jazz and improvised music


Ten Part Invention 30th Anniversary

SIMA March Series, the Sound Lounge, March 11th 2016
Reviewed by John Clare

At their Sound Lounge venue in Sydney SIMA, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the ten piece Ten Part Invention whose career they have helped launch and sustain. After the sensational night I remarked to the band's trombonist James Greening, " A lot of my life is in that music."
He nodded thoughtfully and replied, "Mine too."
This vital band was formed by drummer John Pochee for the Adelaide festival - 30 years ago of course. His aim was to present a smaller, flexible big band that would play Australian compositions and arrangements, mostly from within the ensemble. A founding member sandy Evans has told me that she was amazed that such diverse individual stylists played so cohesively together from their first appearances.
In 30 years some people leave or die of course. Roger Frampton, Ken James and Bernie McGann are the departed in all senses. Bassist Steve Elphick was one who returned from other regions for the anniversary. Indeed we heard the band in almost its original form. Of course Dave Goodman has assumed John Pochee's chair for some time, due to serious health problems on the leader and original drummer's part. His drumming is both powerful and accurate. The virtues of  these two rhythm players was immediately apparent as the night began with Roger Frampton's And Zen Monk. The band achieved  a huge bounce and drive capped by Frampton's ending, which incorporated a series of upward spirals and blasts.
It is hard to conceive that there are only two trumpets. In written ensembles those two - Warwick Alder and Miroslav Buchovsy play as one man (though sounding like at least four), but in solos display contrasting sounds and overall conceptions. Buchovsky constructs fiery or introspective solos with a tight and elegant, darker brass tone, cleanly limned. he draws on more recent sources. Alder has at times a softer and even huskier edge and a wider sound that can bark or speak breathily. both can play in a rapid rhythmic chatter, but Buchovsky is often  tighter sonically. Alder can also play tightly and brillliantly but often chortles in a looser stacatto onslaught of runs. Solo or in ensemble, the pair lash the air and sometimes pierce it with sudden screams that startle and push the listeners back in their chairs.
Of course Count Basie's band often had two contrasting soloists on both saxophone and trumpet, and Ten Part (whose arrangements are mostly well removed from Basie's) has two contrasting trumpets and four contrasting saxophonists: Bob Birtles, Paul Cutlan, Andrew Robson and Sandy Evans. All play pretty much the gamut of the saxophone family. Excitement is never absent for long with Ten Part, but they also present a number of compositions of subtle transparency and rich chordal formations from Frampton, Evans and Buchovsky. these too can be blasted by blazing gales of brass, sometimes thickened by the rich and sometimes raucous sound of James Greening's trombone.Here is a trombonist who could have got a job with Duke Ellington  After And Zen Monk  we heard pieces by Bukovsky and Evans that drew the mind back along uncanny paths that had indeed become imbued with memories from our own lives.
While this was a commemoration we heard a new piece by Andrew Robson's. It was called Poets Must Keep Their Eye On The Moon and was inspired by a poem from a book by the distinguished Michelle Morgan who now lives in new Zealand. Memory certainly played a part here, for I had read a selection of Morgan's poems - at her request - at the launch of a fine book of hers. But Robson's writing was just as beautiful and distinctive in his medium. A number of wonderfully delicate and beautifully coloured  musical figures appeared in the air and separated like a thrown bouquet before  sailing on in subtly related paths.
The final set was given to Frampton's Jazznost Suite (and here we must mention Paul MacNamara's brilliant approach in replacing the late Roger at the piano), which was written after an overwhelmingly received tour of Russia by Ten Part's rhythm section (which played independantly as The Engine Room). Obviously it was duroing the optimistic period of Glasnost.  We won'r describe every movement, but we'll note some highlights. the second movement - Very Fragile - was adorned by a flugel horn solo by Bukovsky, who has one of the most beautiful sounds in the world on this instrument, which is like an inflated trumpet with a softly billowing  tone that is quite bucolic, but also in a way very urban.
The longest movement is perhaps the most intriguing, but it would have been better for some if it was announced that this was inspired by a very long train ride indeed - 12 hours on stop -across Russia. the duress is clear but it is also hypnotic and powerful. Toward the end it is clear that some bumps in the track are encountered. Some brilliant rhythmic displacements ensued, with winding and intertwining ensemble figures.

Pochee next day told me that some young listeners confessed themselves "gob-smacked" by the music. So was I and I have it all on CD and have heard most of it live before. 

John Clare

February Jump Up curated by Jon Rose

Foundry616, February 1st
Reviewed by John Shand

While composed music can be playful, improvised music almost inevitably is, with more overt "game" elements sometimes emphasised or even formalised. From an audience's standpoint, improvisation unfolds in real time as both a process and a finished product simultaneously.

Jump Up was a one-off collaboration between eight improvisers who had never played collectively before. Rather than leaving them entirely to their own devices, violinist Jon Rose curated the concert in ways that guaranteed a diversity of musician combinations and dynamics.

The first half consisted of a single 40-minute improvisation in which, with a digital clock as a reference, Rose provided the players with a timeline of who would play with whom, when, in combinations from octet to solo, and with occasional dynamic indications.

At the kick-off, anarchic humour set the tone when pianist Mike Nock's gentle, almost pastoral, introduction was suddenly trampled by a mad cacophony from Rose, Nock, Tony Buck (drums), Clayton Thomas (double bass), Julia Reidy (guitar), Holland's Luc Houtkamp (tenor saxophone), Switzerland's Franziska Baumann (vocals) and Norway's Henrik Norstebo (trombone).

The various timed combinations threw up intriguing textures and brought out different aspects of the players' musical characters, with Baumann's sensationally imaginative, sophisticated and unselfconscious singing a delight.

The timed format's drawback was that several times – just as some especially interesting music was being developed – it was curtailed to make way for the next event. A capacity for the players occasionally to override the system may have been preferable.

For the second set, Rose had various sub-groups creating discrete improvisations.

A piano/tenor/violin trio seesawed between contrast and convergence, and a solo trombone spot revealed the breadth of Norstebo's extended techniques. However, sometimes extended techniques can become as much an end in themselves in improvised music as conventional virtuosity elsewhere.

Particular highlights included a duet between Baumann's floating notes and Thomas' harmonics that spiralled into mad freneticism, and a tenor/guitar/drums trio that congregated on extraordinary bell-like

Mimi Jones and Camille Thurman Quartet
Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival 2015
Foundry616, November 12, 2015
Reviewed by John Shand

From the opening bar vitality spilt from this music like beer from a jug. The piece was the standard My Shining Hour, and it was certainly part of the shiniest hour I heard in this year's Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival. If the purpose of arts festivals is to expose audiences to the new rather than reinforce the old, here was an ideal act. Having never been here before Americans Camille Thurman (tenor saxophone, flute, vocals) and Mimi Jones (bass, vocals) will go home having made many converts.

Combining visiting and local musicians can be tricky, but this blend of Thurman and Jones with locals Steve Barry (piano) and Jodie Michael (drums) knitted together like a permanent band.

As was common enough 30 years ago (before fading in the stampede towards conservatism), Thurman and Jones drew on different eras of the music, as well as exploiting the unique aspects of their own artistry. Both exuded a natural musicality: nothing they attempted sounded false or forced.

As good a saxophonist as Thurman was she proved an even better singer, with an upper-register extension of quite startling impact. Jones was the more distinctive instrumentalist. Her ensemble playing was infused with catalysing propulsion, and her exciting solos contained such dynamic extremes that some light glissandi were merely whispering in the ear of silence, and other notes rocked the building's foundations. When she took the lead vocal on her own Sista her singing was potent and moving, preceding a bulldozing tenor solo, and with Michael's spirited drumming and Barry's scintillating piano this was rich and primal music.

The second set never reached such heights. Jones swapped from double bass to electric for much of it, and the music stayed within tighter confines. But across the night the group cohesion was outstanding, with Michael deploying beautiful touch while being consistently inventive (and very occasionally too busy), and Barry dazzling in his harmonic adventurousness, melodic resourcefulness, switchback rhythmic ideas and non-bombastic sense of drama.


Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival 2015
Foundry616, November 4, 2015
Reviewed by John Shand

Cuba produces brilliant musicians at almost the same rate it does cigars, and it stands out among those countries – including Turkey, Brazil, Ethiopia and South Africa – to enrich jazz as well as borrow from it.

The Canadian soprano saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett has enjoyed a long and fruitful fascination with Cuba's music, and for Maqueque she has assembled five of the country's outstanding young female players.

This made the project the perfect headliner and opening act for this year's Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival, which consists of 17 performances across 12 days and four stages.

The most compelling aspect of Bunnett and her colleagues' take on Afro-Cuban jazz was its sheer vibrancy. With the compositions memorised and no sheet music to distract, smiling interaction defined a concert that was clearly as much fun to play as to hear.

Bunnett's saxophone solos were generally more compelling than those on flute. Unlike most soprano players, her sound was neither sweet nor nasally, but rather sand-blasted and tinder-dry, with a piquancy that could border on the ferocious.

Something of that ferocity slipped into the grooves occasionally, too, notably from Yissy Garcia, who proved a potent and inventive drummer, if slightly too loud at times.

Pianist Danae Olano was unfortunately submerged in the mix in the first half, and seemed rather underdone on solo space given the striking quality of what emerged when she did feature.

She also shared vocal duties with bassist Celia Jimenez, percussionist Magdelys Savigne and lead singer Dayme Arocena (who added further percussion).

The percussion dialogues were always effervescent, as was the four-part singing, even if it was compromised by some lapses in intonation.

As good as the band sounded working up a head of steam, it was often even better when backing off and leaving space to enjoy the individual sounds and interlocking parts, as on Jimenez's La Flamenca Maria and a delightfully reimagined Ain't No Sunshine.

Mark Isaacs Trio feat. Briana Cowlishaw

Sound Lounge, September 16th 2015

Mark Isaacs, piano; Briana Cowlishaw, vocal; Brett Hirst, bass; and Tim Firth, drums

It's surely well known now that Mark Isaacs won a great deal of praise for two recent classical works - a symphony and a chamber symphony - including some very good words from Vladimir Ashkenazy.  

Here we heard him leading a trio accompanying, and in fact interacting with, a vocalist. In many ways the approach is unique to Isaacs. Here is one: Somehow he plays such active, brilliant and, yes, busy lines against the vocalist that one feels that it should not work. Yet it does. Almost all the time. Perhaps because the piano maintains a very nicely balanced complimentary independence. Sometimes many spaces are employed, sometimes a baroque brilliance that has the curious effect of running virtuosically in another acoustic space - in peripheral vision, so to speak. It is a phenomenon not unknown in either jazz or classical music.

What obviously should, and invariably does, work superbly are the atmospheric piano introductions, predominantly chordal with bright grace notes a fraction ahead of chosen chords. This gives the effect, if we can be a little fanciful, of a flower garden or, according to the disposition and voicings - the lushness - of the chords, flowers in grass. Over this the voice floats in (more of that in a moment). Some of the songs are well-tried but still beautiful "standards", some are standards now from a later era, also very lovely and, in one case somewhat mystical in feeling. For instance: James Taylor's I've Seen Fire And I've Seen Rain, Carole King's It's too Late, Baby and The Fool On The Hill, by The Beatles of course.

The era of the latter "standards" is of course the 1960s or thereabouts, when poignant melody began drifting into the general field of contemporary pop and rock. And of course there was a sense that pop songs were becoming "adult" although no more beautiful than, for instance, Teen Angel. Yes, it was of course the hippy era and Fool carries not only the poignancy that was undoubtedly part of the age, but the atmosphere of psychedelia, which is alluded to perfectly in Isaacs's introduction.

Now Cowlishaw's voice can be fragile, even frail, up high, but the transparent sound and inventive/sensitive phrasing are so potent that their affecting quality needs no muscular emphasis, though this can be supplied at surprise moments with strength. Isaacs's piano is formidable at every level. Cowlishaw's voice seems a more vulnerable thing. Somehow the combination works beautifully.

Between vocal choruses Isaacs usually executed, on this night at least, a supremely accomplished solo, sometimes quite long, but always gripping enough to keep attention high, so that the voice’s return is not as something forgotten and suddenly found. The voice glides in over a rich field of energy and colour as if it were awaited, and suddenly we realise that it was. But the solos are very much worth hearing in their own right. Themes arise spontaneously and are actually developed.

This rhythm section, as listed above, is quite a gift for both performers. Others must have felt the same, Paul Grabowsky for one. They lift and strike, lightly or fiercely. They interact, and they also solo beautifully. As I write they have all gone away on a tour of far away regions. I await their reports with keen interest.      

Freedman Jazz

The concert that decides the winner of the 15th Freedman Jazz Fellowship

Sydney Opera House Studio, 20th July 2015
Reviewed by John Clare

These nights, which cap a period of assessing recorded submissions by nominees along with their proposals as to what projects they will undertake should they win, are many things. Unfailingly they are thrilling concerts and informed cross sections of the diverse fields of current Australian jazz. This remains the case. All in a wonderful acoustic space at ground level in a unique building in a glorious harbourside setting - with the Sydney Harbour Bridge looming just right of centre ahead and the complex of city lights to the left.


I experienced the intensity of the background process when I was a judge one year, with Mike Nock and David Theak, with Dick Letts acting as Speaker Of The House, convener and moderator in his own harbourside apartment where we interviewed nominees, thrashed out our differences, reached compromises or, as it happened on the occasion, reached a unanimous decision. On that occasion, the winner was Melbourne bass guitarist Chris Hale, who was here at the Opera House on this 15th year. I was hailed by Chris, whom I had not seen for a while, and he told me how much the Freeman award had helped him realise his plans (we will hear more about that soon). The Freedmans had a very real and signifigant effect on his life.

Now that we have raised the spectre of the humble critic, I personally note that occasions when this lowly creature can feel that he or she has made some useful contribution to society are rare. This happened to be one of them and it was enhanced by the fact that two of the finalists in the 15th Freedmans  - Gian Slater and Peter Farrar - plus Finn Ryan who was playing drums in Farrar's band - were artists whom I had written about in profiles and reviews.

Enough hubris.

Tenor saxophonist, electric keyboardist/percussionist and composer  Mike Rivett led his band (Cameron Undy, bass, James Waples, drums and percussionist Georgio Rojas) into a free form collective cadenza which soon jumped into a highly percussive, rhythmically complex tight theme in which most notes on all instruments including the saxophone were clipped and hard. This was a most exhilarating battery. As it progressed softer levels were explored, and here Rivett's saxophone, always handsome in tone, displayed a gentler lyricism with effortless sustained notes in angular but soft-cornered and legato lines that gave rise to mysterious memories.  By this I mean that they reminded me of something which I could not immediately place. Aha, it was like a contemporary version of the tone and phrasing of "cool" players like Stan Getz, Warne Marsh, Bill Perkins et al in their most lyrical explorations. In the lower register the tenor had some intimations of the sound of a a bassoon. All in all it was highly distinctive.

The second piece had a kind of zombie walk effect that was both catchy and humorous. Unconsciously amusing was the brief spectacle of Rivett programming his keyboard with one foot while effortlessly negotiating virtuoso lines with his hands - or for a moment or two with one hand  as the other dropped to the keyboard while a foot continued manipulating on the floor. The final piece was as like a climax in reverse. Sudden softness instead of a sudden blaze of volume and energy. The ending was in fact still, meditative and thoughtful. The crowd supplied the energy of a traditional climax with loud cheers and clapping.

Next nominee was vocalist/composer Gian Slater, seated just forward and to the right of centre stage, flanked by pianist Barney McAll and drummer Simon Barker. McAll began with a chiming fall on the apparently electrified strings of his piano (he also had a small electric keyboard, I noticed). They gave a very high, somewhat piercing sound that was also sweet to the ear. And so was Slater's voice as she softly began. The two wove immediately gripping yet ethereal lines up in a soft snowy register that drew the listener into that inhabited space. The rest of the stage ceased to exist. In a while one noticed that Barker had  joined  with lightly brushed drums. I stopped taking notes to listen more intently. (Later I could not read what I had written in the dark anyway). This was a hypnotic intertwining, from which at one point McAll unwound like lightning an upward treble run or flourish of triumph or exultation. Gosh. There were brief songs that may have been improvised, maybe pre-written  - what did this matter? - on which they improvised, Slater wordlessly. Sometimes she wove lovely lines without consonants and sometimes suddenly flew like a bird in a series of chromatic modern jazz or bop-like lines. This was magic. There were things one might say about the innocence, naivety, or even affectation of the occasional verbal phrase, but there was really no affectation here. This is sincere. It is her, and it soon casts its spell.

For a time Barker played largely with mallets producing some wonderful timbral felicities. Then he treated us to a virtual solo on full kit against the continued playing of the other two. Here were uncanny moments where one shook the head in disbelief. The lowly critic could not help but speculate as to how sensationally good The Mentalist (for surely it was he - a little less good looking than one had expected) would be if he gave up his TV gig and concentrated on the drums. Those who warmed to this joke should get in touch. Counselling will be arranged.

After interval a most peculiar straggle of people came out on stage, drifting and peering as if lost... They were all masked and wore costumes that constricted their arms in a curious way. One had white balloons for eyes which also looked like light bulbs. The one whose legs were visible in tights was clearly Laura Altman, because she was the only girl listed in the band.

Leader and nominee Peter Farrar soon identified himself by lofting an alto saxophone and playing a powerful cadenza that, for all its technical astonishments was full of fierce passion and whiplash turns that seemed to draw blood. Winner, I speculatively concluded. We were then treated to a kaleidoscope of humorous and infectious dances influenced no doubt by the Ethiopian band in which Farrar plays, and improvisations, in which Altman played successively a pair of flues simultaneously and likewise a pair of clarinets. Dale Gorfinkel and another masked being not listed in the program played home made instruments that each consisted of a long pipe with what looked like a trumpet mute on the end. The range, pitchwise, and variety of sounds produced by these rudimentary devices was puzzling to say the least.

Most fascinating, indeed haunting, were two or three drifts and washes, of ensemble sound, seemingly weightless and sourceless, like something you might hear along an alley in some heat-paralysed place blazing with sunlight.


Oh, and Laura Altman sang brilliantly a couple of songs with hilarious gestures, like a cross between a star from the era of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and an ethnic folk diva from... well, somewhere.

And now, The WINNER :

You know already that this was pianist Tal Cohen, and I am exhausted, so I will leave the ending to the judges. "Tal showed a maturity beyond his years, a virtuosity that he does not flaunt but places at the service of the music. He demonstrated an ability to integrate various influences to produce a well structured set that maintains audience interest. He will spend his prize money on a most ambitious recording project with one of the world's greats, Terrence Blanchard, and his performance displaced a level of musicianship that will make this a success."

Band members Jamie Oehlers, saxophone, bassist Cameron Undy and drummer Tim Firth should also be congratulated on a a dynamic and stirring performance.

Paul Cutlan Album Launch

Across The Top 

Cutlan, composer and soloist with The Noise String Quartet : Veronique Serret (violin), Liisa Pallandi (violin), James Eccles (viola), Oliver Miller (cello) Brett Hirst (bass).

And special guests: Mara Kiek (voice and tapan), Llew Kiek (bouzouki)
Sound Lounge July 3
Review by John Clare
The instruments of a string quartet - 1st and 2nd violin, viola and cello - all have the same harmonic recipe. Or we could say that the overtones of each are in the same mathematical relationship. Or we could say that each has the same texture, disguised by the fact that each is transposed to a different pitch register. It is an organic ensemble. Effects and contrasts are not so easy as in an ensemble of radically different instruments. In the classical tradition writing for a string quartet has been seen as the ultimate test.
For his first album as leader, composer and soloist multi instrumentalist Paul Cutlan has taken the test (see instrumentation above). We had the pleasure of hearing this music live at The Sound Lounge and many of us are now experiencing the even deeper satisfaction of being able to hear it more than once on the CD. Beside the sheer pleasure and transporting evocations of the music there is the satisfaction of hearing something done remarkably well. 
Cutlan's string quartet writing is quite a surprise. While many of the most favoured figurations of the string quartet tradition are used with supreme competence and taste, a very distinctive feeling is achieved through an individual deployment of the many traditional voicings with a brilliant sense of context and a spell-binding continuity. And of course the underpinning of deep and solemn, almost groaning figures. 
There are dervish dances and brilliant contrapuntal displays in which new figures and counter melodies rise from those already moving in unexpected places from surprising angles. Also tremendously impressive is the way the three main themes are thrown to the winds and united. This was not fully grasped - for me at any rate - without repeated hearing. 
Brett Hirst's double bass functioned as part of the quartet, occasionally in the way the bass was added to the famous quintet by Brahms, but more often Hirst juxtaposed deep but lightly dancing - swinging in fact - pizzicato lines.
Cutlan's own solos - on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet - were (and are on the CD) superbly tempered to the sonic world of the quartet - different as the two worlds are. Actually they are at times not so different. Because of its high register the soprano saxophone can obviously be deployed to somewhat echo the violin while the cello and the clarinet can both develop a solemn and buzzing aura. The bass clarinet is more internally echoic, however (I mean that it seems to echo within itself) supplying another fascinating contrast. While Cutlan - a superb but often oddly self-dismissive musician - can play immaculately with or without jazz inflections, he also takes his solos into "free jazz" areas (sometimes these are similar to avant garde classical regions), staying at times in an extreme high register and distorting the sound in oddly moving ways, including a remarkable thin scream. In this he is united with the approach of the Noise Quartet, with folk music and jazz - old and contemporary. In fact a ready inclusion of sounds from the natural and industrial world in a musical context - or perhaps simply a recognition that that they have their own unique musicality. 
The title of  the CD refers to a trip across the top of Australia (West Coast to East) that Paul made with the band Mara!, visiting and playing at often remote schools as part of Musica Viva's always rewarding programme. On one of the movements we in Sydney heard, musician and singer Mara Kiek and her husband Llew were heard on tapan (a startlingly loud and deep Balkan drum) and bouzouki respectively.
The purely musical satisfactions of this often beautiful music are sufficient in themselves, but it is also possible to be drawn into imagining great space - huge skies and plains - and droning remoteness (remembering of course that these regions are perhaps not remote for those who live there.) Maybe we are remote!    

Record Launches Almost: Jackson Harrison Trio and The Grey Wing Trio, Sound Lounge, Friday Nov 28 and Sat Nov 29 2014.
Reviewed by John Clare
Here were two trios of high excellence, both very distinctive and one of quite startling originality. We'll start with that one, the second. The instrumentation of the Grey Wing was odd and in theory seemed an awkward one: Luke Sweeting, piano, Ken Allars, trumpet and Fin Ryan, drums. No bass. I had heard them before at either Colbourne Avenue or The Foundry 616 and was taken aback and excited. This time I was overwhelmed. I should add that I was not alone in this. A woman at the next table insisted that I must review them. "I have heard many thrilling things here and this was the most thrilling." We'll let that stand here as her review. She then added "You have the language." I agree that I do speak English, but I was not so sure that this would be sufficient.
Let's try. First, Ken Allars might play a grand diatonic (not so many black notes) melody in a bright blazing trumpet tone that is nevertheless cloaked to a degree in huskiness and crust. These were sometimes heraldic, sometimes emotional in a more contemporary way. Around these big themes leader and pianist Sweeting might play sparely with classical tranquillity, limpidity and precision. Drummer Finn Ryan might also play a complex of often rim-struck patterns (hard and straight but each a distinctive sound) that sometimes stood in a rhythmic or independent relationship to the large central movement. Some of these patterns were in orthodox multiples of the dominant pulse, but the suggestion of freedom was always there. Lloyd Swanton had earlier told the noble Finbar that his drumming was four dimensional. 
Sonically and intellectually fascinating, yes, but also thrilling (the lady at the other table was right there) also moving and inspirational. At certain points Allars shed the husk and played bright, open and clear as a baroque trumpet. At other times the effect was reversed. He seemed able to create a melody with nothing but air, a great wooshing wind. In fact I could hear the brass in there - like a line of fire in thick bush - without which the melodic scope would be severely limited. While the large themes were continuous in themselves, there was an impression of space around them. A space in which cross rhythms danced, or moved with deliberation like chess pieces.
When the trio was joined by singer Matilda Abrahams, Allard's unisons and obligatos were sometimes broken by a brief, light higher aside in a tone so freakishly vocalised it felt as if another singer had briefly joined them. Abrahams sang (mostly songs by Sweeting) beautifully. Everyone was superb, but an extra word about Allars. While he occasionally attacks with a chromatic run, or a brief series of them - staccato, thick, percussive - that might remind some of his early influence Kenny Dorham, it is his way of sometimes weighting each note differently that is his most important legacy from the earlier Ken. In ways beyond simple diminuendo and crescendo, this helps create melodic shapes that not only rise and fall but move forward and back in an indeterminate space (to borrow some jargon from cubism), giving individual notes an uncanny presence.
Paul Grabowsky and I once agreed that the most different trumpeters we have in Australia (that does not necessarily mean the best) were Melbourne's Scott Tinkler and Sydney's Phil Slater. I think we can add a third. Incidentally, I have strongly advocated Warwick Alder's powerful new ensemble for a Wangaratta appearance. Right here I advocate Grey Wing also. Incidentally, The Grey Wing Trio's CD did not arrive in time for the launch, and indeed had not even been named. Orders were taken at the front desk. Watch this space for details when we get them.
Now here is the question on everybody's lips. What does “Sintering" mean? This is the name of the Jackson Harrison Trio's new album on the prestigious but to some unknown Swiss label Hat Hut. The second time Harrison has recorded for them in fact. Well, it is a noun not a verb - as in crazing on an enamelled surface, for instance - and it means silica deposited in the neighborhood of geysers and hot springs. Or, a partial fusion under the influence of heat. I think we will take the latter to be the meaning appropriate to this disc. Or will we? While there is no lack of heat-generating motion created by this superb trio, I would imagine that most people would reach for "beautiful" if asked to characterise it. That is indeed what Mike Nock said as he stood up at the end.
Harrison has a way of making the piano chime richly and deeply, setting up resonances and associations, mixing bright open harmonies with introspective intervals and chords. In fact some of the music is tranquil - or at least begins in tranquility and increases in controlled agitation before finding a course of powerful momentum - like a creek rising calmly to run, then banging about among rocks (in this case snare drum smacks, press roles, cymbal swishes and smashes) before finding the path of momentum. In fact the first track on the disc, of which I have an advance burn, is a free interaction, both percussive and introspective, between Harrison, bassist Ben Waples - who had donned a bonnet (he didn't really, but there's a clue there to his second identity: a joke too terrible to remove) - and drummer Andrew Gander, who filled in for James Waples on the night of the launch. The second track on the disk almost immediately delivers a powerful triple meter surge - and this feeling was encountered on the live la
unch. As Jackson quipped, however, the renowned Swiss precision had not come through and the actual disc was not in attendance. 
The master detective story writer Raymond Chandler once said that he wanted to bring to the genre something more than echoes off a nearby hill (or something along those lines) and that is what Harrison does, if you follow me. There are depth, echoes, distance, intimacy and large momentum. One hallmark of the trio is Harrison's use of the drum solo as a major conversational voice against a series of plangent repeated and subtly varied chords.
I love high level piano trios because there is thought and atmosphere there, clarity and complexity. Both live and on record this is a superb trio.
Enquire at admin@sima.org.au to find out where the CDs can be obtained once available.

2014 Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival
November 11, 2014
Reviewed by John Clare

This is the first time I have seen and heard more than a few nights of this impressive event organised by the Sydney International Jazz Festival and SIMA (artistic directors Joanne Kee and Peter Rechniewski) and while it followed hard on Wangaratta and listening exhaustion on the part of this observer, I found every night enjoyable and several engrossing.

First, at Foundry 616, many heard for the first time USA singer Dee Alexander. The first set was a time warp for me, and it would have been surprising if it were not. Most songs were drawn from Dee's album Songs my Mother Loves. I would have heard all these songs at about the same time as her mother, sung by the same singers - Dakota Statton, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington et al. All that was missing was the cigarette smoke, and if a Camel or a Pal Mall were within reach I would have been sorely tempted. Some of these songs slid over from the world of jazz clubs to a certain mainstream success. Statton's The Late Late Show and  Washington's What A Difference A Day Makes come to mind immediately.

Some of  the songs had a then-modern jazz swing and snap and some had the popular jazz-cum R&B shuffle rhythm. Locals Brett Hirst (bass), Tim Firth (drums) along with Dee's own Musical Director Miguel De La Cerna did a fine job in these idioms. Dee's voice was big and mobile. She drove hard and she could startlingly produce the kind of deep, huge subtone that Sarah Vaughan was renowned for.

Foolishly, in fact tragically, I decided in the break that that was what Dee did - very well indeed - but I was very tired and went home. According to very reliable witnesses, Dee let it rip in the second set, often drawing from the freedom and different energy from the AACM period, with devestating effect. AACM was the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, formed in Chicago, Dee's home town, in 1965.  The music of AACM is linked with - well, Art Ensemble Of Chicago for a start - free jazz, the avant garde of the time and so on. It still has its unique effect, and while most of the instrumentalists were men, some very powerful female singers were featured. I played some records I have and cursed myself. That doesn't help.

Also at Foundry 616 was the Hannah James Trio's Trilophony launch. Both pianist Casey Golden and the leader and double bassist James write lovely tunes that are pleasingly exotic yet scrupulously neat and ingenious. I really love this approach, which has echoes of European groups I have heard at Wangaratta. Certainly the trio can strike hard, but these surges are both passionate and coldly bracing, like an intricate tumble of ice crystals. Can you write music like this in a warm and humid climate? Apparently so.

The first tune was by James and it had one of the most engaging bass ostinato patterns I have heard in some time - widely spaced, of four notes, one of which is dropped in the cycle and then restored. This is held. Then the tune emerges, then over this slow step Golden began to race. His lines often run brilliantly toward deft stops in which another brilliant pattern is spawned and instantly sprung. Drummer Edward Rodrigues has the same precise musicality of his colleagues. James achieves a warm smooth tone with soft hands. That is the impression. She can certainly lean into it, however, and did so where appropriate. It is hard to think of a local bassist who plays more lyrically. She is the Lester Young of the bass. Many smiles were exchanged across and around the trio, and these became viral throughout the audience.

The critical part of being a critic gives me no pleasure these days, not even a mean one, but it must be said that Gai Bryant's Palacio de La Rumba Big Band at Foundry 616 sounded under-rehearsed if rehearsed at all. Certainly they had not played a job together for a year. The night was worth the walk however for Warwick Alder's one solo and the several duets between guest Cuban percussionist Roman Justo Pelladito and our own Fabian Hevia.

Alto and Baritone saxophonist Lisa Parrott is one of several Australians who have distinguished themselves in America in the unlikely field of jazz Distinguished and established. I heard her many times in Sydney venues before she settled 20 years ago in New York. I also heard her more than once this year at the Wangaratta. Festival of Jazz and Blues. Sitting much closer here at the Sound Lounge was even better.The band consisted of Lisa and three very close friends and musical associates: Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Cameron Undy (double bass) and Simon Barker (drums). Many of the compositions were from her latest album, and as with those tracks, improvised sections were often played by two musicians simultaneously in a loose, conversational and witty counterpoint. There was a joyful bounce and drive to these performances.

With Lisa's current alto playing I noticed a series of lovely fresh overtones that would be appended to her already beautiful high register. When this happened on a high trill, birds seemed suddenly to sing and bright sweet bells to ring.

The final night Foundry 616 was perhaps the highlight. The Komeda Project - arranged by pianist and composer Andrea Keller and trumpeter/composer Miroslav Bukovsky, from an idea proposed by Festival co-artistic director Peter Rechniewski - was based on the music of Polish jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda, a leading light in a movement which sought themes and styles for jazz playing beyond the American models. He was also a renowned film composer, whose work includes the music for Roman Polanski's Knife In The Water, Rosemary's Baby and The Fearless Vampire Killers. Some of Komeda's themes were played in highly entertaining segues, or you might say medlies, and others were the subject of more concentrated developmental focus. All were subject to extraordinary solos by an extraordinary band: Keller, Bukovsky, Erkki Veltheim (violin) Andrew Robson (saxophones), Ben Hauptmann (guitar), James Greening (trombone), Jonathan Zwartz (double bass) and Evan Mannel (drums). Some themes leaned towards vaudeville, while others were wild and dark and others distilled a peculiarly European sweet melancholy.  

Jackson Harrison Trio with Phil Slater @ The Sound Lounge
May 31, 2013
Reviewed by John Clare

A quartet of piano, bass, drums and trumpet is reckoned to be problematical, a quintet with trumpet and saxophone much less so, but many have made it work, eg. Kenny Wheeler with Keith Jarrett/ John Taylor, Chet Baker and Russ Freeman/Twardzick, Miles Davis and Horace Silver/Gil Coffins.

In Australia Scott Tinkler with Mark Hannaford/Paul Grabowsky, Simon Ferenci/Hugh Barrett and of course Phil Slater with Matt McMahon. Recently I'm afraid I missed another piano/trumpet quartet performing, very successfully I am told, at the Dame Joan Sutherland Austorium.

This was Phil Slater with the Jackson Harrison Trio: Ben Waples, Bass and James Waples. Fortunately, SIMA presented the same band, but with Jono Brown on bass, at the Sound Lounge, and here was my opportunity to hear Slater in another quartet of the first rank.

Jackson is a remarkably fluent and inventive pianist. Bill Evans is an obvious influence, but Harrison's sound and ideas have been his own as long as I have been listening to him. A major achievement has been a recording with a branch of the prestigious contemporary label Hat Hut, called Land Tides. I'm sure Birdland Records could get you this. An outstanding attribute is his ability to create a sense of rhythmic and harmonic freedom while always maintaining a sure, if sometimes subtly disguised foundation in his pulse and choice of chords.

The first piece at the Sound lounge - a Harrison composition like many to follow - began at the piano with a spare construction in which single notes and chords were widely spaced like an open frame. Each note rang clearly, full of light, as if clear water had accumulated to fall slowly in bright drops. For a moment it all seemed to stand still in the air, and then it surged gently forward at medium tempo in three - if a waltz a very subtly accented one - with tight, sharp accents on cymbals and snare and sometimes softly thudding tom. Harrison's solo walked thoughtfully in this atmosphere of dusk, then multiplied the surface tempo and built a complex of notes, with chiming falls and busy yet unhurried rhythmic displacements. If dusk it was, the stars were appearing. Two note chorded riffs began prodding the underlying pulse. Then it subsided and Slater's trumpet spoke, quite softly but with a glowing tone.

Like Harrison's solos, each Slater utterance was an episode and a conceptual statement, and each statement was both intellectually and physically exciting. The most startling solo arrived on the third piece, a Chaconne by Friederick Handel , and a very beautiful one. This was not so surprising given the sense of serious development that prevailed, but itmay have surprised some to hear Slater improvising on this, using such free, raw and earthy sonic manipulations in an emotional outpouring that never even approached the tonal qualities or straight precision of classical trumpet. In fact the Chaconne is derived from a Spanish dance constructed on a ground bass. Therefore it was perfectly natural for Slater to move into extreme emotional projections and distortions reminiscent of Miles Davis's quasi Moorish playing on Saeta from Sketches Of Spain. This was really quite sensational in its emotional expansions, its tempered diminuendos down to wells of introspection and sudden explosive outpourings.

Elsewhere Slater ran almost continuously at high speed through two solos. Shifts of register and volume, and surprise twists were the compositional aspects, the serpent of running semitones the raw material. On a couple of occasions the ensemble moved with an uncanny coordination into a kind of meditative stasis, a pool of no tempo at all, at which point Slater released a shattering high blast from the center of the ethereal cloud that made me jump each time. With a nano second delay the other instruments exploded outward as if in slow motion. This was for an instant like a photo of a volcano, then in another instant everything was crystaline again.

This is the essence really, that the brass was cradled by a fragile, easily shattered vessel, and indeed it did shatter, but transformed itself,again instantly, from shards and splinters to expanding atmosphere and texture. This is a terrific trio and a sensational quartet. Against all this was the further surprise of an occasional old style romantic phrase from Slater, almost like Clifford Brown playing a ballad.

The only danger with these delicate and precise systems of balance, where the raw element shatters the frame but is soon enveloped, is that it can seem de-energised after a long stretch. This is what happened for me in the second set. Everything was played at a slow to medium tempo. Solos doubled and tripled the time, but no tune ran on a swift, driving pulse. This could have been me. As some know I have had a serious operation postponed twice and while I feel great often there are times when I run into fatigue after about 10 at night. If I'd thought about this I'd have gone home after the first set. the first was worth a much bigger audience than appeared. But there has been a lot happening this week. Despite my ennui, however, James Waples's thundering drum solo wok me up in no uncertain terms.

John Clare       

Mike Nock’s Tone Poem for SIMA

reviewed by Phil Sandford (Dec 8 2012)

Reproduced here with the permission of the author and jazz-planet.com 

Sound Lounge, Sydney, 8 December 2012

Mike Nock piano/composer; Phil Slater, trumpet; James Greening, trombone; James Waples, drums; Brett Hirst, bass; Karl Laskowski, tenor saxophone; Peter Farrar, alto saxophone; Mike Rivett, tenor saxophone, clarinet and electronics.  

In a fitting tribute to the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA), Mike Nock has composed a stunning 65-minute suite that ranges from lyrical melodies to collective free improvisations. It expresses some of the music that has been played at SIMA concerts over the years and featured SIMA veterans Phil Slater and James Greening. 

The Suite is a journey through various musical experiences, with the five main sections blending into each other through a series of improvised transitions, and all musicians soloing at various points. 

Suite SIMA opened with a pastoral collective improvisation by the whole band, leading into the slow 7/4 theme of ‘Freedom of Information’, the clarinet giving an Ellingtonian tinge as it soloed over different lines in the background. 

A free improvisation between trumpet, tenor and trombone led into the medium-tempo ‘Option Anxiety’, which is built on a bass ostinato, a device Nock has used in several memorable compositions. The tempo picked up for sparkling piano and tenor solos over mixed times. 

Brett Hirst’s solo acted as a transition into ‘Peripherals’, which began as a beautiful waltz and developed into a fast Coltrane-influenced blues, with Greening stretching out.

A clarinet and piano duet dissolved into a piano statement of the theme of the gentle ‘Frames of Reference’. The tempo picked up slightly as the band went into 7/4 gospelish vamp behind the saxophone solo. 

A free improvisation between piano, bass and drums segued into the aptly-named ‘Holding Patterns’, and a blazing Slater solo led into an extended section of overlapping rhythmic patterns that built up to the climax of the piece. 

While less common than in classical music, extended forms have a distinguished history in jazz. Until the 1960s the basic form of most jazz compositions was the 32-bar standard – ‘I Got Rhythm’ alone forming the basis numerous pieces – or the 12-bar blues. However, there is also a tradition of extended or long-form compositions, dating as far back as Duke Ellington’s 1926 work Rhapsody Jr. 

Ellington chose the suite format as his primary vehicle in this area and went on to compose major works  such as Black, Brown and Beige (1943), Harlem Suite (1950) and A Drum is a Woman (1958). His suites often included material that became standards in their own right such as ‘Come Sunday’, ‘Star-crossed Lovers’ and ‘A Single Petal of a Rose’.

Ellington often described his longer works as tone poems and significantly many of his works are named by colours: ‘Mood Indigo’, ‘Azure’, ‘On A Tourqoise Cloud’, ‘Blue Light’.

Influenced in part by Ellington, Charlie Mingus wrote the two-and-a-half hour ‘Epitaph’, which was never performed as a complete piece until after his death.

However, a number of other attempts at extended jazz works were motivated by a desire to somehow ‘legitimise’ jazz by linking it with classical music, and many failed. Nock’s suite does not fall into this category. It is squarely within the jazz tradition, while breaking new ground.

Nock has honed his writing and arranging skills over many years. His first composition to appear on an album was ‘Love Waltz’ on Yusef Lateef’s 1984, recorded in 1965. Nock once toyed with the idea of becoming a painter but instead he has become a painter of sound. He extracts the maximum colour from his musicians in this band, using various combinations of instruments and writing overlapping melodic lines.

His ideas are clear and strong, and deceptively simple motives unfold and develop in unexpected ways, always maintaining the listener’s interest.  Suite SIMA is a model of how to write for a medium-sized jazz ensemble that will provide student composers and arrangers with many lessons and lots of inspiration.

An earlier version of the Mike Nock Project, a nine-piece band that also featured Greening and Hirst, recorded the excellent Meeting of the Waters in 2007. Now Nock has taken his writing into new territory with this extended work, perhaps best described as a tone poem parallel to SIMA.


Mike Nock Project - Suite SIMA
reviewed by John Clare (Dec 1 2012)

The Mike Nock Project at The Sound Lounge Sat December 1

Recently we have been lucky enough to hear Bernie McGann's 75th birthday concerts with Paul Grabowsky, Jonathan Zwartz and Tim Firth;  also Ten Part Invention, Sandy Evans's When The Sky Cried Rainbows, Dave Jackson's The Denominators. And a number of other performances that have qualified as occasions - as events. For all but The Denominators the Sound Lounge has seemed full, or almost, but this is only a decimal point percentage of the listening public. For the Denominators the turn-up was disappointing. For Mike Nock's latest project, a new suite dedicated to SIMA, it was not great either. What does this mean? When music this good is heard by so few? Are we the special ones who can actually hear it? Are we chosen to receive such rich gifts? Or is it all irrelevant in the scheme of things? Are we elitists? Or are we by by some unlikely chance the elite? I certainly don't feel that I am. And indeed I stopped worrying about this a long time ago. The rider who finds himself alone in a magnificent surf does not give any of this a thought, and nor should we. Let us say that we are simply the lucky ones.

The horns of Mike Nock's project stretched across the stage - trumpeter Phil Slater, trombonist James Greening, tenor saxophonist Karl Laskowski and tenor sax and clarinet player Mike Rivett - with bassist Brett Hirst and drummer James Waples behind them and pianist/composer Mike Nock at the end of the line, looking in profile somewhat like Stravinsky at about the same age. A sound rose that was like a sussurus of winds and insects in the grass, as if the horn players were all clearing their instruments. The clarinet took voice in an angular, quicksilver strike, then receded into the wooshing wind. The piano began to ripple, and that is where intimations of a tempo were heard. Then the horns all united in full, low voice, with an effect that was grave and almost sinister, reminiscent of ...what?... Duke Ellington's East St Louis Toddle-O! Mike Nock's piano suddenly spilled a shower of treble notes upward like ice chips. Or as if they had flown up into his face in the light like moths out of Uncle Scrooge's wallet! No one else would have done that at that point! A melody began that was the first of many that unfolded and turned seamlessly into a new one. These were beautiful melodies, some with counter lines and elaborations. Some were simply unison and unison harmony melodies. Some were quite long. Phil Slater abruptly burst into a shattering complex of bright notes, like shrapnel or hail, as if he had lost his temper for a moment. Heads in the audience tilted back and here and there hands were lifted at the impact. It was happening and it did not stop. It was a continuum of melodies, in character quite unlike anything I had heard from Mike Nock.

This was somewhat like coming upon Duke Ellington's surprise works of his latter days - The Far East Suite, The Afro Eurasian Eclipse - and that was inspiring in itself: that at 72 the great Mike Nock was still doing new things. Sometimes the ensemble blasted, with the power of Slater's trumpet and Greening's trombone to the fore, and sometimes it simply swelled in size, with velvet blendings and at times a kind of varnished surface and a mirroring depth. Peter Farrer's alto sliced the air, stopped, then produced spaced, intriguing phrases; then linked everything with a long arc of rapid notes that lifted the rhythm section into a complex frenzy. The melodies rolled. One was pushed by a repeated falling minor third that filled the music with emotion, with memory and with, at the same time, an urging onward. The same interval was woven into phrases of the melody itself. I should make it clear that I arrived with no paper or pen and was asked to write about this at the last moment. I later sang the minor third to Nock to make sure I had remembered the right interval, so much material had followed it.  

And another solo (the only breaks between the run of melodies). Phil Slater began to soar and pour forth angles, runs and juddering trills of blazing power. Everyone was grinning at this bravura performance. Slater was swaying. He kept going. Joy was unconfined. It seemed almost criminal. Greening, who was dancing throughout, stuttered and brayed. Great woody trombone notes you could almost grasp entered the room. Nock propelled the band with constant funky prods, occasionally expanding into a solo of astounding invention. Once more Peter Farrer cut loose, with ribbons of rapid notes, each identical but each transposed upward or downward from a different degree of the line before it. There were Middle Eastern implications. Once more, joy was rampant.

There was a false entry, a minor train wreck. Nock yelled instructions and imprecations which it is doubtful that anyone understood. This only heightened the occasion. This was a Mike Nock occasion. Sometimes lone horns broke away from an ensemble passage, like a gospel singer peeling off from the choir in a private transport. Waples and Hirst gave as much as one could have expected from anyone. They were as good as anyone, is what I am trying to say. Waples had excelled the night before playing completely different music with The Denominators. There is nothing more to say. No, we are not the elite. We are the lucky ones. Perhaps I have gone overboard with two Ellington references, but these are the people we have. They would be outstanding anywhere, as Nock proved for twenty years in America.

Let us come to earth with a sour note. On a certain jazz radio programme, it was announced that The Denominators would be appearing at the forthcoming Jazzgroove Festival in January (they aren't) but their appearance for SIMA was not mentioned. Vot giffs? Lack of publicity does not explain the mysteries to which I alluded at the beginning, but it could go some way toward explaining the poor attendance for Dave Jackson's extraordinary band. But this is an age old story. We heard The Denominators and we heard Mike Nock. In any circumstances most fortunate.            

Mike Nock Project - Suite SIMA
reviewed by John Shand (Dec 3 2012)

JAZZ composition exists to create stimulating improvising opportunities and, therefore, an extended piece should offer a shifting landscape of improvisational areas. The composition becomes an enticing itinerary with activities at each destination varying considerably on each trip.

For Mike Nock's hour-long Suite SIMA (commissioned by the Sydney Improvised Music Association), this was the first trip. And, given its scope, challenges and occasional complexities, his octet encountered those occasional moments of confusion with which all travellers are familiar.

The beauty of attempting such a work with high-calibre improvisers is their ability to turn the unintended to advantage. The downside of insufficient rehearsal was a tentativeness inhibiting music that yearned to be more expansive. The suite's series of themes and improvising spaces were linked by short solos from, say, Nock's piano, Brett Hirst's bass or James Waples's drums. The themes tended to be elegiac and set against slow to medium tempos and the inbuilt reliance on the improvising to amplify drama, energy and density was not convincingly fulfilled.

By contrast, the soloing potency surged when the band turned to a series of shorter Nock pieces. If Truth Be Known had a laser-like Phil Slater trumpet solo that, against a bristling rhythm section, seemed to split the atom containing sadness. Peter Farrar followed with curling, coiling alto saxophone lines that twisted back on themselves and joined with the piano, rising up on the rumbling, tumbling bass and drums until you wanted to shout out or jump up and testify that someone's god was in the room.

This extraordinary solo was made with a sound both rounded and incisive; joyous yet threatening to explode. It suggested where Suite SIMA may go when the players have the confidence to deploy similar freedom, imagination and power.

Completing the band were trombonist James Greening (whose opulent sound seems to have suddenly expanded further, like a billionaire's girth) and tenor saxophonists Karl Laskowski and Mike Rivett. Next Saturday's performance should be stronger.

Trio M
reviewed by John Shand 

The Sound Lounge, November 9

JUST over 50 years ago the Bill Evans Trio presented the heretical proposition that piano, bass and drums could be three equal voices, rather than a lead instrument with accompanists. It was not, as some have suggested, a blinding revelation on Evans's part, but rather a collective response to Scott LaFaro's radically original bass playing.

Ever since, the idea has been explored and expanded in bands assembled by such pianists as Marilyn Crispell, Bobo Stenson and Masabumi Kikuchi. But it may never have been so perfectly espoused as it is in Trio M.

The three Ms - Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) - are an equilateral triangle, with all the implied perfection of balance and proportion. This is not just a matter of conception and musicianship, but of personalities, with the Americans sharing a selfless inclination to leave space for each other.

The music's melodic foreground perpetually danced between the three instruments. This was partly built into the pieces (all three being composers), and partly improvised. Extended techniques were applied by all, with Melford's prepared piano and Dresser's use of two hands on the finger-board creating eerily kalimba-like effects.

It is rare in any artform for the atmospheric and the earthy, the abstract and the moving, the cerebral and the playful to be intertwined so comprehensively. They created a rarefied sonic domain in which surprise piled on surprise, until we seemed to have entered a parallel musical universe where a state of wonderment was the norm.

Yet what was happening was so natural that they could have been three children hard at play, because, for all its phenomenal sophistication, this was art utterly without artifice.

The headliner of the inaugural Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival, until November 17, Trio M was easily the highlight of the international acts from this year's Wangaratta Jazz Festival to pass through Sydney, and probably the jazz concert of the year. Exhilarating.

Book Review

One of the defining aspects of Clare's best work is its lack of self-consciousness. Sometimes his are the musings of a mind gloriously unfettered; a mind in a similar state of receptivity to an inspired improvising musician.

2012 Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival 

reviewed by John Clare

More than one fan assured me that America's Trio M was the best band at Wangaratta. Due to a series of time-wasting and farcical interludes with my hotel - who had double booked my room - I had to wait until I was back in Sydney to hear them all together and without collaborators. This was at the Sound Lounge, where they were presented by SIMA and the Sydney International Festival of Jazz as part of SIMA's  Festival Of Women In Jazz, due of course to the international pre-emminence of their pianist Myra Melford. Here is a band as crowd-pleasing and crowd-friendly as The Lighthouse Trio, and for some of the same reasons, but while the latter's musical interactions were brilliant, and very musical, some of Trio M's went beyond musical precision and brilliance (though they had plenty of that when they wanted to deploy it).

The trio began with a seemingly random confluence of sounds and shapes - such as often forms around natural events or human activity. These have their own quasi-musical concordance. In this case it reminded me of a launch pulling slowly away from the wharf. There was an underlying throb, cymbal swishes, ticks, tocks, knocks, and a burbling continuum like bubbles coming up in the wake.  Perhaps it was the intensity of the players, the way they were so obviously listening and reacting to everything around them while allowing themselves the risk of losing all cohesion, that had the audience in an instant thrall that was sustained throughout the recital.

While there was much free interaction, it was not all free-form by any means. In fact most interludes began with a composition from one of the three: drummer Matt Wilson, Melford and bassist Mark Dresser, and listening to their CD Big Picture, I think I recognise the opening interlude as one of the compositions. They sometimes produced the sparkling momentum of one of the great conventional piano trios - swinging like mad despite or because of the time being sometimes assymetrical and the sound of the piano 'prepared' at times, giving the effect of a celeste, a vibraphone or even a marimba.
Melford on occasion used elbows, fingers, edges of hands to stir the piano up like bright water and skim the keys in inverted scallops of sound, as if winds from several directions swept the silver surface. This is of course a recognised technique and effect in contemporary piano jazz and classical music. If you are going to use it, the question is when. Exactly when extra seasoning and spice is required is the answer here (my one and only food metaphor in more than fifty years for those interested in such matters).

The traditional strengths of all of the instruments were deployed here. Dresser could dig in and propel as powerfully as just about anyone, and he could clamber rapidly about, stamp on the spot at an oblique harmonic position on the upper stairs and drop into the core of the music like Wilber Ware, Richard Davis or Scott Lafarro; and he could employ both arcetto and pizzicatto in the one solo or accompaniment with no loss of momentum. In some of his solos his bass sang and murmured like a voice. Sometimes remarkably elongated glissandi lashed this way and that and whipped up into the heavens. Williams was a master of texture, but he was clearly not about to discard the thundering and propulsive qualities of the drums. Sometimes the music recalled modern and contemporary classical music. Indeed there was something deeply cultured about this performance, for all the surprising elements. This was culture, dare I say it, but not as viewed in a museum (I love museums, I hasten to add). This was being created before your eyes, in your ears, in your mind and body. It was a Wangaratta moment transferred to hick town Sydney.

Addendum to Wang. I missed Andrea Keller's band, but caught another project of hers in the Festival Of Women in jazz at the Sound Lounge a few days later. This teamed Slater's trumpet with the voice of Gian Slater (no relation) in soaring unisons and unison harmony melodies, with one or the other breaking off into obligato at times. Slater stood well away from the microphone and sometimes played very softly, yet you felt rather than heard (well, you just heard) the trumpet however softly he played. It was like a line of force visible only in peripheral vision.  He was more than audible, or brilliantly visible, however, when he cut loose during his solos, which also ranged from the shattering to the whispered. Keller suprised those who had not heard her before with her marvelous touch and constructions, strong and shining and full of glowing ideas. Evan Manell was the drummer and performed beautifully in an unaccustomed role. The incomparable Joanathan Zwartz played double bass.          

2012 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues
Reviewed by John Clare

Let us do something novel this year and begin this review by recording a disappointment at Wangaratta. I am always anxious when Bernie McGann plays these days. Will he play on mike? It was not so long ago that this didn't matter, he played so powerfully. He is now 75 and still capable of miracles, but he plays more softly a lot of the time. Very recently he has taken advice and stayed on mike. The results have been inspiring, particularly in a series of  recitals at the Sound Lounge in Sydney with Paul Grabowsky, bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Tim Firth, who recently won the drum prize at Wangaratta's International jazz competition. Firth has entered a new realm since that victory. In the second sets particularly of the Sound Lounge performances, Mcgann has played astounding solos that to many of us have seemed about as good as he has produced. Few pianists suit him (the ideal is McGann with bass and drums) but Grabowsky interacts with him and accompanies brilliantly.

A few more words about the rhythm section. Firth and Zwartz have now developed an expanding range of spontaneous stop-time figures that feel like the landscape jumping, stopping and advancing beneath the soloist; each stop hurling him on into space. Grabowsky, when flying with remarkable intricacy and precision, wouldl be left whirling in air like mist above a waterful, before the drums and bass punch him into further reaches of momentum. Similar things happen with McGann. Would this sort of thing be heard in all its fierce joy at Wangaratta, in the large space of the WAPC Theatre?

Sadly no. As McGann faced me directly I could not judge accurately how far he was from the microphone, but he seemed pretty much up on it. Why did his sound seem so remote? Why was the piano often louder than he was?  American ciritic Terry Martin, who is a fan of McGann's, asserted that this was definitely a case of the mike being set far too low. It sounded that way to me as well, at least where I sat. There was no presence on it. The full range of McGann harmonics were not there.

Grabowsky was brilliant, as usual. Publisher Miriam Zolin sat up in the gallery and said that the piano too was barely audible there. In fact she said that only the drums had any presence. This situation improved noteceably for me on the last two tunes, but it was too late for me. I had fallen into the slough of despond.

I should say that the sound people have been usually excellent as far as I was concerned. Let us tip-toe away. Complaining as we go that there was no mention in the program and no announcement that McGann had just recently reached 75. A lifetime of  achievment - inspiring many along the way - is surely worth that much.

For the highly popular, and indeed brilliant, Lighthouse Trio it was a different story. They began with a super-energised and intense, yet perhaps not entirely serious, Latin piece with strong evocations of Spain. There was passion and humour and fleeting moments of real duende. Also extraordinary virtuosity from pianist  Gwilym Simcock, drummer-percussionist Asaf  Sirkis and reeds player Tim Garland. The great Mike Nock had primed me for this band "They are virtuosi, and you know I don't usually go for the virtuoso thing..." But he certainly went for them. Why, then, did subsequent pieces (with one exception), all full of energy, intricate arrangement and fun, begin to pall on me? At the end the day was saved by a Simcock  piece inspired by the composer Samuel Barber. Simcock is an extraordinary pianist. Clearly he must have had a career as concert pianist before him. This was a wonderful revolving maze of contrapuntal motion.

I can see why this band is so popular and I am happy for them. Many will fiercely disagree with my asessment. Tim Garland was particularly impressive on the bass clarinet, and the truth of  it is that he was one of the very best in town on soprano and tenor saxophones, but he often sounded more like his influences than himself - if you get my drift. Sirkis used his range of percussions - including two rarely heard traditional vessels - with high skill and fertile imagination.

Magic Melbourne guitarist Steve Magnusson's band Magnet were spurned by an early migration of the antelope herds to some other venue, but this was perhaps understandable. The great opening sweeps and waves, in which some of the instruments, and the free-ranging voice of  Carl Panuzzo entered deliberately out of sync with their fellows, were moved into sonic confusion due to the unequal balancing of the sound. I heard them a second time, along with Vince Jones, who declared it beautiful. And it was. Eugene Ball's trumpet sounded brilliant and  Panuzzo's voice soared wildly and peeled off like a Neopolitan tenor propelled by an excessive iintake of grappa. Downward sighs at the ends of phrases were particularly blissful. The sound was of course now excellent and the music was the way it was meant to be - something I knew from having listened to their CD.

Oud (an instrument much like the biblical lute that can be heard in Lebanese, Egyptian and other Middle eastern music) virtuoso Joseph Tawadros did the elclectic music course at the University of NSW with my son, with Alister Spence as  lecturer, among others. He has since distinguished himself in traditional, jazz and European classical contexts. On this occasion he drew our attention to the fact that Archbishop Tawadros was a strong contendor for the throne of Coptic pope. Googling Tawadros, Joseph had come up mainly with pictures of himself, and felt that great publicity would ensue if archie became the poppa. An oud-playing Coptic pope! You'd pay to see that. Tawadros's wonderful band comprised pianist Matt McMahon, percussionist James Tawadros (brother of Joseph but no relation to the future pope) and leading electric bassist Steve Hunter. The delirious virtuosity and propulsion of this music must have reminded some of bluegrass. Trumpeter Phil Slater was invited to play on a Tawadros ballad, written following deaths in the families of  two band members.  Slater played beautifully. For a view of Slater and Scott Tinklers'  performances at Wangaratta, press Miriam Zolin's website http://www.jazz-planet.com

 We're running out of time here, but the Dave Ades Quartet must be included. This was Julien Wilson, tenor saxophone, Ades on alto, Jonathan Zwartz, bass and Danny Fischer, drums. Everything was played with exultant energy. Though the saxophones are pushed to extremes of volume, through extremes of range; with abandon and sometimes a deliberately ragged edge of passion, it is a gross though understandable misunderstanding to hear this as angry playing - except insofar as anger may be one element of the expanding sensations and feelings. But so is sheer exhiliration. They move together in unison or harmony and are suddenly thrown upward, pinched in at the waist and gathered like dishevelled sheaves. There is a shrieking wind. The growl of avalances. Those who knew that our friend Dave was undergoing treatment for cancer may perhaps have read this largeness and profundity into the music, but something was definitely happening, as witness the shouts from all corners of the audience.

Jo Fabro Band - The Sound Lounge, February 19
Reviewed by John Clare

This was the first of SIMA's Artists In Transition series, which "aims to support professional jazz musicians beyond emerging stage to further develop their careers to professional practising artists."

In 2007 Singer Jo Fabro launched, an impressive debut album of originals and classics in the soul idiom, called Save My Soul (Birdland Records). Her soul-inclined Jo Fabro Band has performed in Tokyo, the Wangaratta Festival Of Jazz and many venues in Australia. The night under review was the first public appearance of her jazz band, which is certainly a brilliant one, comprising Greg Coffin (piano), Ben Hauptmann (guitar), Brendan Clarke (bass) and drummer Cameron Reid.

Fabro towers over her musicians - except Reid, who is seated anyway. She is quite a beauty, but an unusual one. Amazon Warrior Queen suggests itself, but this is at odds with her disarming casualness and dry humour.

"As you know," she announced, "most musicians are philosophers." A certain scepticism hovered in the air. "They're always broke," she explained. Ah, there is a logic there. It is her music which should concern us, but all singers have to at least try to present themselves in an engaging manner, whether they want to or not. Fabro doesn't really have to try. She is a natural.

And a natural, often gripping singer. Her first song, an original called Circles, was sung with dramatic power over a rock shuffle that was held back like a coiled spring and punctuated by bluesy, funky chords and accents. It all vibrated ominously. Greg Coffin's piano solo sprang from this bluesy bed in a dance of combined intensity and bright joy.

Fabro's words were very sophisticated - by which I mean intelligent rather than chic. As on several subsequent songs, including the standard You Don't Know What Love Is, Fabro held power in reserve, hunting out the emotions with dynamic shifts that relied on timing more than sheer volume. Her voice on this material was full and smooth - plush. When volume was released the voice seemed capable of infinite expansion, and you could almost feel the night air parting around it as it soared. And sometimes it contracted to a track of light that slithered about like a star's reflection on a black pond.
Variations circled and returned to hit a kind of nerve of pleasure; hitting it repeatedly, leaving it and returning. Phew. This was genuinely charismatic and even a little unnerving.

If there was any doubt that Fabro could sing virtuosic jazz, those went out the window as she flew at breakneck pace on Once I had A Secret Love.

At the end of the first set, Fabro let it rip on a blues of her own devising. Her volume was now pushed up until the rafters rang, so to speak, and her voice took on a certain torrid, raking glare such as some soul and funk singers are employing today. Ben Hauptmann did not change his posture as he began to sprint on his guitar solo, but sonically he stood up on the pedals and the landscape streamed by like a river. Everyone in fact played at a very high level indeed but I have to say that each one of Brendan Clarke's bass solos was a remarkable spontaneous composition.
Now, in the second set some laziness of intonation was evident, and if one is to quibble, on Love Is there was here and there a tendency to add a dramatic extention to the line where none was needed. But...I'm a reviewer.

I have to quibble occasionally.
Fabro's songs were exceptionally good. Roadside Assistance was a classic tale of urban daffy distress - waking everyone up in a shared house early in the morning in order to get the keys she had left locked inside, rather that paying the NRMA to come out and start the car. Touches of phoney bathos - eg "Oh, come to my aid!" were fantastic.

Here is a full blown talent.

22nd Wangaratta International Jazz Festival - REVIEWED by JOHN CLARE
To begin at the beginning: that is to say a little before the events listed on the program. In the Wangaratta Library just beyond the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, where Barre Phillips and Peter Apfelbaum would later give solo recitals, Geoff Page launched his volume of jazz poems, A Sudden Sentence In The Air, for Extempore. His readings from the book were accompanied by superb young bassist Alex Boneham, who mightily impressed the great Melbourne drummer Ted Vining . I doubt that there are many jazz festivals that begin in this fashion.



Paul Grabowsky & Bernie McGann Quartet at The Sound Lounge
November 18 &19
It has been said that alto saxophonist Bernie McGann - certainly one of the most distinctive voices in Australian jazz - is at his very best when there is no piano in the band. By and large I would agree, but there is a certain class and kind of pianist who can also bring out McGann's best. American Kirk Lightsey is one, and SIMA has presented those two twice - both great occasions, though separated by decades. Paul Grabowsky is another, and many years ago the pair combined at the old Harbourside Brasserie. The late Jackie Orszazky, who was, on occasion, quite obsessively anti-jazz (though he hired a number of jazz musicians), turned to me and said, "This is great! They suit each other." And they certainly do, though given their backgrounds and temperaments it might seem unlikely. It has been years since they played together with a rhythm section in Sydney (I've not found their duo-performances so successful). The last Sydney occasion was at the Sound Lounge on November 18 &19, 2011. Jonathan Zwartz was on bass, and Tim Firth, this year's National Jazz Award winner at Wangaratta, was on drums. The SIMA program was printed well ahead of Firth's victory, which gave the event an added frisson.


The brothers have bands of their own and appear in a number of others, but they have kept this initially very good, now superb co-operative together for two decades.

John Clare dropped in on some of the highly successful Now Now Festival through January.

21st Wangaratta Festival Of Jazz
I can still hear this year’s music.

A Performance & A Disc
There are very few anywhere who can make jazz singing work today. Jane Irving is one of the few.

Jazz Visions Summary

Visions Festival - Review 1

Noah Preminger Trio

John Hollenbeck with Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra & Claudia Quintet

Ahmad Jamal Quartet

Wayne Shorter