Archive for February, 2018

Immersive jazz such as Miles Davis‘ Big Fun and Live at The Fillmore East – with improvisations covering an entire vinyl side, sometimes two – seem to come from a place beyond titled and constrictions of any kind. To this day I can’t tell my ‘Selim’ from my ‘Sivad’, but I adore Live/Evil.

I mean, if you are ecstatically floating about in a jewel-blue ocean, do you really care what name some long ago cartographer gave it?

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Melbourne improv collective, I Hold The Lion’s Paw have released their debut, Abstract Playgrounds, and it is a bit like that. Even though the album is divided into titles tracks – and cleverly into an ‘A Side’ and a ‘B Side (more on that in a minute) – its immersive spirit pushes the listener into taking it all in, as one. Very much like Bitches Brew or, again, Big Fun.

I keep mentioning Miles’ work, but I shouldn’t: this work, obviously inspired by Miles’ electric 70s masterpieces (Miles gave more than one generation permission to freak out), is of its own world. IHTLP leader/composer, Melbourne trumpeter Reuben Lewis has conceived of this music as improvised compositions that can be then taken and re-edited into new forms. As Teo did, as hip-hop does. EAR020+I+Hold+the+Lions+Paw+-+Abstract+Playgrounds+-++-+web+viewing+-+600+x+600+pixels+at+300+dpi+-

This brings me back to the ‘A Side’ and a ‘B Side’ thing. The pieces here on ‘A’ are the recorded eight piece band improvisations; the ‘B’ side has bassist Mark Shepherd remixing the ‘A’ stuff and coming top with some remarkable results. So, three levels of composition are at work here: Lewis’ original ideas, the transformations brought about by the IHTLP jamming them out, and the mutations rendered through Shepherd’s remixing. It works beautifully, retaining an organic/evolving/searching spirit throughout.

The sound can be reminiscent of the churning Bitches Brew undercurrent at times – two double basses, with electric bass and guitar and two drum kits under the horns – then suddenly it is light as air, the horns (Lewis and trombonist Jordan Murray reading each other perfectly), Afro-funky with a Jon Hassell accent. The electronic intrusions and colours shock in the best way, cleaving the acoustic with the electric.

Is this exactly where jazz needed to have ended up in the year 2018? Future-primitive grooves – there are echoes of Radiohead, what Robert Plant is doing in rock and Sydney’s 20th Century Dog are doing in jazz. It is an exhilarating spirit that moves this collective, taking the best from the past, and from the future and grafting them to the present.

Wherever he is, Miles is smiling.

 

Abstract Playgrounds is available at https://www.earshift.com/news/2018/1/10/i-hold-the-lions-paw-abstract-playgrounds-out-feb-2

 

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On the first listen to pianist/composer Steve Barry‘s new album – Blueprints and Vignettes – I was so knocked out I made a flippant Facebook post which referred to him as “cosmonaut Steve Barry”.

Many a true word said in jest, as some bard said. Barry is not only a musical cosmonaut in the sense of an intrepid and fearless space explorer, but the universe he explores is largely one of his own making.

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The new album is a quantum departure from Barry’s previous two acclaimed albums, 2012’s Steve Barry and 2014’s Puzzles. His recent writing has evolved a highly individual and idiosyncratic language that colours the logic of his melodic line. Harmonically he has become even more adventurous, and rhythmically he plays with time and the stretching of time in truly eye and ear-opening ways.

The PR release mentions influences such as Paul Bley and Eliot Carter, but I can hear other musical cosmonauts in there too: Ornette, Bartók, even the spirit of Debussy – magical and hazy round the edges – at times.

Barry has selected some fellow cosmonauts of equal fearlessness and intrepidity for this trip. Jeremy Rose, who seems to spend as much time digging deep into the earth as he does cruising the cosmic breezes, is on alto and bass clarinet. And, after hearing how they breath as one with these tunes, I couldn’t think of a better rhythm section than the masterful Dave Goodman on drums and rising star Max Alduca on double bass. Blueprints+FINAL+#2+1400x1400

The Barry sound is evident from opener ‘Mammoth pt.1’ – a fragmented ensemble line that seems to walk along a swaying tightrope. Pretty soon the group, in the solos, is dancing on that swaying tightrope with sure but light steps. ‘Mammoth pt.2’ which follows, is more meditative and darker, reflecting the yin-yang of the album.

‘Primed’ is also a two-parter: Part 1 has a backdrop of Alduca’s percussive, bowed and scraped bass effects under Rose’s conversational bass clarinet; Part 2 has that slightly giddying sense of stretched time with Barry’s piano stabs under bass and bass clari.

‘Grind’ and album closer ‘#34’ both move across a bed of suggested swing. The melodies have a Monk-ish neo-neo-bop leap and shout to them – the obvious rhythmic paths tug at Goodman and Alduca but they don’t go there, preferring to blaze their own trails. Nice work.

The lovely (and evocatively named) ballad ‘In the crepuscular forest of forked paths’ best serves to bring together the strands of Barry’s parallel interests – it has a dark lyricism and painterly harmony, a jazz approach in the freedom of the improvised sections, and a sense of searching for a new beauty that much of the best 20th century classical music possesses.

Searching for a new beauty. It is what musical cosmonauts do. And, if they are all as lovely, challenging and revealing as Blueprints and Vignettes, I look forward to further Steve Barry communiqués  from the outer reaches of the universe of music.

 

Blueprints and Vignettes is available from http://www.stevebarrymusic.com/store/ and https://www.earshift.com/news/2018/1/10/steve-barry-blueprints-vignettes-out-jan-19