Archive for July, 2015

Trumpeter and composer, Ellen Kirkwood is a Sydney jazz artist I always look forward to hearing more of.

She first made me prick up my ears with the all-women Sirens Big Band, whose catholic orbit happily included her Balkan/jazz/blues mashups (check her ‘Balkanator’, the opening track on Siren’s LP Kali and the Time of Change). Her first album under her own name (ok, Captain Kirkwood), was a jazz/spoken word retelling of the ancient Greek legend of Theseus and The Minotaur.

She also bobs up with Mister Ott and Serge Stanley’s On The Stoop as well as others around town, including David Sattout’s grisly Zappa-flavoured Facemeat. The binding quality of her music and her collaborations is that is consistently has one foot firmly in jazz and the other trailing in the waters of a tangy broth of blues, rock, gypsy swing, klezmer, reggae and you-name-it.

fat yahoozah 2

Her new release – under the band-name of Fat Yahoozah – titled I Don’t Care, is no exception to her unique catalogue. Maybe a bit more fun, maybe a little more raucous, but as smart and brightly arranged as anything that has come before.

And she adds the arrow of vocalist to her quiver. The title track, ‘I Don’t Care’ has Kirkwood singing a world-weary lyric over a breezy pop song (Lotte Lenya goes to Bondi?). Simon Ferenci’s trombone solo is light and grinning before a lilting horn/voice ensemble riff.

‘Klezmore’ (get it?) is a drunken wedding waltz with a dark lyric of childhood foreboding. Even though I am reviewing this album in dry July, I look forward to listening to this tune (hopefully live) after maybe one too many shiraz cabs. Once again, beautifully balanced and heartfelt horn arrangements paint the picture.

‘Translation Day’ has Ruth Wells’ soprano intro-ing with some Eastern European blues before the ensemble clips along on a lovely village polka; Jessica Dunn’s bowed bass singing like Grandpapa. The tune accelerates and accelerates until all the winter leaves are blown off the trees. This tune made me realize how vivid the sound pictures are on the album; how much Soul it has.fat yahoozah 1

The band Kirkwood has assembled helps paint the pictures beautifully. She has smartly drawn the players from her previous and current collaborations – Wells from the Sirens and Facement, David Sattout on guitar, Serge Stanley on sax and accordian, Ferenci, The Sirens’ Dunn on bass with Evan McGregor on drums and percussives.

I know the band has been knocking everyone out playing live around town – it’s a killer one-two punch: jazz chops with gypsy party moods that anyone can love. It’s awfully good to drink to, but even better to listen to. I recommend you do.

 

Published July 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

If you make a revolution, make it for fun,
don’t make it in ghastly seriousness,
don’t do it in deadly earnest,
do it for fun.
Don’t do it because you hate people,
do it just to spit in their eye.
                 D.H. Lawrence, A Sane Revolution

Standing at the 2011 Byron Bay Bluesfest, watching the recently re-formed Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, my mind went back to the early seventies, where I had first had my funnybone mercilessly tickled by Mic and Jim Conway’s anarchic-psychedelic-reefer-cabaret-jazz-circus troupe. Even though none of the originals members were here, bar Mic and brother Jim (now beaten into a wheelchair by MS), the spirit, sideshow laughs and capital-F Fun had barely diminished over the forty years between.

The new book from Catherine Fleming and John Tait – Captain Matchbox & Beyond: The Music & Mayhem of Mic and Jim Conway – reveals that the first show the brothers did, as The Jelly Bean Jug Band (in black-face!) was at a talent quest to ‘take the micky out of the rock bands’.

And they have been talking the micky ever since – out of the pompous, the straight, the grey men, the cold-hearted politicians and anyone who would make the world less bright and sunny for us all.

captain matchbox1

The early 1970s was the perfect time for Captain Matchbox to arrive – the fragrant and colourful atmosphere suited the band’s zany humour which drew on Mic’s fascination with 1920’s jug band and novelty recordings; the flavour of revolution in politics suited their anarchic thrust, giving them a wide range of targets for their pop-guns and custard pies. Yet, behind the rubber chickens and car-horn hooters was a keen satirical intelligence and a sharp eye for the hypocrisies of suburban-straight Australia.

Adopted as house-party band by the 70s counter-culture, Captain Matchbox were widely loved and hugely popular. They were such a sweet and sticky antidote to the po-faced blues noodlers and progressive-rock beardies of the time.

Yet through a series of intra-band spats, poor record deals, touring disasters and more career near-misses than any band should ever deserve, they never capitalised on their uniqueness.

captain matchbox2

Also at work was the perpetual friction between Mic, the joker of a thousand silly puns and Jim, the blues-harp virtuoso who yearned to be a ‘serious’ musician. After being forced to wear a fruit-suit once too often, Jim parted ways and became a member of two of Australia’s finest blues bands – The Backsliders with Dom Turner, and his own band, Jim Conway’s Big Wheel.

Mic never waivered from his crooked and parti-coloured path – he performed with left-field institutions such as Circus Oz, The Pram Factory and his own National Junk Band as well as cabaret shows such as Vaudevillains and Fairground Snapz. His face is as unmistakeable as the big facade of Luna Park and just as much a national treasure of mirth, wonder and a very Australian humour in the face of life’s kicks. Touring schools across Australia, Mic Conway’s one-man show sought to show modern children how people entertained themselves ‘before television’.

The list of musicians and entertainers who went through Mic and Jim’s bands or benefitted from their association is staggering, as well – from Mondo Rock’s Eric McCusker through to the Wiggles, jazz-violin virtuoso George Washingmachine and cartoon-satirist Michael Leunig.

Captain Matchbox & Beyond: The Music & Mayhem of Mic and Jim Conway is a journey, not only through the crazy maze of the Conways’ music, but also through the 1970s, a time when it seemed anything could happen. Looked back upon from today, it is hard to believe such an anarchic-psychedelic-reefer-cabaret-jazz-circus troupe could have even existed, let alone been nationally loved. But Captain Matchbox were, and from what I saw at Bluesfest in 2011, still are. Long may they razz.

 

Published July 2015 on theorangepress.net and  megaphoneoz.com

 

 

Driving out to Broken Hill alone last year I just had to turn the music off. Outside Wilcannia, the country had turned into semi-desert and stretched to the horizon, ochre and awesome, in all directions. The music I was listening to seemed suddenly paltry and chattering, so I killed it, preferring to listen to the big hum of eternal silence that filled the world out here.

The interior Australian landscape – of outback, desert and rainforest – is one that has shocked artists into creativity for years now. From Peter Sculthorpe’s ‘Sun Music’ to Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’, musicians have tried to catch and express that feeling: the feeling I had on the road to Broken Hill. It is a truly spiritual thing and thus one that music, with it’s lack of hard literal references, is perfectly suited to express.

PAUL CUTLAN, PHOTO BY KAREN STEAINSMulti-instrumentalist Paul Cutlan has always had a spiritual halo around his music. Whether playing 17/8 Balkan skirls with MARA!, Dolphy bop with Ten Part Invention or in simpatico duet with fellow saxophonist Andrew Robson, Cutlan’s approach to playing has always surprised, elevated and talked in tongues.

His new recording, Across the Top, with bassist Brett Hirst and improvising string ensemble The NOISE, does all of those things and more. At the centre of the album is the ‘Across the Top Suite’ – a five-part work inspired by Cutlan’s experiences of The Pilbara and Kimberleys regions of north-west Western Australia while on tour with world music group MARA!

Across the five movements Cutlan, Hirst and The NOISE’s Veronique Serret, Liisa Palandi, James Eccles and Oliver Miller invoke and evoke the space, the life, the wonder and a spiritual sense of place. The instrumental range and technical innovations they work through are breathtaking in themselves.

Cutlan’s solo bass clarinet intro to ‘Gibb River Road’ suddenly startles with didgeridoo squawks and rasps, before Hirst brings a Latin groove to the tune proper. The high-harmonic strings intro to the ‘Lost Souls’ section has a flecked aridity toPAUL CUTLAN 2 it, reminiscent of painter Fred Williams’ outback landscapes – large space with burned-out details.

‘Lost Souls’ sings with Bartok-like twining lines before lurching into a Bulgarian 5/8 Pajdushka rhythm driven by percussionist Mara Kiek’s tapan drum.

The European influences abound – Stravinsky (the ‘Reconcile’ movement brings to mind ‘A Soldier’s Tale’), Russian orchestral music, as well as the Balkan folk flavours – yet never seem to jar against the ochre sound-pictures painted by Cutlan’s compositions. The ‘Across the Top Suite’ hangs together impeccably despite Cutlan’s cultural play.

Wrapped around the central suite are three other pieces that show the uniqueness of composition and ensemble. Album opener ‘Times Past’ has bass clarinet and double bass improvising against fluidly meshed string textures. The entirely improvised piece ‘The Dawning Dark’ concludes with an almost electronic machine-howl and grind produced out of purely acoustic instruments. Closer ‘Perhaps Next Time’ finishes the album with a Latin groove that pulls apart and comes together organically and almost magically.

There is much magic to Across the Top, and much depth. Paul Cutlan has produced a work that is entirely of its own world, taking much that is good from a range of genres and influences – and, like any worthwhile artwork, life itself – and filtering it through his own unique vision.

 

 

Published June 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

I remember one night with my hairy Hills District friends, sitting around in a circle at the Dural Memorial Hall. We were in a band and decided to sleep over the night before our rehearsal – somehow we had permission to do so (it was the freewheeling ’70s, not the nanny-state, actuary-driven 2010s) and we had no food or mattresses/sleeping bags – just music and dope. Tony Dunshea had brought his new quadraphonic record system and we sat in a circle with the quadraphonic (4 speakers for two ears) system in a circle around us.11032698_10204092489264108_5995010883240137524_n

We passed joints and bongs and got into a mindspace very receptive to the beauty of music. I dimly remember a David Bowie (and the Spiders from Mars) bootleg – shitty recording and a great version of “Hang Onto Yourself” and an awkward version of “Space Oddity”.

I very very clearly remember “Close to The Edge” – the YES track, a suite of tracks really, which covers side one of the eponymous album. The album sounds like nature – warm, myriad-leaved, churning with life (dig also the factory of Spring thudding in Igor’s “Rite of Spring”) – the intro alone, that of a humid forest’s insects and wing’d creatures buzzing & whirring & clicking until the crescendo bursts into sunshine and eternally returning Spring. The album moves through all the seasons and all the days of our lives – the frosty mornings, the golden afternoons, the endless rocky coasts (thank you, Roger Dean), the tiny city gardens.

We took it all in and talked about it, lying on our elbows and then we all shut up and were in our own private zones and zoning in our zones, and it was bliss to be all together as the music raised oaks and twirled vines among us all.