31 March 2007

Aron’s trio out for Harvest

I caught Aron Lyon and his trio playing at Mount Majura Vineyard for the Wine Harvest Festival. The day was fine and sunny and the wine was good (I had the Pinot and enjoyed it). And I enjoyed the music. The Aron Lyons Trio is Aron Lyon (guitar), Gareth Hill (bass) and Ben Braithwaite (drums). They are all stalwarts around town and graduates from the Jazz School. There were some environmental contrasts at times, as a tractor passed behind the band, or a plane flew low to land at the local Canberra “International” Airport. But mostly it was a lovely, relaxed style of standards, with a quiet, late-night intensity, played to a coterie of amateur wine tasters.

Aron told me how he enjoys returning to the jazz standards after venturing into R&B and other styles. And he does standards so well. These were richly interpreted, intuitive renderings with complex substitute harmonies and inventive melodies. He often strayed well away from the tune, but there was always a hint of the underlying structure, and always a natural return when he chose it. And the rest of the band was equally strong and comfortable behind him. Gareth moved easily with the Aron’s changes. I chatted with Gareth too, and he was also talking of opening his mind to the music and the rest of the band; how it’s an intuitive rather than logical process when it’s well played. Gareth and Ben formed an unwavering rhythm section in calypso and swing styles, and they each soloed in most tunes. Gareth was fast and comfortable across the full length of the fingerboard with displayed great dexterity and interest. Ben mostly traded 8s, and did one longer solo towards the end.

I only caught a few sets, and these were of the standard repertoire: St Thomas, Foggy day, Straight no chaser, Stella by starlight and the like. But they were so comfortably played and in such an intelligent and inventive manner. Really an excellent aural backdrop for a very nice viticultural drop!

Sound as art

Excuse the indulgence. Here's an arty pic I took today of the brass section of the Stanhope Concert Band at the Canberra Grammar School fete. Not strictly modern jazz, but musical nonetheless.

18 March 2007

Tico for two

It was an autumn afternoon, hinting at cooler weather to come, but still and lovely in the beer garden at the George Harcourt Inn. GHI has jazz 3-6pm each Sunday afternoon, and seems to have bands booked for throughout winter (a good sign). There was a largish, relaxed audience, and the band today was Tico Tico.

Tico Tico is the duet made up of long-term local musicians with a history at the jazz school with several albums behind them. Tico Tico are Cecilia Kemezys (vocals, flute) and Stephen J Scott (guitar) accompanied by midi drums and bass. The bass and drums were pretty tame, but the performance by the real players was very satisfying, and at times exciting.

Exciting is a strange word to use for a very pleasant, mainstream duo, but the musicianship was exemplary, and the solos were frequently impressive, and much more investigative than this style of performance would otherwise suggest. These are a competent pair. They have travelled in Central/South America, and recorded CDs under the influence of this genuine latin music. They have worked on a daily basis in 5-star international hotels overseas. So we could expect considerable professionalism and expertise. We got it.

Cecilia sings with a pure, clean voice, but I also heard an occasional growl. Her pitch is good, her vibrato is satisfying and not overdone, and her singing is multilingual (Spanish I guess, but perhaps Portuguese). She also plays a mean flute, melodically and soloistically. Stephen is a hidden local guitar master. His solos were rich with substitutions, fast and clean, and varied in interval structures. So, despite the workmanlike backing, it was a very pleasing performance, and even exciting at times when a solo lifted it beyond entertainment.

The repertoire covered latin (genuine latin, influenced at the source, and sung in the original language), standards, popular tunes, and the like. Titles included Have you met Miss Jones, My baby just cares for me (dedicated to Bronwyn Bishop?), Perhaps perhaps perhaps, What a wonderful world, Beautiful love, The two of us, Jobim’s Agua De Beber, and the like. So, this was nice, pleasant stuff for a warm beer garden afternoon, and excellently done.

Tico Tico are playing at the George Harcourt Inn on the third Sunday of each month. Free entrance, interesting beers on tap.
  • Cecilia & Stephen's website
  • 16 March 2007

    Niels & Greg

    It was another excellent night at White Eagle. It’s really turning into a great performance outlet for intriguing, challenging modern jazz forms. This night had two parts. First was the launch of a CD by Niels Rosendahl, one of our most capable recent students and now an international export. And a very different performance in a groove-based, fusion style by Greg Stott’s band.

    Niels Rosendahl presented the CD launch. The band was virtually the same as that which appears on the CD: Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax), Michael Azzopardi (piano), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums), joined on odd tunes by Anna Thompson (violin) and Jono Apps (trumpet). The CD adds Jonno’s brother, Luke Apps (trumpet) on one track. Niels played six tracks from the CD. They were all quality compositions, in a variety of modern acoustic jazz forms, ballad, latin, straightahead post-bop and the like.

    Niels’ soloing displays a mature melodic intent these days. Solos seem to grow naturally from the underlying tune, rather than being forced over the top of a chord progression. It’s not surprising that his writing is also strong: melodic, unforced, satisfying. So his playing shows beautiful and fitting melodies with lovely use of intervals; flourishes and fast passages which are not infrequent but never forced; full use of the range and tonality of the instrument. In summary, it was a polished performance with considerable musical depth.

    Michael played piano, rather than keyboard, in this context. It was rich and varied and inventive, as we always expect of him. Michael is always harmonically mobile, and his backing harmonies enrich the music no end. Eric is a master, defining and playing with grooves or laying down a fast, rock-solid walk, or soloing with real intimacy and relevance. Chris listens intently and interacts richly with the other players. He seems to set up a rhythmic and percussive sound scape in support of the others, but also solos freely on his own behalf. Anna joined in on two tunes, one where she plays response to Niels’ call. Violin is not a common jazz instrument, but she plays with a jazz sensibility, and it’s hard to avoid reminiscences of Jean-Luc Ponty, especially given her effected tone. Jono joined for a good, solid latin tune, where one or more trumpets was a necessity. It fitted fabulously, created an infectiously danceable salsa beat, and played a good solo to boot.

    I bought the CD. First impressions are very positive. I’ve been immediately impressed by the maturity of both the composition and performance, the good sound, and the general competence all round. Apparently, copies will be available from Abels, or you can contact Niels through his MySpace site. BTW, Niels is returns to London in a few days.

    The second set of the night was very different. Greg Stott is a jazz graduate, and is involved in the music training at the Jazz School and TAFE. He’s impressed me immensely in the past, so I was looking forward to this show with anticipation.

    Greg Stott (guitar) led a band comprising John Mackey (tenor sax), Wayne Kelly (keyboards), Jason Varlet (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums). From the start it was full on, fast, capable and fun. The tunes were challenging. The blowing passages and the underlying rhythms were repetitive, but I find that’s the nature of this style. But the playing was supremely competent and the tunes themselves had interesting and well-played heads. This was a first gig of this combination with this music, so the sharp performance was doubly impressive. The tunes were all originals by Greg, including one very altered version of Ellington’s Caravan which still displayed some well-hidden evidence of its ancestry. I loved the title: Campervan. There was one tune that sounded to me like nothing less than a country-blues waltz (although a very sophisticated version). I heard Metheny melodies and West-Coast sounds in there, too.

    The musicianship was of the highest order. Greg plays fast lines which generally seemed diatonic, but with variation and interest, and a sweet, pure Strat sound. John played his normal style of intensive solo, although I thought it was a bit less discordant than usual. Interestingly, when I started hearing some more discordant sounds, it seemed to me the band lifted and interacted more. Jason played fast, solidly and proudly on bass, using the whole panoply of modern electric bass styles (slaps, fingerwork, chords). His sound was great, too. His Warwick bass growled with a fat, middly sound and a clear top end twang. I could understand why Jack Bruce played the Cream comeback with a custom Warwick: it’s very much a modern version of the Gibson e-bass sounds of the sixties. Wayne soloed and backed with his normal panache and ease in groove styles. Mark played his role well, as he always does, although his parts were pretty simple and repetitive, but that's what this music calls for.

    So there was great playing all around and it was obvious that it was well received by lots of musos and others on the night. They clearly are wonderfully competent players, do fusion fabulously well and play solid original tunes. Fusion's not my cup of tea but this is well done, so don’t miss an opportunity to hear them.
  • Niels Rosendahl on MySpace
  • Greg Stott on MySpace
  • 15 March 2007

    Hot jammin’

    It was the local mates out for a straightforward, hot jam session at Hippo’s. Not as competitive as the mythical cutting sessions of old, but it was intense. Lots of solos were passed around, and the fact that I only noted 5 tunes in two sets hints at the type of event it was. Lots of fun, lots of flash, and an opportunity to loosen up and play hard.

    The Miroslav Bukovsky band was advertised as a quintet, but ended up as a septet on the night. Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn) led, with John Mackey (tenor sax), Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax), Michael Azzopardi (piano/keyboards), Carl Morgan (guitar), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums). I’ve written on all these players before in CJ, so little more to add. I noticed Eric’s machine gun fingers dividing the beat and enriching the groove, and Chris playing a similar role with stabs and fills on snare and toms. John and Michael both remain resolutely manic and harmonically inventive (and we love them for it!). Michael plays a very mobile keyboard sound, continually changing tones and modulating notes, with piano morphing to synth or organ amidst a stream of substituted chords. John’s always just simply flat out, playing fascinating, complex, rich lines with immense intensity. In this context, and recently since his European sojourn, Niels was less frenzied and more composed. So much so that at one stage, I realised Footsteps had slipped into a reggae feel! And Miroslav and Carl were both there with breakout speed on bop and modern lines. Each player impresses in his own way. Their displays are all in individual styles and at a high musical level.

    They saw me coming

    Just 5 tunes? Perhaps there were six and I missed the count, but Footsteps was definitely approaching 30 mins. John’s fast bop-style Pantano Drive was much longer than on his CD, and Bronte Café was also much extended. The others were a latin and an earthy, flowing tune with Eric playing a growly bass reminiscent of Buster Williams.

    Oliver and Paik. Ollie studies sax at the Jazz School

    As I said before, it was the cream of local jazz talent out for the night on the town.

    10 March 2007

    Names index for CJ Blog

    CJ Blog now has an index of musicians' and band names. Look in the right hand column of the CJ Blog under "Labels".

    I've listed each musician who appears in a blog post, and also each band except where the band's name is just "Jo Bloggs Trio" or similar. In standard library practice, I've ignored articles at the start of names, eg, The, A, An. There's a limit to the length of Blogger's labels field, so I've had to ignore many names in posts for jazz festivals. For these, I've added the label "Taglimit". I've also included a label for "White Eagle".

    If you're a local modern jazz muso and you're not listed here, invite me to a gig for a review.

    8 March 2007

    The intimacy which is voice

    Singing is not central to my experience of jazz. Most jazz I hear is instrumental, and I don’t know jazz singers too well. But I’ve been singing in a choir in recent years, and I’ve found a love of the voice (if not a love of my own voice). It’s taught me the elemental and physical pleasure of voice; the way it’s intimately experienced, in a way that an instrument just isn’t. In recent days, I’ve been listening to the vocal gymnastics of Kurt Elling, and thinking back on some excellent performances by tenor player Jamie Oehlers, a fellow winner of a prestigious award at Montreux, so I was looking forward to Kristen Berardi with considerable anticipation.

    Some background. Kristen is from Queensland, but now has a Canberra connection as the vocal teacher at the Jazz School. She also has had lots of success in singing, including winning the Shure vocal competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006 along with various local awards, including Wangaratta. So I was expecting a very capable singer. What I got was an imposing singer, but also an adroit, if subtle, band leader and a composer to boot.

    The band was Kristen Berardi (vocals), James Muller (guitar), Mike Majkowski (bass), Hamish Stuart (drums) and David Theak (tenor sax). The tunes were a mix of standards, latins and ballads (Jobim’s Day in the life of a fool, Just squeeze me, even Bill Bailey) and originals by Kristen. So that’s my first discovery: she’s an able songwriter.

    But I was mainly there for her singing. Kristen intones beautifully but also plays freely with time and harmonies. So this is sinuous, mobile and intriguing singing. Her vocal quality reminded me of West Coast USA, perhaps Ricki Lee Jones or Maria Maldaur, but much more complex and sophisticated. Not bluesy or gravelly, but pure, sometimes sweet, and always lithe and controlled. She would sing lines like a sax, anticipate melodies like a pianist. A masterful performance.

    But how was she a capable band leader? Let’s face it, guys, the women are pretty subtle in the art of leadership. Kristen was just one example. She urged her band with her broad smile, controlled movements of the structure with simple waves of a hand or inflections of the voice, interpreted sounds with small dancing movements, and led from the front with supple melodies and inventive vocal solos.

    Kristen Berardi & David Theak

    The rhythm section suited well. No-one can get too much of James Muller; enough said! He displayed his incredible exploratory flair throughout the night (where does he dredge up those discordant chordal substitutions from? wondrous!), although I found him a little more restrained in this small group format. Mike Majkowski was loud and solid and pushing. Hamish Stuart supported well and played several great solos. A drummer friend commented that his sound is superbly balanced between drums and cymbals. I thought there was a lively roughness about the bass/drums combination at times. It was more manic energy than civilised restraint, and quite in contrast with James’ cool, inventive precision. David Theak displayed some of this lively roughness, too. I heard his solos as ebullient and hectic, rather than flowing, and they displayed both diatonic and frequent outside passages. I was blown out by some fabulously accurate unison and harmony lines by David and Kristen. It displayed such precision and was so interesting. Just proof of the pair’s shared accuracy of intonation and interpretation. And so it should be, I guess: Kristen told me later that they are married.

    In summary, an entertaining but interesting night of vocal jazz at Hippo’s.

  • Kristen's MySpace site

  • BTW, if you've got this far, I'll congratulate you. But you can also congratulate me. This is post no. 100 for the CJ blog. Eric