The cover illustration of Queensland guitarist/composer Toby Wren’s new trio album Black Mountain at first seems an incongruous choice. An epic 1760 painting (de Louthenbourg’s ‘A Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast’)­, its mannered classicism seems at odds with the angular modernism of the music within.

But it is not the subject, nor the treatment, of this painting that fits; it is the colour palette. Wren’s compositions are rendered in these olives, aubergines and purple-blacks, with shots of mustard and saffron – and even a window of lilac/sky-blue here and there.

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His trio ­– Wren together with bassist Andrew Shaw and Chris Vale on ‘drum set’ ­– render all the complex colours of these unique compositions beautifully, considering the limited instrumental palette at hand.

Equally, Wren uses little on his guitar bar some mild dirt and amp colours. The tough ‘Bedroom for Improvement’ reminds of Larry Coryell’s musclular trio albums from a few years back, with their distortion and backbeat.

But in the main, Black Mountain brings up fond recollections of the great Abercrombie/Holland/DeJohnnette 1975 album Gateway. Which is not to say it is not its own animal; the good vibes between the players, the sense of adventure, and the push/pull between soloist and ground are what brought the comparison to mind. Toby Wren 1

Wren’s collection, though, has the added dimension of post-rock ­– something unthought of in ’75. ‘An Unbearable Weight’s recipe of flowing/floating arpeggios (with flashes of silvery harmonics), bowed bass and skittering drums takes Black Mountain out of the jazz ballpark. Just as with ‘Sevens’ and its sister piece ‘Sixes’ – both creating shimmering rhythmic lattices of the titular time-signatures which, as the pieces evolve, work against and within that rhythm.

Wren’s guitar approach – as with his compositions – draws on jazz, rock (pre- and post-), blues and anything else that his mill needs to grist (he is a student of the Carnatic music of India; check the multituplet clusters in ‘Guitargam’). There is the rolling blues of opener ‘An Epic Rock’; the pleasingly plump be-bop of ‘Black Mountain Resolve’ (and the minimal 34 second solo guitar haiku of its sister, the title track ‘Black Mountain’); the unhinged guitar solo of ‘Sirens’; and the lovely lullaby of album closer ‘Sentimental Old Thing’.

Black Mountain is a unique and rewarding listen; all the more for its sparseness of means: the invention demanded by, and apt interpretation of these pieces would test any group, but Wren and his men seem never to be anything but entirely at ease here.

Take a listen. It is great music – whatever its colour.

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Earlier this year I had the pleasure of having lunch with Melbourne pianist, ade ishs. He was in Dad mode and we were surrounded by his family – his charming wife and three boisterous children.

During the meal we chatted about music, of course, and I discovered he was equally a fan of Pat Metheny and Irish pop sensations, The Corrs. This made sense to me as his music contains, in varying measure, both the cinematic artistry of Metheny as well as the Corrs’ accessibility, and – dare I say it – pop smarts.

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His second album co-led with drummer Chelsea Allen, under the ishs/Allen Project banner, is Stories Under the Sky. In some ways it is a departure from – or evolution of – the sound of their impressive 2015 self-titled debut, and further back, 2013’s ade ish’s Trio, which also had ish’s longtime percussive foil, Chelsea Allen on drums.

This time, as well as bassist Paul Bonnington and trumpeter Ee Shan Pang, they are joined by reeds player Lachlan Davidson. The new colours this affords, as well as the use of various members’ vocals, adds a greater dimension across all these impressionistic pieces.cover_512x512

And impressionistic they are ­– ishs, the family man and all-round happy human, delights in life’s simple, unalloyed pleasures. The titles here express this daily joy: ‘Autumn Walk’, ‘Summer Morning’, ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Moving Forward’. As ishs never shies away from a ‘pretty’ melodic line or an accessible directness in composition and improvisation (“I’m not a big fan of chop-fests” he says), he equally titles these pieces with a simplicity that is disarming.

Which not for a minute suggest this is simple-minded music. As with previous releases, ishs and Allen consistently surprise with invention and verve. The 7/8 montuno of ‘Summer Morning’ (with a sharp Allen solo that chats with a short unison band riff); the indigo harmonies and almost 12-tone melody of ‘Shades’ (with its Miles Davis flavoured echo-trumpet intro from Shan Pang); the jumping latin-rock ‘Fragments of Truth’. This is not all only sunshine and orange juice.

The piano and voice duet ‘I’ll Wait Till You Arrive’ is a meditation on grief, inspired by the loss of a friend, and oddly for such a richly orchestrated album, its starting point for Allen and ishs.

Joy and grief and all in between: that is life. Again, I am charmed by the work of The ishs/Allen Project. With its direct emotional connection, even with the newly added colours and complexity in arrangements, it is what I dig about this group.

As Chelsea Allen says: “Most important to me, in this stage of music making and music writing, is strength and simplicity in the message and in the execution. Simple themes are so important and so relatable, and never cliché.”

What a pleasure it is to say, without any irony, “Amen to that.”

 

Stories Under the Sky is launched 17 August at The Paris Cat, Melbourne.

Album is available from http://www.tiap.band/stories-under-the-sky

On Saturday, 5th August I checked out the Sirens Big Band performance of Ellen Kirkwood’s new suite [A]part. The show I heard (and saw) was the second of the evening in the intriguingly named Io Myers Theatre at UNSW. Io was, in Greek Mythology, the daughter of Zeus and is, in astronomy, the innermost Galilean moon of Jupiter.

It was fitting, as Kirkwood has previously drawn on Greek mythology in her Theseus and the Minotaur suite and also because [A]part took my head, at times, into the outer galaxy and beyond.

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pic: Catherine McElhone

The themes of this multi-part, hour-long suite are however quite down to Earth. Composer Kirkwood takes on the big issues of this strange and cruel age: climate change, the refugee crisis and the myth of connectedness that is the broken promise of the internet. The title is a pictogram of the feeling of being at once connected and yet separate – a truly modern condition.

Whereas Theseus and the Minotaur combined music with spoken narration, [A]part works with visuals – Cleo Mees’ intriguing video projections: sometimes mysterious, sometimes sardonic and humourous, always startling, as is the music.

The ecological theme opens the piece with guest artist Gian Slater setting up, via loop-pedal, vocal drones onto which she adds layers of swishes, chattering and mouth percussion. By the time the horns enter with a fugue-like figure, you feel as if you are surrounded by nature: wind, animals, insects, rustling grasses.

Pianist Andrea Keller, also a guest of the Sirens, creates a typically unique solo against the rhytm of Alex Masso’s drums and Sirens leader Jess Dunn’s bass. Keller’s work throughout this performance is as imaginative, precise and exciting as one would expect from one of Australia’s finest. In a later unaccompanied solo her raw attack had a few of us sitting up straight in our seats.

The third [A]part guest artist is saxophonist Sandy Evans, a mentor to the Sirens from their beginnings in 2010. She seemed to take great inspiration from Kirkwood’s music on the night – a soprano solo beginning with a scream that was a little too human for comfort; yet later accompanying a faintly demented and disintegrating Balkan waltz with a barrage of kazoos, razzers and squeaking rubber duckies.

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pic: Catherine McElhone

And that ­– from anguish to giddy silliness, and everything in between – is the scope of [A]part. It is a massive piece in every way: challenging to the ear and the mind, highly original (as we know Kirkwood to always be), often cerebral and abstract, all the time threatening to be too much to take in in one sitting. But what saves it from possible overwhelm is that Kirkwood never loses the emotional thread in the music; it is human music and it consistently makes you feel. Sometimes, as with all valid contemporary art, those feelings can be baffling or even plain uncomfortable, but you do feel them deeply.

Kirkwood’s writing here, as in everything I have heard from her, is smart (without ever being clever-clever), dynamic and imaginative. The task she has taken on with [A]part tests her formidable skills as a composer/arranger, yet she never seems to run out of ideas, always finding new sound possibilities and textures to be gleaned from the big band.

She uses hand-claps in polyrhythm from the various sections. She has Jess Dunn rattle her bow around on the wood of her bass, making harsh knocking sounds (which she then contrasts with airy flute textures answering the knocking). She has sections play against each other. She has sections slip out of synch within their ranks. She writes starkly dissonant brass sections which unfolds into satiny 40’s dance orchestra textures (albeit a dance orchestra which slowly dissolves and decays).

Yes, [A]part is massive in every way (it took almost a year of writing and rehearsing and the mentorship of stellar pianist Barney McAll to, as Kirkwood says “Get this music out of my brain”). It is ultimately a massive experience – massive in immersion, like rolling in the currents of an ocean, and massive in response: the music, together with the power of the visuals leave you feeling wrung out and a little wired.

I cannot imagine how Ellen Kirkwood will ever top a work such as [A]part. I know of course that, given what we have seen and heard of her up to this point, she undoubtedly will.

 

 

At a recent semi-impromptu opening set at Foundry, Emma Stephenson included one of her own songs among the well-picked standards, such as ‘Days of Wine and Roses’. The song was ‘Song for My Piano’ and, as if a window had been opened, letting in sudden sunshine, it stopped the room.

The song is the second track on Where the Rest of the World Begins, the new album from Stephenson’s Hieronymus Trio. The six-track album is a collaboration with singer Gian Slater, the Trio’s second album and the debut co-release for David Theak’s new label, 54 Records.

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The Trio’s NYC-recorded first album was mostly instrumental – brilliant, sparkling piano trio conversations between Stephenson, drummer Oli Nelson and bassist Nick Henderson – but did close with the vocal tune ‘Crows Might Fly’. Gian Slater’s interpretation of that song opens Where the Rest of the World Begins – the band developing out of the songs short suite-like movements into a simmering scat section and shimmering piano solo.

Slater’s voice is a perfect choice for the Trio and Stephenson’s songs. Bell-clear, it is a fluid thing, like smoke or drifting water, avoiding any grating blues edges or forced earthiness. It is this ‘instrumental’ quality – a hallmark of all valid jazz singing – that fits so neatly with the modern angles and curves of Stephenson’s compositions. cd5401-web-cover-hi-res

‘Song for My Piano’ is here equally room-stopping; an intimate love-letter to Stephenson’s instrument, the lyric nakedly expressing the surprises the piano can still, like a lover, give the composer.

‘If the Sun Made a Choice’ is a lovely song of hope, with stabs of Gospel funk creeping onto Stephenson’s piano solo. ‘Love is Patient’ takes that one line from Corinthians and unpacks it into a remarkable composition – the melody rises and falls, undulating over a rubato ground from the Trio; it is on a performance such as this where Nelson and Henderson shine: without strict rhythm, they need to be able to breathe as the music breathes, and they do, effortlessly.

‘Going in Circles’ adds some satiny Rhodes flavours to its polyrhythmic maze of melody and ground, where the two encircle each other as the lyric speaks of two people doing the same.

The title tune closes the album. A mini-epic of unpredictability, smart writing and startling originality, the song’s lyric ruminates on identity, universal oneness and where you and I fit in to it all. Nelson’s colourful mallet work behind the melody morphs into a succinct solo, which in turn morphs into the melody restated; this time over a jagged broken chord riff. The entire effect is mesmerising, the eleven minutes passing like seconds.

At the above Foundry gig, Emma Stephenson told me she was moving to New York to take on the jazz world there. I made a lame joke about it being perhaps less dangerous if she climbed into the tiger enclosure at Taronga Park. But based on her work here and elsewhere, as well as her triple-threat of piano, composition and vocal, I have a strong feeling she will have those NYC tigers eating out of her hand.

Album available at https://www.54records.com.au/where-the-rest-of-the-world-begins

 

 

With the great number of projects saxophonist and composer Jeremy Rose involves himself with, one could fairly expect his output to be prolific yet patchy. As one who follows Rose’s trajectory and music, I am still waiting to hear any hint of a lapse in quality and vision.

Rose’s most recent release under his own name – rather than with the Vampires, the Strides, the Earshift Orchestra or any of his many other collaborations – is Within & Without. Recorded in Germany and featuring US super-guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, the 10-song album holds up Rose’s impeccable standards without at all veering from his unique creative path.

Rose Within & Without2For an album concerned with themes of “opposing forces of attraction and repulsion, joy and anguish, hope and despair, pain and ecstacy” the music is beautifully cohesive and complete­­. The players – Rose and Rosenwinkel together with German bassist Andreas Lang and drummer Tobias Backhaus, as well as Rose’s long time piano foil, Australian Jackson Harrison – mesh exqusitiely, almost telepathically at times. Rarely does any soloist seem to rise sharply out of the ensemble or blown sections, the band breathing as one.

The album’s compositional cohesion is also a surprise considering Rose’s thematic material, which veers from odes to places (the lovely bijou opener ‘Trawangan’ and the Atlas Mountains drums’n’bass groove of ‘Afensou’) to a quote from a David Bowie song (‘Strange Doors’), to even a zombie-inspired piece (‘Zombie’) – the latter’s pentatonic folk melody really bringing Rosenwinkel to the fore as he plays in and around the simple bones of the tune, always shining, often startling. Rose Within & Without1

There is also the sweetly Monk-ish melancholy of Rose’s tribute to the dear departed Charlie Haden in ‘Ballad for Charlie’. Album closer, a take on the Australian bush ballad ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai’ – with its hints of the children’s rhyme ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ – (‘Flashjack’) is set over a 6/8 Afro-latin groove, allowing the Germans, American and Australians to get some simmering heat going.

I asked Rose a half-dozen questions, leading up to the launch of Within & Without over June and July.

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John Hardaker: Within & Without, which features Kurt Rosenwinkel, follows hot on the heels of The Vampires’ (which you co-lead with Nick Garbett) album with guitarist Lionel Loueke. What is it about guitarists?

Jeremy Rose: I love guitar, it has the ability to convey an incredibly rich range of textures and sounds, and has a history of amazing players. However, when I choose collaborators, it is often based on the individual: Lionel Loueke and Kurt Rosenwinkel are both unique voices on their instruments, and aesthetically, I felt they were a great match for the respective projects I was working with.

 

JH: The ensemble works superbly. How did you come to pick the players on the album?

JR: I have worked with pianist Jackson Harrison for many years now, on my Sand Lines album, and with Compass Quartet, on Oneirology. I had worked with Berlin based drummer Tobias Backhaus before, as I have been going back and forth to Berlin for the past few years also and had performed at Jazzahead with him in the Vampires. Bassist Andreas Lang was recommended by Tobias.

 

JH: What led you to playing an adaptation of the Australian bush ballad, ‘Flash Jack (from Gundagai)”?

JR: As part of my research for composing my Iron in the Blood (out on ABC Jazz), I found an excellent source of Australian folk songs, a few of which I arranged and adapted throughout the work. Flashjack was one that I liked but didn’t use for the project and thought it would work well on this album.

 

JH: Many of your pieces reflect or are inspired by your travels and adventures around the world. You are also one of our most prolific musicians, spreading your energies over many projects, with rarely a lapse in quality or direction. You appear quite restless, even driven. Is that a fair call?

JR: Yes I am driven, but grateful that I have had many opportunities and mentors to guide me along the way. I also very much love what I do, and so am incredibly lucky to be following my passion.

 

JH: What next for you?

JR: I am undertaking a residency at the OMI International Arts Centre in New York in August. Also planning some more touring with The Vampires in Europe.

 

JH: What are your thoughts on contemporary music in general – and Jazz in particular?

JR: Contemporary music is continuing to break down the barriers between styles and genres. Some of the most exciting music is happening on the borders of these known styles; collaborations between unexpected musicians, genres, and artforms.

 

Within & Without is available at https://www.earshift.com/jeremy-rose-within-without

Within & Without tour dates: 16 June, Unorthodox Church of Groove, Newcastle; 17 June, Sound Lounge, Sydney; 16 July, Jazz Lab, Melbourne

 

 

 

 

I am so glad they called this collaboration The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke, using ‘meet’ rather than the ‘and’ – which suggests two parts less than their sum – or the amicably adversarial The Vampires Vs. Lionel Loueke, as is used often in hip-hop.

I am glad because this new collaboration between one of the jazz world’s most innovative and joyful musicians, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and The Vampires, our genre busting and straddling national treasure is a meeting in the truest sense.

A meeting of minds; a meeting of souls, and all of which that implies: both entities bring their unique voices to the mix and The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke is the Venn overlap of this meeting.

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Maybe it is because both Loueke, and Jeremy Rose and Nick Garbett’s Vampires have much in common, both the Berklee-via-Benin guitarist and the Australian ensemble having arrived, through artistic convergence at a beautifully sympathetic musical place: world music flavours, fusions of genre and innovation within those flavours.

Album opener and album closer are two versions of Rose’s ‘Endings and Beginnings’, the first a Moorish take on the melody and the latter more African – beautiful bookends that bracket a feast of Afro-jazz, reggae, on-the-one funk and some Mwandishi space-blowing.

The rhythm section of Jon Zwartz on bass, with Danny Fischer on drums and Alex Masso on drums and percussion, maintains a warm-blooded percussive bed throughout – bubbling up here, flowing like brown river rapids there: check the rippling 6/8 of ‘Suck A Seed’ and the momentum-rush of ‘Brand New’. Vampires Loueke 1

Rose and Garbett’s compositions are a perfect fit for Loueke to work his magic across and their playing seems as inspired as ever, working around Loueke’s guitar colours and brightly imaginative comping. Garbett’s echo-laden trumpet solos and snap-funky lines are a joy. Rose once again surprises with his Ornettey approach and the human-ness of his playing. The guitar/voice and alto opening of ‘Brand New’ is a conversation between friends, complete with secrets and a chuckle or two at an in-joke.

Herbie Hancock, with whom Lionel Loueke has worked, refers to him as a ‘musical painter’. True, his playing approach seems more concerned with colours and textures than fleet soloing. He plays inside the music, deep inside, and uses everything about his instrument to paint his pictures and hatch in his textures: he scats with his guitar lines, he rubs dissonance against the melody, he utilises some surprisingly radical electronics with surprisingly human results. His playing across this album has the mark of a master innovator and a relentlessly restless spirit.

Playing with the Vampires on this album has pulled some startling performances out of Loueke and, in kind, the band rise to his fire – one catches oneself thinking they sound the best they ever have; then you realise the Vampires always sound this good.

The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke, is a meeting of many things – inspirations, approach, attitude and musical vision. But the glue that binds this fortuitous meeting is respect. You can hear it.

We do hope they meet again.

Album available thru www.earshift.com

Well-meaning friends, from time to time, alert me to Youtube clips of 8 year old Japanese Yngwie Malmsteens or junior Jaco bass shredders or, best (worst) of all, 12 year old Blues screamers.

While I admire the meticulous programming that is takes to get these little automatons to such a level of facility, I am general left yearning for a gnarly Dexter Gordon ballad or at least a few croaked Leonard Cohen lines. Because it is a life fully lived that ultimately makes for good – and real – music.

East Coast songwriter Marguerite Montes has lived a full, rich and colourful life – much of it in exciting boho circumstances, some of it in pain and darkness. Her new album of songs with violinist Peter Urquhart is informed, bruised and kissed with the ins/ups and outs/downs of her life. The eight songs on All the Time in The World are performed in a voice that carries the years in it – but is not worn out by them, only burnished to a clear, fine-grained glow, like any well-tuned and well-loved instrument.

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Five of the eight songs here are sung in Spanish, obviously saved from losing too much in translation to English. The three songs in English are full of depth, wry humour and spark. Joni Mitchell comes to mind as a sister songwriter, but largely for the toughness of spirit and depth of poetry here – in every way, Montes is her own woman.

Opening track ‘Navegar’ (‘Set Sail’) shows the effectiveness of Urquhart’s violin against Montes’ gut-string guitar and voice, lending the tune a deep gypsy flavour. At once intimate and full, this combination works equally well on the country flavoured ‘Big Beautiful Smile’ or the Bossa/jazz styled ‘Amor Fugaz’, Urquhart bringing to mind Stéphane Grappelli‘s spry work with Django Reinhardt.

All the Time in The World paints vignettes of shared experiences, especially those shared by women the world over (and down through the ages). Montes says ‘Navegar’ is about “finding yourself in the blue of the sky and the green of the sea far from everything.” ‘Asi E El Amor’ is about “unconditional love. How it seeks out the darkness to flood it with light. Love is the laughter if children floating in the wind.”std_15650

But among the poetry there is an earthiness that brings to the surface Montes’ Andalusian folk roots. “‘Soy Impulsiva’ (‘I Am Impulsive’) is about a woman who is many things to her man but when she needs him, he goes off with his mates to get plastered…’

Album closer, the title track ‘All the Time in The World’, is like a long-lost standard from the Jazz Age. Its late-night feel and street-lit ambience perfectly suit the lyric and Montes’ stylish delivery. Only a voice and a singer who has lived the song could sing it so real and so deep.

Recorded in only two one-hour sessions, All the Time in The World has a spontaneous, very human dimension to it; much of it coming from the chemistry between singer and violinist, a chemistry that Montes says made them “capable of conjuring Duende”.

Duende is a state of heightened emotion and expression – the essence of Soul. It took Marguerite Montes and Peter Urquhart a chance meeting and a few hours to conjure it. But in many ways it has taken Marguerite Montes a lifetime to conjure Duende and All the Time in The World.