Sydney saxophonist and composer Adrian Cunningham takes us on a fantastic round-trip of styles and textures on his new CD, Walkabout. With his superlative quartet on board, he has also packed a string quartet and a hilarious (‘snotty’ says the liner notes) airport announcer. It’s a fun ride.

The quartet – Bill Risby, Dave Pudney and Gordon Rytmeister behind Cunningham – fly through whatever is before them, whether it be the humid swing of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go (For New Orleans)’, the stately ballad ‘What Can I Take With Me?’ or the cooking rock-samba of ‘Dancing Into the Sun’.

Cunningham’s virtuosic gifts on all saxes, clarinet and flute never overshadow his expressiveness or clog his clear voice. There are few more exciting soloists in jazz than those who have much to truly say and almost infinite facility to say it: the fleet, fragmented alto lines of ‘Transit #2’ (prefaced by the wonderful ‘snotty’ airport announcer, Emily Asher), the cool woody clarinet dexterity of ‘Chasing the Horizon’, especially the burred and spat Roland Kirk-like flute passages at the beginning of ‘Winter’ – reminiscent of the scraped and slippery violin effects which herald Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ from ‘The Four Seasons’. 

Cunningham’s use of the string quartet of Phillip Harti, Ursula and Angela Nelius and Paul Stender is dazzling throughout. The writing is smart, witty and used to great effect – the snarled and barbed string clusters that bookend ‘Oasis (For Central Park)’ (with a languid peaceful middle section – get it?) are startling, painting a vicious and edgy New York City. The gorgeous writing in ‘Prologue-Wanderlust’ really seems to lay the map, and the world out before you. My only reservation is with the stabbed string section as we get into ‘Oasis’ – it seems the strings are pushed a little, forced into an area better left to the muscle of horns. It’s a small quibble in a smart and evocative piece of music.

Yes, the entire ensemble shines all over Walkabout but I must give pianist Bill Risby my gold star. Whether languidly painting washed tones over the ballad ‘What Can I take With Me’ or effortlessly doubling Cunningham’s fleet flute lines in the 7/8 samba of ‘Winter’s End’ (a lovely bright sprite of a tune after the glassy ‘Winter’) Risby is style and ease personified.

It’s a trip worth taking, and while it migh not take us into outer space or metaphysical realms, Walkabout is the ticket to Adrian Cunningham’s passionate, colourful, very very beautiful world.

 

Published May 2012 on http://www.jazzandbeyond.com.au/

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