Archive for the ‘Album review: jazz’ Category

Alto saxophonist Jack Beeche works well with guitarists. I last heard him with Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis where his playing had to work within Willis’ metal-jazz format. On this new recording, Beeche/Magnusson, a duets recording with Stephen Magnusson, he is playing very different horn with a very different guitarist.

Magnusson is, across the album, an entirely atmospheric and sympathetic player in the luminous mold of Pat Metheny (the version here of Metheny’s ‘Katelkin Gray’ is a high point of the album) – which is not to take away from his own, entirely distinctive voice. His use of effects is sparing – often the guitar is unadorned, as the tune demands – but when used, add a lovely shimmer or widescreen reverb under and around Beeche’s pearlescent horn.

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And pearlescent Beeche’s playing is – the notes drop like pearls, not diamond polished, but iridescently haloed. The intimate duet format allows all the nuances in his playing to be heard; the room-sized dynamic allows the horn to breathe, rather than to be pushed into a harsher tone. it is a side of the alto that is all too rarely heard today.

Beeche/Magnusson‘s seventeen (yes, seventeen) tracks work through the spectrum of possibilities of the alto/guitar combination – from the Hot Club joie-swing of ‘The Gift’ and ‘Wings’ through to impressionistic ballads like Beeche’s lovely ‘Golden Blue’ and all points between.Beeche Mag 1

The standards are well chosen and perfectly realised: “I’ll Remember April’ is contrapuntal tentacles wrapping like vines around the melody; ‘Darn That Dream is made more dream than dare by Magnusson’s translucent reverb. The closer, a 6-minute meditation on ‘Softly, As a Morning Sunrise’ seems to construct the piece from the outer edge inwards, from miasma to form, as it goes. Rock and roll too – Soundgarden‘s ‘Black Hole Sun’ is recast as the lost Bossa Nova standard we always knew it was.

Separating the tracks are five bijou miniatures, all titled ‘Image 1’, ‘Image 2’ etc… They are short improvisations barely over 2 minutes long (the shortest is 44 seconds) that are complete little gems, some sparkling and sharp, some smooth and opaque.

Beeche and Magnusson have made one of the better duet albums in Australian Jazz. Maybe, as they are both in demand and busy players, it will be the first and last. If it is, it is a treasure. If it isn’t, it is a gift that we hope keeps on giving.

 

Beeche/Magnusson is available from http://newmarketmusic.com

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The best of jazz vocal – and its perfect expression – is where the voice becomes an instrument, on par with frontline instruments such as the sax or trumpet. The finest jazz vocalists know this and go for it: Mark Murphy, Anita O’Day, Chet Baker, our own Vince Jones. Sinatra too – you can hear his delight when he worked with a small band.

One of our finest is Trish Delaney-Brown. A founding member of knockout vocal group The Idea of North, she comes alive in looser settings where the pure jazz singer in her can really come out.

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Her new album The Game places her voice in the perfect setting – a dream-team ensemble also made up of the finest: Pianist Greg Coffin, Jeremy Sawkins on guitar and the rhythm section of Brendan Clarke and Nic Cecire. All the compositions are hers, bar the opener (the Bricusse-Newley gem ‘Pure imagination’) and a co-write with Dave Panichi, the lovely ballad ‘Ruby’.

The ballad can sometimes seem the domain of the jazz vocalist more than any other instrument (apologies to Johnny Hodges) and ‘Ruby’ is as good as they come – a gorgeous example of the form with Coffin’s telepathically simpatico piano painting notes behind Delaney-Brown’s vocal, then rising to a beautiful considered solo.

‘Birds’ is a wordless evocation of the murmuration of starlings. Sawkins’ gut-string solo here has that lovely balance of the classic and the modern that pervades the playing across the whole album, grounding it, yet giving it the wings this music needs. Screen+Shot+2017-10-10+at+1.19.08+pm

‘Face of The Bass’ is a strutting blues that features Clarke’s tough bass, breaking into a startling bass/vocal scat duet that leaps out before chilling back down to that bad (good) groove. Across The Game the vocal scat (in duet and solo) is exquisite, always intriguing, never empty histrionics.

The second ballad on The Game is the lovely ‘Simple Feast’. Here, as on the Bacharach-David flavoured title track ‘The Game’, Delaney-Brown’s sense of pop classicism is apparent – lyrics that write short stories, bittersweet, over a musical ground that is sophistication without empty virtuosity.

We go out on the almost-too-hip groove of ‘Wachagot’. A rolling piece of funk propelled by a jagged vocal riff, this one really shows drummer Cecire in his element – flawless touch, earthy sense of groove.

But it is Trish Delaney-Brown that shines over The Game. The album allows her perfect grasp of jazz singing a challenging range of expression through its multiplicity of textures – from blues to latin-funk to urbane pop and back home to the jazz and the jazz ballad. if you want to hear how good it gets, take a listen.

 

Trish Delaney-Brown’s website is https://www.tdbmusic.com.au

Too many guitar and piano albums suffer from imbalance – the imbalance of a great big 88-key concert grand bullying a little 6-string guitar into submission. Tony Barnard‘s remarkable 21-string harp guitar (together with pianist Casey Golden‘s sensitivity to register) return a rare and unique balance to their their current collaboration, Inventions.

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Across 16 tracks (nine from Barnard, seven from Golden) the duo mesh beautifully – often it is hard to tell where the Steinway ends and the Sedgwick (or Emerald Synergy) guitar begins. Which is as is should be.

Except of course when they excitingly play against or across each other: Barnard’s steel strings biting into the piano chords or Golden soloing brightly and lightly over the guitar rhythms, like rain falling across hills (Golden’s solo on “First Place” is a special case in point: its fleeting dissonances nipping and tugging against the driving guitar). Inventions2

The range of tunes here allows full invention from both – the rustic country ramble of opener ‘Erin’s Song’, the Bach-like ‘Invisible’ (a range of approaches across four versions I,II, II and IV), the impressionistic ‘Where the Clouds Go’ (which shows the depth of the harp guitar).

The mood indigo minor ‘Erika’s Song’ is a gorgeous theme that draws a measured and considered solo from Golden. ‘Rhapsodic’ brings to mind Keith Jarrett’s more meditative pieces, painting watercolour pictures on the wind.

Inventions grows in enjoyment on each listen – as anything of this sophistication and creativity does. I have long enjoyed each of these artists – uncle and nephew from Australian jazz royalty, the Barnard clan – separately, so it is an event to hear them together. I truly hope there is more to come.

 

Inventions is available from November 17.

Tony Barnard’s website is https://barnardmusic.com

Casey Golden’s website is http://www.caseygolden.com.au

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.

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.

The cover illustration of Queensland guitarist/composer Toby Wren’s new trio album Black Mountain at first seems an incongruous choice. An epic 1760 painting (de Louthenbourg’s ‘A Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast’)­, its mannered classicism seems at odds with the angular modernism of the music within.

But it is not the subject, nor the treatment, of this painting that fits; it is the colour palette. Wren’s compositions are rendered in these olives, aubergines and purple-blacks, with shots of mustard and saffron – and even a window of lilac/sky-blue here and there.

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His trio ­– Wren together with bassist Andrew Shaw and Chris Vale on ‘drum set’ ­– render all the complex colours of these unique compositions beautifully, considering the limited instrumental palette at hand.

Equally, Wren uses little on his guitar bar some mild dirt and amp colours. The tough ‘Bedroom for Improvement’ reminds of Larry Coryell’s musclular trio albums from a few years back, with their distortion and backbeat.

But in the main, Black Mountain brings up fond recollections of the great Abercrombie/Holland/DeJohnnette 1975 album Gateway. Which is not to say it is not its own animal; the good vibes between the players, the sense of adventure, and the push/pull between soloist and ground are what brought the comparison to mind. Toby Wren 1

Wren’s collection, though, has the added dimension of post-rock ­– something unthought of in ’75. ‘An Unbearable Weight’s recipe of flowing/floating arpeggios (with flashes of silvery harmonics), bowed bass and skittering drums takes Black Mountain out of the jazz ballpark. Just as with ‘Sevens’ and its sister piece ‘Sixes’ – both creating shimmering rhythmic lattices of the titular time-signatures which, as the pieces evolve, work against and within that rhythm.

Wren’s guitar approach – as with his compositions – draws on jazz, rock (pre- and post-), blues and anything else that his mill needs to grist (he is a student of the Carnatic music of India; check the multituplet clusters in ‘Guitargam’). There is the rolling blues of opener ‘An Epic Rock’; the pleasingly plump be-bop of ‘Black Mountain Resolve’ (and the minimal 34 second solo guitar haiku of its sister, the title track ‘Black Mountain’); the unhinged guitar solo of ‘Sirens’; and the lovely lullaby of album closer ‘Sentimental Old Thing’.

Black Mountain is a unique and rewarding listen; all the more for its sparseness of means: the invention demanded by, and apt interpretation of these pieces would test any group, but Wren and his men seem never to be anything but entirely at ease here.

Take a listen. It is great music – whatever its colour.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of having lunch with Melbourne pianist, ade ishs. He was in Dad mode and we were surrounded by his family – his charming wife and three boisterous children.

During the meal we chatted about music, of course, and I discovered he was equally a fan of Pat Metheny and Irish pop sensations, The Corrs. This made sense to me as his music contains, in varying measure, both the cinematic artistry of Metheny as well as the Corrs’ accessibility, and – dare I say it – pop smarts.

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His second album co-led with drummer Chelsea Allen, under the ishs/Allen Project banner, is Stories Under the Sky. In some ways it is a departure from – or evolution of – the sound of their impressive 2015 self-titled debut, and further back, 2013’s ade ish’s Trio, which also had ish’s longtime percussive foil, Chelsea Allen on drums.

This time, as well as bassist Paul Bonnington and trumpeter Ee Shan Pang, they are joined by reeds player Lachlan Davidson. The new colours this affords, as well as the use of various members’ vocals, adds a greater dimension across all these impressionistic pieces.cover_512x512

And impressionistic they are ­– ishs, the family man and all-round happy human, delights in life’s simple, unalloyed pleasures. The titles here express this daily joy: ‘Autumn Walk’, ‘Summer Morning’, ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Moving Forward’. As ishs never shies away from a ‘pretty’ melodic line or an accessible directness in composition and improvisation (“I’m not a big fan of chop-fests” he says), he equally titles these pieces with a simplicity that is disarming.

Which not for a minute suggest this is simple-minded music. As with previous releases, ishs and Allen consistently surprise with invention and verve. The 7/8 montuno of ‘Summer Morning’ (with a sharp Allen solo that chats with a short unison band riff); the indigo harmonies and almost 12-tone melody of ‘Shades’ (with its Miles Davis flavoured echo-trumpet intro from Shan Pang); the jumping latin-rock ‘Fragments of Truth’. This is not all only sunshine and orange juice.

The piano and voice duet ‘I’ll Wait Till You Arrive’ is a meditation on grief, inspired by the loss of a friend, and oddly for such a richly orchestrated album, its starting point for Allen and ishs.

Joy and grief and all in between: that is life. Again, I am charmed by the work of The ishs/Allen Project. With its direct emotional connection, even with the newly added colours and complexity in arrangements, it is what I dig about this group.

As Chelsea Allen says: “Most important to me, in this stage of music making and music writing, is strength and simplicity in the message and in the execution. Simple themes are so important and so relatable, and never cliché.”

What a pleasure it is to say, without any irony, “Amen to that.”

 

Stories Under the Sky is launched 17 August at The Paris Cat, Melbourne.

Album is available from http://www.tiap.band/stories-under-the-sky