23 August 2008

Vertical, but laid back

Eric Ajaye returned to ArtSound last night with his new trio, Vertical.

I wondered if the name was a hint at Eric’s previous trio, Straight Up. But it’s really quite a different style from his last trio, despite featuring two common players: Eric and Chris Thwaite. Being a piano trio, the pianist will hugely influence the sound and approach of the band, and so it was. Paul dalBroi is the pianist and his style is deliberate and cerebral and investigative and exact, with sharp playing developing to long lines of crystal clear intention and very satisfying dissonance. He also provided several reharmonisations of more or less recent popular tunes, and this seemed fitting. Bernstein’s West Side Story classic, One hand one heart, was not unexpected, or even Singing in the rain. But Cyndi Lauper’s True colours and Raindrops keep falling on my head suggested an ability to hear possibilities. Like Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau and Bad Plus and others who have trawled the recent pop repertoire. (Has anyone done silverchair or Natalie Imbruglia at Moruya? We did Teen spirit two years ago.) And his reharmonisations turned obvious melodies and chords into interesting exercises.

Eric and Chris were impressive, too. Eric’s our greatly respected local bassist with the international pedigree. He plays with a very gentle and subtle tone that occasionally hints at a midrange edge, slides and chords frequently, intones with wonderful precision, and there’s an authority and majesty in his playing. I was taken aback by some scale fragments played as continuous slides that just seemed so perfect in time and intonation, and yet so hard to do. He played several solo passages to introduce tunes, and these were lovely low-down statements. His walks are mellifluous, and his solos strong and clear. Chris always seems to me the perfect rhythm accompanist. Always aware, always responsive, always appropriate, never intrusive. He took a few solos, but it was his brush work that seemed his most natural expression, and so fitting in this context.

I’ve mentioned various popular tunes above, but the band also plays originals. One tune each were claimed for Eric and Paul, but there were several others for which no provenance was mentioned.

This was the first performance of this band, and it bodes well. They will be performing at the Moruya Jazz Festival and a local conservatorium this year, and are presumably targeting the festival circuit for next year. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to watching another excellent trio develop.

Vertical are Paul dalBroi (piano), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums)

Intrigue and process

The Matt Keegan Trio were on tour for the release of their third CD, Tone imagination, when they appeared at Hippo last week. There was a small crowd, but it was unusually quiet and appreciative and it seemed to be made up mostly of musicians. The quiet was not really necessary because this was an electric performance, and not too sedate, but the attention is always welcomed. I found the music a strangely insistent and attractive style, challenging to the broad drift of jazz as I mostly hear it and somewhat in a class of its own. I’d heard a track on ArtSound some days before, and it was strangely commanding. So what was different?

This was a sax trio; sax trios have a certain character, but that’s not particularly unusual. The bass was electric, but again that’s not so rare. Perhaps it was the effects on both bass, and interestingly, sax. The processed effect seemed to give a finalised nature to the music, as if directly from the studio. To me, Matt’s sax lines seemed to have a related effect. He plays with intense concentration and deliberate purpose. His tone is big and smooth and his notes are well-considered. There’s a reticence to indulge chops, and the tonal characteristics of the processed tone he toys with just seemed to emphasise this. Cameron was also using effects at times, but he was more notable for his intense busy-ness. To me, it’s his bass that defines the tunes and sets the environment, and his ability to play busy and rich are a key component of the sound. His playing is anything but circumspect, although wonderfully capable. He’s an underlying avalanche of softly wooden tonality. He plays with frequent chords, extended structures, even occasional strums, and his left hand forms itself with double bass training. Dave accompanies with finesse and defines time with a thumpingly clear thud of kick drum and lovely tone all round on his Sonor kit. Fittingly, given the nature of the band, I remember two solos as particularly notable. Both held the audience entranced. One was softly spoken and using his hands; another was unrestrained and explosive. The tunes they played were presumably all originals, so comparisons again are unavailable.

So I’m left thinking of the night as a singular but strangely compelling experience. An amalgam of rhythmic density and considered melody; a complex and processed sound; an intriguing relationship of sound and presence.

Matt Keegan (tenor sax) played with Cameron Undy (electric bass) and Dave Goodman (drums).

17 August 2008

Slower cooking, many cooks

Joe Lloyd’s Quartet appeared as host band at a very busy Jazz@Folkus jam session this weekend. Busy with an array of different players, and sadly even a band that didn’t make it on. Very honourable of Cam who runs the show, because it was his band that missed out. The turnout was nothing special this week, so come to support Folkus so we maintain this open session.

Joe set the scene with a wonderful set that took us back to the early 60s and shades of Coltrane through a series of original compositions. Joe presented three movements of a suite he is writing, and which we may expect to hear recorded sometime next year, as well as Slow cooker, a response to the John Mackey tune, Pressure cooker. I could hear Trane in Joe’s phrasing and sense of dissonance, but apparently his major influence is Kenny Garrett. Luke accompanied with a matching style of the era: I heard phrasing and fourth chords reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, so the image was set. Hannah was strong on bass lines and steady rhythms, and even led with some melodic playing at one time, and joined Luke for some interesting duo passages. Matt was solid and responsive and occasionally explosive. He obviously enjoyed these outbursts, and I noticed several smiles on his face with the more brash crashes. Matt also provided two tunes which fitted neatly in style and presence with Joe’s, one called River and the other called Fleeting. Truly an agreeable set, and one which set a demanding level of performance for others to match.

Round Midnight followed. RM are a pair of players from Bateman’s Bay: Ian (missed his surname) on guitar, and Keith Joliffe on bass. I know Keith through emails as one of the organising committee for the Moruya Jazz Festival. RM played a set of jazz and popular standards with midi accompaniment. Nice to have out of town visitors.

Anton Wurzer followed with three tunes. Anton is a wonderfully competent piano accordion player. Now, that’s not an instrument you expect at a jazz session, but Anton has been a student at the Jazz school, and plays a truly solid, inventive, occasionally out style of playing. There’s always the hint of bandenonean and French street scapes, and the tonality of a piano accordion seems a bit thin to me, but he plays fabulously rich interpretations of the standards repertoire with rock solid rhythms, and even sat in comfortably on a Wayne Shorter blow later in the day. Anton is a powerful, solid, inventive player, even if on a jazz instrument of less common stature. Check him out. Highly recommended!

My jazz band Toucani got to present four tunes, all originals. We played pretty well, and better than last time, but still can develop. But I’m proud that we can do whole sets of original compositions of some interest and complexity. Daniel wrote two: a solid post-bop piece, That call, and straight eight, Bill Evans style, Maxim. I debuted a piece which is to be played very tongue in cheek, Snakes alive, and we played a favourite of mine in 5/4, Fifty four. All a bit rushed and unsettled, but OK.

The day ended with a short blow. Joe Lloyd and crew were the mainstay for a blues with Anton. Next was Blue bossa with Hugh Deacon sitting in on drums, Daniel Wild on piano, and Eric Pozza playing acoustic bass (my first public performance on the big bass ... thanks again, Hannah). Next I suggested Wayne Shorter’s Prince of darkness, and it went off a fast post-bop treat. To end, Hannah and Luke returned for a final tune.

It was a pleasant outing with some very interesting music at times, and a great range of styles. Get along, and support Jazz@Folkus on the third Saturday of each month. Free for musos.

Joe Lloyd Quartet comprised Joe Lloyd (alto sax), Luke Sweeting (piano), Hannah James (bass), Matt Sykes (drums). Round Midnight comprised Ian … (guitar) and Keith Joliffe (bass). Anton Wurzer played piano accordian. Toucani comprised John Baczinski (tenor sax), Daniel Wild (Piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums). Hugh Deacon sat in on the jam.

16 August 2008

A project with strings attached

The studio was too full with seven players, so I ended up listening to the Sally Greenaway Project from home when SG and her crew played for ArtSound’s last Friday Night Live. The signal’s good at my place, and I listen with some classic studio monitors, but it’s not quite the same as being there. In fact, this loss of immediacy, despite the professional-level gear, is an eye-opener. Just proof of the magic of live music (and theatre … and life, really).

Sally is fresh from her composing/arranging win at the National Big Band Composition Competition, where she wrote for the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, and led the orchestra in performance on ABCFM. So I expected a night of fresh compositions. What surprised me was the depth of writing talent in the room. The tunes were originals except ones by Stefon Harris (Sally is a fan of SH), somewhat unexpectedly, by Grieg and Tom Waits, and another I didn't catch. Niels, Raf and Marie each provided two tunes, very interesting and capable ones at that, and presumably Sally penned the others. Niels’ were moody and passionate; I remember one of Raf’s as pretty free and challenging at the start, then blues influenced but still plenty discordant. Marie’s were a twisted love song written for a local film noir movie, and one that used voice as an instrument, singing lines rather than words; not strictly scat, but not spoken.

I loved Niels’ mature tenor sax. He’s recently back after several years working in London and Europe. It shows. Just listen to the sweetness of his sax tone; the authority and aptness of his soloing; the emotional honesty of his ballad lines; the clarity of his solo statements. Really very satisfying and a treat to hear. Sally played some lovely solo lines of her own, in a restrained rather than virtuosic style, and again with appropriateness. She also seemed to enjoy chordal soloing, and this style appeared regularly. Raf surprised me double bass. I’d only heard him on Warwick electric in the past, but now it’s Steinberger and the busy bassist’s switch to acoustic. Nice one. Marie sang a few songs, and they had nice twisted meanings, esp her film noir tune, but mostly she was reading instrumental lines of some complexity: impressive. Hugh made his reappearance in the ArtSound studio, not so much with solos this time, but sweetly apt and often understated accompaniment. Again, nice one. Unusually, we had cello and violin out of the classical school (Tim on violin; Liam on cello) and they added a written accompaniment to tunes in the first set which gave an orchestral bowed richness that is rare in jazz.

So it was a very nice outing with plenty of interesting and capable original music, and some impressive solo statements. Much enjoyed.

The Sally Greenaway Project was Sally Greenaway (piano), Hugh Deacon (drums), Raf Jerjen (double and electric bass), Marie Le Brun (vocals) with special guests Neils Rosendahl (tenor sax), Tim Wickham (violin) and Liam Morrissey (cello).

7 August 2008

A cut above

From the first notes it was evident that this Hippo event was special. Jacam Manricks took a very tarnished alto from his case, and the dull lustre said commitment and experience. He blew a few notes, and they said practice and preparation. He wondered aloud if this was a listening audience. Well no … Hippo is always noisy and chatty, except maybe at the end of the night when the clubbers have departed. But, with the support of Australia’s Contemporary Music Touring Program, he had a powerful quartet of players, and he blew through it with that committed, searching playing that we expect from that jazz mecca, New York.

Jacam has been based in New York for 7 years, after a few years in Sydney, but he’s a Brisbane boy. Danny Fischer, on drums, is a NY-based Melbournite. They both turn out with a swagger and visage which is obviously not local. It’s the same style that was evident with Don Byron’s Trio. Joining them were Brendan Clarke, bassist, Canberra born, bred and trained, and Jackson Harrison on piano. Both Brendan and Jackson won their respective instruments at the Wangaratta Festival’s National Jazz Awards. No slouchers here.

We got what we expected. There was fabulous, intense, closely responsive playing all round. Original compositions and richly reharmonised standards; long complex melodies and charted bass lines in accompaniment; constantly changing implied chordal movements; simple changes that occasionally emerged amongst the reharms; a buoyant extravagance of improvisation. I heard Jacam’s solos as exploring pitch structure and intervallic options within harmonies in a modern bop-influenced style, comfortable with long eighth-note passages which morphed into 16th-notes on call. Jackson seemed more dissonant to me, and perhaps more pensive; I thought I heard more substitutions or chromatic lead notes. Brendan accompanied with a busily moving left hand, dropping lovely but unexpected syncopations freely, and sounded with a soft underlying tone. Danny drummed with a marked smoothness in his movements and soloed with a sustained 16th-note pattern which mutated around the kit then ended with long sustained pattern that held tension but dimmed oh so gradually over time. There was a general feeling of comfort, a lack of struggle with fast playing against presto tempos which was evidence of their abilities.

There were several originals by Jacam. I think it was Super size slippery stick that was I got rhythm under the covers. You could feel the cyclic movements, but the melody was long and complex and the harmony was recreated and richly embellished. There was another that appeared to start as a ballad and later took on a march-like presence with snare drum rudiments but in 9-time. Olivia, a friend from the Jazz School, counted the drums and bass playing in 9/4 and 9/8 so they crossed every two bars. Another tune, Number one, developed into a free extravaganza. The title of another tune, Fours and twos, suggested an intellectual approach to composition, and had choruses ending with a massively quick little unison run. They also played a few from the fake books: Monk’s Introspection and Coltrane’s Satellite and finished with I hear a rhapsody.

Megan mocks me as finding every event as fabulous. I know I take a positive approach and for that reason I call these posts “reports” rather than “reviews”, but this really was a cut above and in a style which is current, and both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. How I long for NY.

6 August 2008

Urbanity, out of tragedy

The Mocambo Jazz Quartet fought fire and storms and chemical spills to bring us snippets of the history of Sydney jazz, and a little peek at the history of world jazz, when they played at the Gods last night. The Sydney history was a visit to the jazz clubs of 1958 through to the ‘70s when there was rivalry between the Mocambo Jazz Club of Newtown and the El Rocco of Kings Cross. The El Rocco is a famous name, and I think it still exists; the Mocambo is well gone, but apparently the neon sign is still visible if unlit. MJQ was also reminiscent of world jazz history: this was a tribute to its alter-ago, Modern Jazz Quartet that included others reminders of the era. I was chatting with our local Ross Clarke about how musicians grow to know and perform a certain style, about how it becomes part of the musical personality and usually remains fairly constant. In this respect, it was also a visit to musical personas of an earlier era. This was not a performance you’d expect from the current young guns, but a mature presentation of popular sounds, rhythms and harmonies of the 50s/60s.

The band arrived from Sydney, rushed and flustered after long delays due to a chemical spill at Marulan. Dave Levy almost played in trackies, but made it onto the bandstand with shirt and tie at the last minute. The first set had a resultant edginess but this settled down and the second set seemed to me to express the cool, sophisticated MJQ style more truly. I’ve always preferred a hotter style, or at least my cool more Miles-ian, but it grew on me over the night and I came to understand its subtlety and comfort, and even to enjoy big chordal soloing a la George Shearing. This style is more diatonic and cycle-sounding, with chords stated clearly in the bass and little substitution. But it can display lovely melodic playing within these limits, clear statements of the composer’s intentions, and subtle, dynamic playing within a largely percussive sound.

Interestingly, the band started with Ornette Coleman’s When will the blues leave, but retitled on the night as “God help Marulan blues”. The solos were treated diatonically rather than harmolodically (whatever that means) and this seemed a little strange to me. But then we entered home territory, with tunes by MJQ/John Lewis (2 Degrees East 3 Degrees West and Afternoon in Paris) and George Shearing (Out of nowhere and Nothing but the best), and I renewed my respect for these stylists. Dave Levy also presented a quizzical range of original tunes: one based on a sea shanty; another called “There’s a whole lot of fuguing going on” which started formal and baroque but incongruously ended in an extended Sunshine of your love riff (isn’t it always extended?); a funk that he’d played at London’s Marquee Club supporting The Who, and called Fink funk; a sweetie dedicated to Joe Sample, and called Samplin’. I particularly liked an original latin that he wrote for his children, Bookabucka samba (Bookabucka as in Kookaburra). I found it complex and satisfying and the chordal and melodic movements were true to form. Sid Edwards also provided a laid back blues and a dedication, Waltz for Joan.

The whole band was smooth and correct and tonal. Jim, on bass, clearly and consistently defined the chordal structure. I got thinking of dance styles, from the days when jazz was a popular music. Jim moved freely over the neck and into thumb positions, although there were occasional lapses in intonation. I also enjoyed Ron’s drums; they were dynamic and expressive, from clipped rolls to sizzling cymbals, and with a very sharp snare. Sid’s vibes were well played, often while he was reading charts with four mallets working away. The solos were swinging, but also the unison heads with piano seemed to define to the sound of the era. Dave’s chordal solo on Out of nowhere was an eye-opener - truly satisfying although softly spoken - and I got taken aback by a lovely chromatic chordal passage in Afternoon in Paris that was so right. In summary, I really enjoyed the smooth and elegant sounds of the band. The realisation hit me, as I was listening to Afternoon in Paris played as languid and relaxed instead of boppy and up, that this was probably how it was intended. So, to me the concert gave me a new awareness of the beauty inherent in the smooth styles of MJQ and Shearing and the like. Nice one.

The Mocambo Jazz Quartet comprised Dave Levy (piano), Sid Edwards (vibraphone), Jim Mitchell (bass) and Ron Lemke (drums).

5 August 2008

In the prime of life

ArtSound turned 25 sometime recently, and it celebrated with a get together for volunteers and supporters last night at the studios in Manuka. It was a barbie with snags all around, wine tasting, noisy chatting and good cheer amongst too many people squeezed into the small foyer space. Background music, of course, was live to air courtesy of ArtSound. The recording studio was open for a visit by those who otherwise spend their time in the CD library or the offices or the little broadcast studios. But most interest was in sharing stories and meeting with others with a similar passion.

Thanks must go to the volunteers who make this such a strong institution, and who give such strong support for jazz in Canberra. Thanks also to the various sponsors which are so essential for the funding of the operation. There’s lots of jazz on ArtSound; see the broadcast program at ArtSound’s website. And tune in on Friday evenings for Friday Night Live. FNL features live broadcasts of local musicians from the recording studio and live concerts recorded by ArtSound around Canberra over many years. Live broadcasts by Sally Greenaway, Eric Ajaye and Allie Flett are coming up over the next few weeks. Fairly new and very exciting.

Congrats to ArtSound and may you prosper for many years to come.

  • ArtSound FM92.7
  • Friday Night Live
  • 2 August 2008

    Just another day in Canberra

    Three CDs were launched the other night in Canberra. Just another day in Canberra? Perhaps, and it shows of the strength of the local arts community. Sadly, I missed every launch, so no reports, but I’ll put up pics if I get any. In the meantime some cover art, some links for online listening and my earlier reports will have to suffice. These are three very different bands, but all capable and interesting in their own ways.

    The CDs were "A touch of anarchy" by BlackSchu Band, "Amalgama" by Austin Benjamin Trio and "Point A" by James LeFevre Quintet

  • Austin Benjamin on CJ
  • Austin Benjamin on MySpace (listen)
  • BlackSchu Band on CJ
  • James LeFevre on CJ
  • James LeFevre Quintet on MySpace (listen)
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