The towering figure of jazz/funk trumpet superman Freddie Hubbard casts a very long shadow over the latest release by Melbourne’s Daimon Brunton and his quintet. Brunton’s fourth album – entitled Wha Sa (Chinese for ‘already done’) – was recorded live at Northcote’s Open Studio between November 2010 and February 2011, after a long gestation period involving various abandoned recordings and changing lineups.

It is no surprise that Brunton settled on this set of recordings and this lineup (Greg Lavell plays keys on three of the five tracks, Olaf Scott on the other two). The band is hot and cohesive, and the recordings sparkle with all the musical flashes that only a truly live performance can. The five track LP is warts and all, but with a band this ON, even their warts can be pearls.

Of the five, three tunes are Brunton originals and the other two are covers – Herbie Hancock’s jamming warhorse ‘Chameleon’ and Freddie Hubbard’s highly influential ‘Red Clay’ from 1970.

Of the Hubbard connection, Brunton says “After Sky Dive (1972) he seemed to move away to more pop-oriented music, but I was interested in exploring what might have been if Freddie had continued down the jazz path.” Brunton’s playing has all the snap, crackle and pop and Woody Shaw-style edge to his tone to carry this off, where a lesser trumpeter would get tangled up in the blistering runs or just plain lose their mojo. This is high-energy stuff. Maybe Brunton could have suggested a little more of Hubbard’s buttery lyricism now and again (check out ‘Delphia’ on the original Red Clay album) amongst the nuclear blasts, but it’s his call.

The same can be said of the moods and grooves across Wha Sa – they seem a little out of the same funky electric-jazz bag; a ballad or blues would be nice – if only to hear this superb quintet attack something more introspective.

That said, the places Brunton’s combo goes are pretty tasty – the impromptu boogie-shuffle (beautiful held by drummer Adam Donaldson) that grows out of the middle of ‘Chameleon’, Pat Farrell’s tasty bass intro to the same tune, Stella Skinner’s silvery guitar lines during her solo in the 13 minute closer ‘They Know Not What’.

In fact, apart from Daimon Brunton, it is guitarist Skinner that shines throughout Wha Sa – her bright Scofield-like lines during the opener ‘Wha Sa’, her neo-bop interjections during ‘A Happy Coincidence’s chase chorus with Brunton and Scott, the spaces she leaves in her ‘Chameleon’ solo – Skinner is a guitarist to watch.

Daimon Brunton uses words such as ‘firepower’ and ‘intense energy’ when talking about Wha Sa and says “This time it was all about energy, and that’s why we had to record it live.” So it is clear what the band was going for – did they hit it? I think you will agree they hit it hard – hard, bright and funky. Check it out.

Daimon Brunton and the band will be touring Wha Sa  nationally from 28 June through to 15 July. Details are at his website http://www.daimonbrunton.com

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

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