28 October 2009

Moruya 2009, farewells

There’s always a theme that you take from a festival. For me, Moruya 2009 was a farewell for some mates I’ve watched develop over recent years at the jazz school. Now senior and finishing students, they are off to Sydney and will be missed around town. I treat this report with some imprecision, because only some of those below are moving on, but the group plays together and can be discussed together.

Bill Williams (bass), Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Hannah James (bass) are the three leaving for Sydney. We wish them well, and they certainly deserve it. The three of them all played impressively, even stunningly, over the weekend. Perhaps the best I’ve heard them, certainly amongst the most memorable.

H.E.L. is an acronym for Hannah, Ed, Lily. Hannah James (bass) with Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Olivia Henderson (piano) played a wonderfully busy and involving set early in the day. There was an original by Olivia, but also jazz standards: Oleo, Invitation, Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum and Horace Silver’s Nica’s dream. Jo Lloyd (alto) also sat in for some screaming, outlandish playing which always thrills. It was a great start for the day, and a challenge to the bands that were to follow (including mine!) I missed Hannah, Ed and Jo reprising some of these in unplanned set later in the day, but it was also well spoken of.

Luke Sweeting (piano) plays regularly with Bill and Ed, the three being Masters students at the Jazz School this year. Luke’s truly a harmonically rich and intelligent player. A pianist mate was commenting on his voice leading and counterpoint and harmonic alterations. Luke played an unusual duo set with Rachael Thoms (vocals) with a feature tune by Paul Grabowski recorded with Katie Noonan. Contemplatory and sedate, but with vocals flying into the stratosphere and complex interplay between the piano and voice. This tune was especially complex and a challenge but generally so was the rest of the set: unexpected and satisfying.

But the star event of the day for me must be Edmirobilluke. The name says it all: Ed Rodrigues (drums), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Bill Williams (bass) and Luke Sweeting (piano). The last set of the night is always the product of a busy day and a good warmup and some tiredness and is awaited with expectation. This was a stunner. The band was all playing at their most exhilarating level. Solos merging through melody, consonance and dissonance and complexity on call. All merged into a set that little distinguished heads or solos or ensemble playing. Original compositions that were heartfelt, unforced: powerful and stylish vehicles for open playing. Superb dynamics that just flowed between and through and amongst instruments so no-one took prominence yet everyone was essential. Gentle, busy, pushing, moving through feels and emotions with ease and inevitability. A stunning and worthy display of original improvised music. My last report on this band at the Gods did not do this gig justice. An excellent performance by Ed, Miro, Bill and Luke.

To finish off, I have just one little observation of jazz and its adherents. Someone mentioned to me in passing how pleasant are the jazz crew, and it’s true. There’s a confident, snappy air about them. Sometimes there’s a gruff exterior on the guys, but anyone who commits themselves to such a demanding and profound pursuit has to be an admirable type. So I thought as I was looking around the Air Raid on Saturday evening. But jazz isn’t always surrounded by such types and has a colourful history of associations. I’ve experienced several post-gig threats of violence: at Wagga JF, in London, recently in Prague and locally after Hippo. And this time, as I left Moruya, I caught sight of a smashed car windscreen that spoke of small-town anger and frustration. And then another on the drive back, somewhere outside Bungendore. I’ll stick to the jazz, thanks.

Best of luck to Bill, Ed and Hannah in Sydney.

27 October 2009

Moruya 2009, bis

More from the Air Raid at Moruya Jazz Festival.

Fourth Degree Byrnes is Neveen Byrne’s platform for original tunes. She plays with several of the mature players from the school. I only caught one short tune from the band this day. It was their last piece: a moody original with keyboard and guitar solos and gave and weighty melody overlaid by Neveen on tenor. Intense and interesting stuff; I wish I’d heard more. Neveen Byrnes (tenor) played with Andy Campbell (guitar), Andy Butler (piano) and Hugh Deacon (drums).

I also just caught a snippet of Matilda Abraham’s Quintet (festivals are for socialising, too). It’s an impressive group of players, although a few seemed less prominent this year. This outing was pretty much heads down in concentration, although was leavened by Matilda’s singing and some of her original songs. Matilda Abraham (vocals) led a quintet with Andy Butler (piano), Carl Morgan (guitar), Chris Pound (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

Chris and Aidan reappeared with the Recording Ensemble. I really enjoyed this performance. It was lively, engaged with the audience and the band was obviously having a great time. The Recording Ensemble plays original music and arrangements by its members like Reuben Lewis’s arrangement of a Zappa tune and Nick Combe’s Shhh…. I was particularly taken by Luke Sweeting’s composition Sound canvas. I’d listened to the modern remake of Gill Evans, Re-Birth of the Cool, on the drive down to Moruya, and I felt it was reminiscent of the charts, with voice leading and harmonies and melodic organisation harking to that era. The ANU Big Band was also at Moruya and I missed them, but I didn’t miss the ANU Commercial Ensemble. Big, bright, brassy, funky, cocky. All those things, and danceable and lively too. The large ensembles are always highlights.

The ANU faculty was also represented. Two sets struck me as calm, controlled and from the mind. Mike Price (guitar) led his trio with Eric Ajaye (bass) and Col Hoorweg (drums). Mike plays some originals but also re-envisioned standards, with admirable and very cool interpretations. This is thoughtful and intellectual fare, not for the dancefloor, but for savouring some perceptive soloing. Matt Thompson (keyboards) led an organ trio in another controlled and minimalist performance. This was left hand organ lines, revisioned and leisurely bebop, slow but melodically challenging right hand lines. John Wilton (drums) accompanied, along with Max Williams (tenor) who matched with lines where every note felt individually selected.

26 October 2009

Moruya 2009

It’s time for my annual run to the Moruya Jazz Festival. I got to play and I heard the Canberra locals get together in various combinations, some I hadn’t heard, most I had. I’ve reported on them often enough, so just a few comments. Obviously my gig is vital for me, so I take the liberty to start with that!

I got together a few mates for the festival, and we appeared at Deja Two. Deja Two was Cameron Smith (flugelhorn), Peter Kirkup (piano), Mark Body (drums) and Eric Pozza (double bass). Just some standards, but: Cam reads easily and plays a stylish and correct solo with a lovely flugel tone; Peter knows his jazz history and music theory and is a pleasure to play and chat with; Mark is jazz school so well trained and possesses a broad swing (so says Peter); and I continue to struggle with my change to the big, acoustic bass, but I’m enjoying the challenge. We rushed a bit and were harmlessly messy on a few starts and finishes (it’s just a blow, after all) but indulged in some extended solos, got some decent band dynamics happening and pleasingly held the audience. So we enjoyed the outing.

The Air Raid Tavern added a second stage in the Bar this year. It’s been the modern end of the festival and the home of the ANU Jazz School for years and remains so. I was only down for Saturday and didn’t manage to move beyond these two stages.

The morning started with the Kade Brown Trio. It’s a young local (Eurabodalla Shire) outfit led by Kade Brown (piano) with Josh Freestone (drums) and Mishi Stern (bass) playing a standard repertoire of jazz tunes.

Angela Lount and the Fedoras played the soft pop/jazz (read working) end of the jazz spectrum with supple smoothness and some interesting playing. They are classy and you can see why they get the corporate gigs. Angela Lount (vocals) sings with the Fedoras: Paul dal Broi (piano), Dan McLean (trumpet), Hannah James (bass, sitting in for James Luke) and Chris Thwaite (drums). I noted a classy solo from Paul and a wonderful growling plunger mute solo from Dan.

I just caught a few bars of my mates Kooky Fandango. They play a bluesy-jazz style, without a chordal instrument (other than Peter when he plays chords on his crystalline 6-string Alembic bass). It was a fore-shortened KF with only 4 players on the day, but they are entertaining and well rehearsed and it shows. Courtney Stark (vocals) fronted Cameron Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn), Peter Barta (bass) and Robert Nesci (drums).

As Famous as the Moon is an institution around Canberra. Dirk Zeylmans (sax) leads a very smooth, stylish band with Graham Monger (guitar), Lachlan Coventry (bass) and John Milton (drums). Dirk is a renowned local sax technician, so you can expect wonderful tone along with his pleasant and very direct and personal patter. This is cool jazz in the ilk of Stan Getz. Graham played some lovely blues-scale infested lines which fitted like the glove; Lachlan is a well-trained guitarist who plays a supple electric-bass style; John Milton played understated but steady and observant drums.

22 October 2009

Presence of the past

Tom Vincent played the Band Room last night, the night following Sean Wayland. Within minutes of the Tom’s start, I realised how much I’d enjoyed them both, but also how the gigs were hugely different. It was a fascinating juxtaposition. To me, Tom speaks from the history of jazz. One of my mates heard the 1950s, and there were clear references to the era before cool, with a sensibility that said bop but a control and earthiness that was post-bop, but there was also solid and comfy swinging bass and a drum style that spoke of an earlier era still. Jazz history is rich and full, but the modern world can have a short memory. I remember being struck by the strength of this past when I heard Michael McQuaid’s Red Hot Rhythm Makers playing 1920s dance hall music at the Wagga festival a few years back. I still don’t go out of my way for early jazz, but I can enjoy it when it’s well played and it’s not just nostalgia. Tom’s band plays history with an awareness of modernity, thus doing our history justice.

Tom leads the band with considerable fluidity. Last time I heard him, he played unending improvised medleys that challenged his offsiders to stay with him. This time he played a repertoire. But he moved rhythms and tempos radically at times, taking the band in sometimes unexpected directions. And he led with calls or imploring gazes or solo piano introductions to set the scene. His playing can be whimsical and obtuse and there’s plenty of dissonance, and these are modern sensibilities. So although it speaks to the past, this music is not a museum piece; rather, it touches an earlier era with respect and intelligence and a modern consciousness. Eamon McNelis on trumpet was a wonderful foil to Tom’s piano and I enjoyed his playing immensely. He was formal, with nary a note or arpeggio or scale out of place, for harmony or pitch or tone. I expected he was classically trained, but he corrected me. He’d had 2 years of classical training, but it was other influences that formed him: he mentioned Eugene Ball and Wynton Marsalis. His tone was pure and classical: accurately formed and pitched and bell-like in texture. Here was the calm and measured formality to respond to Tom’s elusive and elastic lines. Ex-Canberran Leigh Barker provided the bass line, and it was fully acoustic, meaning unamplified. Tom noted this, and said it changes the presence of the whole band. Certainly playing double bass without amplification is rare. It must limit the volume of the band, although I didn’t notice it was particularly quiet. Leigh gets impressive volume, perfectly adequate to match drums and trumpet and the Yamaha grand. And it was a rounded, soft bass that lent support with well chosen lines. Hugh Harvey on drums was the stylist that most said pre-bop to me, with soft kicks highlighting infrequent accents, and shuffles and brushes and steady snares. It fitted nicely and avoided prominence.

I think they played a few originals: some unexpectedly short, just a melody and that’s it. But mostly it was the standards repertoire: Willow weep, Cottontail, Cherokee, Straight no chaser, Foggy day, Ellington, Monk and the like. They played Coltrane’s Resolution in an interpretation which was challenging by being out of era. But I felt their strength was these earlier materials that they played with an understanding and vitality and approachability that brought them to life and was free of nostalgia. It was an uncommon pleasure. Tom Vincent (piano) led a quartet with Eamon McNelis (trumpet), Leigh Barker (acoustic bass) and Hugh Harvey (drums).

PS, After writing this, I listened to Tom Vincent’s Blood red CD, and I find it’s different again from this performance. It’s a trio set recorded live for the ABC, with mostly short, original tunes, and a very modern piano trio sound. From the first tune with the fourths of McCoy Tyner, it was unexpected. Tom is certainly an interesting and varied player.

21 October 2009

Relentless

Sean Wayland got a great turnout at the Band Room for his gig last night and the audience got a great show, although it was a strange mix of entertainment and the unexpected with some fabulous playing.

The night started with wunderkind guitarist James Muller going missing due to a car breakdown and a poor bus service. Sean rang him during the gig and we heard the chatter on speakerphone over the PA, to everyone’s amusement (except maybe James’). Then there was the singing. I liked it lots, with Sean singing within coo-ee of his highest pitch, with his own humourous lyrics and in a style that reminded me of Georgie Fame. (In one tune, he’d predicted the GFC, but he’s not the only one). Sean was concerned that singing wouldn’t go down at a University Jazz School, but it seemed pretty well received to me. He even performed a few musical comedy snippets between tunes: they raised a decent laugh and leavened the mix of much more intense and unforgiving jazz tunes. Because his tunes were intense, and played with a relentless energy that speaks of NY. Sean writes daily, but his tunes take more time to come to fruition. He spoke of one he’s only now starting to play after working on it for 6 months. The tunes impressed me more as chordal movements than melodies, with a natural but busy interpretation on piano. His playing told a story of the harmonic structure, endlessly working the chords, moving between chordal solos and fast, long one-note lines; steady and sustained rather than strongly dynamic. The busy-ness was supported by hometown New Yorker, Mark Giuliana, who was a feature star performer on the tour. Amongst others, he’s played with Meshell Ndegeocello, Avishai Cohen and Branford Marsalis, so we were expecting something special. He was fabulously involved and intense and busy: those words that speak commitment to me, and make me dream of the jazz meccas, and especially NY. A face deep in concentration and a performance on the edge: missing some figures and challenging himself to respond with ever more sharpness. This is improvisational creativity at the take-no-prisoners level, and exhilarating to hear. His long solo in the last tune was final confirmation of our opportunity to hear a top rung drummer in full flight. Memorable. But none of this is possible without the foundations, and Brett Hirst was admirable too, although perhaps less on the edge. A firm tone on double, and a nicely thumpy tone on his semi-acoustic electric bass for the funkier numbers. There was one that I could hardly count let alone sing the bass line of, but he held it with comfort.

So despite the absence of James Muller, we got a powerful and intense concert from our Sydneysider now New Yorker with his local and visiting offsiders. It wasn’t the easiest of concerts to listen to, but it was clearly worth the investment and effort. Sean Wayland (piano, vocals) led a trio with Brett Hirst (electric and acoustic basses) and Mark Giuliana (drums).

18 October 2009

Zoe’s Fraternity

Zoe Frater was in town again for a little gig at the intimate and intellectual venue, Beyond Q Bookstore. She’s a wonderfully nimble and buoyant bassist and her tunes lope along with pithy, rubbery vivacity. I could only stay for one set and the solos were limited, but again I enjoyed her suppleness and sense of melody. There’s a funky vibe to her playing that splits the beat and plays with the divisions and sometimes surprises and teases. Her tone, too, fits with its rounded, phat, sound that’s responsive to the fingers of her right hand, is full and present but not harsh or imposing, with just that edge of upper mid that keeps some definition in place.

She was again playing with several mates from Canberra, John Milton and Andy Campbell, this time with the addition of brother Grey Milton. Grey added unworded vocal lines as a new slant to the sound that wasn’t in Zoe’s last local performance. Zoe promised some standards amongst the originals, but I didn’t hear any in the first set. She again played some Steve Swallow (Item no. 7 DIT), obviously a major influence. But most of the tunes were originals, by Zoe or the band, especially John. There were some odd times and unexpected structures. John’s Confessions of a cereal killer (pun intended) was introduced as a repeating four bar passage. But it was not obvious, with chords changing unexpectedly and the last bar extended to 6 beats. There was one simple two chord structure that took on a bouncy and lively aspect with Zoe’s playing, and development nicely by the whole band. Otherwise, the tunes were melodically complex and harmonically rich. Andy was the other significant soloist, and his lines were exploratory with a crisp, clipped, semi-acoustic tone. The band was obviously new to the music, but they performed well and adventurously at times to the small but committed audience.

Zoe’s not physically imposing on the stage, but aurally she’s funky and melodic and delightfully alive with her meaty tone and fine fingers. Catch her in Melbourne or on an occasional visit to Canberra. Zoe Frater (electric bass) played with Andy Campbell (guitar), Grey Milton (vocals) and John Milton (drums).

17 October 2009

Of virgins and crises

Christian Brothers is a Catholic teaching order and also a classic Australian play by Ron Blair that I saw over the weekend. I’d seen it many years back, at the Adelaide Festival Centre, perhaps when it was first released. I went to a Catholic boys’ school, not Christian Brothers but Jesuit, but I could still see the resonances. It was closer to me then and perhaps for that reason it made more of an impression, but it remains a powerful play. It’s a monologue by an ageing Christian Brother teacher. It’s set in a school room over several lessons. The audience comprises the class, and a chair at the front of the stage represents one student who is a particular frustration for the central character. The monologue describes a now-dated but still profoundly challenging, non-materialist view of the world which Catholicism still represents. But the key personal narrative is a crisis of faith being suffered by the teacher, and imparted to audience and class in an increasingly despairing tone. He’d seen a vision of the Virgin Mary in his teenage years, and this had led to his commitment to the Church and its strict disciplines of poverty, chastity and obedience. Now in later middle age, the teacher is having a crisis of faith. Was it a true apparition? Why had Mary not reappeared over the years? Had he lost his life, lost the opportunity of marriage and children of his own? Profound questions, and potentially very difficult to face. So it was a challenging study of a man in turmoil and bordering on grief. I enjoyed it and was moved by it, even if the resonances are now way further back in my consciousness.

Monologues can be wonderfully powerful. I particularly remember two others from the time I used to frequent the theatre. One told the true story of a group of WW2 German officers left naked in a cellar with no food by the Russian Army. They decided to sacrifice themselves one by one, by lot, so the survivors could live: Teutonic rationality and self-discipline. Unfortunately for the last surviving same officer, this was seen as unbecoming of an officer and he was on trial before the audience as jury. The monologue was his presentation to the court. The other was the actual transcript of Charles Manson’s presentation to the court in his famous Sharon Tate murder case of the late 1960s. I just remember how charismatic was this presentation. It made you realise that his followers were more like the rest of us than we might imagine. Oh, and Krapp’s Last Tape was another monologue, although in a very different, absurdist style.

Great to see that local theatre is taking on these challenging pieces, along with the comedies and the musicals. Bill Boyd was the Christian Brother (and a fellow employee at my workplace), Geoffrey Borny was the director, and Tuggeranong Arts Centre was the location.

7 October 2009

A return home

After new places and faces on the jazz scene, I’m welcomed back to Canberra with Miro and mates playing for Geoff Page at the Gods. It’s homely, but I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. These are capable players performing music that’s original and new, although with resonances of Miles around the jazz-rock period.

I’d heard this band at the National Portrait Gallery some time ago, but it’s developed since then. The compositions are still original, although I think it’s a newer repertoire, with tunes mainly by Luke and Miro, but also with one by Bill. The music is convincingly brooding, intense and atmospheric. The grooves are gentle and sustained. The solos build naturally to high points and with low, slow interludes. They are well-considered solos with dissonance and development and thoughtful search is evident. That’s something I’ve noticed developing in the more mature students. There’s evident knowledge (all the scales and arpeggios, etc) but it’s used for a purpose: solos have speed, but it’s not constant, rather it’s a natural outpouring from a search for a melody, or a way to navigate a tune.

This band is a combination of the old hand, Miro, lecturer and long-established international composer and performer, with top students at the end of their masters year. The students have been playing together for years, and the interaction shows. I noticed open gazes and with clear, unspoken interactions. I’ve often spoken here of Luke for his chordal and harmonic conceptions, Bill for his speed and clarity, Ed for his intimacy and fluidity, Miro for his maturity and strength and charming but uncomplicated melodies, so I won’t go through it all again. Suffice to say, this was an impressive outing with considerable sensitivity and inventiveness and lots of new and interesting compositions, and I enjoyed it lots. Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn) performed at the Gods with Luke Sweeting (piano), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

4 October 2009

Fellow visitor

Just one night in Kuala Lumpur, but a lucky night to catch an international tour of note. Tim Garland and the Lighthouse Trio were playing at the Alexis Bistro Ampang. Tim Garland is a noted reed player and composer out of England, with awards to his name, sessions with Chick Corea, classical and jazz composition commissions including one by Corea to rearrange the Crystal Silence album for Corea and Gary Burton to play with the Sydney Symphony in 2007. Several of these arrangements have since been released on the new crystal Silence album. The Lighthouse Trio is currently on a tour to promote a new album, and will be visiting Australia in late October (Canberra doesn’t get a visit). So Tim and the band have renown and local connections.

This was something out of the ordinary, although jazz is often out of the ordinary these days. Worldly, with Middle Eastern and Spanish and South American influences, and a diverse range of percussion and reed sounds. Classical, through presumed classical training of the pianist and Tim himself. Some sense of swing, but more rhythmic, driving, even heavy. This was a trio, but not of a common mix: there was no bass other than that supplied by deep drums and piano, and no standard drum kit. The reeds were standard enough, but highly proficient, throughout the range, toying with tonalities and frequently moving through bass clarinet to tenor and soprano: diverse sounds and proficient execution. The piano was busy and rich and extensive. I thought of early 20th century classical, like Ravel, and expect he’s trained in these styles. There were times when I heard left hand accompaniment and extensively dissonant right hand soloing, but generally the hands were more as one, less defined in roles, freely playing the low registers in the absence of a bassist and enjoying cross-rhythms against the drums. The drums were not so much timekeepers as a lithe wash of colour overlaying the heavier and defining statements of the other two players. Light tones, with unusual drums and often played with the hands. One unusual drum, the Hang drum, formed the basis of one composition. It was played with hands, was pitched, and had that delightfully joyous tone of the steel drum mixed with a heavy core thud. Another composition was a melody by Tim layered over a ten-beat Middle Eastern cycle, so this percussion did have influence on the writing of the band. The tunes were mostly originals, often with rapid, melodically pure lines that were reminiscent of Corea. The solo passages sat over extended repeats, but would drop into unison lines, or sit excitingly with crossing rhythms and patterns. There was one with an ever ascending 8-bar sequence. Another was a tango with its militant march and brooding secrets and suggestions of danger. There was also a standard, Blue and Green from the Kind of Blue album, but extensively reworked. There were rippling piano chords and gentle but obvious sax delays.

This was not demanding like free, not jolly like trad or lively like swing, but it was a challenging set and it demonstrated the broad purview of jazz today, covering a spectrum from classical formality and technique to worldly vibes and tonalities. I heard this as great playing from a original compositional voice. Tim Garland (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet) led the Lighthouse Trio with Gwilym Simcock (piano) and Asaf Sirkis {drums, percussion, bass Udu, Hang drum, etc).

The night had started somewhat earlier when Megan and I had pre-dinner drinks. It was a decent KL hotel, so it’s not surprising to find music at this time. This was piano bar music, with film themes and gentle pop from the standards era onwards. Some favourites of mine (should I admit it?) like Moon river and Shadow of your smile, and some ever-present others like Desperado, Michelle, Georgia and even Love me tender. It’s soft stuff, but it was nicely played by Ahmad Saifuddih. Ahmad is a guitarist but he also gigs on piano in this gentle, background style. There are plenty of tritone substitutions and chromatic movements and flourishes and flowing arpeggios and segues. Nice stuff, and very pleasant for a chat and a drink. But one piece still has us pondering: was it really a blend of I still call Australia home and Fools rush in? Ahmad Saifuddih played a piano bar set at the Grand Millenium Hotel.

  • Tim Garland's website
  •