Archive for the ‘Album review: jazz’ Category

The improvising artist searching for his or her voice had led this listener down some intriguing paths.

Some are dead ends – the artist becoming so enraptured with the voice of their musical hero that they only imitate; brilliantly, yet still only imitation. Some are tangled thickets of intricately and beautifully carved and shaped vines – the trap of technique, all too common in jazz, a music that continues to mistake the meaning of virtuosity. Some paths fade out to weedy and stony ground, the path dissipated, all direction lost.

Sydney trumpeter Eamon Dilworth has always led this listener down a path that seems to become stronger and more defined with every release. His keen focus allows him to divert occassionally – as I write his most recent aside trip has been working with rockin’ Ed Kuepper in The Aints – yet, soon enough his sure foot is back on that good, sound path.

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A recent trip to Romania has helped Dilworth shine a light on the road ahead – he says: “The trip opened me up to consider who I am, where I come from and how I deal with experiences and challenges. My musical output changed from this day to seek a deeper connection through my music and performance…”

The result is his exquisite new album Viata. The title is taken from the Romanian word for Life, but a much more existential and accepting definition of life – life as simply being.

This more passive and spiritual idea colours the album’s performances. Each of the nine pieces are more “settings” than compositions, or even improvisations – settings for Dilworth to express this idea of vista/life, and his reaction to it.

And the voice he speaks with is undoubtedly his own. The band of Alistair Spence on piano, Carl Morgan on guitar, bassist Jon Zwartz and long time Dilworth collaborator, drummer Paul Derricott, work impeccably creating these ‘settings’, lending them drama and a theatricality that makes each piece a small universe of its own.Dilworth viata2

‘A Love Affair’ is a duet between trumpet and piano, Dilworth staying with the mid to lower registers of his instrument, and creating some lovely burnished tones in his playing. The band joins in for ‘Discomfort’, Morgan’s high pearly notes adding an open-sky ceiling to the sound. The trumpet here has a deep anguish to it, reminiscent of Miles Davis‘ ‘weeping’ tone on ‘Solea’ From Sketches

‘Eick’ has Dilworth declining long tones over a childrens’ song piano. Morgan here reminds of John Abercrombie in his anti-guitar playing. Many of the tunes on Viata have a European dissonance, a Bartokian slipping in and out of key and tone – not exactly dissonance, more the stretching of the envelope, a very human thing, tying it to the universality of the blues.

Dilworth’s use of long tones used here seem to come from the same place as Jon Hassell – a virtuosity of restraint and atmosphere. ‘Prelude Dreamtime’ is a floating world of dreamy, languid brass tones; the lady of ‘The Lady’ moves in and out of shadows indigo and blue-green.

Album closer ‘Toran’ exemplifies the European human-ness that is across Viata. The extended trumpet tones across a repeated minimal rhythm – occasionally interrupted by an angular rhythmic figure – have a strong folk feeling; and you realise that so much of Viata has a sense of folk form about it.

This folk favour is one element that is part of the depth of what Eamon Dilworth has done here – in reaching into himself and finding ways to express what he finds there in music, he has found a voice at once entirely individual and yet, universal. The path leads on…

 

Viata is available at https://eamondilworth.bandcamp.com

Eamon Dilworth’s website is http://www.eamondilworth.com

 

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James Muller has long been one of our most exciting jazz guitarists. His fluidity, ideas and just plain swing has dazzled in every recording he has ever made.

So it is surprising to see him express his discomfort with the recording studio environment  – “I hate playing through headphones!!!” – in the notes to his new release on 54 Records, Live at Wizard Tone. Equally, it is gratifying to see him (and hear him) in a zone that allows him the freedom for the “adventure and abandon” he seeks in his music.

muller wzard2Recorded before a live audience at the Adelaide studio over two sessions, Live at Wizard Tone has Muller playing up a storm with the equally driven ensemble of Sam Anning on bass, drummer Ben Vanderwal and – serendipitously in Adeliade from NYC over the Summer – altoist Will Vinson.

The tunes selected for the recording balance out Art and Fun, with Fun maybe winning out. ‘Scrapple From The Apple’ literally grins in your face with its energy, all players digging in up to their elbows, pulling out their their bop chops and having some truly Big Fun.

Opener ‘Evidence’ has the band modelling solos and rhythm section around Monk‘s angular melody with all its stops and starts, whilst the implied swing roils way beneath. Check the rhythm section here, and on the closer ‘The Song Is You’ – their conception of swing and what you can do with it is quite something. muller wizrd1

The three Muller originals hold up fine too – mid-tempo Latin ballad ‘Dalby at Dusk’ is evocative tone-poetry with not-obvious changes which altoist Vinson seems to relish in his piquant solo. (Vinson is a knockout here and everywhere else I have heard him lately – a truly original alto saxophone voice with his swoops and surprising invallic leaps flavouring his solos, and making them jump out of the mix).

Muller’s ‘Assignment 1’ has a pastoral, elegiac quality that belies its minimalist title. The guitarist’s taste and restraint in his solo here shows the breadth of his playing. His tone across the entire album is immaculate: rich yet biting when it needs to be, with piano-like chords or brittle percussive comping. The minimal comping and lack of piano lends all of the performances an open, contrapuntal transparency that lend it an astringent economy, letting the music breath organically. Exciting stuff.

I have said before that all true jazz should be regarded as being recorded live. Sadly, this is too rarely the case, with much recorded jazz sounding sealed off and boxed in. An album such as Live at Wizard Tone is a breath of wild wind – jazz as it should be: in Muller’s words, a music of  “adventure and abandon”.

Live at Wizard Tone is available at https://54records.com.au

I initially thought local label, Art As Catharsis was named so as yet another piece of post-post-modern irony. But having listened to many of their releases, I know now it is not – the music is entirely cathartically moving, innovative and beautiful.

No exception is the label’s recent release of Paul Derricott‘s Coast. Named for the band Derricott has put together for this project, ‘Coast’ refers to the meeting of shore and sea – as he puts it: “(the) Sydney coastline, the thin line between bobbing up and down our heads above the water and the unrelenting energy of the ocean that surrounds…”.

Derricott Coast2And the ocean metaphor is all over this music. Derricott has always been one of our most surprising drummers, technically exciting while at ease in any improvisational situation, creating effortlessly and colourfully. The Coast ensemble could not have been better chosen to bring his vision to life – Shannon Stitt on keys, guitarist Peter Koopman and Michael Avgenicos on sax.

No having a dedicated bass player – Stitt contributes bass on the keys –  lends the music an original flow. It pushes the arrangements into places where new funk can flower, or the push-pull of rhythm section becomes more tense. Of course, Stitt’s facility could have him easily emulating a bass player, but that would entirely miss the point, and confuse the trajectory of this music.

Opener ‘Blackline’ sets up a template of heavy syncopation, bringing to mind 70s proggers Van Der Graaf Generator and recent Scandinavians Elephant 9, before smoothing out for a flowing Koopman solo – his playing, like that of John Scofield, always has a tang of the blues no matter where he takes it. Derricott Coast1

‘Tide’ contrasts with a liquid ambience – the benign calm of the sea after ‘Blackline”s squall storm – it’s melody ebbing and flowing back and forth.

‘Or Not’ leaps out of the box with a funky waaaah!, jumping between time signatures before devolving into heavy sludge – a dazzling play of contrasts that keeps your ears pricked up. Michael Avgenicos and Derricott play a drums/horn conversation that really cooks, adding some tropic heat to the beach.

Conga player George Rojas is added for instant Latin on ‘Dance 35’ which winds its way to a 7/8 montuno that frames Derricott’s drum solo – his solo here is a highlight of the many highlights across Coast.

Paul Derricott has surprised us consistently with his projects and collaborations such as Arrow, Derroderro, The Dilworths and Tiny Hearts as well as performances with… pretty much the Australian improvised music phone book. The smartly considered compositions and arrangements on Coast, together with this unusual line-up of hand-picked players make this album yet another beautifully realised project in his catalogue.

Paul Derricott’s website is https://paulderricott.com

 

Australian-in-New-York, tenor saxophonist and composer Evan Harris has given us a day in the life of the Big Apple with his debut album, Skylines.

Whether intended or not, these ten tracks seem all of a piece – short stories of NYC tied together by the three ‘Skyline’ tunes.

‘Skyline at Sunrise’ is vividly evocative as tone poetry, painting the sun rising over the jagged line of the city’s skyscrapers; the improvisations arc up and up until they hit a unison note at the top of the rise. The sun is out.

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‘Skyline at Midday’ is a hard-swinging hustle, all elbows and shove, like midtown at noon. The city surges in the rhythm. Altoist Will Vinson‘s Parkeresque solo is wonderfully nimble, threading in and out of the groove. The other Australian-in-New-York, the ubiquitous Sean Wayland plays Bud Powell to Vinson’s Yardbird with sparkling invention. Always a joy to hear Mr Wayland speak.

Vinson and Wayland are perfectly matched for Harris’s session, as are the rhythm section of Des White on bass and drummer Jochen Rueckert; perfectly matched to each other and perfectly matched to the music. Harris’s smart tunes and arrangements range from hard-bop (‘Equilibrium’), through sinewy percussion grooves such as ‘Inertia’,  across to bop-bossa (‘Spring Song’ – which has some exquisite writing for unison tenor and alto; always a lovely pairing) and the band he has selected breathe life and great beauty into them all.54r-004-evanharris-album-cover-bcamp

‘Resignation”s spry feel belies the title with some sharp horn writing. Harris’s solo here is particularly inspired, his lines working against each other and switching back and forth within their own logic. His playing seems to inspire Vinson to great things – his solo here is a highlight – full of invention and seeking and finding, all with the joy that is particularly at the heart of the alto’s tone.

The final ‘Skyline’ piece, ‘Skyline at Sunset’ evokes the city-that-never-sleeps going to sleep, with Wayland’s piano all stardust and skyscraper lights and the horns painting in indigo and deep mauves. Harris’ writing  surprises in its breadth. Whether impressionistic, or ballad-gentle, or bop-tight, he has complete control over the shape and intent of these pieces.

To say Skylines is an impressive debut – whilst being true – can also sound patronising, suggesting Harris has a way to go. Don’t we all. But he is leaps ahead already and his promise is as exciting and unpredictable as the city he celebrates on Skylines.

 

Skylines is available through 54 Records – https://54records.com.au/evan-harris-skylines

Evan Harris’s website is https://www.evanharrismusic.com

 

Australian saxophonist Andy Sugg‘s recent album Tenorness is nothing less than a deeply felt love letter to his instrument. Recorded with two different Andy Sugg Groups in those two darkly glittering Gothams of jazz, New York and Melbourne, the eight tracks on Tenorness span the breadth of the tenor’s expression in modern jazz.

As Sugg mentions in his wry and enlightening liner notes, the sax largely exists today because the visionaries of 20th Century Jazz adopted the visionary invention of Adolphe Sax and ran with it. And ran and ran and ran with it.

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Was it the vocal  quality, the blues expression in the machines throat that got to them? Was it the range that the horn can encompass, from the ballad’s indigo sigh a la Getz to the biting snap of a Pharaoh or Trane? Was it the often otherworldlyness of the tone that suggested new poetics as the music became ever more sophisticated and arcane? Across Tenorness, Sugg answers these questions through example and artistry.

The NYC sessions are more electric and fusion-textured, the Melbourne tracks more acoustic. Opener ‘Out of The Office’ is funky and phat, with Sugg biting and intense and Sean Wayland creating a dense synth solo from the Miles/Weather Report groove.

The ballad ‘Little Sparrow’ is wistful, with Sugg’s modern, vibratoless tone saying all it needs to say. Solo piece ‘The Truer Thing’ brings to mind cocoas and blues and a line from a poem about John Coltrane by Michael Harper:

“In the eyes of my first son are the browns /
of these men and their music”

The NYC rhythm section of Matt Clohsey (bass) and Mark Whitfield (drums) really push the groove of ‘Special K’ in the best way, pushing Sugg to a strutting, joyous solo.500x500

The title track ‘Tenorness’ is from the Melbourne sessions and rhymes with ‘Tenderness’ in its ballad dynamic and the simpatico piano comp. of Andy Vance.

‘Shimmy Hop”s Afro groove and ‘B22”s second line NOLA jump were recorded a world apart but cohere through Sugg’s verve and taste; the former’s Trane/Elvin horn/drums conversation and the latter’s smart and piquant double-tracked tenor standing out.

Tenorness leaves us with the heavy electric funk of ‘Columbia’ – synth washes and below-the-belt bass and almost electric horn – suggesting a future that the tenor is hurtling towards. It has often been the chosen instrument of the mussic’s seekers – those who push and rend the envelope. A younger generation is now doing it too.

Andy Sugg deserves a thanks for being part of that seeking tribe, while still reminding us of the roots that now look for new earth.

Andy Sugg’s website is http://andysugg.com

Tenorness is available at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/andysugg4

 

 

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

 

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