19 May 2007

Effects, anyone?

Last night’s White Eagle seemed a detour into the 21st Century and jazz as it is now: a melange of styles and sounds, with clear references back to jazz history, but with newer tonalities and technologies. I’ve asked on CJ poll whether there’s jazz after Bitches Brew. I was not surprised that everyone who answered, answered “Yes”. But I was surprised that so few people answered. The question was a bit of a joke for me, and presumably for those who didn’t bother to answer, but it’s still argued in conservative jazz circles. Jazz suffers from such internecine dischords. The trad/modern standoff still appears occasionally and the argument over electronic instruments is ongoing. But I’ll choose to sit this one out. I’ll just return to my M-Base Collective and Branford Marsalis and amuse myself thinking about how this White Eagle would have upset the conservatives.

Trident+1 started the night. Trident are a trio comprising Chris Thwaite (drums), James Luke (bass) and Lachlan Coventry (guitar). The +1 is Ben Marston (trumpet, flugelhorn). James described the style as “made up on the spot, with some jazz standards to meet up … sometimes”. This is definitely the approach. It’s loose and improvised, but they have achieved this open and responsive relationship through playing together for considerable time. The experience shows. The set comprised 3 extended improvisations. There were soundscapes and funk and reggae and one hard swing. There were processed sounds galore. I guessed octavers, autowahs or synths, choruses, reverbs and echoes on trumpet, bass and guitar, and there may have been others. There were mesmeric repetitive rhythm passages, mostly set by guitar or bass. There were loads of solos from all instruments, variously standard jazz styles or more impressionistic. There were squeels of whales from flugelhorn, and didjeridoos emanating from bass. And there were lovely calls back to the jazz and even pop forms with melodies that rose from the highly processed, rhythmic substructure: Alone together followed by Nica’s dream over reggae; Madonna’s Material girl with a coda of Weather Report’s Birdland; Mingus’ Nostalgia in Times Square. The floor was littered with effects. There were two PAs on stage for the instruments alone, as well as the obligatory stage PA. It all sounded highly processed, compressed, full and fat, like recorded music rather than simple, acoustic jazz.

Chris played fabulously in this format: richly changing rhythms; great counterpoint to more or less regular grooves of the other players; some excellent, accurate, clearly intentioned solos. James played a fretless 5-string Jazz bass, through masses of effects and into a PA for clear, sharp, full-range sounds. He played confidently, mimicked Zawinul-synths and didjerdoos and more, and played some lovely solos along with chords and harmonics at various other times. Lachlan was relatively traditional in this context: attractive and not overwhelming effects, and some crisp, clear jazz soloing. Ben set the scene with known melodies played with simplicity and conviction, but also dropped into impressionistic sounds and effected solos, and the first time I’ve heard octavered flugel. Great, confident and convincing playing all around.

Trident+1 are a fabulously involving and developed outfit playing the highest level of groove-infected, culturally-inclusive music with a jazz sensibility. Trident play every Tuesday night at Trinity Bar in Dickson. Catch them!

The second band was a less processed and took a more standard modern jazz approach, but still displayed frequent effects on sax and bass. And it also featured electric bass (another one to upset the conservatives). The band was the Matt Keegan Trio out of Sydney’s JazzGroove stable: Matt Keegan (tenor sax), Cameron Undy (electric bass) and Dave Goodman (drums). The trio played original music in the modern jazz idiom, with frequent blues or funk feels, and some monster unison lines.

Matt mostly plays a considered, calm and melodic style with clear intentions and a considerable exploration of dissonance. On the other hand, he loosened up and played excitedly on the later tunes on the night, and also played with a range of effects on various tunes throughout the night. Cameron is a frequent visitor to Canberra, being a product of the town and the Jazz school. He plays with a strangely wooden tone on a 5-string electric bass: more woody than crystal clear; very satisfying on fast funky patterns and occasional blistering solos. I found it interesting to hear the way Cameron dug into the strings with strong double bass-strengthened fingers. It made for a very different and more traditional sound than James’ in Trident (although James also plays double bass). I was also interested to notice how much a statement of the underlying rhythm was Cameron’s soloistic style. It’s not unusual in bassists; I noticed a similar approach by Zoe Hauptman. Dave played a strong, steady and definitive role in this band along with a busy, satisfying solo later in the night. The band lifted for the last few tunes, when Cameron rose from his seat, and the energy level was turned up a notch. So, a strong and competent modern jazz outfit.

  • Matt Keegan's website
  • 11 May 2007

    Open mic - influential albums

    What are your favourite or most influential albums? CJ’s “Open mic” is a chance for you to write for CJ. Just add a comment below. Tell us your 2 or 3 favourite jazz albums and give us a short blurb on why they are important to you. Make it as long or short as you like. If you are a muso, tell us what you play. You can write as anonymous, but I’d prefer your first name. Over to you.

    9 May 2007

    Europe visits via Melbourne

    Melbourne has imported a few big names for its recent Jazz Festivals, and it’s having an effect on the rest of Australia as these names go on tour. Most of them don’t reach Canberra, but we had Herbie Hancock recently, and last night we heard the Jens Winther European Quintet as the European, or perhaps Scandinavian, contingent. Jens is not a big-name drawcard like Herbie, so (instead of the Canberra Theatre) he performed at the Jazz School for a lot less money. That’s sad, but an opportunity for those who did attend. While the names are not so well known, the performance was spectacular. So thanks go to Miroslav Bukovsky for his efforts to bring them here. This was a great night of jazz in the 50s/60s tradition of Miles and post bop, held in a club-like venue for a small group of students and jazz afficionadoes.

    The line-up of the band was standard for the style: Jens Winther (trumpet), Thomas Franck (tenor sax), Ben Besiakov (piano), Jonas Westergaard (bass), Dejan Terzic (drums). The quintet played two sets, and I noticed how each started on a high with a hard bop melody introducing the set. But this was a night of open, exploratory change. The music was written to some degree, but the players took every opportunity for improvisation and variation. Jens and Thomas, especially, led each solo through huge variations: restrained, pensive, hard swing, free. I also noticed how the rhythm section would also change to follow the soloists. At various times, bass, drums and piano sat out for extended passages, so the tonality of the mix was continually changing. At one stage, we heard an unusual combination of piano, bass and trumpet when drums sat out. Otherwise, piano often sat out, leaving a trio format. At one stage, trumpet played alone, or at least with the help of vibrating piano strings, as Jens played directly into the body of the grand piano, and we could hear the resonances in the otherwise deathly quiet and attentive room.

    All were highly competent musicians. I felt both the front line players, Jens on trumpet and Thomas on tenor, played highly developed bop styles, with clear intentions and interesting melodic ideas. There were calls and response between the front-liners, and several sessions of swapping fours and shorter passages. There were beautiful harmonies when they each held long, pure notes. They were fast but not blinding, although they often enough dropped into flourishes or faster passages. But this was considered playing, and thus melodically and harmonically exploratory. The rhythm section was solid and mobile in its interaction with the front line. I particularly liked Ben on piano. His comping seemed more classically-influenced, as I (perhaps ignorantly) expect from European musicians. I loved hearing some long, long lines of ascending or descending backing chords on quarter notes. Ben didn’t play too many solos, but what he played was rich in the way only piano can be: in style, in complex and substituted harmony, in melody. He was also lucky to have a gorgeous piano sound from a Yamaha Grand in the band room. (I noticed later it was one of those pianos with full midi implementation. Perhaps this is the very piano I saw in the National Library playing Oscar Peterson a few years ago, where it seemed a ghost was playing as the piano keys and pedals moved, pianola-like).

    The band played two sets over several hours, but there were only 6 or 7 tunes (including a few medleys), so each tune was long, and quite a journey. The tunes were mostly originals. The first was Mercury from Jens’ CD called the Planets and influenced by the Holst work of the same name. This started as a hard bop piece, but like all tunes, metamorphosed through various other styles. I missed the other titles, but there was a lovely original 32-bar ballad by Jens, and a lively post bop blues. As for non-originals, there was Body and Soul during the body of the concert, and a final jam where Miroslav Bukovsky and John Mackay joined in for a sometimes frantic blow on Footprints.

    Again, Chris Deacon recorded the session for ArtSound, so listen out for this over coming weeks. This was an excellent evening of modern acoustic jazz, with a strong influence of Miles and his fellow travellers from the 50s/60s era. Thanks go especially to Miroslav for bringing this excellent band to Canberra, and for the quote of the night: “Drive safely, and if you come to a fork in the road, take it”.