Archive for the ‘Album review: jazz’ Category

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.”

Apart_Ellen-Kirkwood-1-_Catherine-McElhone-4

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/

 

Advertisements

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.

Josh Kyle 2

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.

Ingrid James 21

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

 

 

Some wonderful music continues to come out of Western Australia. There is definitely something in the water over there.

The latest in a long line of exciting releases is Kohesia, the debut album of bassist/composer Kate Pass‘s Kohesia Ensemble. The Ensemble’s sound and Pass’s compositions mix jazz timbres with Persian (Iranian) sounds and melodic concepts (I choose to think of it as Persian rather than the more modern Iranian because this music seems to speak with a voice that summons timeless and multi-hued, multi-patterned visions).

Kohesia2

However, Pass’s compositions and musical palette are far from mere exotica – in fact, the conversational mix of Western and Middle-Eastern musics could not be more timely, with the current world schisms and tensions between the two cultures. To hear these voices side-by-side, talking and twining together is an almost political call for hope – one where neither side sees the other as the “other”.

And that is the gift of Pass’s writing – the range of ways she mixes the two disparate and quite unique timbres together: on ‘Journey to A Faraway Place’ she fuses Ricki Malet‘s trumpet and the ney (wooden flute) of Esfandiar Shahmir into an intriguing hybrid voice over arco bass; on the 5/8 groove ‘Point of Departure’ the same two instruments answer each other, as if in a conversation that spans the centuries across a barline; on opener ‘Nahafsi’ the tenor sax of Marc Osbourne is answered by Mike Zolker‘s nasal yet sinuous oud.

The writing fits the phrasing and execution to the mood: ‘Nahafsi’s microtonal grace notes pull against the hem of the melody; the changes of ‘Origins’ are either folk changes if played by the ney, or jazz changes when the tenor takes over. Kohesia1

‘Schplur’ reminds one of a Horace Silver hard bop groove – a groove which holds up just fine under the oud solo. Pass’s intelligent and soulful bass improvisation here is informed by her compositional skills in its shape and momentum. Drummer Daniel Susnjar pins the whole performance down with customary taste and fire. Susnjar also produced Kohesia, as well as enlivening the album with his superlative playing. His solo over ‘Schplur’s faux-montuno and his jabbing and jibing comp under Chris Foster‘s sparkling piano solo on ‘Origins’ are high points.

Kohesia has been nominated for a slew of awards and The Ensemble have been invited to play major national festivals. It is no surprise: from Elle Deslandes‘ and Reza Mirzaei‘s beautiful and apt package design down through the album’s production, mixing and mastering, Kohesia is excellence, pure and simple.

The poem inscribed on the inner sleeve is by 14th century Persian poet Hafiz. It reads: “We’ll crack the Heavens’ vault in half and hew a wholly new design”. With Kohesia Kate Pass has created a fascinating new voice by less violent, but just as powerful, means: this music comes from a heart that seeks beauty and a heart that seeks peace.

Kate Pass’s website is https://www.katepass.com

Kohesia is available from https://katepass.bandcamp.com/releases

New Zealand drummer Mark Lockett‘s remarkable trio with Joey Johnson and Jakob Dreyer grew almost organically out of the earth. Saxophonist Johnson met Lockett while he was playing in NYC’s Central Park; bassist Dreyer joined after a subway jam; a passing café owner offered them a residency which grew into five days a week for several years – with people yelling requests, and the band playing them, often learning new tunes on the hop. Voilà! – a three headed improv machine was born, in the most human way.

And it shows.

Mark_Joey_Jakob_1

On the trio’s recent album, Any Last Requests?, the trio span well-loved standards as well as hardcore jazz tunes – all with the variety, dexterity and telepathy that only a group forged in the NYC fire can. Each of the three brings everything necessary for three to become one, in aspiration and in execution.

Opening standard, Irving Berlin‘s bittersweet ‘Remember’ is taken at a loose swing, with Johnson’s horn setting up its unique voice, with some particularly lovely phrase ending and surprising timbral effects.

But it is on the next two tunes – Herbie Hancock‘s ‘Drifting’ and Wayne Shorter‘s ‘Deluge’ – that the three open up wide. The joyous bounce of ‘Drifting’ is smattered with a beautiful rhythm section conversation under the tenor – improvised hits, off-beats and flurries of double-time, which always connect to the improvised line above and, through that, back to the original head. All connects, all breathes together. As it should be. 77e9ad_16a2f5b0c9494318b5f531a0a3629ab3~mv2

Shorter’s Arabic-tinged ‘Deluge’ has bassist Dreyer suggesting the harmony while never setting it in aspic. The flow is the more important aesthetic, with the result being that, at times, the harmony seems to fly off in more than one direction at once. Like Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman‘s group – an obvious touchstone for this piano-less trio – Dreyer’s taste and drive ensures a ground, but never a solid, bogged one.

The triple-time take on the Jules Styne standard ‘Just in Time’ wraps a blazing performance around a Lockett solo that encapsulates all that is good about his playing. The invention, dynamic sensitivity and – of ultimate importance in a sax-bass-drums trio – the melodic approach, is stunning. Lockett is a rare drummer – I could try to explain all the nuance, but you need to hear him to grok it all.

The lack of a chord instrument is one of the most exciting things about this particular combo format  –  as with Ornette, the freedom can often make one gasp for breath. But it can also have its challenges, such as the Ballad. Here the performance of the lovely ‘My One and Only Love’ is taken at such a slow pace, without the glue of chords – both horizontally and vertically – that at times it threatens to stretch itself to snapping. But it doesb’t – the trio holds it right to where it should be. Quite something.

Any Last Requests? serves up a palette of many colours, considering the limited timbal range of horn-bass-drums. Sam Rivers’ ‘Beatrice’ is driven by Dreyer’s funky bass; ‘Shiny Stockings’ is taken at a lovely hazy lazy lope; album closer Sonny Rollins‘ ‘Valse Hot’ plays with the 3/4 time signature in very which way.

The title of the album is taken from Lockett’s question to the audience at the end of one the trio’s café hits where they played any shouted standards – “Any last requests?”. I, for one, am a little sad this particulate hit is over.

 

Any Last Requests? is available from https://marklockettmusic.wixsite.com/johnsondreyerlockett 

Mark Lockett’s website is http://www.marklockett.com.au

Hot on the heels of drummer Andrew Dickeson‘s recent collab with US horn player Eric AlexanderIs That So? – comes his new one, The Song is You. Where Is That So? went for the classic tenor/piano quartet template, on this new album Dickeson has gone for the more minimal sound of tenor/guitar, lending the music a more astringent and modernistic texture.

2009 10 16 Andrew Dickeson pics by Kyle Powderly 708-1ps

Pic by Karl Powderly

Of course Dickeson is much more than simply a drummer. A writer-arranger and mainstay of Australian jazz for years now, he is an inspiring figure and one within whom Jazz classicism burns bright. Any occasion Dickeson is also the bandleader is always an event. This album, built around the visit to Sydney of alto/tenor player Nick Hempton from NYC is no exception.

The Song is You takes an eclectic approach, evidenced (pardon the pun) by the Monk opener ‘Trinkle Tinkle’. Thelonious’s knotty tune is relished by the group with Hempton taking an authoritative solo over Monk’s anarchy, and Dickeson’s drum solo playing in and out of almost random-sounding melodic fragments. The wit and sense of fun in Dickeson’s arrangements across the album is a joy.

‘Moonlight in Vermont’ takes the unusual approach of Hempton playing the ballad head, solo,  across a Cuban rhythm on high-tuned toms. It is dislocating and vaguely surreal until the band enters, with Ashley Turner‘s cooly considered bass solo a highpoint.

The rarely heard Cedar Walton tune ‘Shoulders’ moves with a robust swing allowing guitarist Carl Dewhurst to really dig in. It is a pleasure to hear Dewhurst again, now that he is back among us. Over the last few months I have heard him play electronic experimentalism, blues-rock and rockabilly. But, listening to his solo here, I can be sure there is a special room in his musical soul for classic jazz guitar, unadorned and blues-soaked. His solo on ‘Shoulders’ is constructed with a clear trajectory, as the fluid single note runs turn to surprising chords dropped in as the band heats up.maxresdefault

‘Blues for Riyo’ is everything a spontaneous blues should be, with Dewhurst and Hempton conversing in an almost telepathic vocalese. Hempton’s tenor tone is beautifully round here; shades of Ben Webster, perfect for the blues. As on the ballad track, ‘You’ve Changed’, the band shows it can do shade as well as light with impeccable taste.

This light and shade comes across on the Bernie McGann home-grown beauty ‘Spirit Song’, Dickeson handling the skipping 3/4 rhythm deftly. But shade is put aside on the album closer ‘It’s You or No One’, a triple-time bop cooker where Dewhurst and Dickeson trade swift and spirited fours, while barely breaking a sweat.

Dickeson’s startling arrangement of the  title track, the Kern/Hammerstein standard ‘The Song is You’ is the highpoint, to me, of the album. A few weeks ago I heard Sydney vocalist Kate Wadey perform it in a relaxed and intimate setting – and I was reminded why a beautiful and enduring tune it is. Dickeson’s take has the tune morphing from 7/8 to 4/4 with rhythm hits, then moving to a 3/4 waltz figure which ritards – not only does this complexity work seamlessly, but Hempton solos easily over it, before the band settles on a driving swing.

With The Song is You Andrew Dickeson has once again produced a work that moves forward while holding to the tenets of tradition in the music. The strength of the jazz past runs through everything he does, while his inspiring and inspired spirit makes it live today.

The Song is You is being launched ay Sydney’s Venue 505 on Thursday 6 September.

Andrew’s website is http://www.andrewdickeson.com

 

In November last year, well-travelled (musically and geographically) composer-trombonist, Dave Panichi recorded Paradigm live in a NYC studio with his New York Jazz Orchestra.

He has put it out as a DVD, which is a special treat as it is a thrill to watch the band work through these nine electrifying arrangements. All pieces are Panichi compositions with the exception of  ‘Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?’ – but this 7/4 modern take on the standard also has the Panichi stamp on it.

1449514757847

‘Simple Song’, the second piece in after ‘Footnote’ (a stunning opener in parts reminiscent  of Jaco‘s ‘Liberty City’) is dedicated to Panichi’s mentor Bob Brookmeyer, which explains so much of what makes Panichi such an innovative and fascinating arranger:  the intricate mesh of lines and textures, sections playing off against each other only to coalesce before splitting again. It is all about movement, like the complex interlocking gears and cogs of a watch. Drummer Dennis Mackrel shines here: on brushes for the intro and with sticks further in.

Title track ‘Paradigm’ is a 7/4 groove that has plenty of twists and turns in the writing – Rich Perry‘s tenor solo plays around and against these with great ‘ears’ and ideas.

‘Ruby’ could be a classic standard – it has a strength of melody that makes one feel we have known it for years. Panichi’s solo could not be more apt in colour and tone – ‘composer’s advantage’ to a degree, but he is a warm and soulful player who never puts a foot wrong. paradigm

‘Manhattan’ is a piece of history – performed over 500 times since its 1982 composition – including performances by the Buddy Rich Band as well as all major US festivals and two dozen Sinatra concerts. Its a swinger with an impressionist heart – the piece breaks down in the middle to a lovely feeling of tone-poetry, to be slowly pulled back into tempo by Bruce Barth‘s kaleidoscopic piano solo.

Dedicated to Panichi’s son, ‘Max’ is the most remarkable piece here – startlingly dissonant and boisterously propulsive, it is a capricious ensemble line all the way through. The trumpet and tenor solos of Scott Wendholt and Walt Weiskopf  dance beautifully across its web of textures.

Closer ‘Pyldriver’ – dedicated to Sydney bandleader Ralph Pyl – rolls on a rock groove under blazing brass. Guitarist Pete McCann kicks in the distortion and takes off on one of the most exciting performances of a thrilling set. Drummer Mackrel shows he is a master of the arcane art of big band drumming – his solo is by turns conversational and tough.

Panichi has created something wonderful in Paradigm, this collection of current and earlier works. It is a must for anyone who loves jazz and modern jazz orchestra arrangement – with the bonus of the visuals. Do check it out.

 

Paradigm is available from http://davepanichimusic.com