Some wonderful music continues to come out of Western Australia. There is definitely something in the water over there.

The latest in a long line of exciting releases is Kohesia, the debut album of bassist/composer Kate Pass‘s Kohesia Ensemble. The Ensemble’s sound and Pass’s compositions mix jazz timbres with Persian (Iranian) sounds and melodic concepts (I choose to think of it as Persian rather than the more modern Iranian because this music seems to speak with a voice that summons timeless and multi-hued, multi-patterned visions).

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However, Pass’s compositions and musical palette are far from mere exotica – in fact, the conversational mix of Western and Middle-Eastern musics could not be more timely, with the current world schisms and tensions between the two cultures. To hear these voices side-by-side, talking and twining together is an almost political call for hope – one where neither side sees the other as the “other”.

And that is the gift of Pass’s writing – the range of ways she mixes the two disparate and quite unique timbres together: on ‘Journey to A Faraway Place’ she fuses Ricki Malet‘s trumpet and the ney (wooden flute) of Esfandiar Shahmir into an intriguing hybrid voice over arco bass; on the 5/8 groove ‘Point of Departure’ the same two instruments answer each other, as if in a conversation that spans the centuries across a barline; on opener ‘Nahafsi’ the tenor sax of Marc Osbourne is answered by Mike Zolker‘s nasal yet sinuous oud.

The writing fits the phrasing and execution to the mood: ‘Nahafsi’s microtonal grace notes pull against the hem of the melody; the changes of ‘Origins’ are either folk changes if played by the ney, or jazz changes when the tenor takes over. Kohesia1

‘Schplur’ reminds one of a Horace Silver hard bop groove – a groove which holds up just fine under the oud solo. Pass’s intelligent and soulful bass improvisation here is informed by her compositional skills in its shape and momentum. Drummer Daniel Susnjar pins the whole performance down with customary taste and fire. Susnjar also produced Kohesia, as well as enlivening the album with his superlative playing. His solo over ‘Schplur’s faux-montuno and his jabbing and jibing comp under Chris Foster‘s sparkling piano solo on ‘Origins’ are high points.

Kohesia has been nominated for a slew of awards and The Ensemble have been invited to play major national festivals. It is no surprise: from Elle Deslandes‘ and Reza Mirzaei‘s beautiful and apt package design down through the album’s production, mixing and mastering, Kohesia is excellence, pure and simple.

The poem inscribed on the inner sleeve is by 14th century Persian poet Hafiz. It reads: “We’ll crack the Heavens’ vault in half and hew a wholly new design”. With Kohesia Kate Pass has created a fascinating new voice by less violent, but just as powerful, means: this music comes from a heart that seeks beauty and a heart that seeks peace.

Kate Pass’s website is https://www.katepass.com

Kohesia is available from https://katepass.bandcamp.com/releases

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New Zealand drummer Mark Lockett‘s remarkable trio with Joey Johnson and Jakob Dreyer grew almost organically out of the earth. Saxophonist Johnson met Lockett while he was playing in NYC’s Central Park; bassist Dreyer joined after a subway jam; a passing café owner offered them a residency which grew into five days a week for several years – with people yelling requests, and the band playing them, often learning new tunes on the hop. Voilà! – a three headed improv machine was born, in the most human way.

And it shows.

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On the trio’s recent album, Any Last Requests?, the trio span well-loved standards as well as hardcore jazz tunes – all with the variety, dexterity and telepathy that only a group forged in the NYC fire can. Each of the three brings everything necessary for three to become one, in aspiration and in execution.

Opening standard, Irving Berlin‘s bittersweet ‘Remember’ is taken at a loose swing, with Johnson’s horn setting up its unique voice, with some particularly lovely phrase ending and surprising timbral effects.

But it is on the next two tunes – Herbie Hancock‘s ‘Drifting’ and Wayne Shorter‘s ‘Deluge’ – that the three open up wide. The joyous bounce of ‘Drifting’ is smattered with a beautiful rhythm section conversation under the tenor – improvised hits, off-beats and flurries of double-time, which always connect to the improvised line above and, through that, back to the original head. All connects, all breathes together. As it should be. 77e9ad_16a2f5b0c9494318b5f531a0a3629ab3~mv2

Shorter’s Arabic-tinged ‘Deluge’ has bassist Dreyer suggesting the harmony while never setting it in aspic. The flow is the more important aesthetic, with the result being that, at times, the harmony seems to fly off in more than one direction at once. Like Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman‘s group – an obvious touchstone for this piano-less trio – Dreyer’s taste and drive ensures a ground, but never a solid, bogged one.

The triple-time take on the Jules Styne standard ‘Just in Time’ wraps a blazing performance around a Lockett solo that encapsulates all that is good about his playing. The invention, dynamic sensitivity and – of ultimate importance in a sax-bass-drums trio – the melodic approach, is stunning. Lockett is a rare drummer – I could try to explain all the nuance, but you need to hear him to grok it all.

The lack of a chord instrument is one of the most exciting things about this particular combo format  –  as with Ornette, the freedom can often make one gasp for breath. But it can also have its challenges, such as the Ballad. Here the performance of the lovely ‘My One and Only Love’ is taken at such a slow pace, without the glue of chords – both horizontally and vertically – that at times it threatens to stretch itself to snapping. But it doesb’t – the trio holds it right to where it should be. Quite something.

Any Last Requests? serves up a palette of many colours, considering the limited timbal range of horn-bass-drums. Sam Rivers’ ‘Beatrice’ is driven by Dreyer’s funky bass; ‘Shiny Stockings’ is taken at a lovely hazy lazy lope; album closer Sonny Rollins‘ ‘Valse Hot’ plays with the 3/4 time signature in very which way.

The title of the album is taken from Lockett’s question to the audience at the end of one the trio’s café hits where they played any shouted standards – “Any last requests?”. I, for one, am a little sad this particulate hit is over.

 

Any Last Requests? is available from https://marklockettmusic.wixsite.com/johnsondreyerlockett 

Mark Lockett’s website is http://www.marklockett.com.au

With his new album, Sovereign Town, blues triple-threat artist Geoff Achison has created his most mature work yet. A stunningly virtuosic blues guitar player (all the way back to his days with the legendary Dutch Tilders) as well as an evocative and soulful vocalist and one of our finest roots songwriters, Achison has reigned everything in on Sovereign Town in order to tell the story, plain and simple, straight from the heart.

Inspired by the history and human struggle of Victoria’s goldfields (long abandoned when Achison played among their mullock-heaps and yawning potholes as a boy growing up in Malmsbury), Sovereign Town reflects the landscape and the humanity in its largely acoustic soundscapes and atmospheres.

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Opener ‘Skeleton Kiss’ has a beautiful rising line of harmony that moves the song, and the listener, into some dramatic places.

‘Miniature Man’ showcases Achison’s intensely felt vocal on a simple acoustic tune, helped along by the growl of Andrew Fry‘s upright bass. Achison’s vocal has, in the past, been often overshadowed by his remarkable guitar work, but across Sovereign Town he has chosen to pull back the storming guitar for a mellower feel – notwithstanding, his pearlescent tone on ‘Miniature Man’s solo is quite gorgeous.

The three instrumentals here are vehicles of true guitar virtuosity – not for their chops, though the finger style workout of album closer ‘Coolbardie Sunrise’ would twist many lesser player’s fingers into knots – but for the moods they convey and how they ‘speak’ to the listener, without words. ‘Misha Bella’s jazz guitar slink conjures blue and indigo and smoke drifting upwards from a cigarette. The gut-string ‘Hand of Faith’ is pure atmosphere – conjuring the shadows of a Moorish church in Spain. GeoffAchison_FinalArtFront

The title track, ‘Sovereign Town’ is a crisp country shuffle and an example of wonderfully evocative songwriting – through words and music a landscape is painted. Achison’s fluid solo reminds one of Dickey Betts‘ approach to country guitar – tangy blues and jazz figures twist in and out of the sweet country lines.

Fry and drummer Dave Clark shine on any of the varied feels Achison’s songs throw at them – from the chugging groove of ‘Rescue the Past’ to their transparent and empathic playing on the slow blues ‘World of Blue’ – the latter containing a highpoint of the album: Achison’s slide solo, an eerily ‘vocal’ performance drawn out of the guitar by a master. Liam Keely‘s Hammond organ is beautifully balanced throughout – surging when it needs to, almots invisible when it needs to fade back (check the gossamer tones behind Achison’s guitar on ‘Hand of Faith’).

Geoff Achison has always extended his music beyond the coastal fringes of the blues, while never losing the spirit of the music he loves. Sovereign Town moves out to all directions known, yet the compass needle never wavers. A mature and meaningful work by an artist who is certain of the story he needs to tell.

 

Sovereign Town is available from https://www.geoffachison.com/musicstore/

 

Hot on the heels of drummer Andrew Dickeson‘s recent collab with US horn player Eric AlexanderIs That So? – comes his new one, The Song is You. Where Is That So? went for the classic tenor/piano quartet template, on this new album Dickeson has gone for the more minimal sound of tenor/guitar, lending the music a more astringent and modernistic texture.

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Pic by Karl Powderly

Of course Dickeson is much more than simply a drummer. A writer-arranger and mainstay of Australian jazz for years now, he is an inspiring figure and one within whom Jazz classicism burns bright. Any occasion Dickeson is also the bandleader is always an event. This album, built around the visit to Sydney of alto/tenor player Nick Hempton from NYC is no exception.

The Song is You takes an eclectic approach, evidenced (pardon the pun) by the Monk opener ‘Trinkle Tinkle’. Thelonious’s knotty tune is relished by the group with Hempton taking an authoritative solo over Monk’s anarchy, and Dickeson’s drum solo playing in and out of almost random-sounding melodic fragments. The wit and sense of fun in Dickeson’s arrangements across the album is a joy.

‘Moonlight in Vermont’ takes the unusual approach of Hempton playing the ballad head, solo,  across a Cuban rhythm on high-tuned toms. It is dislocating and vaguely surreal until the band enters, with Ashley Turner‘s cooly considered bass solo a highpoint.

The rarely heard Cedar Walton tune ‘Shoulders’ moves with a robust swing allowing guitarist Carl Dewhurst to really dig in. It is a pleasure to hear Dewhurst again, now that he is back among us. Over the last few months I have heard him play electronic experimentalism, blues-rock and rockabilly. But, listening to his solo here, I can be sure there is a special room in his musical soul for classic jazz guitar, unadorned and blues-soaked. His solo on ‘Shoulders’ is constructed with a clear trajectory, as the fluid single note runs turn to surprising chords dropped in as the band heats up.maxresdefault

‘Blues for Riyo’ is everything a spontaneous blues should be, with Dewhurst and Hempton conversing in an almost telepathic vocalese. Hempton’s tenor tone is beautifully round here; shades of Ben Webster, perfect for the blues. As on the ballad track, ‘You’ve Changed’, the band shows it can do shade as well as light with impeccable taste.

This light and shade comes across on the Bernie McGann home-grown beauty ‘Spirit Song’, Dickeson handling the skipping 3/4 rhythm deftly. But shade is put aside on the album closer ‘It’s You or No One’, a triple-time bop cooker where Dewhurst and Dickeson trade swift and spirited fours, while barely breaking a sweat.

Dickeson’s startling arrangement of the  title track, the Kern/Hammerstein standard ‘The Song is You’ is the highpoint, to me, of the album. A few weeks ago I heard Sydney vocalist Kate Wadey perform it in a relaxed and intimate setting – and I was reminded why a beautiful and enduring tune it is. Dickeson’s take has the tune morphing from 7/8 to 4/4 with rhythm hits, then moving to a 3/4 waltz figure which ritards – not only does this complexity work seamlessly, but Hempton solos easily over it, before the band settles on a driving swing.

With The Song is You Andrew Dickeson has once again produced a work that moves forward while holding to the tenets of tradition in the music. The strength of the jazz past runs through everything he does, while his inspiring and inspired spirit makes it live today.

The Song is You is being launched ay Sydney’s Venue 505 on Thursday 6 September.

Andrew’s website is http://www.andrewdickeson.com

 

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Since Ray Charles created Soul music in the mid-1950s by combining Gospel ecstacy with the secular (and sexual) themes of the Blues, the genre has given us almost an embarrassment of astonishing vocalists. Charles himself, Smokey Robinson, David Ruffin, Chaka Khan, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Amy Winehouse – it has always been a singer’s music.

But the one who shone over all of them was Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, who passed away this week. Media – mainstream and social – was numb with grief while ablaze with outpourings of love for Aretha, from an incoherent Donald Trump to Franklin’s contemporaries, as well as current stars from all genres.

This was no mere celebrity passing. Since her breakthrough hit, 1967’s ‘Respect’, her music came to be a cultural signifier.

‘Respect’ was perfectly timed. It enlarged composer Otis Redding’s original tired-man narrative while sassily flipping it’s meaning. It resonated strongly with the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, and the general late 60’s right-on vibe. That is why she is iconic – like Dylan, Beatles, Bowie, the Sex Pistols and Nirvana – a signifier of something far more than just the music. Oh, and it was a bitchin’ piece of music, too. ZPlXzR

Franklin’s catalogue contains the same proportion of missteps of any artist with equal longevity, but at her best she was utterly unbeatable. Often heartstoppingly so.

Prior to her success at Atlantic Records, she had been with Columbia, who saw her as a piano-playing Gospel and Blues artist. Her later classic Atlantic sides, under producer Jerry Wexler brought her music up to date, but never tried to leach out the Blues, or especially the Gospel, from that remarkable voice.

Franklin’s voice came from the wounded heart, much like Billie Holliday before her and Janis Joplin after. She was singing for everywoman, and by extension, everyman. But unlike the raw, excruciating hurts of Holliday and Joplin, Aretha’s bell of a voice rang clear and proud, a spirit not to be bowed.

‘Respect’ is strident and builds to a righteous Gospel blast over a simmering, hip-rolling groove. By contrast, Franklins’ reading of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Say A Little Prayer’ is almost introverted, her bell voice pealing softly and wistfully in its small suburban tower. Hers was a vocal scope that should be a lesson to too many current ‘soul’ singers who entirely miss the point of Soul.

A personal note: A few years back, a band I played in was asked to pepper our set with Top 40 material for a regular gig. I agreed but, ever contrary,  brought in songs from the Top 40 of the late 60s. One was ‘Respect’. I wrote a head chart and brought it to the band in rehearsal. From the first note our singer – one of the finest I have ever worked with and one with a flawless top register – shook her head and said “I can’t get up there”. So we dropped the key. And dropped it… and dropped it…

This small episode confirmed to me in the real world what I had always known – that Aretha Franklin’s voice was something supernatural. The effortlessness in musical areas many singers would blanche at, the steely control which came across as silken flow, the absolute immersion in a song’s meaning and message – any song Franklin covered, such as Bacharach/David’s “Prayer” mentioned above, she owned thereafter and for ever more.

Her influence is, and will always be immeasurable. And not only musically – she wore her mantle as a spokesperson and activist regally and, I am sure, inspired many get to their feet in life.

Goodbye, Aretha Franklin. There will never be another true Queen of Soul. You took us higher. Long live the Queen.

 

 

 

In November last year, well-travelled (musically and geographically) composer-trombonist, Dave Panichi recorded Paradigm live in a NYC studio with his New York Jazz Orchestra.

He has put it out as a DVD, which is a special treat as it is a thrill to watch the band work through these nine electrifying arrangements. All pieces are Panichi compositions with the exception of  ‘Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?’ – but this 7/4 modern take on the standard also has the Panichi stamp on it.

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‘Simple Song’, the second piece in after ‘Footnote’ (a stunning opener in parts reminiscent  of Jaco‘s ‘Liberty City’) is dedicated to Panichi’s mentor Bob Brookmeyer, which explains so much of what makes Panichi such an innovative and fascinating arranger:  the intricate mesh of lines and textures, sections playing off against each other only to coalesce before splitting again. It is all about movement, like the complex interlocking gears and cogs of a watch. Drummer Dennis Mackrel shines here: on brushes for the intro and with sticks further in.

Title track ‘Paradigm’ is a 7/4 groove that has plenty of twists and turns in the writing – Rich Perry‘s tenor solo plays around and against these with great ‘ears’ and ideas.

‘Ruby’ could be a classic standard – it has a strength of melody that makes one feel we have known it for years. Panichi’s solo could not be more apt in colour and tone – ‘composer’s advantage’ to a degree, but he is a warm and soulful player who never puts a foot wrong. paradigm

‘Manhattan’ is a piece of history – performed over 500 times since its 1982 composition – including performances by the Buddy Rich Band as well as all major US festivals and two dozen Sinatra concerts. Its a swinger with an impressionist heart – the piece breaks down in the middle to a lovely feeling of tone-poetry, to be slowly pulled back into tempo by Bruce Barth‘s kaleidoscopic piano solo.

Dedicated to Panichi’s son, ‘Max’ is the most remarkable piece here – startlingly dissonant and boisterously propulsive, it is a capricious ensemble line all the way through. The trumpet and tenor solos of Scott Wendholt and Walt Weiskopf  dance beautifully across its web of textures.

Closer ‘Pyldriver’ – dedicated to Sydney bandleader Ralph Pyl – rolls on a rock groove under blazing brass. Guitarist Pete McCann kicks in the distortion and takes off on one of the most exciting performances of a thrilling set. Drummer Mackrel shows he is a master of the arcane art of big band drumming – his solo is by turns conversational and tough.

Panichi has created something wonderful in Paradigm, this collection of current and earlier works. It is a must for anyone who loves jazz and modern jazz orchestra arrangement – with the bonus of the visuals. Do check it out.

 

Paradigm is available from http://davepanichimusic.com

Being a prolific artist and being a surprising, ever-original artist – despite much evidence to the contrary – need not be mutually exclusive.

Pianist/composer Andrea Keller continues to surprise, as well as being one of our most consistently prolific music makers. Her latest project is the ensemble Five° Below and their debut is the six-track teaser Five° Below Live.

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I say ‘teaser’ as this is a preview of a larger work slated for 2019 which will include saxophonists Julien Wilson and Scott MacChonnachie. ‘Teaser’ it may be, but it stands firm and strong as a work in its own right. For this Live album, Keller has intriguingly limited it to rhythm section instruments, with startling results.

The two bass players – Sam Anning on acoustic and Mick Meagher on electric – plus drummer James McLean and guitarist Steve Magnusson, plus Keller herself on piano reimagine a collection of her previous works across a range of styles.

‘Fern Tree’ from 2013’s Family Portraits grows from a textural piano pattern with Keller’s solo morphing from Charles Ives to some real rock’n’roll, before the double heartbeat of the two basses rolls out the joyous dance of Magnusson’s guitar. ‘Of Winter, Ice and Snow’ moves glacially, with guitar swells and sharp shards of piano making this, magically, seem more weather than music. Such is its enveloping and mesmerising atmosphere.a4059568909_10

The mood across Live is largely pensive and dynamically introverted, so the track ‘Grand Forfeit’ leaps out like an animal. Beginning with ominously grinding guitar and electric bass feedback it suddenly surprises with a jagged asymmetrical riff over which Maganusson howls and gnashes. His guitar solo is red in tooth and claw, reminiscent of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp at his most brutal.

‘Warm Voices’, originally from 2013’s From Ether, lulls with double bass chords and percussion moving and out like the sea; the piano is ebbing waves and the guitar is distant clouds on the horizon – the picture the ensemble builds is exquisitely balanced and blissfully hypnotic.

Andrea Keller stretches jazz into whatever she wants here – as a composer, musician and visionary, she always has. Using many of the most noble aspects of modern jazz – its curiosity, freedom and genre-inclusive nature – Keller enriches and expands the form. It is always a thrill to see where she goes next.

Five° Below Live is available from https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

Andrea Keller’s website is at https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com