Album review: Sandy Evans/When the Sky Cries Rainbows

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: jazz
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There are very few complete musicians in the world of contemporary music. Most players remain in their genre throughout their creative lives, often perfecting their little corner of the musical garden, quite content there. Jazz is a music that has birthed many voraciously questing musicians – Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter – true artists who are always moving outward in search of the ungraspable thing. We listeners are fortunate to be pulled along in the slipstream of these intrepids.

Sydney’s Sandy Evans is such a musician. An award-winning – I for one have lost count – saxophonist, composer and band leader, she has studied Carnatic music in India and co-leads a trio with Japanese koto player, Satsuki Odamura. This is as well as being a mainstay of Australian jazz, leading and co-leading various innovative ensembles over the years such as Clarion Fracture Zone. She is also one of very few women at the top of the Australian jazz tree – make of that what you will – an achievement in itself (Evans inaugurated the annual SIMA Jazz Improvisation Course for Young Women).

Sandy Evans has recently released ‘When the Sky Cries Rainbows’, a 60 minute 13-part jazz suite, written for her trio – with Brett Hirst, bass and Toby Hall, drums – which may be the most personal work of her wide-ranging and adventurous musical life. It is dedicated to – and drawn emotionally from – her husband Tony Gorman’s battle with the disease MS. Evans says “The starting point for my creative expression in this work is the breathtaking spectrum of colour that often fills the sky after a storm… a symbol of the profound sense of hope that can occur after a time of intense grief.”

There is nothing new about seeing the bright colours of the rainbow as a symbol of hope. But Evans has been through intense grief of watching a lover suffer and this music rings true and deep. To add to the sophisticated emotional colours of her arrangements, Evans has brought in Phil Slater on trumpet, James Greening on trombone and Alistair Spence on piano. Although the theme here is hope, there are many moments of desolate despair and introspection. The title track and opener contrasts fiesta flurries of notes with meditative passages, as if to acknowledge the creep of despair behind the smile. The Phil Slater solo trumpet solo piece, ‘Spectre’ is a blues moan into the void. ‘Spectre of the Broken’ has a ghostly unison line over piano chords that sound like black pools under a grey moon. Slater’s trumpet solo on a later track, ‘Broken’ scratches and frets with grief.

Tone poetry – expressing emotions, impressions through music – can be a difficult thing, especially in a music as highly personalised and cliché-allergic as contemporary jazz. But Sandy Evans’ writing throughout ‘When the Sky Cries Rainbows’ is dazzling, not only technically but more importantly, emotionally – however dense and dissonant, the music takes you where she wants it to. The tone clusters in ‘Chromatic Dispersion’ and horn spatters in ‘Heedrum-Hodrum Headbanging’ are new as dew, but the feelings reach back deep into your psyche.

Although the dark, desolate and blue passages are beautifully conceived – Evans drawing out colours of blue-chocolate and ghosted lunar hues – it is the up, the hopeful, the yes! pieces that shine here (pun intended). ‘Alexander’s Dark Band’ rollicks down the road like a New Orleans march, kicking all demons out of its way (check James Greening’s hilarious almost vocal trombone chuckles at the beginning). ’40 Degrees’ swings powerfully with lop-sided Thelonious Monk-style rhythmic displacements. By the time we get to the final two pieces, ‘Hand in Hand’ – a sweet calypso – and the closer, ‘With The Sun Behind Me’ we are tapping our feet and feeling the life tingle through our fingers and toes.

The work finishes on such a high note, with such an affirmation of energy, that you know the sad, bad, life-suckers have been pushed back – and with music of this energy and depth they can be kept – we hope – just a little longer at bay.

Published September 2011 on


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