Archive for October, 2016

Back by popular demand – that of both Brandenburg fans and Orchestra members – Israeli mandolin superstar, Avi Avital lit up Sydney’s City Recital Hall stage on Wednesday night.

After a bracing Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in C Major performed by The Brandenburg, Avital bounded out and took centre stage. Tousle-haired and rock-star pretty, he crouched over his tiny tear-shaped instrument and bit into his own arrangement of the Vivaldi A minor Concerto (Opus 3). The smaller Orchestra – nine strings plus leader Paul Dyer‘s harpsichord – were the perfect balance for Avital’s rippling mandolin: lean and sharply sinewy on the energetic outer movements; fragile and luminous on the Largo.


As ever with the Brandenburg, balance was all – under Paul Dyer’s direction, the programme was smartly devised, with a few surprises to pepper it, and the Orchestra’s restricted size perfectly framed the small but clear sounds of the mandolin.

The Brandenburg sans Avital again: this time Valentini‘s Concerto Grosso in A minor (Opus 7). Paul Dyer seems to have an inexhaustible supply of inspired program pieces, always mixing The Hits with the more esoteric, thus expanding our ears and minds with ever performance.

Avital returned – this time to stay – and we were pulled forwards two centuries to a suite of Six Miniatures on Georgian Folk Themes by the composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze. These wonderful pieces, by turns tenderly or robustly expressed by Avital and the Orchestra, may have been written in the 20th Century but had the timeless quality of folksong with all its real-life dramas, joys and wracking sads. This was a highpoint of the night, in that one could not imagine any instrument expressing these pieces with a better tongue that the plectrum of a mandolin.

Interval and then two Mandolin Concerti: Vivaldi (C major – perfect pizzicato passages with the mandolin) and Paisello (E flat major – the orchestral writing leaving much space for the solo mandolin).

And then, another surprise – but in the form of a Greatest Hit: Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ (Concerto in G minor) from the Four Seasons, this time arranged for and performed by mandolin with strings. The mandolin, despite its strings being double-course, has the same tuning as a violin so can easily adapt violin parts. However, the difference in attack and decay – the mandolin, a sharp attack and almost no decay, or sustain; and the violin, not as sharp an attack yet almost infinite sustain – can lead to some interesting metamorphoses. In this case the mandolin brought the percussive phrasing of Vivaldi’s violin writing to the fore and, when Avital resorted to tremolo to generate the violin bow’s sustain, added another dimension of texture to these well-known passages. And of course, we all wait for the Orchestra to boil over at the storming climax of ‘Summer’ and the Brandenburg, even reduced to ten, did not disappoint.

Avi Avital took leave of us that night with a gift: a solo rendition of a Bulgarian traditional tune, ‘Bucimis’. After a hypnotic single-note serenade the piece heated up, driven by chopped chords and heavily improvisational passages. Avi Avital was, for a moment, not the Grammy-nominated, globally lauded leader of his instrument – he was a boy with a toy, alight with joy.

Which is something he shares with all true virtuosos – all technical mastery, all finely-shaded incremental shadings of interpretation, all mastery of the music is nothing if it cannot convey – as Avi Avital did without pause – the pure joy of music, and through music, living.

Guitarist Tim Rollinson‘s approach – that of taste, space and minimum waste – is one of the joys of anything he puts out into the world: whether it be the Acid-House of D.I.G. (Directions in Groove) or, more recently, the exquisitely urban-nocturnal Modern Congress, or all points between.

Rollinson’s new album – Nitty Gritty – keeps that chill ethos to the fore across ten tracks that conjure old-school/nu-school grooves paying homage to all that is  chilled and tasty. Along for the ride is probably the best band in current Australian jazz that you could dream-team for a project like this: Shannon Stitt on keys (an integral foil on Hammond and Rhodes), Alex Hewetson on Fender bass (as they used to say in the 70s where much of this music lives) and drummer Nic Cecire (who can do anything, but does this oh-so-well).


Slinky album opener ‘Handful of Clay’ starts bluesy but slow-burns through to a sharply grinding coda – a very live sounding crescendo. The live vibe here is all across Nitty Gritty – in common with the blues and the best jazz, an album such as this dries up and dies on the vine if that in-the-moment feeling is not captured.

‘Gravity Waves’ has Rollinson bringing to mind the loose-wristed lines of Cornell Dupree over a relaxed funky bed (any reference I make to other artists from here on in is only for flavour – Rollinson is always Rollinson, without doubt).nitty-gritty-1

‘Criss Cross’ is reminiscent of The Crusaders‘ more trippy moments with Stitt sampling Joe Sample‘s soul in his beautifully shaped solo (the above referential disclaimer goes for Shannon Stitt as well). His sneaky electronics across the Skatalite-like title track, ‘Nitty Gritty’ bring the project up to date, as equally on the deep-cubby band-collaboration ‘Truce’ (which Rollinson counters with the country-clear steel of six-string banjo). His Headhunters‘ Rhodes makes the tough funk of ‘Hullaboogaloo’ totally Herbie-aceous.

Nice to see the blues here too. ‘Slow Motion’ has a beautiful singing single-pole solo, with the jazz-guitarist in Rollinson keeping the bends to a minimum while still saying everything he needs to say. Album closer, the moody minor mood ‘Snake Oil’, has a much blues as bop in Rollinson’s fluid solo – his vocabulary holds them all quite easily.

Nitty Gritty calls to mind John Scofield‘s enormously successful Scofield Au Go Go of a few years back and in many ways comes from the same place: a love of groove and the improvisational ideas which flower from the deep earth of funk. Tim Rollinson’s album is subtler and, in my opinion, wider in scope and colour than Sco and Co.’s boogaloo-fest.

I suggest, as a recent Nobel Prize winner said many years ago, that you dig its earth.


Tim Rollinson launches Nitty Gritty on 22 November at Foundry 616 –

Tim Rollinson’s website is here –


Published October 2106 on and

Back in 2013 I wrote of Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s startling debut: “The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way.

I am happy to say the new Divergence album ­– cheekily and tartly titled Fake It Until You Make It ­­– is here. And I want to shout about it.

As assured and fully-formed as The Opening Statement was, the three years between it and the new one has added an even greater depth and daring to Cave’s writing and the band’s entirely apt and sympathetic reading (in all senses) of her charts.

Other band members have contributed some gems as well, such as trombonist Luke DavisMorricone-esque opener ‘On Horseback’. Across just under nine minutes, this piece unfolds through various cinematic moods, helped by the Spanish sketches of Will Gilbert’s trumpet and a beautifully evocative tenor solo from David Reglar.

Pic by Brian Stewart

Pic by Brian Stewart

A large part of Jenna Cave’s gifts as a writer is her love for the tradition of the big band, a favourite being the masterful Basie arranger Sammy Nestico. Her ‘For Míro’ is next – a lightly swinging piece strongly evoking Nestico in her tribute to Miroslav Bukovsky, teacher and mentor. Cave’s neo-classicist chart brings out the neo-classicist in Andrew Scott whose piano solo here is pure Basie: all taste and space.

From Cave the neo-classicist to Cave the arch-modernist: ‘Fantastical Epic (Lessons in Jazz)’ is pure impressionism; a journey through the colours of the big band. This is virtuoso horn writing – as much about texture as it is about melody and narrative.

The first time I ever heard Cave’s work was a tricky African chart called ‘Odd Time in Mali’ (written for the Sirens Big Band and included on The DJO’s The Opening Statement). It showed me her deep love for rhythm and on the new one, ‘Miss Party Pants’ (funky as hell with Luke Liang’s citric blues guitar nipping at the heels of the rhythm section) and ‘Twerking it Nyabs Style’ confirm it. Both are irresistible grooves with unfussy horns never getting in the way of that killer groove; the latter bounces with a springy NOLA ‘second line’ jump that shows the deep strength of rhythm section David Groves on bass and drummer James McCaffrey.

So much good art comes from life’s rivers and roads – and sadly some of the best comes from life’s hurts and tears. Two of the album’s highlights are – to me at least – compositions that gave come from low points in Jenna Cave’s journey as a human and as an artist. Both are statements of hope and renewal and yet the maturity in the writing gives a deep sense of the aching sadness behind them. ‘Now My Sun Can Shine Again’ is lush writing perfectly framing Andrew Scott’s piano solo which lifts through the harmonies, as one’s spirit would lift to the sunlight of hope out of black despair. ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ is quietly triumphant, a little like Cave herself. diveergence-fake-2

Trombonist Brendan Champion and trumpeter Paul Murchison contribute great work here too – allowing a widening of contrasting artistic voices for the Divergence band. Champion’s ‘Tones’ grows into a New Orleans strut out of a staggered 7/4 groove – wonderful contrasts here, both between the grooves and the way Champion’s writing weighs sections of the band against each other. His title tune, ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ is sharp and innovative ensemble writing, lots of ideas but with one idea dovetailing nicely into the next.

Paul Murchison’s driving 3/4 blues ‘Trinity’ plays some cute rhythmic games with the 3/4-12/8 waltz-shuffle groove and sparkles with a sharp be-bop solo from alto Justin Buckingham. It is the toughest tune on the album: direct and based around the core of the band, the rhythm trio.

But it is Jenna Cave who shines here. Her big-hearted brass conception of Miroslav Bukovsky’s ‘Peace Piece’ gets to a place deep inside you. Her framing and emotive colouring of Bukovsky’s pleading and very human melody line is one of many high-points of Fake It Until You Make It.

Back in 2013, I, for one, was all ears for anything else The Divergence Jazz Orchestra wanted to shout my way. Now, three years later, I realise, they no longer need to shout. With a voice as assured as this stellar collection attests to, they will only now need to speak.


The Divergence Jazz Orchestra launches Fake It Until You Make It at Foundry 616 on Friday October 14.

The album is available here

Website is


Published October 2106 on and