Archive for January, 2013

New Zealand pianist and composer Steve Barry has been living and performing in Sydney since 2009. Well known as a sideman for touring artists such as John Hollenbeck, Theo Bleckmann, George Coleman Jr. and Chris McNulty, he is also the regular go-to-guy for local artists such as The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Dale Barlow, Simon Barker and James Muller.

On the strength of his eponymous debut album, Steve Barry, I get the feeling we will have to do as we did with the Finn brothers and Rusty Crowe (and any other frighteningly talented Kiwi) and willingly refer to him as the Australian pianist and composer Steve Barry. The album really is that good.

In a world of astounding soloists (yes, those 14 year old YouTube Yardbirds) what seems to set the finest jazz apart is the communication and empathy between interacting players. This communication is so expected today that it is pretty much a cliché – that is, until one asks, How often do I hear true, ego-less empathy in jazz ensembles; that virtually telepathic group-mind of a Bill Evans Trio or Miles First or Second Quintet? (Not such a cliché after all, is it?)

Steve Barry

From Steve Barry’s album opener, ‘B.W.’ we know we are in for a treat. The trio of Barry, Alex Boneham and the always elevating Tim Firth truly have that spooky rapport, that twined-consciousness that leads to great things. As much as ‘B.W.’ cooks and roils, the ballad ‘Vintage’ allows that superlative communication to flow across a piece that reminds us of the true meaning of ‘nostalgia’ – ‘homecoming ache’ in the Greek.

Guitarist Carl Morgan joins the trio for the cooking ‘Changes’ and the bopping ‘Unconscious-Lee’ – an angular Monk-trip, a wigged-out cousin to Lee Konitz’s ‘Subconscious-Lee’. Morgan shines on this track, snaky and biting.Steve barry cover

Morgan returns for the driving 6/8 ‘Sparse’ – one of the many tunes here where Barry’s playing brought to mind Keith Jarrett. The sparkle, the fingers-joy over the top of truly effortless technique, the swoon (no, Steve Barry doesn’t spin around in that Keith J trance when he plays) – all served to bring Jarrett to mind.

But of course, Steve Barry is more than an imitator of anyone – he has his own voice, in performance and in composition (check out the utterly transporting Esbjörn Svensson-via-Bartók ‘Clusters’) and in Boneham and Firth he has a magic band. It is hard to conceive that Steve Barry is his first album as a leader. I eagerly await the next twenty or so.

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Prior to posting this review I asked Steve Barry a few short questions. Here are his responses:

1. You have been on the scene for a few years now. What was the spark that led to this album?


Musically it wasn’t so much a spark as a graudal developmental process. I’d been working on the music for a while and had reached the point where I thought the album would be an honest artistic statement. Having said that the instigator was really facing a few months overseas in the middle of the year and being largely away from a piano, as well as Alex living in Italy for most of the year. On top of that Tim and his wife are about to have a baby, so if it hadn’t been then it might not have been for a while!

2. Even though your playing has a nicely original voice, I can hear Keith Jarrett in there as well as others. Who’s playing shaped yours?


Sure, Keith has been a huge influence. I love his seemingly inexhaustible knack for melody (especially with the standards trio) and his solo cadenzas/concerts are just incredible. Herbie Hancock is huge for me to, especially with Miles in the 60s. Lately I’ve been listening to a wide range of stuff, from modern jazz guys like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Aaron Parks, back to things like Shostakovich‘s Preludes and traditional African pygmy music. I’ve also been geting more inspired by works of fiction, I just finished a great book by Jonathan Franzen called “Freedom”, which looks at the implications of the word in modern families and society. Check it out!

3. They are great players, but what did you see in Alex Boneham and Tim Firth that would fit your music so well?


Alex and I met at the Sydney Con when I moved over in 2009 and have been playing together a lot since then. He has a huge sound and is a really strong creative presence both on and off the bandstand. He also has an infectious perpetual excitement about life and learning, which is really inspiring (and he makes great coffee). He’s happily taken though sorry ladies… Tim and I started playing together a few years ago and he’s just what I like about a drummer – he’s always listening and interacting and also supporting whatever is going on. He’s also got a huge amount of flexibility and is always ready to take the music to different places. And he has monstrous chops! It also helps that he’s a lovely dude, a great poker player and enjoys a nice scotch.

We’ve been playing together as a band for about 2 years now, and there’s a really strong, almost intuitive musical connection happening. I’m also happy to call them very close mates.

4. You use Carl Morgan on three of the 10 tracks on the album. Why guitar instead of, say, a tenor horn?


Carl and I started playing together when he moved up from Canberra a few years ago – we lived together for about 2 years and did a lot of playing/drinking of beer/talking about music during that time. Carl is totally passionate and focussed about creating music and is always striving to explore new ways of playing and composing. I wanted him on the album because I love his playing and I like the timbre of piano and guitar together. The tunes were also arranged so we could could get a lot of interaction in (and hopefully I could steal some of his licks).

5. What are your thoughts on Jazz in Australia right now?


It’s really strong – I think we have a pretty special thing happening. Australia is a great environment and culture for creating and exploring new music – we have access to a huge range of sources, and in Sydney at least there are more performance venues springing up all the time. We don’t have anywhere near as strong historical tie to jazz as the Americans do, which I think has both pros and cons – the pressure to “pay our dues” isn’t as strong as there’s a real focus on original music and ways to create it. Having said that I think there are a few ideas we could take from the Americans – for example there’s a powerfully competitive spirit in NY that continuously pushes all the musicians there forward. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but in general I feel we could have more outgoing faith in presenting what we do and what we’re about.

6. And finally, what are your thoughts on music in general today?

That’s a big question! I think it’s really healthy. There’s always going to be your Lady Gagas/One Directions/Justin Biebers but there’s a lot of incredible music happening out there if you’re interested in finding it. Sure, it would be nice if a few more people came to jazz gigs, but I have a great lifestyle and get paid (mostly good money compared to the rest of the world) for doing what I love. Can’t complain about that!

 

Steve Barry’s website is here

Published December 2102 on australianjazz.net 

When Lenny Kaye and Jac Holzman released the compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 in 1972, I doubt they had any idea of the size of the pop-culture floodgate they were opening.

Ostensibly a vanity project by a fan of early US garage-rock (but, in Holzman, a fan who just happened to own Elektra Records), it was a massively successful and influential release for a number of reasons. The first was Holzman’s impeccable taste in picking the sweetest and sourest cherries of the era for his compilation; the second was Lenny Kaye’s liner notes which coined the term “punk-rock” – liner notes which were almost as inspirational as the music itself (Kaye went onto become the guitarist in punk-poetess Patti Smith’s band). And the third – and main – reason for Nuggets’ world-shaking impact was the music.18609

This music – rock-pop singles from the earliest days of guitar-rock – is often mistakenly referred to as “primitive”. Sure, it sounds basic and it is often whacked out with a loose-limbed flailing where precision comes a distant last after more visceral charms – but it is more “primal” than “primitive”. And there is a distinct difference.

That “primal” edge – stripped back, no-frills, down the line, groove based – has been the spine of all great Rock since the early days of rock’n’roll in the 1950s. And it was happening all over the world. The new release Down Under Nuggets: Original Artyfacts 1965-1967, collects 29 Australian releases of the time, with superlative liner notes by Ian D Marks.

And what a strange, snotty, twangy, frugg-adelic trip it is, through the fevered young Australia of the time. Sure the US influence are there – after all, “Wooly Bully” and “Louie Louie” are in Rock’s DNA – but there is so much here to be greatly proud of.

In among all the one-hit wonders (Gawd bless ‘em!), Hit-making names abound: The Masters Apprentices (who, like Billy Thorpe, seemed to have hits in all of Australia’s rock eras of the 60s and 70s: pop, rock-pop, heavy blues-rock), The Atlantics (our still-reigning surf-rock Gods), The Easybeats, Bobby & Laurie (safari-suited RSL Club balladeers in a later life) and – believe it or not – The Bee Gees (years before they became UK Pop Kings and, later, US falsetto Disco Queens). All turn in wild and woolly performances – they have to to be included here among genius rockers like The Purple Hearts (led by amp-melter Lobby Lloyd) and the astounding Loved Ones (their innovative yet groovy 9/8 stomp ‘The Loved One’ was brilliantly covered by a young INXS before the perms, synths and international glitter bloated them).

The-Easybeats

The irresistible charm of this music is that it is all so gorgeously unselfconscious. A good example is the cracker Easybeats song here, ‘Sorry’. This was their Hit prior to ‘Friday On My Mind’ and the difference between the two songs is the difference between innocence and experience, effervescent youth and what-comes-after. Only released a few months apart, ‘Friday…’ is all contrapuntal lines, resolving chords and rococo invention – whereas ‘Sorry’ has none of that bollocks: just a power-riff, a shout-along hook-chorus and Little Stevie going ape-shit – in short, perfect.

The last piece on Down Under Nuggets is a rare surf-film sound-track version of ‘The Hot Generation’ by surf-rockers The Sunsets. It is five and a half minutes long – every other track here is under the magic three minutes. The Sunsets would soon become Oz prog-heroes Tamam Shud, with vocalist Lindsay Bjerre transforming from fresh-faced surfer teen to moustached LSD warlock. The clouds of Prog (and grownupness) were gathering.

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In conjunction with the arrival of Down Under Nuggets Rhino has released Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations. In a strange fun-park mirroring of the past, where an entire generation of bands payed tribute in their own music to the original 1972 Nuggets, this Antipodean Interpolations has Australian bands of 2012, obviously influenced by those bands, paying tribute to the originals as well.

And it is a testament to the enduring vibe of the originals that The Oz bands really don’t have to step too far away from their sound to lovingly recreate the excitement of songs like The Electric Prunes’ ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night’ (nailed by Velociraptor) or The Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’ (frugged-up real nice by Geelong’s Murlocs).

In his liner notes (yes folks, when it comes to Nuggets, the liner notes ain’t just liner notes) to Antipodean Interpolations, US über-journo David Fricke refers to Baptism of Uzi’s reworking of The Amboy Dukes (reworking of Big Joe Williams) ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ as “Seventies Kraut-Rock hypnosis, Nuggets-goes-NEU!”. As ever he is spot-on – it has to be heard to be believed (when is the world going to wake up to Baptism of Uzi?).

The Straight Arrows’ “Lies”, Pond’s “Hey Joe” (owing as much to Love’s take as Nuggets’ The Leaves’), The Eagle & The Worm’s acid-carousel waltz “An Invitation To Cry”: 18 tracks of great music way beyond just tribute – I allow myself a little jingoistic pride to say they are all bonzer. Taste and see.

 

Published December 2012 on theorangepress.net

I was going to call this review ‘Anish Kapoor: The Joy of Size’. Then, for obvious reasons, I dropped that in favour of  ‘Anish Kapoor: The Joy of Surface’; then settled on ‘Anish Kapoor: The Joy of Looking’. And then settled on none of the above as I realised there are too many joys to the work of the superstar Mumbai-born, London-based sculptor, the above being only three of them.

Kapoor rose into international pop-consciousness during the 2012 London Olympics with his design of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the controversial public sculpture made in collaboration with architect Cecil Balmond to celebrate the event.

kapoor memory

The works assembled for the current Anish Kapoor exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art could not be more different from the Orbit. And yet, in common with the London piece they are audacious, utterly transfixing and, yes, a joy to look at.

Looking at a work of art – looking without thinking, without looking through a latticework of artspeak and high theory – is a rare pleasure in 21st century Art. Of course, Kapoor’s work has as much depth as you like – the artist himself speaks of “layers of meaning” (while rarely suggesting what these meanings might be).

A good example is the first piece we see inside the MCA. ‘My Red Homeland’ fills an entire room with a circular mound of red wax that has been gouged by a slowly rotating block of steel. The block moves as slowly and as uncaring as a glacier through the fleshy wax. The red could have an allusion to Kapoor’s saffron-Hindu homeland but the inescapable impression is one of meat and the relentless grind of violent history through human flesh. After all, our bodies are our closest homeland.

Up on Level 3 we first see ‘Untitled 2012’ (many of Kapoor’s works are untitled – in other artists often a quasi-misterioso conceit, but in his case perfectly suited to their featureless, surface-as-substance conception). ‘Untitled 2012’ is one of Kapoor’s ‘void’ works, a series that goes back to the 1980s. It shows perfectly how he plays with our perspectives and perceptions – how he shows us that looking is not as simple an act as we may believe. From the distance ‘Untitled 2012’ is a richly pigmented circle; closer we see it is a cup shape, coming out concave from the wall. But as we continue to look, our minds flip it to convex, bulging out at us. Which is it? It is all three – a trinity of co-existing mental constructs.

This play with our eyes and minds continues through Kapoor’s use of extremes – ultra mirror smoothness or impossibly dense velvety texture, super-saturated colour or polished steel colourlessness. A piece such as ‘My Body, Your Body’ is so dark and saturated, it is only after your eyes adjust do you see that it is not flat at all, but a circular void that pulls back into the wall – like a black hole in physics that is so dense it sucks the very light from the sky.

His ‘S-Curve’ and ‘C-Curve’ – two huge highly polished stainless steel pieces that take up an entire room – are equally existent/non-existent. Kapoor talks of his ‘Sky Mirror’ which sits on the MCA lawn outside as ‘both a space and an object’ – and this applies to these two staggering fun-park mirrors as well. Because their surfaces are only mirrors they have no skin except what is reflected – the gallery walls, the people, all distorted and topsy-turvy due to the curved planes – they are there, but somehow not there. Once again, it is our mind putting it all together (somewhat unbelievingly).

This might be High Art but I am sure the people goofing off and pulling silly faces into the distorting mirrors of ‘S-Curve’ and ‘C-Curve’ would make Kapoor grin. It is also that silliness in that gallery that makes the piece in the next room, 2008’s ‘Memory’, even more somber that is it (if that were possible).

‘Memory’ is a work so big it fills an entire gallery to the extent that there is no room to walk around it. The idea is that, since our view of the whole object is restricted, we need to knit together our separate (remembered) views of it in our minds. That is the concept but the effect – like ‘My Red Homeland’ – is entirely visceral. ‘Memory’ is a huge, bulbous, bomb-shaped structure made of segments of rusted Cor-Ten steel, bolted together. To anyone who lived through the Cold War, beneath the shadow of The Bomb; to anyone who lived through any part of the twentieth century – the century of two World Wars, Vietnam, Korea and endless mechanised slaughter – the memories stirred up by the rusted, pregnant bloat of ‘Memory’ are deep and sad.

So much large-scale sculpture is only about surface and shape and space with little room for joy in its edges and curves. This exhibition has joy in abundance – but also contemplation, spirituality (‘When I Am Pregnant’ was inspired by the artist’s 1991 trip to Uluru) and new questions.

While you were just looking, Anish Kapoor made you do so much more.

Anish Kapoor runs till April 1, 2013 at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay, Sydney

Published December 2012 on megaphoneoz.com

I love this album. I unequivocally stone motherless love it. It is the best jazz album I have heard this year. I could end this review right there, but I will expand.

Free Jazz has long divided even the most pearl-eared listeners. And with good reason – since its development in the early-1960s, its searching nature and fearless deep-end leaping has come up with mixed results. In the hands of magicians such as Pharoah Sanders and Cecil Taylor, Free Jazz can take you out to interstellar space and back; in the hands of band-wagon jumpers who shall remain nameless, the form is a turgid meander in the mire, never really getting anywhere, despite all the steam, noise and sounding brass.

sugg soprano

Negative critics often cite the ‘fact’ that Free Jazz has abandoned all melody, harmony and rhythm – the holy trinity of western music. But none of these have been abandoned at all; the best players are just working way out on the outer rim of these elements – sure, melody, harmony and rhythm are stretched to cracking point but they are most definitely there. And the music that the Free Jazz astronauts bring back from the edge is arguably the most ‘jazz’ Jazz you will ever hear – precisely because a big part of the Jazz mission statement has always been to stretch the music into new and wonderful shapes.

Melbourne saxophonist Andy Sugg’s latest album The Berlin Session was recorded in, inspired by and used musos based in the German arts-Mecca, but the music here takes you to many places. Places of the heart, places of the mind, place of the soul.

US sax giant Dave Liebman called Sugg “a dedicated warrior” and throughout the album his tone and lines (restricted here to only soprano sax) are heroic as he leads his band through the music. Fearless, sensitive, strong.

‘Vignette’ is a cool piece of Coltrane-spiritual worship before the rock and roil of ‘Freedom 2’ – this piece riding on the dense intensity of Berliner drummer Jan Leipnitz and bassist Sean Pentland. It is an intensity that never cloys or clogs – their playing truly swings, despite the elasticity of the pulse.

Both bass and drums shine on the pair of duets, ‘Berlin’ and ‘Teddie’s Blues’ – Pentland on the late night urban ‘Berlin’ rolls like a city subway beneath saxophonist Sugg’s sketch-etched skyline lines. On ‘Teddie’s Blues’, Suggs and drummer Leipnitz converse parti-coloured and party-hearty, full of energy but never overloading into Coltrane-Elvin Jones drumkit-demolition territory. Again, it swings.

A special mention needs to go to pianist Kate Kelsey-Sugg (Andy’s daughter) who makes this already astounding album a truly landmark one. Her comping (is there actually such a thing as prosaic as comping in this music?) is coolly considered when it needs to be – as on ‘Freedom 2’ where, towards the end, she sets up a tessellated repeat pattern that turns the whole performance into something else – and spiky and spitting where fireworks are called for, as on the Cecil Taylor hat-tip ‘Cecil T’. Kelsey-Sugg’s chord textures across the lovely ‘Pastoral’ seem to call from another age (past? future?) and give the piece a new beauty, a beauty we have never felt before.sugg

Andy Sugg’s soprano cannot help but conjure Coltrane, and the last piece ‘For Leib’ (a hi to Dave) is full of the trills and howls that made Coltrane’s last work so rivetting. In the love and joy of the band’s interplay I am reminded of Sunship, one of the first Coltrane Quartet’s last albums, before Elvin and McCoy left John to his star sailing. Sunship is free yet flowing, unfettered yet grooving, dense yet swinging. The Berlin Session is like that.

But The Berlin Session is entirely of its own wonder-full world, influences aside. Did I already say I love this album? Did I mention that I unequivocally stone motherless love it? I recommend you take a listen and get to love it too.

For more information visit: andysugg.com

 

Published December 2102 on jazz-planet.com