Archive for January, 2017

In the boys’ club of Australian Blues, there is a dearth of stand-out women bandleaders. And the few who rise to the top are almost all singers. Which is great, but in a music that in built on the conversation between a human call and a tart guitar response, surprisingly few play blues guitar on the level of a Shane Pacey, Kirk Lorange or Jan Rynsaardt.

One who does is Christina Crofts. And no one plays guitar like Christina Crofts.

A rising voice in the Australian Blues world, Crofts consistently peels back the ears of audiences with her razor-toothed slide guitar work and very Lucinda Williams vocal and attitude. Her playing, performing and songwriting is imbued with the spirit of her late husband Steve, one of this country’s most underrated guitarists.

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But Croft’s voice is very much her own and on her new EP – Like We Used To – she has realised the strongest expression of it yet.

Opener ‘Breakaway’ rolls in like a howling thunderstorm, shot through with the white lightning of Crofts’ Stratocaster. The rhythm section of Stan Mobbs and Tony Boyd literally thunder under the guitars – Crofts and engineer Russell Pilling have gone for the  over-amped Marshall sound of much contemporary blues here, and it is a force of nature.

The title track, ‘Like We Used To’, which follows is a tasty, upbeat contrast. A spry piece of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, it has a sweetly nostalgic feel and a warm ear-worm of a guitar lick. It also brings out the country edge to Crofts’ vocal, which is a perfect foil to her six-string work.covers-0001

‘Don’t Cry’ is even more country rock’n’roll with the groove held steady under the sure tiller of Mobbs and Boyd.

Closer ‘Lucy’ is a juicy Little Feet latino-funk groove which tells a story of Bad Woman Blues. Crofts’ slide-guitar here virtually scratches your eyes out from the first note, its tone befitting the morality tale of the home-wrecking protagonist. Crofts’ lyrics throughout deserve a mention: they work on classic blues and roots templates, as you want, but have a wit and originality about them which is a relief in an often cliché-sodden genre.

It’s been a long wait since 2008’s Midnight Train for some new music from Christina, but Like We Used To will convince anyone with ears that she is back and ready to spit sparks. Watch out boys – she’s the hellhound on your trail.

Like We Used To is available from Christina Crofts’ website – https://www.christinacrofts.com/store

 

Daniel Susnjar’s debut album, 2014’s Su Su Nje, really peeled my ears back. The Perth (via Miami, Peru and NYC) drummer/composer’s intense playing and giddily-layered rhythms stood out in high relief from much else I heard that year in Jazz.

Susnjar’s recent release, Moth To A Flame, revisits the Peruvian-Jazz fusion flavours of his debut, and is peopled with many of the same fiery, empathic players. This time the intensity and the invention are taken up a notch, with compositions, arrangements and performances uniformly stunning.

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To listen to Moth To A Flame one would expect these eight densely arranged, complex and exceptionally recorded pieces to have taken a year or two of performance, and then recording, to get to this level. In fact, the album was done and dusted (bar a little extra later dusting in WA and Miami) in 24 short hours.

Susnjar explains: “I was on tour with the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet at the time. We did a bunch of gigs in the US and had a day-and-a-half off in the middle of the tour. I booked a studio in Brooklyn called Systems Two, rented a hotel for the guys and set up the drums while they were resting. We did a night session, then a full day session, then we went straight to a gig in Washington the next day.”

The drive to create within such a tiny time-window reflects Susnjar’s sharp-edged discipline and singular vision. It is this vision that has led to Susnjar picking up numerous awards as well as playing and record with artists as diverse as Chick Corea and Pharell Williams.

All across Moth To A Flame his vision is there: from the sharply named and conceived opener ‘Rhythm Changes Peru’, to the dense rhythm lattices of ‘Used to Be a Festejo’ (a spiky cousin to Jaco’s ‘Used To Be a Cha-Cha’?) and the joyously festive ‘Tondero’.

The two cover arrangements are great fun. The Leslie Bricusse chestnut ‘Feeling Good’ bounces on a springy Afro-Peruvian rhythm with sharp ensemble playing, a truly ‘felt’ vocal from Vivian Sessoms and Daniel’s father, Danny Susnjar channelling some Santana on a howling guitar solo.img

Susnjar’s take on the Charlie and Inez Foxx 50’s classic call-and-response tune ‘Mockingbird’ has great play with the rhythms and cross-rhythms; currents within currents that rise and fall.

The closer ‘Pius Bartosik’ is a lovely, impressionistic composition that won Daniel Susnjar the WAM 2015 Jazz Song of The Year. A tone-portrait inspired by the indomitable spirit of Auschwitz victim Pius Ludwik Bartosik, it moves through various moods showcasing a number of the exceptional soloists in Susnjar’s ensemble – standouts are tenor saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguia and Susnjar’s short drum solo which plays tag with the horns.

A fascinating release which will reignite any Jazz listener’s love affair with that most important and irresitable element of the art form – rhythm. Moth To A Flame deserves your ears. Your heart – and hips – will follow.

 

For more information visit: www.danielsusnjar.com

 

I was surprised when I put on saxophonist/compopser Andy Sugg’s new album. The last Sugg album I heard was when I (glowingly) reviewed the excellent Berlin Session album in early 2013.

That album was free and wild and had the colossal shadow of John Coltrane falling across the wonderful music made with Sugg’s daughter, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and players Jan Leipnitz and Sean Pentland.

The new one, Wednesdays at M’s, could not be more different. The focus is far more on composition, arrangement and timbral texture and has a decidedly fusion edge, complete with electric flavours.

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But then I was surprised that I was surprised – after all, Sugg is a searching, seeking, probing player. Why would he sound now as he did four years ago?

The Group is entirely different, too, apart from Kelsey-Sugg on piano (and vapour-like vocals on closer ‘Rings Around The Moon’). Made up of leading players such as drummer Nate Wood, Ben Eunson on guitar and Australian-abroad Sean Wayland, this is no ordinary Group.

And they need to be extraordinary to navigate Sugg’s remarkable compositions and bring them to vivid life – each tune is completely owned by the ensemble; the ensemble playing and solos leap from the speakers with a rush of blood and fire.sugg-wednes-2

The electric edge doesn’t become apparent until Ben Eunson’s guitar solo on opener ‘Djuna at One’. The groove is buoyant, rolling along on the tough acoustic bass of Matt Clohesy until Eunson’s electric guitar chops into it, right down to the bone. Eunson’s playing across Wednesdays at M’s is a highlight: biting here, fluid there, he plays with a wide range of textures that should be an object lesson to more than a few contemporary jazz guitarists. His tone is metallic but fleshed out with more than enough blues to make it sing beautifully.

The fusion thing is taken up a notch over the three part Suite, ‘Hemispheric’: Part 1 is swathed in Christian Almiron’s Zawinulesque synth washes. Almiron returns for Part 3, soloing and swooping across the brightly choppy rhythm.

A highlight of the album is ‘Mandela’. Built on a criss-crossing set of riffs, this groove pushes Sugg and Eunson to some spiraling highs. Sugg’s playing throughout is revelatory yet always with deep soul and humanity in his delivery. On the Berlin Session album he played only soprano; here he plays only tenor and it fits the tougher ensemble dynamic perfectly (it is particularly thrilling when in unison with Eunson’s Stratocaster).

Prior to recording, these eight pieces were worked up in a weekly workshop environment on NYC’s Lower East Side in a vacant dance studio belonging to ‘Mike’, hence the album title. You can hear the freedom and care that Sugg was allowed to lavish on their forming: nothing is rushed and there was obviously room for tints of other non-jazz genres to colour the music. In essence, the music was allowed to grow and evolve in a hothouse.

At the foot of his liner notes, Andy Sugg simply says ‘Thank you, Mike.’ I, and anyone who listens to Wednesdays at M’s will surely second that emotion.

 

For more information visit: www.andysugg.com