28 February 2009

Reminiscence

Andy Campbell’s Quintet was playing a full night of Candy Amble’s original music at ArtSound last night. It took me back, thinking Red clay and First light and White rabbit and the CTI releases of the seventies. Cool melodies overlaying steady but tense rhythms from drums and bass. Hannah’s often simple, steady bass reminiscent of Ron Carter laid back (for how many CTI albums?) and Miro’s trumpet in attendance like Freddie Hubbard, waiting to pounce. The cleanest of recordings with a surface calm, but an explosion just waiting to happen beneath, or an implosion in action. Andy’s call and response melodies fitted glove-like, calm, simple, expressive, over this bubbling tension. Very nice, very soulful.

Andy’s guitar was deceptive. He doesn’t look the smooth, expressive guitarist he is, but you don’t see that out of the radio studio. He was sometimes simple, but deceptively ready to let loose with runs that tingle with an edgy guitar and minimal effects, or perhaps a heavily sustained overdrive. Ben’s piano, too, was just the part. I’ve missed Ben from the scene for some time. He’s been a favourite player of mine, and this performance confirmed it. We may not see him too much in the near future, either. I understand he’s in the family way, so may be busy. Children are more demanding than practice, even. But he was taking to the charts with authority, despite a rapt attention that suggested he hadn’t played them too often. Miro was also reading confidently. His maturity as a player claimed the melodies and stated them so nicely, often in unison with Andy, and he was similarly comfortable with his sweet, melodic solos, clawing high notes and falling runs. The trumpet and flugel suited the style so precisely. I wonder if I would have made the CTI association without it. Hannah started several tunes with solo vamps that impressed as independent and strong. I’ve noted that competence in her playing before. There were also steady, fast walks, some solos of note and again that competence when on one tune she dropped in some little solo segments within the head. Hugh’s playing with involvement and his own style of busyness. He doesn’t so much state the groove, as imply and densely colour it with rolls and cymbals and snaps and various fills.

I still hear it in my head. That deceptively relaxed CTI sound. I’d tired of the style in the past, but this was a refreshing revisitation. Much enjoyed.

Andy Campbell (guitar) led his quintet with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flegelhorn), Ben Foster (piano), Hannah James (bass) and Hugh Deacon (drums).

25 February 2009

A calmer Carl?

So I was wondering as Carl Morgan started into the first set with a lively version of Night & day, accompanied by collaborators James Luke and Ed Rodrigues. There was a good-sized crew at Trinity to hear shredder Carl who’s recently returned from a Melbourne sojourn. It seemed to me a more mature and refined, but still not restrained, Carl. Maybe a little calmer, but still massively rich and quick and energetic. For this was an energetic outing, with all three players producing joules at kilo-bop levels.

Carl remains extravagant, but not as extreme as I remember him. This was a performance that seemed nicely in tune with the underlying tunes. Not quite so extreme, but still speedy. Carl still plays with sweeps and sustained 16th note runs, lovely bop-influenced tritones and intervals that made you sit up and take note, and that characteristic bop mix of 8th notes runs with interspersed triplets. It was a good mix, both technically and conceptually. There were times when they dropped into a rapid swing, James with speedy and expansive bass lines, Ed with that colour and blush of cymbals, perhaps a spasmic stop followed by a exclamatory crash, and Carl routing with a clear tonality, extended arpeggiated runs and both tonal and substituted harmonies. Then a pass to James. Bass solos are spare and exposed, lacking that go-ahead feel of a front-line instrument on heat with a grooving underlying rhythm section. There are jokes about bass solos for that reason. Bass must make this for itself, and it’s doubly challenging given the low pitch. So James’ solos were of another tack from Carl’s: more bluesy, often more simply melodic, sometimes with a Mingus stylishness. And then he’d throw in a diminished sequence, or double stops and chordal richness, more reminiscent of an electric bass sensibility, or a series of double bass drops. James was strong throughout, and especially as the night wore on. I talked of Ed above, with washes and colours and snaps. His solos were expressive and busy and never forced, but I most enjoyed his driving, involved, responsive intimacy. Ed is commitment personified. It shows, visually and audibly: always a pleasure. So I think you get the feel of the night: energy and commitment, but controlled and expressive.

So what was played? Carl mentioned one original which I remember counting variously as 6 or 5. It was only at the end of the tune that I was wondering if the time signature changed, or whether there was some polyrhythm lurking. Otherwise, Night & day, Wayne Shorter’s Ana Maria, Inner urge, Darn that dream, Coltrane, Body & soul, and ending on All the things you are. Note some ballads there, too, which were treated with a sensibility that belied my talk above of energy. I took note of Carl’s take on Darn that dream and then his beauteous rendition of Body & soul. Guitars are percussive instruments and never quite fit like reeds for such delicate melodies, but Carl’s rendering of the ballads was fitting and sensitive. Then a finish with All the things you are, played with exhilaration and joy, and ending with a gloriously collapsed rhythm and a final, plangent guitar melody. Lovely.

So perhaps not a calmer Carl, but one who’s telling of his art and instrument, and always energetic. I much enjoyed the night, Carl with mates James and Ed. An outing of strength and energy, but not lacking in purpose.

Carl Morgan (guitar) led a trio with James Luke (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

24 February 2009

Five easy Peaces

Text by Daniel Wild

Under the tiled roofs of Sydney’s majestic and architecturally bemusing opera house, two of jazz’s post-bop luminaries showed Australia the treacherous and twisting paths that jazz has taken since Miles Davis liberated the genre in the late sixties. The line-up was second-to-none: a melange of talent par excellence, a conglomeration of super-human skill. Christian McBride was on bass – he’s not bad, ain’t he? And Mr Kenny Garrett on saxophone. Garrett and Corea played with McBride on the bass player’s probing album, Number Two Express. On drums was Brian Blade.

To cut to the chase, to hunt down the hounds, all that needs be said is that McLaughlin was fantastic. Corea did the right thing and allowed him to steal the show. McLaughlin has done a Paganini at some point in his life and had a date with Mephistopheles. If you could compare how many notes McLaughlin can fit into a minute with the RPMs of a Maserati then McLaughlin would exceed the speed limit even on Germany’s autobahns. But unlike a lot of Tal Farlow (and even some Charlie Christian), who has the chops-supreme, McLaughlin also has the scales-supreme, and has access to a store of musical knowledge that Farlow never seemed to tap into. Any one who’s willing to gather an esoteric collection of instruments and then give the so-called assembled band an Indian name – and then create some formidable music – is going to be versatile; able to listen, plan, build tension, make the audience gasp with fear, writhe with enjoyment and applaud with enthusiasm.

But what can one say of Kenny Garrett? He’s obviously spent a lot of time practising in his attic. He began the gig with mild tones, searching for the sounds of his horn as they rebounded willy-nilly around the Opera House Hall with its bamboozling acoustics. By the fourth song Garrett had worked this place out and launched into what would become a Coltrane-esque solo. Who knows how long it went for? The time did not pass and the audience did not budge. Where did the last 20 minutes go? Oh, it’s interval. As we promenaded on the Opera terrace and watched the lights of Sydney’s CBD swirl on the harbour below, we thought of the weird places Garrett had taken us to. The elephants of Africa are in his song; the yowls of mistreated slaves; the liberation of the human spirit. Garrett has a repertoire of feeling and experience to draw on and knows how to wheedle an audience into his confidence.

Blade was a crowd favourite throughout the night. He knows when to embellish the lead player’s riffs and can construct extended meditations and rhythmic confluences in his solos. This also allowed Corea and McLaughlin time to rest and have a bit of a chinwag behind the piano. Christian McBride was a rock. If two formidable weavers of melody are at the fore the bass needs to be steady, ready to buttress the fall of the musician who misplaces a toe on the tightrope. He took a couple of solos, but spent more time ensuring Corea and McLaughlin had enough the space to unfold their matrices of sound.

Nothing more should be said about McLaughlin. He has to be seen or heard. Chick Corea provided searching and thoughtful accompaniments, only occasionally stepping into the limelight to build tension or take a few choruses. His soloing was refined and well-thought. In this quintet he has less scope to go out and can take fewer liberties than he might take in the Akoustic Band. He made a good decision to play the role of purveyor of rhythmic and harmonic nuances and let McLaughlin show the world what the human race is capable of.

This gig was worth a trip to the metropolis. It has been 40 years since Corea and McLaughlin played with Miles on In a Silent Way and this was their encore piece. A standing ovation was assured.

Chick Corea (keyboards) and John McLaughlin (guitar) led the Five Peace Band at Sydney Opera House with Kenny Garrett (sax), Christian McBride (bass) and Brian Blade (drums).

22 February 2009

More in Manuka

Minque is now featuring live jazz, usually in duo format, on Saturday afternoons. I dropped in to hear Austin Benjamin and Andy Campbell, but I ended up chatting and listened too little. I caught some familiar melodies, Solar was one, and the others were similarly recognisable. Austin’s a wonderful player, but I hadn’t caught him in a standards setting. This was both subdued and perhaps more simply swinging. Andy was at home, with a serious look on his visage, and some nice, clear, and lengthy solos. Blame mates for a poor report, but it was warm and the beers went down well, and sometimes jazz is just like that. Like that for some others too, I thought, as a young patron made some obviously uninterested motions, suggesting she preferred something simpler and with a bigger beat, and perhaps double drum pedals (anyone for Dirty Pop?). Whatever, Minque has a huge window and it was opened to Manuka and the swinging tones were echoing up and down the local bars. For a warm day, it was a cool and very beer-friendly atmosphere.

Austin Benjamin (piano) and Andy Campbell (guitar) played a standards set at Minque Bar in Manuka.

15 February 2009

Jazz in abundance

It seemed an abundance of riches this afternoon when I dropped in the local shops: not one but two bands. I live near Manuka, so I could hop down for a few minutes to catch this week’s women in jazz gig. Actually, I was wondering where all the women were going to come from; they remain under-represented amongst instrumentalists around town. So it was no surprise when I found a singer with two guys accompanying. Interesting, though, it was a new generation of the jazz school, and I like to see the turnover happening. Matilda Abraham was singing, and I only caught a few tunes, but they included two originals by Matilda and several well known songs sung with a largely unadorned, but clear and ringing voice, and a gently insinuating vibrato. Very nice for the latins (Dindi) and the standards (Polkadots and moonbeams, Skylark) and especially the ballads (You don’t know what love is). It was a voice that expressed the tunes with honesty and deference. Very satisfying. I hear Matilda is a great admirer of Nina Simone: it fits. Matilda was accompanied by frequent collaborator, Andy Butler, on piano, and first time associate, Simon Milman on bass. Andy did a capable job with sustained eighth-note lines of clarity and aptness, and an awareness of Matilda's style that comes with ongoing accompaniment. I’ve written about Simon before, playing all manner of basses, but never double bass. He’s been around for some time: mature and capable, with well formed thoughts on the instrument. Apparently it was a new double bass, but he played it with comfort to belie this new track in his playing. This was a gentle, café outing, and good playing all round.

I’d noticed Michael Azzopardi was back in town, and someone told me he was playing at the Belgian Beer Cellar for the Dave Rodriguez gig. I turned up to find Dave and Michael with Ed Rodrigues (he’s the regular drummer) and James Luke on double bass. I guess James has been playing the gig while Bill Williams has been out of town. This was very different from the café gig in Manuka. It was hot, sweaty, blister-forming music. Taking the Miles and Shorter standards (Nardis, Footprints, Juju) and a few related standards (Softly…, bebop, a blues) and treating them with passion and energy and some humour. Fabulous, hot, exciting playing from some current local masters. Michael and Ed were bouncing off each other with endless energy. Neither can help playing with passion and exuberance. Michael’s solo development was exemplary. Quotes and hints at the underlying melody throughout, but ever-lifting, every-rising excitement. Fabulous stuff. Dave was controller, with clear, consolidated lines, but sometimes even his demeanour burst into flourishes, but mostly his was a sensitive and tonally defined style. James was blistered from long hours of double bass gigging over recent days, but stated some lovely defined support lines, and solos that moved decisively in style and tenor. My ears picked up during his Nardis solo with a sustained 16th note line, and as I listened there was melodic purity, then simple solidness, then cross rhythms with whole note triplets, then the power of pedalpoint. Superb variation of intent and mood. Admirable playing. I’ve never seen Ed when he’s not emotionally committed and true to the music. There’s busyness but endless dynamics, with his body expressing every nuance. Not overly pretty to see, but bliss to hear. Another local master. So they all were: this established generation of players, toying with great modern standards. And bliss to the ears of the local initiates who listened in wonder.

So, just another day around the inner south. Australians can complain (as I guess does every nation) but we have tons to be thankful for: a rich country, good climate (although threatening change), wealth and comfort. Abundance in most things, not least jazz. What a fabulous little few hours at the local shops for a jazz lover!

Matilda Abraham (vocals) played in Manuka with Andy Butler (piano) and Simon Milman (bass). Dave Rodriguez (guitar) played in Kingston with Michael Azzopardi (piano), James Luke (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

11 February 2009

Weekend of kulcha

I caught more than just jazz women on the weekend that started the Multicultural Festival in Canberra. Megan and I went Euro-centric to the sublimity of those pure, refined voices of the opera. Not full-bore, hard-core operas, only selections, but interesting enough none-the-less.

The first was Joanna Cole in Puccini’s women, Le donne di Puccini. I recognised some of the tunes, from La Boheme and Suor Angelica and Gianni Schichi, and the encore by the Puccini admirer and supporter, Giuseppe Verdi from La Traviata. The various famed arias were introduced with stories of whores and TB and even Pinkerton (Tally-ho), as seems to be the way in operas of this period. I caught a few words of Italian, but mostly it was a struggle, as is also the way. The opera voice is a refined form, especially for the soprano, with the warbling trills and intense, projected high notes. It’s impressive, but I found these high notes leaving a pretty softly spoken piano way behind. I felt Joanna needed a few dozen strings and some brass to keep up (the balance was better when she sang from the back of the stage). It was still a fabulous performance of accurate intonation and emotive lines and power and thrills on an impressive repertoire. But although it was interesting and impressive, I missed the story, the continuing plot that you can follow even without understanding the words. Not that the plot is so convincing (Italian opera being the romantic thing that it is) but it still holds together and the feature tunes appear in context as they should. Nonetheless, it was impressive and precise and hand on shoulder emotional. Sadly I didn’t take the camera; I missed some dark and dramatic shots.

Joanna Cole (soprano) sang Puccini’s Women with Alan Hicks (piano) at the Street Theatre.

The next night was another opera outing, this time to Stage 88 and the annual Opera by Candlelight. The repertoire was similarly made up of pop classics, there were some more voices and players, although still minimal. It was a big family outing, so a bit of a jaunt with a slightly serious side. There was a raffle for a life-time supply of Maria Callas recordings (70 disk set of the complete works). The weather was initially hot; the beers were cold; the cool change was appreciated. It was fun for all, and went down well. I was in the mood for lightheartedness, so I enjoyed the Major-General’s song from G&S, Pirates of Penzance for its humour. Occasionally the performance or PA was a bit ragged, and the keyboard didn’t quite match an orchestral backing, but the players were just pulled together for the night, it was too, too hot for the formal outfits, and it must have been hard work up there. This was not an intimate event like the previous night’s Puccini, but it was entertaining and there were some very satisfying voices. And who cannot fall for the power of the Anvil chorus or the triumphal march from Aida. Big stuff, big event.

9 February 2009

Hot day, cool women

They may not have felt that way on such a sweltering day, but the second of the series of Women in Jazz was pretty cool. Hannah, Sally and Marie appear often enough in these pages. Hannah was griping about getting used to her new and very different Velvet strings, but it was smooth and steady playing, and there were many very nice solos from her. Sally looked worried in my pics, but it must have been the heat rather than the performance, because she was always clearly expressed and never effusive in her accompaniment and soloing. There were no drums on the day, but the beat was strong from two very reliable rhythm players. Marie sang with a high and pure voice. Mostly I love her scat: it’s truly a forte. It was great to hear an old favourite from the first incarnation of Return to Forever, 500 miles high. Marie’s voice suited really well as a cover for the original by Flora Purim. (My impression is that Spain and Teentown have now taken on the role as the unison-melody feature pieces, but 500 miles high remains a great little tune with its driving latin and feature unison fill). In my own sweet way was impressive, and a few other ballads that I can’t name.

The women would have enjoyed the cool change in the evening, but it came too late for them on that day. It should be easier going for next week’s Women in Jazz. BTW, this was also the weekend of the great fires in Victoria. We were learning of tens, then over 100 deaths, with temperatures of 48C and wind speeds of 120kmh. Canberra suffered losses in our great fire around 6 years ago, so we sympathise. Best wishes from CJ. We feel for you.

The Women in Jazz series continues each Sunday afternoon, 2-4pm, at Pangaea Bar in Manuka. Free entry. This week Marie Le Brun (vocals) sang with Sally Greenaway (piano) and Hannah James (bass) in accompaniment.

5 February 2009

Once more unto the Lodge

Again, Kevin Rudd presented local jazz associated with the ANU School of Music for his reception at the Lodge on Australia Day. Again, CJ was able to help out by providing names. This year it was Hannah James who got the gig and led the band on the day. Looks like it was a good band, too, with Ed and Luke and Niels: all impressive players. Also, no doubt a responsive backing for Jessica Mauboy, who I am told sang the national anthem. Apparently JM was a winner on Australian Idol. Excuse my ignorance of pop culture: I recognised the name, but not why it was known. But I don’t think I was the only one.

I can’t write up the performance. I wasn’t invited (although my next door neighbour left afternoon drinks at our place to attend … hmph … stood up for the Prime Minister). But no doubt the band did a good job and had a good time, and it’s a nice one for the CV.

Hannah James (bass) led a band with Niels Rosendahl (sax), Luke Sweeting (piano) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). Jessica Mauboy did her nationalistic duty and sang the national anthem.

CanberraJazz.net : jazz by appointment to the Prime Minister

4 February 2009

Products of our times

I was listening to Errol Buddle and his quartet last night at the first night of Geoff Page’s Gods Café series for 2009 when I thought of irony and the post-modern. This was a night of standards, including ones that went way back. So it felt like a visit to a sweeter, more honest past. Thoughts of girls with hair like the Andrews Sisters or perhaps beatnikettes; fatter, rounder sax tones with breath; and a time when you could still invest all your time and energy in those beautiful American tunes. It felt like something that we’ve lost after R&R and the post-modern: a humility before the American songbook. An authentic and, significantly, a non-ironic approach: another era, when we could think of considerable beauty without fashionable mockery.

Bye bye blackbird and Swinging shepherd blues and Baubles, bangles and beads and Sweet Georgia Brown strike me this way: as tunes I can’t take too seriously. I don’t feel quite the same about Take the A-train or Don’t get around much anymore or Mood indigo and less so for Night in Tunisia, but I’m sure some people do. I’m somewhere in between on Georgia. So the repertoire was of another era, but that’s not to denigrate it, just to place it. We are in many ways products of our times, so it’s not a surprise that a senior of the Australian jazz craft should present from an earlier era.

The sounds also matched the choices of tunes. Rhythms were steadier and more restrained. Substitutions were rarer and less extreme. Tones were more traditional, with the sax more airy and less steely. It felt like an era before Coltrane, such were the harmonies and approaches and tones, although there was a clear awareness of bop, with frequent quotes and shaggy lines and flattened fifth tags. There was genuine fluency within these norms which suggested that Errol must have been a ripper in his younger days. One friend commented he’d heard him in the seventies, and that’s just what he was. He’s still impressive. Errol is noted as a multi-instrumentalist. The flute and the tenor and alto and soprano saxes were no particular surprise, other than that I really enjoyed the flute, and I don’t usually. But the oboe on Night in Tunisia had me leaving my seat to see what that sound was (I couldn’t see the stage where I sat). It fitted beautifully. Errol played with real fluency and I clearly imagined snake charmers in the local souk. Similarly, Marée on piano took me aback with a pleasantly sweet voice which was clearly reminiscent of Blossom Dearie, and with a similarly mock-romantic theme. I wanted to hear more, but she only sang one song on the night. Bob played a steady drum part, with brushes or sticks and hi-hat, and very sparse accents on kick drum, with a few solos here and there. Our own Eric Ajaye is wonderfully reliable in picking a sustained and appropriate accompaniment. He did it this night, too, where a sweet bass line was required: all glissery and fluid and smooth and expressive, and doubly so on some truly sublime solos.

But thinking back on all my musings, I wonder: Was this really a more innocent era that justifies a lofty irony in our times? Theirs was a time following the greatest conflagration of the most ideological century, after death camps and in the middle of nuclear-threats of cold war. Now just who are the innocents here, and who are the simply comfortable and fashionable?

Errol Buddle (soprano, alto, tenor saxes, flute, oboe) played with Marée Steinway (piano), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Bob Baird (drums).