Archive for September, 2015

Seventies’ evil genius Frank Vincent Zappa is often cited as an influence by bands who work outside the mainstream, those who work down the alleys and canals and sewers of outré and outrage. Some go for Zappa’s anarchic approach to harmony and rhythm, which sorely test the players’ chops while testing the audience’s aesthetic threshold. Some go for Zappa’s sour (and hilariously barbed) misanthropy, which swings between the right-on and the right-off.

Some, like David Sattout‘s 8-piece jazz/rock/noise collective Facemeat, go for both. And yet, this is not slavish ‘tribute’ or fawning hagiography; Sattout very smartly uses the Zappa musical anarchy/discipline approach as a point of departure, a fertile bed in which his own sound-world can grow.

And grow it does, into flowers of evil and flowers of alien-skinned beauty and flowers of… you tell me, which populate the night garden of Facemeat’s debut album, Questions for Men.

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Opener, ‘Compliments to Your Band’ blazes in with electronic vomit, followed by a fuzz orchestral slam, before setting up the sort of demented guitar groove worthy of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Wise-ass vocal (singer Adam Moses plays every one of Questions for Men’s song’s characters with reptilian relish) over a sarcastic funk line, a Sattout fuzz-Zappa guitar whig out and more horn-fuzz train-wrecks and we are left pummelled (but grinning).

‘My Wife and Children’ see-saws tricksy scalar runs around stabbing horns (Ruth Wells‘ sax and Ellen Kirkwood‘s trumpet seem to pop up on so much good music around Sydney these days). ‘Dude Disco’ is Disco Boy for the new millennium, Moses’ lounge-lizard vocal dripping with enough fear’n’loathing to rust any mirrorball stiff. Bassist Josh Ahearn, drummer Miles Thomas and keys man Byron Mark (yes, Sattout has recruited the best) are all deliciously in on the joke.facemeat 2

‘Your Special Day’ froths with metal guitars and smart time-signature games; title track ‘Questions for Men’ is a beautifully layered misterioso noise-world; ‘Seven Days’ is my-baby-done-me-wrong from the point of view of a twisted mind, the woozy harmony walling us all into a small art-cinema thrilling to this noir movie of necrophilia and revenge.

The startling and unique rarely lets up across Questions for Men. Sattout’s cabinet of curiosities keeps giving up its treasures: some of them are strangely beautiful, some of them you turn over in your hand trying to figure its purpose, while others just slip between your fingers and slither off across the floor to glisten in a dark corner.

‘Hanging From a Line’ levitates a whole-tone vocal line overhead, while ‘In Time’ surprises with a dotty Kate Bush ditty sung by Wells and Kirkwood. ‘I Shouldn’t Have Killed You’ casts Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s silvery Stratocaster as the private dick against the Greek chorus of the drunken horns. ‘Keller’ could be called math-rock, but only if you didn’t have better words (or ears).

Unique and strange beauty abounds. So does sarcasm: Questions for Men‘s closer, ‘Big Noight Blues’ is as viciously satirical of 12-bar blues as you will hear: as mirthless a mastication of an instrumental blues as you can get. And God and Frank knows the modern-day blooz need it.

God and Frank also knows we need music like this – the jazz guys have hijacked the chops but not the fury; the indie guys have hijacked the irony but not the wit; the TV panel comics have hijacked the satire but not the danger.

Facemeat are a refreshing slap in the face for all of the above. Long may they slap.

Published September 2015 on theorangepress.net

I wrestled with this one longer than I thought I would.

I wrestle with them all, to a degree, but Sanctuary – the new one from Sydney composer/pianist/accordionist Gary Daley – took more time and listening and thinking and re-listening than any of the others.

Much of it is that Sanctuary is big, very big in every way: the themes, the emotion, the ensemble writing, the very breadth of its conception… big and hard to wrestle to the page.

Much of it also is that music such as this can knock the wind out of my diaphragm, by simply reminding me how far the word falls short of the music – it turns my tongue (and pen) into a wooden clapper. But we can only work with the tools we are given. So…

The core of the Sanctuary suite – and a suite of pieces it is – is Daley’s experience of caring for his mother who was slipping into Alzheimer’s. The ‘sanctuary’ of the title is the comforting world of memories Daley and his family worked to build for her during her suffering.

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And yet, in the midst of this dark time, Daley’s first grandchild was born. A little candle in the void. And a powerful reminder of life’s extremes – merciless ravage and sweet new bud.

To express these big life ideas Daley has, across Sanctuary, gone for the primal and the spiritual – the earthy and the ephemeral – in almost equal balance. We have the astounding ‘Introduction,’ with James Daley’s rough hewn field holler shout-sung over a Ligeti-like pulsing chord; a howl in the hollow of the cold universe, but a strong, life-grabbing howl, nonetheless.

We have the afro-groove of ‘Mandolin’ – with its opaque and bluesy Jess Green guitar solo ­– and the joyous hoe-down of ‘Kindred Chant’, led by the clearwater lap steel of Bruce Reid and Veronique Serret’s fiddle. The hoe-down opens out into the colour-field painting that ‘Interlude No 2’ is; Brett Hirst’s bass, bowed and pizz., singing a song of colours overlapping colours.

Green and James Daley sing the folk traditional song ‘The Wandering Boy’ like a Shaker hymn – hardwood pews, cold country chapel, bare to the bone melodically and emotionally. The song tells is of the unique connection between mother and son and needs no prettying up; in some way this makes ‘The Wandering Boy’, with simpatico accordian and National Steel, the heart of Sanctuary.Sanctuary 1

So we are pulled back and forth across the themes and compositional/improvisational spaces of Sanctuary – floating dissonances here, a boinging jaw-harp there, slide steel melisma, Indian sliding melody, blues, 6/8 Cubano. The astonishing Paul Cutlan growls and yodels out of the middle of ‘Time and Place’. James Daley speaks the words of ‘The Wandering Boy’ over Bartokian blue-grey and smudged turquoise strings in ‘Interlude No 1’.

And yet the suite holds sweet – Daley’s sense of balance and reticent drama puts each thing after each thing in an order that heightens and enriches the drama of this sad-happy journey through his themes of pain and regeneration.

I knew when I found myself wrestling with Sanctuary that it was worth it. Like all works that earn the name Art, it takes some work, no mistake. If only all work could have such a rich result.
 

Published August 2015 on australianjazz.net