31 December 2007

Black noted in Adelaide

It was a visit to Adelaide for Christmas, and a chance to catch up on jazz in my hometown. I’d checked the Net before the visit. There seemed to be plenty of jazz in Adelaide, but not much at the time I was around. But I’d found an informative site that listed a young band playing “bossa to cool jazz and hard bop”. The band was the Christian Weber Quartet although it performed on the night as a drummerless quintet.

The CWQ were young players with connections through jazz studies at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium: some were current students, others met there but were now further afield. They played a well-known set of charts (Blue bossa, Alone together, St Thomas, Softly, Song for my father, All the things you are, Bird’s strangely lighthearted My little suede shoes and obscure Segment, etc) with just a few originals in the final set. The two originals were by the guitarist and bassist, and were perfectly presentable. I would have liked more. Ross’s “I can’t believe it’s come to this” was in the standards tradition, and Quentin’s “Cruisin’” was laid back groove. Both were decent tunes, and worth the outing. The core of the band were capable, smooth swingers. Chris Weber (trumpet, flugelhorn), Quentin Angus (guitar) and Ross McHenry (bass). They played with restraint and gentle volume: Chris was lyrical with a sweet tone and frequent falls to flat fifths and sevenths; Quentin was typically jazz guitar smooth, capable and fluid. Ross interested me with his 6-string electric bass, some occasional slaps and thumb work, but mostly fast and melodic solo lines high on the neck. This was quiet music suitable for restaurants and cocktails and perhaps a little too laid back for the venue (but maybe I’m just displaying my preference for a bit of raunchy, hard swing).

The ring-ins were Matt Sheens (piano) and Patrick Thiele (trumpet). The two trumpeters had played together some time back at the Con, but Chris had gone to Japan for work, and Patrick had departed to Melbourne for further study. Patrick played much hotter and tougher than Chris, free from bar lines and root notes, and frequently and comfortably moving in and out of tonality. His intro to Autumn leaves at breakneck pace was clear evidence of his approach. I particularly liked Matt Sheens (piano). Piano is an orchestra in itself, so lends itself to rich ornamentation, harmony, invention. Matt was confident and free enough to sit in or out, reharmonise and move through discordances, play through extended atonal sequences, anticipate and otherwise mangle time, switch from chords to lines and back at will. I also enjoyed what seemed to me to be a rich sense of the history of piano, as he played in various styles. This was an impressive display from a current student, and he’s obviously someone to watch.

It was a disappointingly small audience, but I met several local jazz supporters. Ross Spain is a music writer and reviewer for the Australian Jazz Scene and the South Australian Jazz Archive. Yacek Szocinski of the Yacek Jazz Agency is the promoter of the Black Note Club. Chris (missed her surname) is on the committee of the longstanding Jazz Action Society in Adelaide. It was also interesting to hear news of the current course at the Adelaide Conservatorium and to compare notes on names from the past (Schmoe, Ted Nettlebeck, Ralph Franke, Hal Hall [all still around] and Dave Dallwitz and the Creole Room [sadly departed] were mentioned). There was also talk of a big band run by Mike Stewart, a teacher at the Con and the local Jazz Coordinator. They play monthly at one of the pubs around town, and sound like a local gem.
  • JazzAdelaide
  • AdelaideJazz
  • Elder Conservatorium
  • 22 December 2007

    Nice to get out again

    It’s nice to be out gigging. It’s been a long while between drinks, but I’ve managed a few gigs recently and there are good chances of more coming up. The pic is Trio Toucan playing a few days ago at JusQytly restaurant in Manuka. We got in a several originals along with better known Real Book tunes, so that was a double plus. Hopefully there’ll be many more gigs, but I’ll do my best to keep up CJ over the next year and promise not to feature my own bands too often.

    Please keep me informed of gigs for the CJCalendar, regular or one-offs, and if there are any budding authors out there, get in touch. I’m happy to publish articles and pics on jazz in Canberra and break the tedium of Eric’s ongoing musings. For now, have a great Christmas and New Year, and looking forward to another year for jazz in Canberra.

    15 December 2007

    Jazz can at UCan

    I particularly like it when I’m out and about and unexpectedly come on some nice jazz. It makes me feel the jazz scene is bigger and more invasive than I know of. I was out at the University of Canberra on Thursday and happened on Aron Lyon (guitar) playing with Sam Young (drums) and Gareth Hill (bass). It was just a short set as part of a celebration for the end of year. It may have been a throwaway set, with tunes like All blues, but it was not tame. The guitar was fluent and fierce at times. The bass gave some effective solos, and Sam was observant and responsive. It was also interesting to see that Aron was playing a guitar from a notable local luthier, Ray Berketa. Ray’s a nice and helpful guy and produces a magnificent product.
  • Berketa guitars
  • 13 December 2007

    ArtSound update

    Just got a message from Mike Champion at ArtSound, and he included a list of jazz-related programs on our great local community radio station. ArtSound transmits on FM 92.7 and also FM 90.3 in the Tuggeranong Valley. Keep up the great work.

  • Soundspace - 10am-noon, weekdays
  • The Music Works (mostly jazz) - 2-4pm, Sat
  • Jazz Made in Australia - 3-4pm, Wed
  • Swing Time - 4-5pm, Wed
  • Down in the Basement (mostly jazz) - 8-10pm, weekdays
  • Jazzwaves - 8-10pm, Sun
  • Jazz Nice’n Easy, Tom Parker, NY - 10pm-midnight Thurs
  • After Hours - Midnight-7am, Sun to Thurs

  • Chris Deacon also tells me they are planning on restarting live jazz broadcasts from their new studio in Manuka. Looking forward to it.

    Buttercuppin’ hoe-down

    Zoe brought her bumpkin Buttercups to town last night for a great night of whacky but intelligent, hick but danceable music. I’ve written of the CD recently, and many of the tunes were from that CD. This was a six-piece jazz-trained outfit, but playing across the styles of rockabilly, reggae and blues, but always with the tinge of the jazz influence, despite the ever-present 1-3 drum figures. I guess this is one of the options for where to take jazz in the new century. Whatever, it’s entertaining, infectious, and very different sounding. Perhaps the defining sound is the banjo, which brother Ben plays on most of the tracks. But Ben’s given it a strange twist, with this normally rhythmic and ostinato instrument played as solo modern jazz guitar. Weird, as it imparts a new choppy, staccato sound to a jazz guitar solo style. The drums are also key, with other brother James playing impeccably on the square 1-3 beats, and ably managing the growing intensities of rhythm section against solos. The sleazy front line of trombone and alto sax are perfect. John Hibard on trombone plays the part to perfection, with energetic gyrations on his lengthened instrument, and with the addition of a great rendition of the song from the CD. Dan Waples played perhaps the most jazz style on the night, but even so he seemed to forego wailing and screaming in a Coltranesque style, preferring an elegant, intellectual, probing style that to me was reminiscent of Chris Potter. There were several excellent blues solos from Aaron Flowers, who’s a guitarist of few but meticulously appropriate notes, and hot soloing by Ben ranging across rock and fusion styles when he did get on his guitar. Both guitarists played Telecasters, and the sounds were to die for. Zoe held it all together (in calling the tunes as well as on bass) and played a few of her own solos. She’s gloriously understated in her playing and always lyrical. Lovely stuff. It was a wonderfully quirky, joyful and entertaining night at the trying edge of the art.

    Zoe and the Buttercups were Zoe Hauptmann (bass, vocals), Aaron Flower (guitar), Ben Hauptmann (banjo, guitar), John Hibard (trombone, vocals), Dan Waples (alto sax), James Hauptmann (drums).

    6 December 2007

    Kingston’s funky these days

    Kingston is alive these days. Thursday nights on cool, calm evenings are no exception. I was down there for other reasons (so no camera and little time), but I caught the funky trio that plays each week at the Belgian Beer Cellar. The trio comprised that satisfying combination of Bill Williams and Ed Rodrigues, who we see so regularly playing around town these days, with a guitarist who was new to me, Andy Campbell. I’ve admired both Bill and Ed for some time, and written frequently of them here. This context was more blues-based funky than the laid back jazz they play here on Sunday afternoons. They did it proud. Bill is wonderful on the double bass with syncopated funk lines that would be more at home on electric. Not an easy ask but he plays it convincingly. Ed was his usual responsive self, but in this context more insistent and percussive. Nice stuff. Andy was a fitting partner in these surroundings. What I heard (just a few tunes) was blues-scalar lines (perfectly apt for this style) on a blond semi-acoustic with some nice chordal soloing thrown in. The place was lively and the clientele were largely ignoring the players, which allows you a nice, self-indulgent outing. I wish I had more time to listen. I didn’t have the camera with me either, so no pics. Andy Campbell (guitar) played with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

    5 December 2007

    Meeting of the generations

    Geoff Page’s 2007 jazz series ended with a meeting of young and old. Ross Clarke and Terry Wynn are jazz names with considerable history in Canberra. They played together at The Pendulum, an early modern jazz venue in a basement in Garema Place in the 60s and 70s, and have been local names ever since. The newer generations were represented by James Luke and Mark Sutton.

    The event got me musing on issues of changes in jazz. Most obviously, the experience of living through such years of jazz change, say from the mainstream of Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, to the modern of McCoy Tyner and the post bop of Benny Golson. All these composers featured in the concert, and they are so different although all members of a family. Also, the changes in education, from old school listening to new school academic training. And memories of old jazz clubs and touring solo artists and local house bands in clubs just like the Pendulum must have been. Individual international players don’t seem to tour that way these days. And specifically for me, memories of 70s Adelaide and the Creole Room, and local names including Geoff Kluke, Schmo and Ted Nettlebeck.

    It was an interesting concert with some great playing. Terry played a range of horns. He started on clarinet. It’s a workhorse from the past, but now relegated. Geoff Page mentioned it was the first time clarinet had appeared in 5 or so years of his jazz concerts, and this just confirmed the fact. Terry also played a range of saxes at various times: soprano, alto and tenor. Interestingly, I felt his tone on sax was reminiscent of the clarinet sounds that he started the night with. Ross played all styles, but I could feel the formative influences of the mainstream in his more modern playing. James excelled himself on the night, with simply structured but lyrical and expressive solos, good solid swing in backing, and a great, growling tone. This was very mature playing from the baby of the pack. Mark was responsive and aware and swinging, but came into new focus with the McCoy Tyner tunes. It was clear there was a real comfort with the Elvin Jones style.

    There were a range of styles. From a St Louis blues clone with a bass-played melody, through McCoy Tyner tunes, Contemplation and Changes, the standard Softly as a morning sunrise, Spyrogyra’s Shaker song, Benny Golson’s Killer Joe, Gershwin’s Soon and There’s a boat that’s leaving soon for NY, Oscar Peterson’s Smudge and Ray Brown’s Bam bam bam, and an encore of that beautiful ballad, The very thought of you. There were originals, too, presumably from Ross’s pen. He talked of influences leading to several compositions and it hinted to me again of the aural nature of the craft at the time. For instance, how he’d composed Flyaway after hearing snippets of a Dusty Springfield tune. I heard it as harmonically reminiscent of There will never be another you (not sure if Ross agrees).

    The band was Ross Clarke (piano), Terry Wynn (clarinet, saxes), James Luke (bass), Mark Sutton (drums). It was a good night for recollections, history and generational interaction and a suitable way to end another season of Geoff Page’s Jazz at the Gods. Listen to ArtSound for snippets from the recording of the night, and look out for Geoff's 2008 jazz series when it starts next year.

  • Brian Stewart's Photo gallery of this concert
  • 2 December 2007

    Out of Africa

    Simon Milman returned last Friday with project and a capable trio to carry it out. This was Bamako 3. B3 is an acoustic trio investigating African music and its influence, and how it has changed to produce the blues and jazz that we know. Simon called it an “African journey”. I was surprised to find it pretty folky and also to hear the banjo appear. I was little taken aback by a lack of drums, although there was strong and insistent rhythm. I wasn’t surprised to hear pretty clear hints of the musics we know as black and American. The trio started with a long, unison melody by all players, and finished in a similar vein. In between were several originals including two ragtime tunes. One (Furniture polish crawl) had Simon playing the melody with a slide on his acoustic bass guitar. The other (Gut bucket rag) started with the long unison melody and featured Jess playing a meditative solo against a drone backing. No more signifying was another original; its title amongst the band members (Led Zeppelin) was surprisingly apt and reminiscent of early and heavily blues-influenced Zep. By this time, Simon had changed from acoustic bass guitar to banjo. They also played several tunes by Ali Farka Touré. I missed the title of the earlier one, but it was simple and sweet and lyrical. The later one was City groove, which was again very melodic. AFT is a Malian playing at the “intersection of traditional Malian music and its North American cousin, the blues”, and the Malian tradition is the “DNA of the blues” (Wikipedia, article on Ali Farka Touré, 2 Dec 2007). Clearly stating the African descent theme, there was a 1932 blues tune by Skip James with vocals by Jess. The relationship was a bit more obscure with a tune from Tuva . Tuva is a republic in the south of Siberia and is noted for throat singing. Arne performed the strange, otherworldy singing style. B3 were called upon to perform an unexpected encore. Arne came to the rescue with an authentic southern blues number on vocals and guitar, I wish I was a catfish. It was appropriate as a reminder of the connections the band was seeking on the night. Bamako 3 are Simon Milman (acoustic bass guitar, banjo), Jess Green (guitar, vocals), Arne Hanna (guitar, vocals).

    BTW, this was my first visit to the Folkus Room. It's mostly a folk venue and not too salubrious as a club venue, but it's got one impressive sound system!

    24 November 2007

    Real estate jazz

    Some friends of mine were selling a house up the road, so Dirk and his crew appeared for the third time in recent years in my street. Dirk has a busy little sideline of playing in the lead up to house auctions around town, presumably most Saturdays. I guess it relaxes the bidders. It’s certainly a civilised twist to the event. Anyway, it was a short set of standards (rhythm changes in Bb, St Thomas and the like) and very nicely played. Solid, stable rhythms, some lovely, twisted sax lines, and an idiosyncratic, black-hatted presence amongst the house-buying bourgeoisie. Short but sweet. That is, until the guys had to pack up and rush off to the next auction. Who’d have thought Saturday mornings would be such a busy time for jazz players? Dirk Zeylmans (tenor sax) played with Graham Monger (guitar) and Phill Jenkins (bass).

    18 November 2007

    Zoe’s quirky Buttercups

    Zoe & the Buttercups CD review. I don't usually do reviews, but just for this once. Zoe's Buttercups are playing at Hippo's on 12 Dec. Guaranteed to be a quirky po-mo musical experience. Recommended.

    Listen to the last track and you’ll immediately recognise the humanity in this album. It’s alternately sweet and heavy, but it’s a Beatles heaviness. Not metal-heavy: this is joy and humanity talking. And it’s talking with the language of jazz, even if not in its dialect. The language of jazz because there’s the capability and sensibility of the player trained in improvisation and grooves. But the dialect is rockabilly, sometimes rock, sometimes country, only sometimes jazz, and then mainly in the solos. This is a challenge for the ears of the jazz lover, but bliss for the appreciator of the post-modern and indulgence. This is the Buttercups, and Zoe is our host.

    Mum told me of Dad’s advice to Zoe: “If you want to play music professionally, play country”. Well, Zoe has indulged the sense of beauty and intellect which is jazz, but here she has done the turnaround and taken Dad's advice. She’s now released a heavily country-influenced CD with support of various brothers and friends. All trained; all capable; so much more than just country. This is a challenge to all ears. Indulge; you’ll love it. But don’t ask: is it jazz. Whatever, it’s music, and from the heart and the intellect.

    But I have one note of concern. The one song on the otherwise instrumental album worries me: The creeps and the weezles. I can’t quite work out the philosophy and I’m not sure if I feel comfortable with it. Does it hint at nihilism and grunge superiority, or perhaps a tilt at an infestation of eco-rats? If it’s a chorus of us-and-them, I feel uncomfortable. We’ve had too much of that in recent years. I remain a little confused. Sad, as it’s so pretty in a ‘30s gothic cabaret style.

    But otherwise, this is fun, with solid rockabilly grooves, and style-bending but capable solos on guitar, sax, trom, and occasionally on bass by Zoe. I have various impressions. Pigly wigly hoe down is soooo well named. Sludge bucket is a genuine launch pad for duelling guitars. Boom is a cool '70s funk with trom counterpoint and solos. Miscellaneous madness is edgy (detective Clouseau gets serious) featuring Zoe’s bass soloing against horn lines. There’s a train may have an Ellington reference, but the beat on the 1-3 and the banjo picking make for a very hick swing. The swapped and collective solos make for a satisfying although quirky tune. Buttercupin’ is the name Dad suggested, presumably so long back. It’s a hot, lazy, Sunday-arvo cut-time with sax melody and banjo response (who would have dreamed that up?) then a heavy, slow swing on the bridge. Feral and bed (where does she get these titles?) is Woodstock riffs and degraded, AM audio, then an 11/4 riff with great solos on guitar (obviously brother Ben) and sax. I’m thinking: this album has complex and rich grooves, always interleaved and multilayered. Nice stuff! Belly full o’ whiskey is a very short but lovely duo of sax and trom: cute and rollicking. Then comes The creeps and weezles. I’ve told you of my concerns here: a perfectly good song, but dubious philosophy. Sinchl (what is that title?) is a heavy boogie beat that you could hear at the local blues club when the hottest players get on stage, but with a nice twist in the turnaround and melody. Bill Frisell is a serene acoustic guitar ballad in trio format, with a countrified bridge and an acoustic bass solo by Zoe. Wednesday is a final ballad but with another Beatles-heavy interlude. It’s a humane finish to the album.

    So is it jazz? It’s been asked, but is it an issue? How do we define jazz? Improvised music with a beat? Well trained musos who can play rhythm? Either way, Zoe and her Buttercups perfectly satisfy the bill. These are capable and groovy players who convince me, even if the beat is often on the 1-3 instead of the 2-4. I like it!

    Zoe’s Buttercups are: Zoe Hauptmann (acoustic bass, vocals), Ben Hauptmann (guitar, banjo), Aaron Flowers (guitar), John Hibbard (trombones), Dan Waples (sax), James Hauptmann (drums) with guest Steve Appel of King Curly (vocals on The creeps and the weezles).
  • Zoe Hauptmann on MySpace; listen to some tracks from this CD
  • Keith Penhallow's review for NJWC
  • 13 November 2007

    More from ArtSound (AS2)

  • Continued from…

  • After hearing the hot players from the school, Kooky Fandango are a more staid outfit, but entertaining and capable none the less. This is a bigger band, or at least slightly bigger and with the feeling and arrangements of a swing big band. There were harmony horns on heads and discrete solos from various band members. I liked the background horn lines and echoed melodies, and they were tight. The style mostly reminded me of 60s detective shows on TV with a heavy blues influence, but there was a latin in there too. They also had a singer, but she sang on only a few tunes in this short performance. Good to see that busy people with day jobs are prepared to invest the time required to maintain their chops and play in bands like this. Kooky Fandango also play around. They were at Moruya and performed coastal winery gig that weekend. My wife also heard them at Kingston markets the day after the Open Day. KF are Courtney Stark (vocals), Cameron Smith (trumpet), Tom Fell (alto sax), Nathan Sciberras (baritone sax), Peter Barta (bass), Donovan Gall (drums).

    Quantum Theory are a vehicle for original music composed by another batch of senior students from the Jazz School. This is a very different style from the earlier outfit: more cool and tempered, and the players are more restrained. These were stately melodies and gentle and subdued soloing. Dave plays lyrically on his solid-sounding (I’d guess heavily-strung) semi-acoustic guitar. Sebastian was new to me in a small group format. He played some tasteful melodies and solos, dissolving into some cascading tenor flourishes which were apt and expressive. Nice. The rhythm section is the local stalwart of Bill and Ed. As always, they swung with solid grooves and walks or played tenderly in a more free style with close responsiveness. They are a wonderfully satisfying pairing. Quantum Theory are Dave Rodriguez (guitar), Sebastian McIntosh (tenor sax), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

    Open at ArtSound (AS1)

    ArtSound ran its annual radiothon over the weekend. This year, the radiothon was dubbed “88 keys to happiness”. 88 keys; sounds familiar. ArtSound was collecting to fund its recent purchase of a new Yamaha grand piano (C6?) for its recording studio. I hear the sound of the Yamaha grand through $15,000 of Neumann mics is superb, so the studio just gets more attractive. Keep it in mind if you are seeking a moderately priced, professional studio with top mics and 48 channel digital tracking, pleasant surroundings and capable engineering. On the day, it was nice to see a solid level of support for the radiothon during the morning. And you can put your name to a piano key if you wish to be remembered.

    The radiothon featured an open day at ArtSound’s studios at the Manuka Arts Centre studios on Saturday. There was coffee, grog, snags, politician visits (it being an election campaign), and 5 bands playing live to air from the courtyard amongst switches back to the studio. As always, this was an interesting and very professional day run by the mostly volunteer staff of the station. We are lucky to have such a resource, especially as it’s so knowledgeable and supportive of the jazz scene in Canberra.

    I caught three bands of the five: James LeFevre Quintet and Quantum Theory, both from the Jazz School, and Kooky Fandango, made up of amateur players around town.

    James LeFevre played a similar set to that at Moruya. Well played, bluesy, entertaining, with a fine collection of players. They play a wonderful arrangement of a piece from Gary Bartz, Eastern Blues. This locates the music: rootsy 70s jazz-funk. Great stuff. It’s a style I love, and one that I reckon is eminently sellable. And the players do it so well. They set up and sustain grooves, but more involving is the way the develop intensity, from quiet and searching to raging solos, then sudden decays to almost subliminal. There’s a drum solo in Eastern Blues which says it all: instruments playing a unison line (common enough) supporting the solo, but arranged so the unison line changes time signatures and intensifies over the solo. The front line of tenor (sometimes baritone) and trom is a nice one, and the rhythm unit of acoustic/electric bass (Kane has a job with frequent changes), Evan’s excellent drums and Ben’s wonderful keyboard fills and choppy funky styles works a treat. A very entertaining and capable band with original arrangements and charts. James LeFevre (tenor, baritone sax) plays with Rob Lee (trombone), Kane Watters (electric, acoustic basses), Ben Foster (keyboard) and Evan Dorrian (drums).
  • ArtSound FM 92.7

  • More…
  • 11 November 2007

    Gently does it

    The members of the Julien Wilson trio performed recently at Wang, with and without Elana Stone, and then moved on up to Canberra and the Gods for a local performance. Julien Wilson (tenor) and Stephen Grant (accordion) were playing with Geoff Hughes (guitar). Geoff replaced Steve Magnussen, who popped off to Europe after his Wang gigs. Geoff had played at Wang on the Drunken Boat with Allan Browne.

    This was another drum- and bass-less gig at the Gods. The sax was airy and subtle. The accordion provided bass and melody lines as well as chordal washes. The sharp-sounding Spanish guitar provided solos, accompaniment and sometimes unison melody. The music was mostly original, but with a few latin-tinged versions of known tunes; their first tune was It might as well be spring. The aural atmosphere was more reminiscent of South American piazzas than French streets, which is the usual connotation of accordians and classical guitars. This was textured, soft, thoughtful music, and very well received by an audience which was larger than expected given this was the night of the Melbourne Cup. But I don’t imagine these types would have spent the afternoon grogging on at the racecourse.

    ArtSound was recording, so expect to hear snippets on radio.

    10 November 2007

    Sylvie's sidekicks (NJWC3)

    The third of CJ's three reviews for the National Jazz Writing Competition

    Gig review
    Sylvia Mitchell Trio
    Sylvia Mitchell (alto sax), Jess Green (guitar), Zoe Hauptmann (bass)
    Jazz at the Gods Café, ANU, Canberra
    7 August 2007
    537 words

    Canberra is a hidden gem in jazz in Australia. This was a night to savour the influence of the national capital, and especially of Canberra’s Jazz School, on the life of jazz in Australia. For these were three significant women of Australian jazz who played for a homecoming crowd at Geoff Page’s annual Jazz at the Gods series. They were billed as the Sylvia Mitchell Trio, but appeared on the night as Sylvie & the Sidekicks: Sylvia Mitchell (alto sax), Jess Green (guitar) and Zoe Hauptmann (bass). They are from slightly different eras in the life of the Jazz School: Sylvia followed her sidekicks by a few years. They are dispersed now: Jess and Zoe to Sydney; Sylvia moving from Melbourne to Sydney. Two (Jess and Zoe) have already released CDs of mirth and considerable compositional originality on the JazzGroove label, and now Sylvia is planning a release. So these are competent players, with educational connections and female pride to boot.

    From the top, it was smooth, melodically rich, harmonically complex and always rooted in the groove. Zoe’s the essence of the bassist: harmonically clear, driving grooves, fitting fills and falls. There were some solos, but her strength is in laying down that beat. In this, she’s a master. But the rhythm was greatly enriched by counterpoint from Jess’ guitar: small dissonant chords and note clumps, syncopated across Zoe’s backbeats. A rich tapestry of rhythm, and a full harmonic underlay for solos. So full and interpretive with just two players. On this bedrock was Sylvia’s horn. She’s younger than Zoe or Jess, and the lesser experience is evident, but there’s a full range, considerable chops to take on Bird bop, a good ear for musos like Dave Holland, wide experience, and compositional skills as well. In addition, Jess’ solos were wonderful, restrained explorations of consonant and frequently dissonant melody: truly beautiful and thoughtful. And she added the pleasure of a surprisingly satisfying voice: unexpected but gladly received. Voice is truly a messenger of the gods.

    The performance ranged widely. There were standards. Jess sang “What is this thing called love”. There was a guitar/bass duet on “Willow weep for me” featuring a Mingus-inspired gliss-full bass solo, and hard swing and fast unison lines on Monk’s “I mean you”. Sylvia selected Bird’s “Au privave” and “Confirmation”, but also “Four winds” and “African Lullaby” from Dave Holland. And there were some wonderfully capable original compositions. Jess provided several from her CD, “Singing fish”. Zoe gave us a riff-based tune called “Guts for garters” (“think of pirates and ghost ships”) with a dissonant, chromatic, Djangoesque cut time accompaniment by Jess. There were several tunes by Sylvia from her music to Geoff Page’s poetic theatre piece, “Drumming on water”.

    But perhaps the sound was the surprise for me for the night. Without drums, Zoe’s bass displayed its clear, sharp attack, and soft decay. Jess’ Fender thinline seduced with its woody throated tone filtered through Fender valve distortion. A perfect match for her Scofield sensibility. And Sylvia’s tone and range was equally discernable above the understory.

    Like their respectful presentation, this was not a manifest display of virtuosity. There was far more sincerity than that. That’s why it was so, so satisfying.
  • Previous photo-essay for this concert

  • BTW, the second place winner in the NJWC, Keith Penhallow, is a Canberran and also reviewed this concert. Read it on the NJWC site

    Impossibly simple (NJWC2)

    The second of CJ's three reviews for the National Jazz Writing Competition

    CD review
    Niels Rosendahl
    Impossibly simple
    Independent release by Niels Rosendahl, NCR001, February 2007
    323 words

    It’s wonderfully exciting to watch a young muso developing. Their first CD is an early statement of intent, and an opening to the wider world. Niels Rosendahl’s first CD is just this. But surprisingly mature. He’s a capable and well trained player, and one of the star students at the local Jazz School in Canberra. But he’s also got recent time in London and Edinburgh under his belt, and a great pack of graduates and staff to support him.

    Niels Rosendahl (tenor, soprano saxes) teams with the local trio of note, Straight Up!, comprising Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). Joining them on some tracks are Jonathon and Luke Apps (trumpets) and Anna Thompson (violin).

    Niels is perfectly capable of screaming, Coltranesque extravaganzas. A Jazz School exercise was to learn Trane’s Giant Steps solo in all keys. He’s renowned for playing it on request in F#. Impressive. But his post-graduate, scholarship year in the UK has calmed the student mania, so we now have a composed approach of gentleness and honesty although still with considerable energy. The support trio is known to be hot, but is also apt for this outing. Eric Ajaye has an LA background of recording and touring. We expect and get outstanding, expressive bass reminiscent of Buster Williams: all growling low action, fast fingers and frequent slides. Michael Azzopardi is a student in name, but a master in performance, and impresses here as always: ample harmonic fluidity, great technical proficiency and huge passion. Chris Thwaite accompanies with relative quiet, but true responsiveness.

    The compositions are all by Niels, and there’s a rich range, from the neo-bop “Penguins”, through modal, modern and latin to a ballad dedicated to soulmate “Carrie”. Not all tunes flow equally freely, but nonetheless they signal a capable composer. The sound of the CD is not spectacular, but it’s an impressive first album, and an omen of a young player to watch.

    Apoplexia (NJWC1)

    The first of CJ's three reviews for the National Jazz Writing Competition

    CD review
    Trio Apoplectic (CD title and band name)
    Dave Jackson (alto sax), Abel Cross (bass), Alex Masso (drums)
    JazzGroove, JGR036, (mastered) November 2006
    600 words

    Macquarie defines apoplexy as a “marked loss of bodily function due to cerebral haemorrhage”. A band that lays claim to such a title is obviously saying something to us. I’ve seen TA several times live, and I can confirm that the title fits. But their selftitled album is a much clearer and more understandable statement of this claim. Why a loss of bodily function? For me, it’s the indefinite nature of tonality and harmony that’s inherent in this stream of modern jazz. Trio Apoplectic are not the only ones doing this. Similar sounds come from people like Steve Coleman and Greg Osby and the history of this style dates at least from free and avantguard forms of the 60s. To hear it live is ecstatic and disorienting and an intellectual challenge. To hear it in a studio incarnation is clearer, more defined and usually more restrained. But also more comprehensible.

    Trio Apoplectic are Dave Jackson (alto sax), Abel Cross (bass) and Alex Masso (drums). The chordless trio is a key component of their style. It opens the harmonic structure, frees to the counterpoint of bass and sax, allows ambiguity in chordal movements. So the experience is not of an underlying chordal structure with superimposed melody and improvisations. This is far more malleable. Every note defines a relationship to each other note, and, with only two pitched parts, is open to multiple implied harmonies. It also frees each player for a front line role. There’s no longer a defined leader, or a clear player of heads, or someone who at any one time is soloing or supporting. Everyone takes the role, and pretty much all the time. If this is sounding like bodily malfunction to you, we’re on a common path. But in the style of the post-modern, in this malfunction hides beauty.

    The tunes are mostly original and confirm this appeal to our most investigative senses. They’re penned by Abel and Alex (bass and drums) but the compositions are varied and valid; not all riff or rhythm based as you may expect. “Dynamite” sets the scene for the album. It’s is a hard bop from the top, with sax lines stretching over bar lines, intriguing bass lines laying down harmony, but none too obviously, and capable and very pleasant sounding drums interpreting. This band can swing hard, always rhythmically obvious, but never chordally too evident. “Details of how to get APOPLECTIC on your licence plate” moves into the freer sphere: unison lines in the head, short hard swing segments and drum/sax and bass/percussion solos. “Windy” is more a bassist’s composition, with starter bass solo and a riff basis. “Firewaltz” is a Mal Waldron post-bop. “Skyblocks” is air and space and soundscape. “Boo Boo’s birthday” is a lesser-played Monk tune. It’s a basis for drum and bass solos, but otherwise relatively standard in these surroundings. “Cann River” is authentic free. Finishing, “Sunday arvo” is melancholic and sounds true to quiet, thoughtful times.

    Dave’s sax is mobile in extent and tuneful in expression. Overt, but never obvious. Abel’s bass is gloriously rich and searching in spelling the chords; again never predictable but always satisfying. Alex’s drumming as an object lesson in communicating with other players. And the openness of the chordless trio format allows beautiful, ringing sounds from all instruments. The recording is particularly satisfying for the sensuous clarity which highlights the serious purpose of the music.

    So, apoplectic? Loss of bodily functions? Yeah, at first sight it’s unclear, undefined, challenging. But listen with an open mind, and there’s a world of intent and a deeply thoughtful interplay: wonderful, modern, beauteous sounds.

    Watching the watchers (Wang 6)

  • Wang 5

  • Obviously CJ’s reports have featured the performers: it is a jazz festival, after all. Wangaratta is a festival for the top players, so it’s a passive event for many musos who would play at lesser events, and also for those who just love the art and attend to listen. The Festival Office told me there were 25,000 attendees at this festival. I wouldn’t have guessed that number, although Saturday was a busy day in town. Good to see so many people attending jazz, but it did have its down side. The obvious corollary were the queues. They were long for many of the key performances, and sometimes late comers didn’t get in.

    The prereserved seats were one answer. The festival pass cost $135, and you could prebook seats for certain high profile concerts for an additional $10 each. I found it was definitely worth it for Dave Holland, but not necessary for anything else. But it does avoid the queues and gives you prime, front- or second-row seats, where you can hear the stage sound, and take pics up close. But then, most of the reserved seats remained unfilled even after the gig started.

    The public event was in Ross Street which was closed off for a session of food and wine and free entertainment, and there were loads in attendance there. Good food & grog too, this being a famed region for wineries. The ANU Recording Ensemble played in this space, as did various school bands and other performers. I just caught one band playing popular big band jazz, but very capably.

    The late nighters congregated at the Hotel Pinsent for the jam sessions. I attended one night, but found it pretty predictable (all the standard blues and bop tunes) and too loud. But it was lively, and the beer went down easily at the end of the day. I heard plenty of people complaining of lack of sleep.

    ABC broadcasted several sessions from the Town Hall, so we got to put faces to several presenters we hear regularly on FM or RN. The print journos were there too. I met Peter Nelson (Advertiser, Australian), Roger Mitchell (Herald Sun), Jessica Nicholas (Age) and John Shand (Sydney Morning Herald). Amusingly, they were to review the festival in 450, 600 or 1,200 words. 450? Impossible, but that’s the editor’s limit. At least it’s good to see the Festival getting written up.

    As for the social side, I found it very friendly. Most people on the streets were there for jazz, and they were open and friendly, and you always had a topic for conversation: the latest gig or whatever. There was a considerable Canberra contingent, too. Given CJ’s Canberra-centricity, one thing I liked was the opportunity to hear Melbourne musos. We tend to get the Sydney contingent visiting Canberra, but Melbourne also has an active jazz scene to catch up on.

    The venues were huddled together within a few paces, which was good given the rain. But there will be a major change next year. The Town Hall is due to be demolished, and a new cultural centre should be under construction. Perhaps the sound will be better, but I dread the formality of a concert-hall-like venue. And just what will be the main venue for the 2008 festival, while construction is underway, is not advised. Perhaps a marquee.

    Accomodation is the other factor. The hotels and motels are booked out well ahead, and many stay in local towns and drive in. There’s also a home-stay on offer through the Festival Office. I took that, and got breakfast and a cumfy caravan within walking distance of the venues, at a cost well below that of a motel room. Also, it gives you an entrée to the locals, so it’s a sociable option, especially if the family doesn’t quite share your passions and decided to stay at home!

    9 November 2007

    And more (Wang 5)

  • Wang 4

  • You hear loads of music at a festival. I didn’t take notes so all I can give is some remaining impressions rekindled by looking at pics of the various outfits. Here are some of those favourite pics, and perhaps some short comments on the various outfits. Apologies to the worthy bands I missed, but you have to leave some for next time.

    Sean Wayland (piano) played a quartet set with James Muller (guitar), Matt Penman (bass) and Jochen Ruckert (drums). Sean is much respected, and I’ve heard at least one tune dedicated to him by other players. He’s now based in New York. This gig presented his NY trio with the addition of James Muller. Always a pleasure to hear guys like this. James is never a disappointment. Matt was a common sight on stage at this festival. It’s interesting watching players at this level, especially bassists. They don’t necessarily impress with chops, but more with style and substance. This was deceptively simple playing with real class.

    Dan Rader presented straight bop and post-bop using very competent players and led by a performer with a long history. The Quintet was Dan Rader (trumpet), Willow Neilson (tenor), Gerard Masters (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Tim Firth (drums). I was particularly taken by some more modern, out soloing by Gerard. Obviously, so was Don as he looked on with respect. Some originals and plenty of known tunes.

    Judy Bailey is a blast from my vinyl past. I’m sure I have an album from the 70s by JB. Capable, post bop playing in a trio with equally competent Craig Scott (bass) and Tim Firth (drums).

    Jex Saarelaht (piano) led a quartet with Julien Wilson (saxes), Sam Anning (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums).

    Julien Wilson (tenor sax) reappeared with Stephen Grant (accordion) and Steve Magnussen (guitar) in the Elana Stone (vocals) Quartet playing sea shanties and similar songs.

    Doug DeVries (classical guitar) played a solo session on nylon strung guitar in the local Holy Trinity Cathedral, and benefitted from the acoustics.

    At the more challenging end of the scale, Ren Walters (guitar), Chris Bekker (bass guitar), Niko Schauble (drums) appeared as Tip with guest Tony Hicks (sax). Tip is a improvisational trio for frameworks provided by Ren. Challenging, yes, and very addictive as complex emotions and interplay grow before your eyes. And the first electric bass I saw for the event. Good, solid, middy tone which matched the music well.

    The Pascal Schumacher Quartet featured all-Euro players: Pascal Schumacher (vibes), Jef Neve (piano), Christophe Devisscher (EUB=bass) and Jens Duppe (drums). This was a competent outfit playing original music, as I remember, with considerable variations in time signatures and grooves and quite a deal of arrangement. The grooves were in the Euro style, which always seems to me to be softer and less frantic than the US counterpart. I put it down to the influences of folk and classical music that are often so strong in Euro jazzers.

    Another Euro band was actually an international collaboration between Melbourne and Denmark: Jakob Dinesen-Eugene Ball Quartet. This one displayed more raunchy US-style rhythms and harmonies. Danes Jakob Dinesen (tenor) and Guffi Pallesen (bass) and Melbournites Eugene Ball (trumpet) and Rajiv Jayaweera (drums) have played together several times in recent years. I liked this more anglo style, with good hard swings and attractive ballads.

    Mark Isaacs (piano, composer) performed with James Muller (guitar), Matt Keegan (sax), Brett Hirst (bass) and Tim Firth (drums) as Resurgence. Mark is a significant Australian musician with considerable classical/jazz crossovers to his credit, having composed works for orchestra as well as playing with major jazz artists including Dave Holland and Roy Haynes. I found the music interesting in a fairly soft, arranged, Deodato style. Solos were mainly on one or two chord structures, and it was all done superbly professionally with excellent players.

    Gest8 (as in gestate): only a woman could lead a band with this name. And so it was. Gest8 played the final concert of the festival program on the Sunday night. Gest8 is a musical vehicle of Sandy Evans and Tony Gorman, with Sandy up front leading on stage. It involves some interesting, new, experimental sounds and approaches. As well as more traditional jazz instruments, there’s a koto player and a computerist cum programmer on stage. The computer (Mac, not PC) was obviously processing sounds with echo and the like in real time. Interesting, but only obvious to me on one trumpet solo passage. I was amused by the tune Kaleidoscope, which is more in a straight modern jazz style. It’s a melody overlay over the chords of Giant Steps, so now it seems we have Giant Steps changes to match Rhythm changes. Gest8 comprises Sandy Evans (tenor, sporano saxes), Paul Cutlan (saxes, bass clarinet), Phil Slater (trumpet), Satsuki Odamura (koto), Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Steve Elphick (bass), Simon Barker (drums), Greg White (computers), with compositions and shared leadership by Sandy and Tony Gorman. Interesting, often gentle, always fascinating, frequently experimental jazz.

  • Wang 6
  •