting forms and a great solo at the end. So, this was a powerful performance at the end of the night that left everyone elated, stunned and a bit exhausted.

    I heard a lot of other bands for short periods, but not enough to provide an opinion here. Llama were a soul/modern band fronted by a sister and brother pair: Jenny Lee (vocals, trumpet) and Rob Lee (trombone). Pierre’s Dream Banned featured some old colleagues, Pierre Kammacher (saxes) and Ron Lucas (piano). Pierre is a regular on the festival scene and I’m always amused by the punny band names he uses. The Strange Weather Gospel Choir is another regular at Moruya. It’s a big mob, which had to be broken into three separate parts to perform the small Monarch Lounge, and so lost some of the power of ~50 voices when I saw them last year. Nonetheless, they are impressive. Moondance played a hard-swinging Euro-folk set, as I remember, and it went down well. Mike Hallam’s Hot Six is the patron of the Moruya Festival. It’s a very competent trad outfit comprising some members with international tours under their belts. Mother’s Ruin are mates of mine. They played an interesting set comprising several originals in the Ragtime tradition – quite a change for me, mired as I am in modern, and seldom hearing anything earlier than bop. I also caught the Radford College Band at the Saturday picnic in the park, and was impressed by its competence. I was sorry I missed the band called New Vibes Express. They are a group of middle-aged jazzers out of Sydney with long experience. My drummer mate caught a few minutes and spoke well of the drummer’s brushes technique and the vibrophonist’s dual mallets. The drummer’s broken left leg (!) meant his hi-hat work didn’t match his brushes, but high praise none-the-less. I was also sorry to miss Madeline Hawke’s Madeline 4, but I wasn’t surprised to hear good reports of her singing.

    George Washingmachine, Psycho Zydeco and Al Davey’s & the monStars were feature bands. I saw a few minutes of the first two. They both impressed as entertaining and professional, as you would expect, and had great followings. I missed the monStars.

    I played with two bands. I was happy with my playing on the day, so all was right with the Moruya world. Deja Who played one set of modern jazz with a nod to the more adventurous. DW were Liam Wilson (piano), Scott Young (drums), Michael Cleaver (alto sax, midi wind instrument), Alistair Clarke (trombone) and Eric Pozza (bass). The band was thrown together for the event, and only Michael knew Alistair before the day, but it worked, and was fun. I’ll remember this episode with amusement. When I introduced Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” as “something more adventurous”, a trad/mainstream audience member sounded surprised. She obviously thought our pretty standard version of Coltrane’s “Equinox” was daring enough. But she stayed to the end, and we got some interested glances from a younger audience through the windows, so “Teen spirit” was at least a moderate success. I also played twice with Sandias, another project of Oliver Hague. Sandias are a jazz/latin outfit with Oliver Hague (saxes), Margaret Hancocks (flute), Liam Wilson (piano), Mike Smith (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). We played well, and better than our Wagga outing, and did some interesting experimental rhythmic variations on Chameleon. It was fun. And congratulations to Oliver Hague for his excellent original tune “Mujer Holgada” which I’m always proud to play.

    So, Moruya was a relaxed outing in a pleasant little town with lots of good music especially out of the Jazz School. Recommended.

    Moruya Jazz Fest website

    12 October 2006

    Women fused in concert

    I don’t understand the “Fused” theme, but a concert featuring this group of women from the CSM was a great idea, and it provided a varied, fascinating and entertaining evening of considerable musical depth.

    From left, Anna, Ruth, Sally, Jenna

    Ruth Lee Martin is a musicologist and MC for the night. I understand she gathered the concert together after hearing the excellent CD “Take it in colour” (see the CJ recent review). There’s a bit of feminist pride here, and good on them. There aren’t as many women as men in jazz or at the Jazz School, and perhaps they can be overlooked. Jazz can be pretty blokey and it’s a highly individualistic art, which perhaps advantages the guys. But it’s also intellectual and highly respectful of excellence, so the paths are there for the best to shine through. And there are some great female role models to show the way (some personal favourites are Joanne Brackeen, Carla Bley and Sandy Evans). Knowing the CD, I came with anticipation and high expectations, and went away very satisfied. So congratulations for this highly successful celebration of some of our local women of jazz.

    Let’s not forget this was a “composition showcase”, so all the tunes on the night were originals. We have some considerable compositional talent here, and mostly from women who are students or only very recently graduated. It bodes well for the ongoing development of the art, and pulls the rug from the feet of the conservative traditionalists.

    Anna Thompson (violin) started the night with the Straight Up Trio, Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaites (drums). Anna is influenced by some names that I haven’t heard of for a while (Jean Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood) and it showed in her playing. Violins are strung in fifths, and I was trying to identify whether the lines she plays in solos are different from guitars, basses, etc, which are strung in fourths. I didn’t hear a difference in melodic lines played, but the double stop work was harmonically different from guitar chords. And I really noticed the different control of sound in the violin: the bowed attack and ability to control a sustained note. Anna played very capable solos, led well, and provided an interesting mix of jazz rock, funk and Caribbean/Calypso. Straight Up performed their usual excellent set, with solos all around, and great, solid, inventive rhythms. I’m still wondering about one song title, “Yollop & the Trollop”, but it was a nice start.

    Ruth Lee Martin (vocals) followed with a set of original tunes in the Scottish folk idiom. This was quite a change from the jazz normally played in this room: a new musical approach, and intriguing sounds. Words with serious intent: telling stories of poverty-stricken families evicted from Scottish villages, migrant experiences, boats and seas, and of course whisky and freezing temperatures. Also different were the fiddle (rather than violin) styles, the mono-chordal, world-music structures. Ruth was accompanied by her band Eilean Mor: Bill Grose (guitar), Chris Stone (fiddle), and several “ring-ins” from the Jazz School, Bill Williams (bass), Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Anna Thompson (fiddle, in this context). For me, an eye-opener and much enjoyed.

    Sally Greenaway (piano) followed with a diverse range of pianistic styles. She opened with a piano/percussion piece with Phoebe Juskevics (percussion; also a composer on the “Take it in colour” CD), then played a larger format piece off the CD, called “E11eventy” and finished with a largely improvised solo piano piece. The first and last pieces exposed more classical and soundscape approaches to playing, as well as being more inward-looking. But I’d loved the bigger piece on the CD, and enjoyed it immensely live. The band for E11eventy was Sally, Phoebe, Gareth Hill (bass), Sam Young (drums), Anna Thompson (violin), Rob Lee and Valdis Thoman (trombones) and Jono Apps (trumpet).

    Jenna Cave (alto sax) finished off the night with several of her impressive and complex compositions played by the Recording Ensemble. Jenna’s compositions really are impressive. I hear she may be continuing these studies overseas, so good on her, and best of luck. Jenna led the band from the middle of the horn line. She only led 2 tunes, but they were profound, and well named: “My life, a work” and “Odd time in Mali”. Both have odd timing: the first has bass playing 4/4 bass lines against 6/4 swing on drums; the second alternates 5/4 and 4/4 bars. Interesting! The players Recording Ensemble comprised Jon Apps and Julian Barker (trumpet), Al Clarke (trombone), Michael Cleaver and Jenna Cave (alto sax), Jo Taylor and Bill Williams (tenor sax), Carl Morgan (guitar), Luke Sweeting (piano), Garther Hill (bass), Sam Young (drums), and Phoebe Juskevics (percussion) sat in.

    So, a great night and well received by a moderately large attendance. Congrats to these four women, and I hope there are more of these.

    7 October 2006

    White Eagle double barrel

    Another great night was had at the White Eagle last night. This is only the third night, but these sessions are developing well, and promise to create quite a stir over time. Last night it was a double bill with the Gerard Masters Trio (Sydney) and the John Mackey Quartet, followed, of course, by the jazz jam session.

    First on was John Mackey (tenor) with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). John and Miro are teachers at the CSM, so considerable talents with lengthy histories. The tunes were originals, I think mostly from John’s portfolio but including some from Miro. The style is probably best described as hard bop, in the idiom of Art Blakey: solid rhythms, fast walks, sharp unison heads, long structured solos and dynamics rising and falling with the solo changes. John plays challenging solos in the style of Coltrane. Good, authentic, inventive stuff; in and out of the harmonies, all over the beat, and lots of impassioned sounds. Miro was a bit of a surprise to me. I usually picture his playing in the context of Wunderlust rather than in a bop-style, but he did this admirably well. Sharp playing, fast runs, clean playing. Bill and Ed are students (only 2nd year, I think, but it doesn’t show). Ed’s playing with great confidence these days – he was lively and busy and relevant both this night and the night before with the large ensembles. Bill has a great reputation. Just the other day, someone was praising his 300bpm walks at a recent concert practice. He put down a solid and reliable undercurrent, and played interesting solos, and fitted comfortably with Ed. This was a nice band, presumably put together for the night but very capable.

    The Sydney import in the second set was obviously awaited with anticipation by the CSM students. They have been saying for some time (in awe, it seemed to me) that Gerard Masters was coming for the next White Eagle session. This was no let down. It was a sublime performance by a piano master with an elite pair of offsiders. Gerard Masters has been selected to contest the Piano prize at this year’s Wangaratta Festival, and we could see why.

    The trio was Gerard Masters (piano), Cameron Undy (bass) and Dave Goodman (drums). Again, the music was mostly band originals by Gerard, but included one from Cameron’s sister, Fiona, and another by Sean Wayland. This was subtle and complex music. There was a good deal of swing at times, but it also had Euro elements; no II-Vs here. Gerard plays incredibly mobile interpretations of the harmonic structure. His substitute chordal work is constant, ongoing and convincing; sometimes hard-on soloing, other times gentle and intuitive. Cameron is also a master in this style. He could freely move over the fingerboard, but he’d play simply, then intersperce with incredibly fast and complex little runs. He’s a master of that fingerboard: fast and comfortable and always appropriate. And Dave was there with a big grin, and similarly relevant playing. Dave’s grin was a bit of a symbol for the band – they communicated well, enjoyed each others’ playing, and it showed. But to me, the defining issue was how they could portray the essence of a tune. They were not just running chords, but voicing the very character and meaning of the pieces they were playing. They are trained - that’s clear - but I was surprised by their young age and real musical maturity. These are guys to watch. Too bad about the poorly-tuned piano, but nothing in life is perfect.

    Both these concerts were recorded by Chris Deacon of ArtSound, so they should appear on radio in coming weeks.

    6 October 2006

    Big Band, Commercial Ensemble, whatever…

    I’m at a loss. I remember hearing the Recording Ensemble several times in the last few years, and thinking their music was contemplative, sublime and clearly my preference amongst the larger ensembles at the CSM. Then a few nights back, CSM Big Band and the Commercial Band performed together, and now I’m not so sure. The Big Band started off the show; how I loved the insistent swing of Basie and standards and the more modern styles like Bob Mintzer. Then the Commercial Ensemble showed; it blew us out with funky styles and hard, clamourous bop and pop.

    So, it was a great night at the Big Band Room at the Jazz School. There were lots of musicians on stage, and a good sized audience to view them, probably lots of friends and family. We were in for another night of big ensemble jazz. We’ve been lucky with these bands in Canberra recently – Bob Mintzer, Mothership, now this.

    John Mackey introduced the Big Band. As its leader/tutor, he’s moved the Big Band over recent years to more modern charts, and even managed to get Bob Mintzer over to lead a performance of his own charts just weeks back. This is a band of about 18 players at any one time (there are several changes during the night, esp on drums, bass and piano). The lineup is piano, bass, drums, guitar, 4xtrumpets, 5xsaxes/flutes, 4xtrombones, and vocals. On the night, the charts covered modern (including Bright lights, Original people and Latin dance by Bob Mintzer), the Basie-style Hayburner, L.O.V.E., a great old standard with vocals, and an original by Jenna Cave, an advanced student at the CSM who is composing some very interesting and mature tunes. There were good solos all around. Again, I found some hard to hear – there’s plenty of volume in such a large ensemble, especially when the rhythm section gets worked up, or the brass provides fills, and individual players can easily get lost. I loved the changing tonalities as lines moved between sweet flutes, sinuous saxes, smooth troms and spluttering trumpets, the real excitement in Latin dance, and the sublime swing in L.O.V.E. I must say, it was great to hear a voice, too. Madeline Hawkes always seems to fully commit herself to the tunes she sings - so much so that I even enjoyed Moondance, which is not a favourite of mine (otherwise, Madeline sings along with the trumpet lines as a member of that section). So by interval, I’d fallen in love with big band standards and swing again.

    Then the Commercial Band arrived. They are a smaller and more punchy affair. Eric Ajaye led on bass (Eric is also the leader/tutor), with drums, piano, guitar, vocals, 2xtrombone, 2xtrumpet, 1xtenor and 1xalto. This was fun, loud, pushy, funky. The band started with a hard-hitting version of Naima (you wouldn’t call this version “sublime”) and moved on to Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. This band had a singer too. Sophie Leslie sang Billy Joel’s New York state of mind, and later Boplicity. I’m not sure if the words of Boplicity were original, but they were fast. Otherwise, Sophie also sang horn lines. Then Eric introduced the David Letterman theme, and opined on the great musos playing for that show, followed by a 70s-style funk tune called Old School. So, slap bass, hot walks, screaming guitars and synth and horn solos. This was fun. By the end of the night, I’d changed my opinion again: I’d decided the commercial funk style was my favourite.

    One thing I noticed on the night was how effective were the female singers (Madeline and Sophie) singing lines with the trumpets. They gave a lovely sweet aspect to the harsher trumpet sounds, and they were surprisingly audible despite the volume of the trumpets. And, of course, how easily we forget the beauty of the voice, and how it makes music so much more personable – in other words, I loved hearing singing in this context.

    I don’t have all the names, but solos were played by a whole string of players on the night: James LeFevre (tenor), Luke Sweeting and Mike Azzopardi (piano), Sebastian Macintosh and Alistair Clark (trombone), Jono Apps (trumpet), Carl Morgan and Daniel Hunter (guitar), Michael Cleaver (alto), Ed Rodriguez (drums), Eric Ajaye (bass). (If I missed any solos, I apologise; just email me).

    So what’s my favourite of the CSM large ensembles now? Just at the moment, it’s the Commercial Ensemble, but that happens to also be the last one I’ve heard. So I can’t promise my preferences won’t change again after each performance at Moruya.

    The bands are playing at the Moruya and Wangaratta Festivals over coming weeks. So catch them if you can. They are wonderfully capable and entertaining ensembles.