Archive for October, 2017

Trombonist and composer Shannon Barnett has been away from our shores for a while now, quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) conquering the world.

Her latest CD –  Hype – was recorded in Bonn late last year with her quartet of Stefan Karl Schmid on tenor, David Helm on double bass and drummer Fabian Arends. And it is a unique and lovely thing.

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The idiosyncratic flavour of a piano-less trombone-and-tenor led quartet is evident from the opener, the title track, ‘Hype’, which grows from staggered counterpoint between Barnett and Schmid into a sinewy and Ornette-y beast. The rhythm breathes in and out, and the absence of any cloying chord allows the harmony to be stretched every which way in the solos. Schmid’s multi-lingual tenor solo here is peppered with some sharp snarls and hoarse overblowing; he is a wonderful foil for Barnett’s cool and considered solos.

‘Lembing’ is a good example of the Quartet’s use of rhythmically shifting gears. Over a supple swing they switch and clutch-shuffle the gearbox to suit the melody, then the various solos – this really shows the great ears of the rhythm section of Helm and Arends.

‘People Don’t Listen to Music Anymore’ (Barnett’s titles would be worth the price of admission, even if the music wasn’t this good…) moves from mournful to an Ornette Coleman-like Texas-country melody. Barnett’s solo is particularly playful yet composed, in both senses of the word, here.barnett_hype

Barnett writes brilliantly for jazz – there is challenge, rhythmically and melodically, but there is also space enough to move around in. ‘Speaking In Tongues’ is a good example of how her writing flows and coheres; syncopated passages play against each other, all in a world of it own logic.

Since being awarded Australian Young Jazz Artist of the Year in 2007, Barnett has gone from creative strength to strength. Unlike the majority of prodigy artists, she is a player lucky to have found her voice so young, and still continued to develop it consistently, in an elegant upward curve. Hype – her third album with her Quartet – is evidence of that upward developmental curve, both as a composer and as a unique instrumental voice. I look forward to watching it continue to rise.

 

Shannon Barnett’s website is here.

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It’s an irresistable sound and one that we 20th Century boys and girls took in with our mother’s milk.

The Morricone Tex-Mex Western sound that Sydney band The Dusty Ravens so beautifully make, immediately conjures visions of parched badlands, squinting lawmen and torrid tales of the good, the bad and the ugly. As previous generations had thrilled to the legends of the Roman and Greek gods, us post-1950s TV kids had our own myths of redemption, revenge and regret – all highly immoral morality tales full of larger-than-life figures who could shoot a man just to watch him die.

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The Dusty Ravens’ new album, Low Down Jimmy, is peopled with such mythic anti-heroes. Co-leader Andy Meehan‘s songs are all exquisitely bijou short-stories about Low Down Jimmys, Suzie Lees and ‘Cavalier cowgirl’s – there is a feeling that the song’s vignette is part of a much greater story, going on out of screen shot. And of course it is – the great tussle between Good and Evil, boiled down for now to one man tracking another across a sun-blasted dust bowl, a lone vulture keeping a glassy eye on them both.

The brass section of co-leader Maggie Raven, Kim Griffin and Jane Grimley works perfectly to evoke these American desert visions, over the top of Meehan’s steel-string acoustic, the double-bass of Catherine Golden and Mark Hetherington‘s drums. The sound is unique and is perfect for everything here – be it driving Mexicali wedding dance, Western ballad or freight-train boogie.dusty-ravens

The packaging and presentation of Low Down Jimmy is also unique – instead of opting for the usual CD or download, The Dusty Ravens have presented the album as a 16-page art book with download card. Drummer Hetherington’s artwork is the perfect compliment to the music: scratchy illustrations over parched earth-tone grounds, evoking the dryness and dusty sun blasts of the band’s musical landscape.

A special treat is the lone cover version here – ‘Red Pony’ by David McComb, no stranger to the evoking of high and lonesome wide open spaces himself. It is a beautiful song, saying so much with the barest of means, and as such is in good company on Low Down Jimmy.

 

 

In an age of half-chewed soundbites and the relentless chatter of tiny tweets – of ever-decreasing attention and even shorter digestion – it is always gratifying, on a number of levels, to see art made that demands as much of your time as it needs.

Trumpeter Lee McIver‘s Polymorphic Orkestra makes music that demands that time – and rewards one for it, in spades. Together with vibraphone player Ed Goyer and drummer Ed Rodrigues, this three-man orchestra expands on the sounds of their instruments by adding digital elements to the acoustic, often combining the two into remarkable alloys.

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Both McIver and Rodrigues use laptop samples and FX to grow the possibilities of their own instruments, as well as adding external colours to the music – an intriguing use of the murmur of indistinct human voices, like a dream radio, or the sudden startling sting and snap of a plucked string.

Their latest album, Confluence, is made up of two long improvisations – the 40-minute ‘Stream’ and the 24- minute ‘Flow’. The titles are fitting, as this music has much in common with the nature of both water and of electricity: rushing between banks, bubbling over rapids, coming to rest calm and lake-serene, sparking, ever moving to a point of resolution or rest.f2494745717d52ed65af8ca9919e03d0df5380cc

‘Stream’ is the more free-form of the two – moments of purely acoustic playing, then moments of digital crackle and sheen, with often beautifully balanced hybrids of the two. The empathy is almost telepathic between McIver and the two Eds – rarely does one soloist rise above the others, and if so only fleetingly as if to point the way to a new path. ‘Stream’s 40 minutes goes by like seconds.

‘Flow’ appears more structured, yet retains the same ecstatic feeling of discovery that guides its longer twin. Beginning with a melody that is almost like a lost jazz standard, it moves into an ostinato bass pattern, and then off into points unknown (to us and to the players, both).

This is unique and rewarding music. The trumpet colours call to mind obviously Miles Davis‘ more expansive fusion sides, as well as the electric watercolours of Jon Hassell, yet the Polymorphic Orkestra has its own voice and vision, and it is perfectly realised here.

Give them an hour and they will give you a world.

 

The Polymorphic Orkestra’s website is here.