Archive for November, 2018

A year and a bit ago, I was privileged to experience a performance of composer/trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood‘s four-part suite [A]part at the Io Myer’s Theatre at UNSW, performed by an augmented Sirens Big Band plus special guests.

At the time the expansiveness of the work’s both theme and execution left me stunned. I wrote “It is a massive piece in every way: challenging to the ear and the mind, highly original (as we know Kirkwood to always be), often cerebral and abstract, all the time threatening to be too much to take in in one sitting.”

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Photo: Catherine McElhone

 

Through an aligning of the planets and more prosaic factors, Kirkwood and the Sirens have been able to record the hour-long work and release it for our ears and minds. And what an exquisite recording it is. Everything that I loved about the performance has been captured beautifully by Bob Scott and the team at Studios 301, allowing the dynamics to be fully experienced, and all the nuance and surprise in Kirkwood’s writing to be set in high aural relief.

The (very) special guests are, once again pianist Andrea Keller, vocalist Gian Slater and long-time Sirens mentor, saxophonist Sandy Evans.

[A]part is expansive also in its use of genre – there are tastes and flavours of jazz, Afro-Cuban, rock and contemporary classical music; Kirkwood has taken what she needs to express what she wants to say. A[part]-album-cover-low-res

‘Part 1 – The internet: wonder and malignance’ deals with the gift of the internet but also with its broken promise. A swooshing of Alon Ilsar‘s air-sticks and we are off on a magic carpet ride over the magic kingdom of the internet – the horns beat and pulse like wings as we fly. But as we move on, they become disjointed and more demented and we begin feel that all is not as magic about this gifted kingdom. The piece ends – as all four sections of [A]part do – with a meditative horn chorale, quiet and almost sad in its hymn-like introversion. Yet there is a hint of hope in its human-scale beauty.

‘Part 2’ is on the theme of the refugee crisis, that thorn in the side of our government, and a tragedy for all involved. The ‘otherness’ of refugees is expressed through a Latin groove with Slater’s vocalise floating ethereally over the top. We float on an ocean without end. Keller’s piano solo builds in intensity into the band strutting a militaristic march. Evans’ horn solo is wracked with grief and true pain until all dies down to the bittersweet chorale coda.

‘Greed and climate change’ is the title of ‘Part 3’, reminding us that the latter pretty much exists, in many ways, because of the former. The percussive opening reminds one of the natural world of growth. This morphs into a drum solo which morphs into an incredibly surreal and cartoonish waltz. This is ‘Greed’. The traditional big band writing is superb but drips with sarcasm at we humans endless hunger for more more more. This sarcasm is accentuated by Evan’s hilarious solo which encompasses wrong-key harmonica blasts, bird whistles and belching frog calls along side her jokey sax.

‘Part 4’ is set aside for contemplation. Kirkwood says of this section: “How to process it all? The constant barrage of information, bad news, opinions and quarrelling. And what can we do about it as insignificant individuals? Angst, loss, reflection, determination, rebellion, longing, and maybe a bit of hope.” Jessica Dunn‘s opening bass solo over hazy flute chords sets up the feeling of meditation. A sparkling Keller solo brings in a Kirkwood solo which speaks to us. The hymn at the end of this one is particularly poignant.

In my review of the UNSW [A]part performance I countered my initial aesthetic overload by saying “But what saves ([A]part) from possible overwhelm is that Kirkwood never loses the emotional thread in the music; it is human music and it consistently makes you feel. Sometimes, as with all valid contemporary art, those feelings can be baffling or even plain uncomfortable, but you do feel them deeply.”

After spending some time with this exquisite recording of a work that is as close to a masterpiece as anything I have heard in a while, I second those emotions. The [A]part experience is something rare, very timely and very real.

 

Sirens Big band perform [A]part at Foundry 616, Ultimo on Tuesday 13 November.

The album is available from https://www.earshift.com/ellen-kirkwood-sirens-big-band-apart/

 

Josh Kyle‘s new album has me jumping for joy.

Not only because it is music worth jumping up and down about – which it is – but because it also reminds me in the best way that there is still adventurous and exciting music out there, with adventurous and exciting artists seeking it.

For Trombone Song Cycle, Kyle has taken the inspired step of performing with the accompaniment of four trombones around his voice, and nothing else. At first, once might think it risky – a misstep of arrangement or vocal approach here or there could spell murky or misguided disaster.

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But on hearing Andrew Murray‘s challenging yet simpatico arrangements under and around Kyle’s unique voice and singular vocal approach, one wonders why this has not been done before. You see, the trombone is one of the the instruments closest to the human voice in its ability to slur, bark, snap and whimper. Its range is also very close to the range of the human voice.

Opener ‘Get Out of My Head’ sets the soundscape – Kyle’s long-note melody repeats over counterpoint in the four trombones, setting a tension that releases slowly as one senses the overlaps and cross currents in the harmonic lattice. The result is mesmerising.

Kyle’s falsetto here – the top of a remarkable range – is luminous; there are times across the whole album where it is difficult to say where the voice finishes and the trombones begin. The voice is used often by Murray as a fifth trombone, as where that same falsetto is nested into the trombones on the piece ‘No 5’ . Kyle1

The aspiration chant ‘I Can’ (“I can be stronger/I can be higher”) has brassy blare and greasy gliss in unison with the voice. A solo is played over the lightest harmonic gossamer pedal below. I would not like to try to pic the soloists across Trombone Song Cycle, though I think I detect James Greening‘s big spirit here or there and James Macaulay‘s sass on one track, though it equally could be Adrian Sherriff or Jordan Murray.

But the scape is not all indigo dream and counterpoint – the spitting syncopation of ‘The One’ has the trombone quartet setting up a charging rhythm against Kyle’s voice,  the percussive ‘crack’ of the trombone’s bell splitting the rhythm.

Album closer is the love song ‘Song For Meg’, a high point for me. Here the trombones lend a bed of crackle-edged dissonance under Kyle’s hymn-like melody, with the tenderness palpable in his delivery. It is this tenderness which elevates Josh Kyle’s vocal artistry; it is always gratifying to see technique subsumed to emotion and ‘the story’ in an artist with so many years ahead of him.

With its artistic courage and truly inspired approach, Trombone Song Cycle would be the jewel in any other artist’s crown. Yet, I have a strong and good feeling that it is another strong port-of-call in a life that will take Josh Kyle – and any of us who want to listen – to some truly wonderful places.

 

Josh Kyle’s website is http://www.joshkylemusic.com

 

With the new album Colours of Your Love, Brisbane jazz singer Ingrid James brings together a unique and multi-layered collaboration.

James has come together with pianist/composer/arranger Louise Denson and the 9-piece Wild Silk Strings Project to create something quite exquisite – 12 songs/arrangements ranging from Satie to Mongo to Supertramp with some lovely excursions into Afro-Cuban, Latin and the ballad form.

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The Wild Silk Strings Project is a unique 9-piece hybrid of rhythm section and strings, with some horns added here and there for timbre and solos. Stan Getz‘s 1961 album with composer/arranger Eddie Sauter, Focus, is a touchstone, as I am sure are a number of jazz-plus-strings experiments between then and now.

As with all experiments, some worked, most didn’t – Denson’s arrangements work here beautifully as she appears to have approached them with a clarity of mind and a sharp – pardon the pun, Stan – focus. Also, As Sauter had Getz’s languid tenor to wrap his strings around, Denson is lucky to have Ingrid James’ clear and warm voice to swathe in hers. Gauze-like at times, as on lovely latin ballad, the Denson/James original ‘First Love’, or heat-haze-shimmering as on opener, Erik Satie‘s ‘Gnossienne No 1’.

Nowhere is this strings-by-numbers: Denson’s string arrangement on Mongo Santamaria‘s Cuban driver ‘Flame Tree’ is quite Gil Evans in its dissonances and tart flavours; whereas on K D Lang‘s ‘Constant Craving’ the ensemble behind James’ vocal  draws out the lyric’s yearning through creative voicings. Paul White‘s tenor solo, together with James’ perfectly held reading of Lang’s 1992 song, make us believe it is the jazz standard we always knew it was. Ingrid James 22

The pop songs covered on Colours of Your Love are an intriguing choice that, for the most part, work. Supertramp‘s whimsical ‘Logical Song’ is taken at a 6/8 Afro clip, with the beat cut up cleverly to appear as a slow waltz for the middle eight. Carole King‘s ‘It’s Too Late’ suffers from a too-radical rethinking of the melody – the wistfulness of the lyric seems to be lost in the chop and change. Gordon Lightfoot‘s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ always was a lovely song and always will be – Denson and James’ reading here can be added to the better interpretations of it.

But this is all devil’s detail – what I do love about Colours of Your Love is the overall feeling of breeziness and sunlight. Even though nowhere near a bossa nova album, I can feel the ozone off Ipanema and feel my skin warmed by it’s tropicalia. The yin is Ingid James’ eminently listenable voice – devoid of histrionics or flash, clear as a bell and velvety – and the yang is Louise Denson’s apt and sharp arrangements of the tunes – and of course the talents of The Wild Silk Strings Project themselves – all coming together so impeccably well.

Ingrid James’ website is https://www.ingridjames.com