Archive for July, 2014

I recently had the singular pleasure of watching Sydney electric flamenco samurai Steve Hunter perform a solo bass concert. For 45 minutes (or one minute, or a year; time sort of ceased…) Hunter played through a selection of his compositions, ingeniously segueing them together into one integrated and cohesed experience.

After two or three tunes, I stopped trainspotting and just went with the flow, which Hunter kept up effortlessly. One man, one (electric) bass, a little universe of music – a cosmos of one.

steve hunter, the translatorsHunter has always been one of our most single-minded and disciplined players, one whose prolific output has been of one consistently high standard – the standard he applies, bushido-like, to himself and expects (and gets) from his sidemen/collaborators.

His latest album, Cosmos, is a departure in many ways, but a revelation in others. His ninth album as leader, it is his first live album – recorded at Sydney’s 505. It is also an album mainly of previously recorded compositions. And his first without guitar.

Significantly this time around, rather than precisely planning arrangements, Hunter and his band took the more traditional ‘jazz’ approach of using the compositions as musical material for blowing – more departure points than destinations, if you will.

And what a band ­– all Hunter cohorts from many a gig, all entirely familiar with his body of work and with these particular works; and all entirely in tune with the spirit that drives this remarkable music: Andrew Gander on drums, Matt McMahon on keys and Matt Keegan on tenor and soprano.

‘The Kingston Grin’ sets up the easy interplay and conversational mood of the album. A loose-limbed swing which see-saws between the tension of two chords for the solos, it is a simple canvas across which the players paint pictures, poetry and pure joy.steve hunter cosmos

‘Love and Logic’ from 2003’s If Blue was Orange is given a very open treatment, Keegan’s solo searching and finding, searching and finding over the floating 7/8 Weather Report-like groove. Hunter’s music can sometimes bring up his influences a little strongly here and there, but such influences were cataclysmic to a generation, and the Jaco-isms here are welcome and warming. McMahon’s acoustic piano solo is notable on ‘Love and Logic’ – controlled and uplifting.

The lovely Spanish-tinged ‘Cazador’ has shown up on 2007’s Dig My Garden as well as the eponymous 2009 album of Hunter’s flamenco-jazz co-project The Translators. Here it is reimagined differently again, showcasing Hunter’s astonishing virtuosity and passionate ability to get inside the music.

Hunter says that his decision to not use guitar on this album allowed him to exploit some recent breakthroughs he has made in his playing – listen and you’ll see. Gander’s drums here are astounding for their transparency: light washes and translucent colours as background for Hunter.

‘Area 51’ is Hunter’s heartfelt tribute to five jazz spirits who left us at the early age of 51 and as intense as it is lovely. The brawn of Hunter’s playing can push his bands sometimes a little hard, but if it pushes them into a performance such as the one delivered during McMahon’s sparks-spitting Rhodes solo, then all is forgiven.

The closing track, ‘So To Speak’ from 2010’s Nine Lives is here given a spikier, funkier reading. The blowing section is nicely captured by Craig Naughton’s live recording – a little boxy but very in-the-moment – with the band really talking to each other and to us, especially during the simmer of Matt Keegan’s tenor solo. Just listening to the fun Andrew Gander has with the 7/8 groove is worth the price of admission in itself.

A focused and hard-edged album from one of our finest talents – all the more enjoyable for it’s openness and live excitement. An evolution of Steve Hunter’s artistry is seen in the Zen act of letting go and seeing what the universe can bring his way.  Yes, Cosmos is quite a ride.

Cosmos is available here http://stevehunter.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Counterpoint in music is a lovely thing which seems to satisfy something in the listener. The intermeshing of disparate melodic lines to make a loosely woven rope of music – one with knots of harmony and dissonance detailing its length – has, since the Greeks, then Bach all the way through to Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro and even Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden, always been a thrill that seems to hold some sort of underlying truth.

Maybe counterpoint is a symbol for the intermeshing of personalities that has always been a human ideal. Especially in Western culture, where the cult of the individual has been raised to the level of worship, the pleasure of intertwining with another is all too rare. Sometimes it seems to only exist in love, and in music.

In 1991, five leading lights of Australian Jazz performed a handful of gigs at South Melbourne Venue, The Limerick Arms. When the question arose as to who should be the leader, they all pointed at one another. Seeing the humour in this, they called the outfit The Hunters & Pointers.hunters and pointers

Recently unearthed, the tapes of those gigs – originally nicely recorded by Phil Georges in 1991 and polished digitally in 2014 by Hadyn Buxton – have been edited and released on CD as The Hunters & Pointers.

From the first few bars, the intermeshing of personalities is there. Trumpeter John Hoffman and alto Graeme Lyall start weaving lines around each other until Tony Gould’s piano joins them to bring in ‘Just Friends’. Ben Robertson’s bass and Tony Floyd’s drums play lovely and loose around Gould’s spiky solo.

The band rapport during Lyall’s solo and Hoffman’s relaxed answer to it brings to mind a recurring thought ­– that all jazz should be recorded live. It is ridiculous I know, but there often seems to be much more of a sense of the moment and the heady vibe of openended-ness than in many studio recordings.

The counterpoint pops up again during Lyall’s solo in ‘The Way You Look Tonight’; Gould talking back (and talking Bach) to his fleet bop lines. Gould’s sly comping under Robertson’s bass solo takes the music far away from the song  to areas of freedom and poetry. Throughout The Hunters & Pointers there is this feeling that there is all the time in the world, to do whatever we want with the music.

The tunes take their time to go where they will – ‘Just Friends’ is 18:23, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’ (a lovely ballad reading built architecturally from Gould’s hymnal intro) is 12:10; Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Little Sunflower’ is 22.49.

‘Little Sunflower’ is the monolithic centre of The Hunters & Pointers, and not only for it’s size and scope. The simple 1967 Hubbard melody (with it’s lovely major lift) is the perfect bare bone frame for these five brilliant players to feed and flesh. Through Lyall’s eastern tinged exploration, via Gould’s quote-flecked meditations, on to John Hoffman’s teasing Hubbardisms and out through a surreal conversation between Robertson and guest drummer George Polyhronakos, ‘Little Sunflower’ is improvised music at its most cinematic and sumptuous.

All the time in the world, to do whatever we want with the music. Few players – though brilliant on paper – could make something this good out of such freedom. Chops alone can’t do it – in fact chops often work in the opposite way. It is the subsuming of the ego and the meshing of consciousnesses that will get the players, and we the fortunate audience, there. And, here, The Hunters & Pointers do it every time.

And if that is all a little mung-beans and spacey for you, you can at least enjoy the very funny joke that Graeme Lyall tells at the end of The Hunters & Pointers – a joke involving a bear, a hunter, some heavy weapons and some even heavier sex.

 

The Hunters & Pointers is available from https://www.whichwaymusic.com

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

 

 

Fusion of genres truly only work when each colliding style has enough in common to make the fusing seamless. Whether technique, timbre or just plain spirit, some common tongue needs to be spoken.

Bossa Nova of the 1950s had US jazz and Brazilian tang fitting together like a hand in a parrot-plumed glove. The whirling syncopations of Spanish music also dances beautifully with jazz ­– check our own wonderful Translators – and the flailing marriage of Irish jigs and reels with Punk Rock can be hugely exciting.

Travelled drummer, Daniel Susnjar has combined jazz with Peruvian rhythms, melodies and inspirations for his debut album, Su Su Nje.

Daniel Susnjar1Opener ‘Enciendete Candela’ sets up a rolling yet spiky 6/8. As the melody is passed around the lead instruments, you can hear the distinctly jazz elements and the equally distinct Peruvian elements working together – not in parallel, but twined like a two coloured braid.

What you can also hear is Daniel Susnjar’s easy dexterity and his knack of playing right inside the music. As well as keeping this tricky groove up he plays with the soloists, kicking along Laura Leguia’s soprano solo and adding some sparkle around Gabriel Alegria‘s trumpet, all without dropping a stitch.

His own drum solo on ‘Enciendete Candela’ – interestingly answering a short melodic fragment – is smartly constructed and ‘sings’ beautifully.

‘Enciendete Candela’ is one of several rearranged classic Peruvian pieces Susjar has included in homage to the country’s master composers and musicians.

His own pieces fit the mix neatly – ‘Land O Sus’ a lazier 6/8 with a sun-baked Spanish patina (check the fleet guitar solo of Daniel’s father, Danny Susnjar), ‘One Four Five’ a rock-fusion suite with some real arrangement smarts, ‘Fearless Feel’ a piece of percussion momentum that rolls like a wheel into tomorrow.Daniel Susnjar2

Perth-native Susnjar recently returned from the United States, where he earned his Masters and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees. He has performed and recorded with artists including Chick Corea, Pharrell Williams, Bobby McFerrin, Terence Blanchard, Steve Miller, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, Victor Wooten, Joshua Redman and Dave Grusin.

For Su Su Nje, Susnjar selected just the right players based in New York, Miami and Peru – from New York, trumpeter Alex Pope Norris, tenor Troy Roberts, bassist Sam Anning and Paul Bollenback; from Miami, trombonist (and conch shell man) Chad Bernstein; and Peruvian musicians Gabriel Alegria, acoustic guitarist Yuri Juarez, Laura Andrea Leguia, and cajon player Freddy Huevito Lobaton. Daniel was proud to have his father Danny Susnjar co-produce and co-mix the album, as well contribute as a special musical guest.

With Su Su Nje, Susnjar has created a fresh and bright thing. The Peruvian/Jazz collision is a soft one, like lovers coming together ­– and, unlike both the hush cool of Bossa, or the giddy muscle of Afro-Cuban and much other South Am music, the jazz-Peruvian thing is a unique vibe. I do hope we hear more of it.

And I certainly do hope we hear more of Daniel Susnjar.

 

For more info, visit http://www.danielsusnjar.com

The CD is available from Daniel Susnjar‘s website www.danielsusnjar.com and from iTunes.

 

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net