Dom Mariani and Greg Hitchcock‘s Datura 4 have released an album that says everything about the joy of electric guitar. Checking out the trippy cover art (I want what Joshua Marc Levy is having…) and taking in the title – Hairy Mountain – my son said “This just has to be good…”

It’s better than good, it’s the best thing I have heard all year (to be honest it is a tie for 2016 with Bill Hunt‘s acoustic and startling Upwey). Hairy Mountain serves up riff after delicious riff over ten killer tracks. As a fan of rock and roll guitar, I found myself happily saturated with huge tones, big hearted rock and roll and more than a few nods to the great original psychotic reactors of Detroit, London and Sydney. Rock with great pop sensibility – it is an unbeatable and irresistible one-two punch.

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Hairy Mountain is all about hooks, hubris and heaviosity. Not surprising considering the pedigree here: Mariani’s Stems and Hitchcock’s Bamboos were two of Perth’s most loved garage rock bands; what is it about Perth?

‘Fools Gold Rush’ opens with a Black Sabbath grind – the tone I expected from the last Sabbath album (but was given Foo Fighters instead) – before lifting off into a Byrd‘s jangle: pure pop for now people. ‘Trolls’ is blues-rock supreme – these songs all have a sour worldview, delivered with a curdled sneer that fights to be heard above the guitars – perfect! “Trolls will find you, they will wind you up…”

‘Uphill Climb” is Stooges-brutal with that momentum that only spiky drugs and/or rock and roll can give you. Same with “Mary Caroll Park” with its Rose Tattoo slide-guitar scraping the paint off my ears.

Title track “Hairy Mountain” rolls on big Led Zep wheels through a tale of perfect surf breaks and peace-pipes – a chink of (not quite) hippie sunlight in a doomy album. Hitchcock’s ‘Greedy World’ is back spitting at the stupid world, over that mutant breed of pub rock that only Australians seem truly capable of.datura4_hairy-mountain

After the raw and red-eyed ride, Hairy Mountain winds up/winds down with Mariani’s melancholically acoustic country-rock plea ‘Broken Path’. It is perfectly placed and just what we hairy mountaineers need to come down after our time spent on the slopes.

Lysergic, heavy, booglarised, wildly colonial, Hairy Mountain is – like all great rock and roll – perfectly imperfect and vice versa, and all the more thrilling for it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the 80s revival is over there; if you do then do yourself a Molly favour and grab some Hairy Mountain.

 

Hairy Mountain is available from http://www.alive-records.com/artist/datura4/

 

In his between sets patter, Club MC Jeremy Sole thanks the Blue Whale audience for “not only showing up but being present“, reminding them (and us) that the two are very very different things. The same can be said of drummer Myele Manzanza and his ensemble for this electrifying live recording at the fabled LA club – OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale).

The word ‘present’ applies here in all its forms – the performances are in the present (the now), Manzanza and the band present (bestow) us with their present (gift) of this music. And what amazing music it is – a feast of jazz-fusion flavoured beauty created before us in a time and space that seems endless.

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Manzanza’s debut album, 2103’s One, was a stunning introduction to the drummer’s great creativity, spirit of adventure and grasp of contemporary urban styles. The New Zealand born son of a Congolese drum master, Manzanza’s vision is one of virtuosic precision which never enslaves the groove – a very African approach: complex yet irresistable. But where One used an array of samples and had the slightly claustrophobic headroom of electronica, OnePointOne is open and organic, using Manzanza’s trio augmented by the Quartetto Fantastico string quartet and two vocalists, Charlie K and Nia Andrews.

The difference is apparent on the live versions of two pieces which originally appeared on One – ‘7 Bar Thing’ and ‘City of Atlantis’. The former heats up under a bristling Mark de Clive-Lowe piano solo (acoustic piano is to the fore all across OnePointOne), whereas the latter, arranged by the Quartetto Fantastico’s Miguel Atwood-Ferguson becomes a languid, sun-dappled underwater cinematic experience.Microsoft Word - Myele Manzanza OnePointOne PR.doc

Jazz is also everywhere here, the spirit and the joy of it. Album opener ‘A Love Eclectic’ channels the spirit of John Coltrane with the bass of Ben Shepherd riffing a mutated version of the ‘Love Supreme’ bass hook (Shepherd’s solo, bonus track ‘Ben MF Shepherd’ is dazzling). The samba of ‘Absent Fade’ has Manzanza and de Clive-Lowe spinning each other off the dial, at one point tying the 4/4 bar into 7/8 knots.

A high-point for me is Manzanza’s drum solo ‘Circumstances’. He tells a story and paints his canvas and takes us down the roads of his choosing – yes, I am mixing metaphors but Manzanza does all this and more. He is one of those rare players than can keep you totally engaged with only a collection of percussion instruments and a fair sprinkling of his own magic.

OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale) is sprinkled all over with that magic and has made me a fan all over again of Myele Manzanza, despite his debut and this current album being remarkably different from each other in approach. And yet they are held together in style by Manzanza’s skill, vision and sense of deep beauty. I deeply recommend it.

OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale) is released 11th November 2106 through www.firstwordrecords.com

Myele Manzanza’s website is http://myelemanzanza.com

Published November 2016 on http://theorangepress.net

Back by popular demand – that of both Brandenburg fans and Orchestra members – Israeli mandolin superstar, Avi Avital lit up Sydney’s City Recital Hall stage on Wednesday night.

After a bracing Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in C Major performed by The Brandenburg, Avital bounded out and took centre stage. Tousle-haired and rock-star pretty, he crouched over his tiny tear-shaped instrument and bit into his own arrangement of the Vivaldi A minor Concerto (Opus 3). The smaller Orchestra – nine strings plus leader Paul Dyer‘s harpsichord – were the perfect balance for Avital’s rippling mandolin: lean and sharply sinewy on the energetic outer movements; fragile and luminous on the Largo.

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As ever with the Brandenburg, balance was all – under Paul Dyer’s direction, the programme was smartly devised, with a few surprises to pepper it, and the Orchestra’s restricted size perfectly framed the small but clear sounds of the mandolin.

The Brandenburg sans Avital again: this time Valentini‘s Concerto Grosso in A minor (Opus 7). Paul Dyer seems to have an inexhaustible supply of inspired program pieces, always mixing The Hits with the more esoteric, thus expanding our ears and minds with ever performance.

Avital returned – this time to stay – and we were pulled forwards two centuries to a suite of Six Miniatures on Georgian Folk Themes by the composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze. These wonderful pieces, by turns tenderly or robustly expressed by Avital and the Orchestra, may have been written in the 20th Century but had the timeless quality of folksong with all its real-life dramas, joys and wracking sads. This was a highpoint of the night, in that one could not imagine any instrument expressing these pieces with a better tongue that the plectrum of a mandolin.

Interval and then two Mandolin Concerti: Vivaldi (C major – perfect pizzicato passages with the mandolin) and Paisello (E flat major – the orchestral writing leaving much space for the solo mandolin).

And then, another surprise – but in the form of a Greatest Hit: Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ (Concerto in G minor) from the Four Seasons, this time arranged for and performed by mandolin with strings. The mandolin, despite its strings being double-course, has the same tuning as a violin so can easily adapt violin parts. However, the difference in attack and decay – the mandolin, a sharp attack and almost no decay, or sustain; and the violin, not as sharp an attack yet almost infinite sustain – can lead to some interesting metamorphoses. In this case the mandolin brought the percussive phrasing of Vivaldi’s violin writing to the fore and, when Avital resorted to tremolo to generate the violin bow’s sustain, added another dimension of texture to these well-known passages. And of course, we all wait for the Orchestra to boil over at the storming climax of ‘Summer’ and the Brandenburg, even reduced to ten, did not disappoint.

Avi Avital took leave of us that night with a gift: a solo rendition of a Bulgarian traditional tune, ‘Bucimis’. After a hypnotic single-note serenade the piece heated up, driven by chopped chords and heavily improvisational passages. Avi Avital was, for a moment, not the Grammy-nominated, globally lauded leader of his instrument – he was a boy with a toy, alight with joy.

Which is something he shares with all true virtuosos – all technical mastery, all finely-shaded incremental shadings of interpretation, all mastery of the music is nothing if it cannot convey – as Avi Avital did without pause – the pure joy of music, and through music, living.

Guitarist Tim Rollinson‘s approach – that of taste, space and minimum waste – is one of the joys of anything he puts out into the world: whether it be the Acid-House of D.I.G. (Directions in Groove) or, more recently, the exquisitely urban-nocturnal Modern Congress, or all points between.

Rollinson’s new album – Nitty Gritty – keeps that chill ethos to the fore across ten tracks that conjure old-school/nu-school grooves paying homage to all that is  chilled and tasty. Along for the ride is probably the best band in current Australian jazz that you could dream-team for a project like this: Shannon Stitt on keys (an integral foil on Hammond and Rhodes), Alex Hewetson on Fender bass (as they used to say in the 70s where much of this music lives) and drummer Nic Cecire (who can do anything, but does this oh-so-well).

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Slinky album opener ‘Handful of Clay’ starts bluesy but slow-burns through to a sharply grinding coda – a very live sounding crescendo. The live vibe here is all across Nitty Gritty – in common with the blues and the best jazz, an album such as this dries up and dies on the vine if that in-the-moment feeling is not captured.

‘Gravity Waves’ has Rollinson bringing to mind the loose-wristed lines of Cornell Dupree over a relaxed funky bed (any reference I make to other artists from here on in is only for flavour – Rollinson is always Rollinson, without doubt).nitty-gritty-1

‘Criss Cross’ is reminiscent of The Crusaders‘ more trippy moments with Stitt sampling Joe Sample‘s soul in his beautifully shaped solo (the above referential disclaimer goes for Shannon Stitt as well). His sneaky electronics across the Skatalite-like title track, ‘Nitty Gritty’ bring the project up to date, as equally on the deep-cubby band-collaboration ‘Truce’ (which Rollinson counters with the country-clear steel of six-string banjo). His Headhunters‘ Rhodes makes the tough funk of ‘Hullaboogaloo’ totally Herbie-aceous.

Nice to see the blues here too. ‘Slow Motion’ has a beautiful singing single-pole solo, with the jazz-guitarist in Rollinson keeping the bends to a minimum while still saying everything he needs to say. Album closer, the moody minor mood ‘Snake Oil’, has a much blues as bop in Rollinson’s fluid solo – his vocabulary holds them all quite easily.

Nitty Gritty calls to mind John Scofield‘s enormously successful Scofield Au Go Go of a few years back and in many ways comes from the same place: a love of groove and the improvisational ideas which flower from the deep earth of funk. Tim Rollinson’s album is subtler and, in my opinion, wider in scope and colour than Sco and Co.’s boogaloo-fest.

I suggest, as a recent Nobel Prize winner said many years ago, that you dig its earth.

 

Tim Rollinson launches Nitty Gritty on 22 November at Foundry 616 – https://foundry616.com.au/product/22-november-tuesday-tim-rollinson-album-launch-nitty-gritty/

Tim Rollinson’s website is here – http://www.timrollinson.com

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

Back in 2013 I wrote of Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s startling debut: “The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way.

I am happy to say the new Divergence album ­– cheekily and tartly titled Fake It Until You Make It ­­– is here. And I want to shout about it.

As assured and fully-formed as The Opening Statement was, the three years between it and the new one has added an even greater depth and daring to Cave’s writing and the band’s entirely apt and sympathetic reading (in all senses) of her charts.

Other band members have contributed some gems as well, such as trombonist Luke DavisMorricone-esque opener ‘On Horseback’. Across just under nine minutes, this piece unfolds through various cinematic moods, helped by the Spanish sketches of Will Gilbert’s trumpet and a beautifully evocative tenor solo from David Reglar.

Pic by Brian Stewart

Pic by Brian Stewart

A large part of Jenna Cave’s gifts as a writer is her love for the tradition of the big band, a favourite being the masterful Basie arranger Sammy Nestico. Her ‘For Míro’ is next – a lightly swinging piece strongly evoking Nestico in her tribute to Miroslav Bukovsky, teacher and mentor. Cave’s neo-classicist chart brings out the neo-classicist in Andrew Scott whose piano solo here is pure Basie: all taste and space.

From Cave the neo-classicist to Cave the arch-modernist: ‘Fantastical Epic (Lessons in Jazz)’ is pure impressionism; a journey through the colours of the big band. This is virtuoso horn writing – as much about texture as it is about melody and narrative.

The first time I ever heard Cave’s work was a tricky African chart called ‘Odd Time in Mali’ (written for the Sirens Big Band and included on The DJO’s The Opening Statement). It showed me her deep love for rhythm and on the new one, ‘Miss Party Pants’ (funky as hell with Luke Liang’s citric blues guitar nipping at the heels of the rhythm section) and ‘Twerking it Nyabs Style’ confirm it. Both are irresistible grooves with unfussy horns never getting in the way of that killer groove; the latter bounces with a springy NOLA ‘second line’ jump that shows the deep strength of rhythm section David Groves on bass and drummer James McCaffrey.

So much good art comes from life’s rivers and roads – and sadly some of the best comes from life’s hurts and tears. Two of the album’s highlights are – to me at least – compositions that gave come from low points in Jenna Cave’s journey as a human and as an artist. Both are statements of hope and renewal and yet the maturity in the writing gives a deep sense of the aching sadness behind them. ‘Now My Sun Can Shine Again’ is lush writing perfectly framing Andrew Scott’s piano solo which lifts through the harmonies, as one’s spirit would lift to the sunlight of hope out of black despair. ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ is quietly triumphant, a little like Cave herself. diveergence-fake-2

Trombonist Brendan Champion and trumpeter Paul Murchison contribute great work here too – allowing a widening of contrasting artistic voices for the Divergence band. Champion’s ‘Tones’ grows into a New Orleans strut out of a staggered 7/4 groove – wonderful contrasts here, both between the grooves and the way Champion’s writing weighs sections of the band against each other. His title tune, ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ is sharp and innovative ensemble writing, lots of ideas but with one idea dovetailing nicely into the next.

Paul Murchison’s driving 3/4 blues ‘Trinity’ plays some cute rhythmic games with the 3/4-12/8 waltz-shuffle groove and sparkles with a sharp be-bop solo from alto Justin Buckingham. It is the toughest tune on the album: direct and based around the core of the band, the rhythm trio.

But it is Jenna Cave who shines here. Her big-hearted brass conception of Miroslav Bukovsky’s ‘Peace Piece’ gets to a place deep inside you. Her framing and emotive colouring of Bukovsky’s pleading and very human melody line is one of many high-points of Fake It Until You Make It.

Back in 2013, I, for one, was all ears for anything else The Divergence Jazz Orchestra wanted to shout my way. Now, three years later, I realise, they no longer need to shout. With a voice as assured as this stellar collection attests to, they will only now need to speak.

 

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra launches Fake It Until You Make It at Foundry 616 on Friday October 14.

The album is available here https://divergencejazzorchestra.bandcamp.com/

Website is http://jennacave.com/divergence-jazz-orchestra/

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

 

Who knows how these things happen – my Reviewer’s Box was one day filled with a bunch of new releases that said one thing to me: The Song isn’t dead, after all.

Hell it’s not even ailing. And here was me thinking The Song had passed; lately the evidence wasn’t good, with national Song of the Year gongs going to insipid ukelele bleats and Grammies being throw at nursery rhyme la-la songs. Harsh I know – but we all get those moods from time to time.

Sydney artist Adrian O’Shea‘s Dr Taos album helped lift me out of the fug. Named for O’Shea’s alter-ego under which he performs and records, the whole shebang is as cool as his portrait on the inner sleeve. (Check out the good Doctor: shades, tiger-pattern suit, on a velvet and gilt lounge – you know this album is going to have Style).

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And style it has – O’Shea’s songs are informed by everything from British Pop to US art-rock, a little bit country, a lot folk and everything in between. And yet, was with all good (not to say great) songwriting, his work is all of the above and yet none of it. No pastiche or wannabe here: the songs are his and his alone, written from his heart and sung from his soul.

And it is O’Shea’s voice that is Dr Taos’ secret weapon – in all of popular music a strong song, put across by a truly affecting voice is an irresistible one-two punch. Add to this the songwriter singing his own songs, with all the drama, depth and nuance conveyed and that one-two becomes a triple whammy.taos1

The classic English power-pop of opener ‘Merry Go Round Thieves’ grabs you immediately (great guitar playing too – the guitar playing and classic range of tones all across the album is  a personal delight). ‘Pick You Up’ is wide-eyed psychedelia. The songs range from the epic (the expansively named, and sounding, ‘Forever of Tomorrow’) to the sweetly intimate (‘Love Strikes’). There are Celtic hills and country roads and gritty urban alleys and noisy clubs. It is quite a trip, yet O’Shea’s songs are strong enough to hold it all together – we start at the same place, and we know we will come Home to the same place.

Like all exceptional Pop writing, you feels as if you have heard this line or that hook somewhere before, and you just can’t put your finger on it – but of course you haven’t. The only problem is Dr Taos – at fourteen substantial songs – is maybe a little long for a single serve.

But which of these fourteen good’uns would you lose? It would be a hard edit. Adrian O’Shea has pulled a remarkably consistent stream of great work from his creative inner.

He is off to Europe soon to tour this album – Dr Taos. I do hope he comes back to us. We wouldn’t want to lose him.

In a week where we read sad talk of Angus Young retiring AC/DC, Australia’s greatest rock’n’roll export, this CD popped up in my Reviewer’s Box. And it cheered me right up again.

Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is more than a gathering of the tribes, more than just a summit meeting of Australia’s leading blues artists. It is a project conceived by Queensland musician, Darren Griffis, as a shot in the arm for depression-busting organisation, Beyond Blue.

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Each artist has taken a track of the AC/DC album Back In Black and reinterpreted it in their own image. It’s a smart idea, and one that comes off as brilliantly as one would expect.

From Geoff Atchison’s slinky ‘Hell’s Bells’ with vocalist Jane Michele (fading in out of a smart, scene-setting cut-up of radio grabs announcing Bon Scott’s shocking and untimely death), via Chase The Sun’s heavy ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (wunderkind Jan Rynsaardt sizzling on guitar) to acoustic superstar Lloyd Spiegel’s chugging ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’, Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is a thrill ride for lovers of modern blues – and anyone else with ears and a soul.

Treats along the way are hair-raising Hammond organ whizz, Lachy Doley – also a hell of a singer – showing no mercy to ‘Back In Black’ and Eightball Aitken’s surprisingly slinky (and waaaay more believably horny than the original) ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. Back In Blue1

Gail Page’s almost gospel-tinged take on ‘What You Do For Money Honey’ and Genevieve Chadwick’s whiskey-throated ‘Have a Drink on Me’ show why they will always be regarded by we humble subjects as this country’s Queens of the Blues.

Special mention (and a shiny gold star) goes to Marshall Okell flipping the randy ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ on its black head. Okell’s strutting mid-song rap on depression and fight-back spirit takes the double-entendre sleaze out of the original and replaces it with grit and guts.

It is significant that producer Darren Griffis chose Back In Black to hang the Back In Blue project on, as the original album was AC/DC’s declaration of mourning for recently deceased singer and icon Bon Scott. Yet it was also a statement of spirit and strength, a rallying cry to carry on in the face of tragedy. Let’s hope Back In Blue reaches out to those those who need its spirit the most.