27 October 2011

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/1)

Moruya is an annual opportunity to catch up on the Jazz School, at least if you hang out at the Air Raid Tavern. The larger ensembles are mostly there. The faculty is always represented somehow. This year it was Vince Jones and Matt Thompson as leaders. Luke appeared with some prominent students as the ANU All Stars and also with his Sextet. As usual, I kept a particular eye open for the bassists. There were also the trad and mainstream communities and the festival of voice and the jazz gospel service and the St Louis-style march. The march is fun, especially if you can walk with your instrument. I’ve only seen it once and, as I remember, the tunes were A closer walk with me and When the saints go marching in. The walk is hardly the stuff of the modern or avant garde or even of the Air Raid Tavern, which is the modern jazz centre and the hangout of the Jazz School. We appeared this year as Sax & the Citizens with Mike, Richard and guest Henry Rasmussen. A nice innovation this year was a few open sessions for jams (called Blackboard Band sessions, but the jams just happened, no blackboards required). I got to play in one and another was settling in for the night when I left the Air Raid on Saturday. I saw about 20 bands over the weekend, and won’t report them all. So, what featured for me?

Vince Jones led a quartet with Matt McMahon, Eric Ajaye and Mark Sutton. This was a concert style in a new concert venue, so it’s different from the normal intimate Moruya experience. This was gentle, politically committed and nicely flowing, as Vince’s concert are. I like the way he merges tunes and maintains an atmosphere. And I like the way he’s committed to more than just the music. It’s refreshing. I’m not so spiritually inclined but politically I enjoy the snouty right wing consternation after his concerts. No harm done there. Musically, I especially remember a beautifully detailed head that was richly improvised: detailed like scat but with words and soft and unintrusive. What is it about trumpet that produces singers like this? Vince Jones (vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn) led a quartet with Matt McMahon (keyboards), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

I can talk of the Luke Sweeting Sextet and the ANU All Stars (terrible name!) in one paragraph. They were a blast and perhaps my favourite music of the weekend. The All Stars were led by Reuben, with Luke Sweeting, Max Williams, Rohan Dasika and Aidan Lowe. They played music of Reuben and Luke and some interesting non-originals by the likes of Tomas Stanko. Luke’s Sextet added Matt Handel and played charts by Luke. Perhaps the Stars were more mesmeric and restrained, although I remember a march-like piece, while Luke’s tunes were more harmony-flavoured, charted vehicles, but both had involved and committed solos against great grooves and were truly impressive outings. The ANU All Stars was led by Reuben Lewis (trumpet) with Luke Sweeting (keys), Max Williams (tenor), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums). The Luke Sweeting Sextet added Matt Handel (alto, tenor).

Crossing over with Luke and the All Stars in style and membership was Alex Raupach. He’s another band leader with original compositions in a modern style of less frequent chord changes and satisfying, floating melody. I place somewhere near the All Stars, but without the ventures into mesmeric minimalism. Alex Raupach (trumpet) led a quintet with Matt Handel (alto, tenor), Andy Butler (piano), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Aidan Low (drums).

I’ll highlight just a few individual players although they weren’t the only ones that stood out for me. Firstly, Aidan Lowe for his hard work. He’s a wonderfully strong player and on many first call lists. On Saturday he played eight sets straight and was still playing with interest and energy in the last set, but reasonably turned down the jam afterwards. Another is bassist Rohan Dasika. I’d only heard Rohan at one jam session before where he played a steady and repetitive Footprints. He’s ready and able to maintain an unchanging groove (he’s also studying in the classical school and if you’ve seen some orchestral bass scores, you’ll understand that repetition is common there, too) but he could also lay down and improvise on strong grooves and solo with bow or pizz. I was taken aback when he played the final few bars of Donna Lee in unison with horns at bop speed. He did the same on another tune with German bow. As you’d expect from a classical cat his intonation and chops were just right, but his grooves and walks were also good. I should mention Reuben Lewis, too, for Moruya and several gigs I’ve heard him at recently. His playing these days is wonderfully sophisticated, fully-toned, vibrant and appropriate in some very different contexts. A pleasure.

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/2)

Matt Thompson has been an enigma to me, being a particularly sparse-cum-minimalist performer, but I heard him twice at Moruya and I loved it. Sparse is certainly the word. You ache for the next delayed note in a melody that’s not so much challenging as just right. And when the whole band does it together, it’s quite magical. It seems touched with blues (a blues connotation?) in its simplicity and its infectiousness and, with Josie’s words, it takes on a singer-songwriter significance. Then, given the desert-dry atmosphere, a waterfall of notes in Matt’s solo in the last tune was a stunner. I enjoyed these two sets. Matt Thompson (piano) leads a quartet with Josie Jensen (vocals), Rafael Jerjen (bass) and Henry Rasmussen (drums).

Lakeside Circus is a favourite of mine. It’s a creation of Jono Lake, but he was called back to Canberra and the band did the set without him. I listened to Sun Ra returning from the coast, and the Circus has a similarly playful and iconoclastic vigour. Trumpeter Shane Spellman took to the drumkit that Jono now leads from and Reuben Lewis sat in for Shane on trumpet. This is vibrant, fun, entertaining, even dissident music that thrives on its frolicsome composition and collective performance. Fun and refreshing. Jono Lake (piano, drums) is the leader and composer for Lakeside Circus but was not available. This day, the Circus was Andrew Fedorovich (alto), Max Williams (tenor), Patrick Langdon (trombone), Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Alec Coulson (bass) and Shane Spellman (drums).

26 October 2011

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/3)

Duck was unexpected and refreshing band: guys just having fun and music you just hang out to dance to. Josie led this funky, R&B outfit playing’60s tunes like the Stylistics and the classic political protest song, What’s going on. This was deadened thumbed bass, off-beat drum fills, beaming synth solos and an overdriven guitar solo at the end that gave me goosebumps. And Josie, cool and contagious out front. The only goosebumps I had all weekend. Duck comprised Josie Jensen (vocals), Callum Stewart (keys), Matt Dixon (guitar), Caleb Wearne (bass) and Sam McNair (drums).

I caught a family outing in two bands: father David Lole led a quartet performing mainstream featuring Melbourne saxist Roger Clark. His daughter is ANU student Rachel Lole who led a band playing delightful interpretations of the standards repertoire. David Lole (piano) led a quartet with Melbournites Roger Clark (tenor) and Alan Richards (drums) and student Caleb Wearne (bass). Rachel Lole (vocals) led a quartet with Clare Dawson (piano), Jared Plane (bass) and Henry Rasmussen (drums).

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/4)

All three large ANU ensembles were in the Moruya program. I missed the Big Band, but I caught the Commercial and Recordings Ensembles. The Commercials were funky, loud, exciting as ever. I particularly noticed screaming guitar solos by Daniel Kim that were more formed and less extreme than when I’d heard him recently at Hippo, a hot slap bass solo from Jordan Tarento and a really lovely latin groove with drum solo featuring drummer Luke Keanan-Brown with Eric Ajaye on e-percussion, amongst various horn and key solos and Liam Budge’s singing. The Recording Ensemble was led by Matt Handel in the absence of Miro. I was surprised to see two double basses standing at the back, but they didn’t play together. This is a vehicle for members’ composition experiments, and there were a few, but also several of Miro’s tunes for Wanderlust or 10 Part Invention which are all wonderfully insistent and memorable tunes. The ANU Commercial Ensemble were Liam Budge (vocals), Ax Long (trumpet), Callum Gracie (trumpet), Matt Handel (alto), Tye Langford (tenor), Rachel Cummings (trombone), Josh Hart (trombone), Callum Stewart (piano), Daniel Kim (guitar), Jordan Tarento (bass) and Luke Keanan-Brown (drums). The ANU Recording Ensemble were James Moorehouse (clarinet), Matt Handel (alto), Joe McEvily (alto), Stephanie Jones (flute, alto), Miles O‘Connell (tenor), Thomas Fawcett (tenor), Tye Langford (baritone sax), Alex Raupach (trumpet), Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Ax Long (trumpet), Josh Hart (trombone), Valdis Thomann (trombone), Daniel Kim (guitar), Andy Butler (piano), Jared Plane (bass), Alec Coulson (bass), Aidan Lowe drums).

Kade Brown is a young local South Coast pianist. I remember him from last year. I thought that this year he seemed more confident and steady. He plays hard biting 60s modern jazz, Footprints and the like, with power and commitment. It must be hard to run such a band in a small town, but the trio shared a common intensity. Bassist Steve was rather individual with his 5-string double bass and the deep resonance of a classic EV TL bin, and I liked Ken’s drum solo. Kade Brown (piano) played with Steve Clark (bass) and Ken Vatcher (drums).

Just to finish, I have one more family outfit out of the Jazz School: More or Leske. How I love that name! It’s a band formed from two members of the Leske family, Claire and Katrina Leske, to play originals with a hard bop influence. More or Leske are Claire Leske (trumpet), Katrina Leske (marimba), Jared Plane (bass) and Sam McNair (drums).

25 October 2011

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/5)

Moondance was a hit this year as in previous years – they were the popular favourite band at last year’s Moruya, and perhaps other years too. They play a gypsy-styled jazz with professional competence and presence. They had a drummer in the program but none on stage – I guess he couldn’t make it – so the instrumentation was unusual: violin/vocals, soprano sax, guitar and bass. There were lots of smiles, very capable playing on all the instruments and a supportive audience. Bassist John Conley is a friend of my band. I shared a beachhouse with him and was intrigued to hear his stories of years with Galapagos Duck, the renowned and popular Sydney jazz outfit that was the house band at the early Basement. Well played, John. Moondance are Kathy Bluff (violin, vocals), Paul Burjan (sax, flute), Pete Malone (guitar) and John Conley (bass).

Canberra local DJ Gosper was at Moruya this year as a headline band with two members of my band in tow and I caught a few tunes at the Golf Club. DJ is well presented, easy with the audience, considered in performance and with a strong blues influence and approach. This was nice playing and well received by the mainstream audience. DJ Gosper (vocals, harmonica) led the band with Mike Dooley (keys, vocals), Richard Manderson (sax) and Mike Stratford (drums).

Finally, my band. Members of Gossips appeared this year as Sax & the Citizens. We were a quartet with Mike, Richard, Henry Rasmussen and me. Thanks to Henry for helping out given Brenton was not available – nice job done despite little rehearsal, original tunes and few charts. It was a strongly bop and swing set, opening with Moment’s notice, and with several originals by Mike and one each by Richard and me: a balled, a swinger, a bop, an Arabic tune, a latin, a ‘60s modern. I preferred our gig on Friday evening which settled in quite nicely. Our second gig was changed from Sunday to Saturday morning and for several reasons was less relaxed and less satisfying. Mike and I got in a short jam with Reuben, Max and Aidan at the Air Raid later on Saturday. Good on the Festival for that innovation. It gives a sense of involvement and mixes the players a bit and it’s a view of a musician’s real world for the punters. Good idea. Sax & the Citizens were Mike Dooley (piano), Richard Manderson (saxes), Henry Manderson (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass).

I saw one of two other bands in passing and missed many others. But you should always save something for next time. Thus I saw it: an entertaining weekend and an update on the Jazz School. Moruya 2011.

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/6)

23 October 2011

Take them anywhere

Ed was wearing a t-shirt from Smalls Jazz Club NYC last night when he led his Edband at the Loft. It was a return for some recent masters graduates from the Jazz School, Bill and Ed, with a few mates they are playing with in Sydney, Casey Golden and George Nickolopolous. We got standards and some tunes from some current NYC heavies, but this was not just any standards gig. This was incredibly hot: both difficult and less difficult tunes, played with energy, precision and power and just a bliss to my ears. You could take them anywhere: no way would they be out of place at Smalls.

Ed was hugely energetic, but he’s also matured since leaving Canberra. He was always precise, always dynamic, always responsive to the guys he’s playing with, but this is taken to another level. This is professional, sharp as, hugely dynamic, precise rolls that end to snaps, whole body and face responding to the music, that frequently twirled stick just evidence. Bill was quieter this day, but always precise: lovely intonation, very quick when he chooses to be although he mostly plays thinkers’ solos. Reliably rhythmic in support and with a wonderful tone from top-end clarity without scratchiness or honk. Casey plays piano and that’s a favourite of mine especially on a decent acoustic grand piano. He played some lovely, clear, fast bebop lines but also atonal patterns, and he played with time, variously with anticipation and delays and a frequent disregard of the barlines. There was a nice sense of variation and development in his solos, building, moving, changing harmonically and melodically inventive. Guitarist George was a different animal. He sat easily, often not playing, behind other solos and played melody with disarming simplicity and restraint, but his solos were urgent, fast from the top, berretta-rapid lines. His earlier solos were of a more obvious harmony, but they developed through sequences that moved high over the tunes’ structure and he surprised me later with some touches that were harmonically and rhythmically free. The sound was fat and deep with electric thud and an edge of echo and the effect was hot and sweaty.

So I liked the band. And the tunes. Dolphin dance started the night with the most delightful sparseness that was touched with occasional walking swing. It’s you or noone was a hard hitting workout. Isfahan was a ballad with understated guitar melody over colours from piano and brushes. Then My favourite things reminiscing of Coltrane and a pop song, Mad world, which was nice and chordally simple (Bill got a rest). The second set was more adventurous. Chick Corea’s fabulous Matrix was wonderfully tight and alive with its contorted logic. With its urgent and bent head, I‘d forgotten that it’s just a blues. Then two tunes by Ari Hoenig: The Painter and an arrangement in changing times of Coltrane’s Moments notice, mostly in 7/8 but also 5/4. These were difficult tunes, and the playing was hot and so tight. Then Albermarle by NYC saxist Will Vincent. It’s 6/8 with defined rhythmic arpeggiated bass and Bill was reading and obviously concentrating here. Then to finish, what else but All the things you are, but in cycling time signatures: 7/8, 5/4, maybe 4/4, maybe others.

This was one to lie back and take in as the storm passes over you: energy and precision in equal and generous parts. Bill and Ed blew in from Sydney to play for old mates and it was a blowout. Welcome in the best clubs. Ed Rodrigues (drums) led his quartet, EdBand, with Bill Williams (bass), Casey Golden (piano) and George Nickolopolous (guitar).

16 October 2011

An ageing romcom

It’s a story that is raising chatter about the ageing boomers: love, sex, relationships and affairs in the twilight years. Lawrie & Shirley: a poem, a move, a play is Geoff Page’s take on this thorny topic as a romantic comedy. Geoff wrote it as a verse novel (originally subtitled a move in verse) with parallel filmic visual imagery and lines that sit with gentle poetic rhythm and easy rhymes. Lines and easy rhymes. I didn’t count the accents, but it was unobtrusive and easy to listen to as a lengthy monologue.

This is the story of Lawrie and Shirley. Lawrie is 81 and a lifelong ladies’ man; Shirley is 70 and intends to change his ways. He likes high baroque; she likes Mantovani. They embark on a loving relationship late in life, fresh and young despite their years, with a final dreamt-of tour of the sights of Europe. But it’s not an easy path. Their kids, obviously not shared, agree on one thing: they don’t want this and they do want the inheritance. They make a tacky trio: Lawrie’s son Bennie, lifelong drinker, and Shirley’s two daughters, Sarah and Jane, both wealthy and greedy. Jane is taken for the ride; Bennie is crude but weak; Sarah is the particularly unpleasant one. Perhaps unexpectedly, Sarah’s grammar-educated teenage boys are intrigued and positive. It all has to come to an end, and it does with Lawrie’s heart attack and subsequent accident that kills him and leaves Shirley the survivor. The final comeuppance is Lawrie’s will, read to an unhappy family. It’s generous to Sarah’s understanding children and surprisingly to Bennie’s drinking habit and to the much loved Shirley, of course.

It’s a difficult theme for many people and thus a test. It’s also one we may face as children or as ourselves soon enough. Geoff presents it with humour and honesty and empathy and we enjoy the happy ride and despair of the self-seeking children. We forget the monologue and the rhythmic couplets, whatever however the meter is parsed. It’s a lovely story and it’s presented with joy and understanding and some mischief by Chrissie Shaw with the accompaniment of the solo violin / viola of Ewan Foster. And it’s another play set in our local Canberra. Thanks Geoff.

Geoff Page (author) wrote the verse novel, Lawrie & Shirley. Chrissie Shaw (actor) performed it as a monologue with accompaniment by Ewan Foster (violin, viola) at Street Theatre 2.

Poet Stephen Edgar launches Geoff Page's Lawrie & Shirley

The enemy and the opposition

The play was The MP. and it was written in and about Canberra under a commission from the Street Theatre with advice from a string of names and unnamed (mostly female) politicians and journalists, so it was local and true to place and manners. And there’s something different about a Federal political culture. I doubt Canberra is like Sydney’s Bearpit. This is a culture that pulsates with the sitting sessions, that lives hard and fast, away from home and family, for the odd days and weeks of sitting sessions, like an ever repeating conference. The wrangling over dinner in Lyneham was there and the leaks in the Sculpture Garden, but also the presence of family and public and “real life” in the electoral office. It’s a common misconception that people and life outside Canberra are “real life” but it’s not true. The life of Parliament House is real – terrifyingly so, as we saw here – but it’s the life of power and decision and it’s played by its own, sometimes playful, sometimes brutal, but always knowing and power-aware rules.

As was never said but obviously implied, this was the story of a long-term, female opposition backbencher grappling with issues of disability in the time of a female PM, so it’s set now. But the themes are for all time: the role of women; power; family commitment and public duty; idealism vs practicalism. MP Ava Turner hires a confident new advisor, Nadia. The same day, a constituent couple visits asking for help to investigate the suicide of their 25-year old daughter with Acquired Brain Injury who had been raped and then suicided in a nursing home. Unknown to audience and characters, Ava has a disabled son who is also in care. She takes on the case as a crusade, there are public service leaks, journalist scoops, appearances on Q&A, various ministerial minder threats and offers, lover’s concerns and other constituent visits. In the end, she fails with a private member’s motion that isn’t seconded and considers crossing the floor if the Government includes her concerns in an upcoming bill. I won’t tell how it ends. Suffice to say, some characters thought she was a wily old politician who’d planned it all along, but it seemed to me a bit of luck that fell right. It was a long and involved play and I and others missed spots of dialogue, but it was well presented and interesting and topical. I pondered the bare stage setting with stacks of white plates and decided the symbolism of smashing plates at times of tension was satisfying. I was amused by Andrea Close who played four parts, including Ava’s old nurse mate Bonnie, now a mature and astute public servant. I particularly laughed at a scene where the Ava’s doctor lover plays the ministerial advisor at his own game. Soren Jensen’s performance as Cliff, Ava’s disabled son, was emotionally wrenching and his minder character, Drew, was chilling. Leah Baulch had a key part as Nadia and she was good, although I wasn’t always convinced by the character. Geraldine Turner was Ava, and she was eminently believable and had me thinking of the importance and yet impotence of the backbencher. We are lucky to have a decently functioning politics (as was observed in one scene) even if we don’t recognise it (as was also observed). Canberra was built for federal politics, and all Canberrans are aware of it even if they are not all centrally involved in it. The MP. seemed a true evocation of the life of Parliament House, the daily grind and manipulations, the public face and private fatigue, the public denigration and sheer politics, but also the personal commitment, the acquiescence and occasional bravery of this world. I enjoyed it immensely.

Geraldine Turner was Ava Turner MP. Leah Baulch was Nadia, and Andrea Close, Stephen Barker and Soren Jensen played other parts. Caroline Stacey directed and Alana Valentine wrote The MP. and it was commissioned by and premiered at the Street Theatre.

Review by John Uhr, Centre for Study of Aust'n Politics, ANU

14 October 2011

Stoic and unrelenting

My week of free improvisation continued with a concert of Showa44, again at Smith’s. Showa44 is a renowned outfit with two highly regarded players: guitarist Carl Dewhurst and drummer Simon Barker. Simon is known for his studies of Korean percussion (there’s even a film made about this) so I wasn’t surprised to find Korean vocalist Bae Il-Dong sitting in, and another Korean, percussionist and WonkWang University Professor Dong-Won Kim, voicing just a bit of harmony. A larger band based around Simon and his Korean colleagues is about to tour the Middle East of coming months and we got to see a small part of this. And what a fabulously involving performance it was. I’ve heard Japanese drumming before, but not Korean, and it’s powerful and relentless. Simon suggested Korean drumming is even more unremitting: he mentioned performances lasting 3-days. Even I could pick elements of this in Simon’s playing: the matched grips, the resonant chimes, the delicate cymbals, the sustained but moving soundscapes, the persistent, vigorous, elemental matched sticks on skins, the sheer volume. Carl was an easy partner. I overheard Simon agreeing with a listener that they sought resonances between guitar and drums. I hadn’t particularly noticed that, at least not real audio-resonances, although there were obvious connections in the playing. I’d heard guitar as a soundbox, tapped, prodded, hammered, slided, amplified, vibratoed and tremoloed, echoed and distorted and modified to create repeating patterns of sound and little tonality, although with just a few occasions of chord shapes or some delicious wind-chime-sounding lines of arbitrary rhythm but repeating pitch. There were times I heard Asian gardens in all this: dripping water and rustling leaves. There were also storms of power and overwhelming, sustained intensity, but intensity with discipline and rigour and Stoic dignity. Then, occasionally, from the quiet, or leading or confronting the volume, came vocals with microtonal scales at intervals oddly chosen against the guitar’s tonal centre, at least for a Western ear, and screams and strong vibratos and gurgles and wide, open-mouthed vocalisations from deep within the body. Rich and expressive and elemental, and very, very different from Western-trained voices.

Thus it went for the first set of 60 minutes, and another of 50 minutes after the break. Two long and unnamed and presumably free improvisations (although I thought I heard what must have been a Korean song in there once). Two sets of variation, of relentless intensity power and delicate repose, of indefinite tonality and detailed Asian microtones. I, for one, was thrilled.

Showa44 are Simon Barker (drums, percussion) and Carl Dewhurst (guitars, effects). They were joined by Bae Il-Dong (vocals) and for just a touch of harmonies by Dong-Won Kim (vocals).

12 October 2011

Freedom

Freedom is strange beast. It’s a motherhood good but a political football as Liberty: just think “freedom from” and “freedom to”. But in music, it’s a challenge to my traditional ears but a quizzical and refreshing opening to new sounds and techniques. I guess it’s under Free that you’d place Verschrankung Duo and Julian Day’s A.I.R. Certainly they were advertised under the banner of Free Improvisation and Experimental Music Resource. Experimental may be the better name. Why?

Surely the techniques of Verschrankung Duo are free. There’s no traditional tonality or harmony or chart or melody or rhythm. I spoke to Reuben after, and the word he most used was texture. Seeking aural soundscapes of beauty with two instruments that intermingle as sounds, rather than within formal structures. Seeking techniques to fill space with this interaction. But interestingly, this is not an individualist pursuit. Richard introduced the duo with a translation of “verschrankung”. It’s German for entanglement, so this is not libertarian but socialised. Two instruments seeking close relationship in aural space. Maybe I take the political parallels too far (especially given that music is the most abstract of the arts), but I find my mind wondering on issues when listening to these open and searching sound explorations. I like that, and it’s seldom something that I do listening for more traditional and formalised musics. I include most jazz in this group, with its western concepts of rhythm, melody and harmony, even if it goes dissident with improvisation, although free jazz crosses over. This experimental music is a non-intellectualised form that gets me thinking and that intrigues me. V Duo played three pieces. The first two were openly textural. I noted circular breathing in one or perhaps two tunes; lots of slaps and pops and breathing rather than forming notes, and the use of a drum as a resonating membrane. I liked Reuben’s tonality when he dropped into some delicious, murmuring bop lines, and Richard even implied chords with a baritone sax ostinato in the third tune. There’s wasn’t much tonality, but it was nice when it appeared, and the soundscapes were intricate and quite beautiful for the rest of the time.

The approach was different but the effect was similar when Julian Day performed his piece labelled A.I.R. (An Infinity Room). This was a barrage of amplified, organ-like keyboard tones with moving harmonies and resonating beats that filled the space and moved with performance and place. Again, I found my mind wondering, so the effect, at least on me, was the same. I found the volume satisfying and necessary for the style, but also tiring and perhaps damaging in its relentlessness. But the rhythmic beats that grew from two small keyboards set with the same vibrato organ tone and played with bolts weighing on keys, six bolts per keyboard for a pairing of six-part harmony, was a killer: overwhelming and powerful but quite beautiful. Being contemporary, it was also environmental in its response to space (beats and balance changed as I moved my head and presumably would change more if you walked around the room) and historically aware in its response to Western harmony and its view to future musical structuring. I’m sure it was formal rather than free: this was composed. Julian slowly moved bolts to depress keys on each keyboard, moving one after another so the two keyboards lost and returned to unison, all under some formal, mathematical rules that structured the composition but in living response to the repetitious beating groove. This was loud and mesmeric and all-encompassing: at odds with the approach of Richard and Reuben, but alike in outcome.

The Verschrankung Duo comprised Richard Johnson (soprano sax, baritone sax, drum) and Reuben Lewis (trumpet). Julian Day (keyboards, bolts) performed A.I.R. (An Infinity Room). Both performed at a night of experimental music at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop.

10 October 2011

Double bass

It wasn’t the double basses at John Mackey’s gig that attracted me, but it did interest me. There have been experiments before with two basses, or two drummers; Ornette even had two bands. In the end, there were three basses, although only two ever played together at one time: Jonathan Zwartz and Rohan Dasika played together, and Max Alduca took the solo bass chair on one tune.

This was not a highly organised or charted gig. It was unrehearsed and more a hot session with some great players performing John’s standard sax repertoire. John likes it this way and it went down a treat. Long blows on just six tunes over two sets: Blue 7, Jonathan’s “Something more ambient” jam, Miss Jones, Footprints>Giant steps, Oleo and Take the Coltrane. Standard modern sax workouts from around the ‘50s and Jonathan’s ambient groove insert. But what playing! These are amongst the top local players, and it showed. John shredding tenor harmonies and Matt contorting lines on the alto. Andy moving through chords with a post-bop sensibility and fluency. Mark pushing with steady brushes and sticks on a woody-sounding kit and occasionally loosening up for a short solos. Rohan and Jonathan listening, and avoiding each other’s domain: high repeating lines against walks, or bowed solos against grooves or just dropping out for uninterrupted single bass lines. I found the basses did merge a little. It’s low down there, and the tones aren’t as identifiable as two horns together or even two pianos. Rohan said before the gig that he would concentrate on “keeping out of the way” and they were obviously both doing that. But what playing. Rohan was great and impressed with classically trained precision and that bowing skill. Jonathan’s just a star. He’s a big man who looks comfortable and plays with eminent solidity and strength on the big bass, with a massive tone and a bell-like clarity of intent. His solo to end the night just floored me.

So, it was a loose night, but with some excellent playing that would go down anywhere. In the Loft, in Canberra, for an audience of a few dozen afficionadoes. What skills and art this is. A blowout. John Mackey (tenor) led a sextet with Matt Handel (alto), Andy Butler (piano), Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums). Max Alduca (bass) replaced Jonathan and Rohan for Oleo.

9 October 2011

Jamming worldwide

I was not the only person who commented that these jams are great fun, even if not too frequent. This one was a repeat at the Hippo, with an introductory set and support by Luke Sweeting’s Front and Siders. This was a shockingly capable display of composition and musicianship and a challenge for the improvisers waiting to have a play, but a jam is a loose and extroverted thing and this is a friendly group so it all went well with some seriousness but also good will.

Firstly, the Front and Siders. They started with Sam River’s beautiful Beatrice, but then it was all original compositions, I think all by Luke. The tunes were complex, varied, often charted for unison lines of bass and piano left hand, or piano and guitar (this combination sounded quite fusion-ish, I thought), inventive piano over left hand pedals, nice rich ostinatos behind drums solos or mesmeric interludes and long crescendos. There was intensity and suspense. There were quiet, reflective times where the band sat playing minimally and held tension. I particularly noticed how effectively they could sit on a groove that was waiting to lift. But there were also explosions of energy, especially from Daniel on guitar, with fat, electric-flat tone and screaming high notes and hard-strummed chords and chromatic sequences and excitable rises and emotional denouements. James responded with solos that spoke more gently including one with German bow. Luke was masterful on complex harmonies and substitutions and the less common scales. Pianos can do this and Luke is doing it great justice with complexity but also with and easy acceptability despite the challenging tonalities and rhythms. Aidan was not intrusive, but free flowing and precise and so easy to listen to. It was a wonderfully impressive set and a great way to return to Canberra jazz after an NYC sojourn. This is sophisticated and satisfying music at a high level. The Front and Siders were Luke Sweeting (piano), Daniel Kim (guitar), James Luke (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

So that was the prequel for a night of jamming. It was fun. Luke was the one pianist so worked hard, but there were several horns, guitars, bassists, drummers, so they were shared around. I sat in for two tunes: a Bb blues and Alone together. Otherwise, it was bebop, All the things you are and the like: common jam tunes, but nicely played with seriousness but also joy. It was a smaller group in attendance, and perhaps more relaxed for it. Looking forward to more.