Archive for the ‘Music gig review: jazz’ Category

On Saturday, 5th August I checked out the Sirens Big Band performance of Ellen Kirkwood’s new suite [A]part. The show I heard (and saw) was the second of the evening in the intriguingly named Io Myers Theatre at UNSW. Io was, in Greek Mythology, the daughter of Zeus and is, in astronomy, the innermost Galilean moon of Jupiter.

It was fitting, as Kirkwood has previously drawn on Greek mythology in her Theseus and the Minotaur suite and also because [A]part took my head, at times, into the outer galaxy and beyond.

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pic: Catherine McElhone

The themes of this multi-part, hour-long suite are however quite down to Earth. Composer Kirkwood takes on the big issues of this strange and cruel age: climate change, the refugee crisis and the myth of connectedness that is the broken promise of the internet. The title is a pictogram of the feeling of being at once connected and yet separate – a truly modern condition.

Whereas Theseus and the Minotaur combined music with spoken narration, [A]part works with visuals – Cleo Mees’ intriguing video projections: sometimes mysterious, sometimes sardonic and humourous, always startling, as is the music.

The ecological theme opens the piece with guest artist Gian Slater setting up, via loop-pedal, vocal drones onto which she adds layers of swishes, chattering and mouth percussion. By the time the horns enter with a fugue-like figure, you feel as if you are surrounded by nature: wind, animals, insects, rustling grasses.

Pianist Andrea Keller, also a guest of the Sirens, creates a typically unique solo against the rhytm of Alex Masso’s drums and Sirens leader Jess Dunn’s bass. Keller’s work throughout this performance is as imaginative, precise and exciting as one would expect from one of Australia’s finest. In a later unaccompanied solo her raw attack had a few of us sitting up straight in our seats.

The third [A]part guest artist is saxophonist Sandy Evans, a mentor to the Sirens from their beginnings in 2010. She seemed to take great inspiration from Kirkwood’s music on the night – a soprano solo beginning with a scream that was a little too human for comfort; yet later accompanying a faintly demented and disintegrating Balkan waltz with a barrage of kazoos, razzers and squeaking rubber duckies.

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pic: Catherine McElhone

And that ­– from anguish to giddy silliness, and everything in between – is the scope of [A]part. 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. But what saves it 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.

Kirkwood’s writing here, as in everything I have heard from her, is smart (without ever being clever-clever), dynamic and imaginative. The task she has taken on with [A]part tests her formidable skills as a composer/arranger, yet she never seems to run out of ideas, always finding new sound possibilities and textures to be gleaned from the big band.

She uses hand-claps in polyrhythm from the various sections. She has Jess Dunn rattle her bow around on the wood of her bass, making harsh knocking sounds (which she then contrasts with airy flute textures answering the knocking). She has sections play against each other. She has sections slip out of synch within their ranks. She writes starkly dissonant brass sections which unfolds into satiny 40’s dance orchestra textures (albeit a dance orchestra which slowly dissolves and decays).

Yes, [A]part is massive in every way (it took almost a year of writing and rehearsing and the mentorship of stellar pianist Barney McAll to, as Kirkwood says “Get this music out of my brain”). It is ultimately a massive experience – massive in immersion, like rolling in the currents of an ocean, and massive in response: the music, together with the power of the visuals leave you feeling wrung out and a little wired.

I cannot imagine how Ellen Kirkwood will ever top a work such as [A]part. I know of course that, given what we have seen and heard of her up to this point, she undoubtedly will.

 

 

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Watching Gary Daley’s astounding Bungarribee quartet you realise it is actually the classic jazz saxophone quartet lineup – but a number of times removed: the sax is Paul Cutlan’s bass clarinet, the piano now Daley’s accordian, the bass replaced by the cello of Oliver Miller and the drum kit by hand-drums, talking drums, bells and anything else Tunji Beier can lay his amazing hands on.

The music, equally, is located somewhere to the north-east of jazz but definitely south-south-west of European art music. The quartet grew out of Daley’s larger ‘Sanctuary’ project, yet retains that ensemble’s unique breadth of vision, and intricate interweaving of composed and improv elements.

M’ville’s cosy and velvet draped Django Bar was treated to Bungarribee last Thursday. Maybe it was the coziness, maybe it was the large pinot shouted me by good friend Dave Delilah, but for their all-too-short set I was there, miles away, north-east of jazz, south-south-west of Europe, basking in that colourful tropic that Bungarribee make their own.

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As well as the unique instrumentation, subtle electronic loops weave in and out of the music, adding yet another layer of exoticism. Such a loop opened Daley’s ‘Bungarribee Road’, unannounced and slowly quieting the room conversation as it grew into melody and some funky Cutlan and Daley solos.

Ligeti was next. The master’s ‘Musica Ricercata No 7’ opened with a bass clarinet loop from Paul Cutlan. Cutlan was in his patented mystic zone; the music had the room levitating. We found ourselves also in Fats’ ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ – Daley’s accordion duetting the ecstatic jaunt of that melody and playing around with every syllable of it in their improvs.

Oliver Miller’s ‘Somewhere’ was based on a fragment of ‘Over The Rainbow’; maybe a more indigo part of the spectrum, shot through with the startling yellows and reds of shrieks and moans of Miller’s cello and Cutlan’s alto (then down to almost silence of the padding clacking of the alto’s keys).

An untitled African tune inspired by Daley’s viewing of a YouTube clip featured Beier on talking drum – big 6/8 fun (and all it’s variations, and huge effervescence from the band).

Daley announced there was “so much more music to play” but only time for one more – we were as sad as he was. Gladly he picked his own piece ‘Hunger’ which, he explained, is about the drive, the hunger, to make Art. A driving and sinous 7/8 groove and melody, ‘Hunger’ left us and the band giddy and a little spent.

I, and I am sure the rest of the lucky Django audience, floated home. Bungarribee – Daley, Cutlan, Miller and Beier – had taken us somewhere over their own rainbow. I, for one, cannot wait to go back.

It seemed fitting that on the week that David Bowie left us to become a star in the night sky, the 2016 Jazzgroove Festival should open with the spacey starman-scapes of Alon Islar’s ensemble, The Sticks.

Kicking off Friday night’s Foundry 616 triple bill, The Sticks – drummer Islar with keyboardist Daniel Pliner and bassist Josh Ahearn – followed Alon’s mission statement, “We’re going to improvise for 45 minutes…” with a ton of imagination and a galaxy of verve. Built around Islar’s curious but astonishing invention, the AirSticks (in its simplest form: two hand controllers linked to laptop samples) the group made music – as all good jazz should be – literally out of the air.

Special guest, guitarist and polymath Ben Hauptmann sat right inside the Sticks’ orbit, blending with their space-scapes, moving with their funk, clicking and clacking with the more motorik beatz, talking their talk and walking their walk. Beautiful stuff; the 45 minutes passed in a wink, leaving us (me) wanting more.

This year’s Festival program was put together smartly by Jazzgroove to get all the flavours of jazz rubbing up against each other and to pleasantly jolt by contrast.

And so, the electro-funk of The Sticks was followed by The Cooking Club – tenor player Michael Gordon’s tough acoustic jazz quartet. The contrast could not have been more thrilling – and yet something was missing. The last time I saw The Cooking Club was after they launched their pretty fantastic CD High Energy Jazz from the Sydney Underground. The format was the piano-less quartet of Gordon on tenor, Finn Ryan on drums and Tom Wade on bass, with Ken Allars’ trumpet putting the Cherry on Gordon’s compositions.

Tonight the trumpet of Allars was replaced by Andrew Bruce on piano and its chords, sharp as they were, led to the music losing part of it’s Ornettey orneryness, it’s skinny rawness – at least to my ear. They still grabbed me though – the opener (also the CD’s opener) ‘Big Job’ bristled with energy – which is what this band does so well.

Closer ’Comedown’ had Gospel handclaps and Gordon summoning the ghosts of Albert Ayler’s ‘Ghosts’ in his throaty sermon.

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Lekker, pic- Ellen Kirkwood

Closing the night – and contrasting equally vividly with what had come before – was the much-anticipated performance of Lekker, Guitarist/composer Ben Hauptmann’s jazz-rock-reggae-bluegrass-funk-jazz septet. Built over the pulse and groove of James Hauptmann and Evan Mannell’s drums and percussion and James Haselwood’s bass, the group had Hauptmann shared guitar duties with Arne Hanna. Harry Sutherland and Dan Junor on piano and alto completed this astounding ensemble.

Hauptmann’s musical vision has always confounded any expectations (what is it about guitarist/composers?); tonight it put a grin on my face that he opened with a fleet bluegrass breakdown. Moving through compositions from both his Benjamin Hauptmann and Lekker albums, the band ate up all grooves – reggae, funk, West African 6/8, rock. Hauptmann’s solos, all held fire and cool chromatic sparks, contrasted beautifully with Arne Hanna’s more greasy, blues-accented touch. Hanna’s solos throughout were each a mini-masterclass on shaping and pacing a solo (young hotheads take note!).

A highlight for me was hearing the tunes such as ‘Shuffle Over’ – which gets a heavy electro treatment on the Lekker album – played by this ensemble: not better, just different flavoured, seasoned with human breath and sweat. (Also grin-making to hear Hauptmann’s ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ and ‘Eat That Question’ quotes in the coda fades. All guitarists are rockers at heart.)

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Sunday, Foundry 616 again and the sunny Ollie McGill trio. James Hauptmann (drums) and Jon Zwartz (bass) making McGill’s Tunes – vocal and instrumental – really spark and catch. After a rockin’ opener they were into the intriguing ‘Fishy’, alternating between a Latin groove and heavy funk, the trio at ease with the two different tempos and grooves.

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Jon Zwartz, pic- Hardaker

Vocal piece ‘Constancy’ was a good-hearted Dr John funk groove. McGill’s vocal, while not the most arresting, proved to me (again) that composers often do their own tunes the best justice, on an emotive level. Closer ‘Let The Wind Blow’ reminded us, yes, this was Sunday: spreading sweet Gospel tones and a hushed hallelujah over Foundry 616.

I had really looked forward to seeing bassist/composer David Groves and his ensemble – a new voice is always a reason to be cheerful. Groves himself thanked Jazzgroove for giving young composers such as himself a platform and an audience for his compositions. And his compositions were worth it – unique, nicely conceived, all intriguing and testing vehicles for blowing.

And yet his set was, to me, in part let down by a lack of cohesion in the group. Groves and Sydney’s tallest drummer, Cameron Reid often got the groove flying, and pianist Steve Barry did his usual elegant and harmonically shrewd thing. But the horns of tenor Scott Kelly and Simon Ferenci on trumpet rarely gelled and a general lack of forward motion seemed to hamper the band.

The classic hard bop quintet format – rhythm plus two horn front line – can be the most thrilling in all of jazz, but tonight Groves’ ensemble never seemed to give themselves the chance to blaze and thunder. I hope – no, I know – next time they will knock my socks off.

The twin crown of the 2016 Festival was the David Ades tribute performance by Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson. As part of a national tour to perform and celebrate the music of Melbourne’s brilliant and influential alto player and composer, David Ades, the two tenor colossi took the stage with Cameron Undy (bass) and Simon Barker (Drums). After a few words from Hurren, welcoming us to the festival and their performance, they proceeded to incinerate our minds with the sort of white heat that only jazz can cook up.

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Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson, pic- Hardaker

In the car on the way home later, the phrase ‘music made in the moment; music made for the moment’ swam into my mind. This was a performance that stopped time or rather, pulled and twisted and melted time into new and phantastic shapes. The two tenors faced each other across the stage and blew each others minds whilst blowing ours. No juvenile ‘cutting’ contest, this was as Trane and Pharoah spoke: heading up and out for joy.

Opening with Ades’ ‘La Ripaille’ the joy flared up like lust: Barker and Undy began pouring on the energy which never let up the entire set. The rest of the set was drawn from Ades’ lovely posthumous release A Day in A Life.

Hurren’s tone was rounder and more full-bellied, with fat dollops of the blues in his lower register and a woman’s loved cry at the top. Wilson’s voice was bright and sweet and riven through with lightning and other storms. Both players swooned as the other played, digging each other, meshed in mind and soul-spirit.

It was not all fire, brimstone and lava: Hurren and Undy’s measured and relaxed take on Ades’ ‘Arco and Alto’ had a suspended loveliness, reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ ‘Eclipse’ – a breeze from another planet. The set closer, ‘Removab’ built and built until we were all spent. Spent and blasted into joy.

Zac Hurren walked around the venue afterwards, personally thanking everyone for coming. As I shook his hand, I told him he had to be the happiest man in Australia. “Yeah! I am happy!” he beamed.

After that set – indeed, after what may be the last ever Jazzgroove festival – we were all pretty happy. As happy as Zac Hurren. And that’s happy.

 

Published February 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

The twin pillars of 1970s jazz-fusion keyboards were Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.

They had both been through the fire of Miles Davis’s greatest bands – Hancock most notably in the envelope-pushing Quintet of the 1960s and Corea in Miles’ envelope-puncturing electric groups of the early 70s. Unlike their contemporary, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, both had taken to electronic keyboards naturally and immediately.

Yet there was always a side to both of them that loved the big-bellied roar and the percussive stab of the acoustic piano. In 1978 they toured as a duo, facing each other across two huge concert grands like a pair of whale-riding Western duellists. The resulting album An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea was a best-selling jazz release.

The pair were out here on a tour that centred around their performance as the openers of the 2015 Melbourne Jazz Festival, but luckily also took in other capitals. Luckily one of them was Sydney.

Their Sydney show transformed the Opera House Concert Hall into a chamber of alchemy and maze-like wonders. Hancock stated that they would start with ‘nothing’ and make… ‘something’. A few short searching chords and lines and they were into it, flying like twin wizards, playing their pianos as a game, sometimes glass bead, sometimes canvas ring sparring, but always with a cosmic grin and wink.

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The music grew to a depth of density very early and retained that mesh of notes and rhythms throughout the concert. Both Hancock and Corea have highly individualised approaches to harmony, and – especially in the case of Corea – rhythmic syncopation. And yet it was a wonder – among the many wonders of the night – that they rarely crowded or pushed the other into a corner. Yes, it was dense and tightly woven, but never too tight, never cloying or knottily constricted.

Their take on Hancock’s lovely 1965 piece ‘Dolphin Dance’ was so impressionistic in parts as to be unrecognisable, as were most pieces they played – but play was the thing here: the two are among a handful of the world’s greatest improvisers, so as soon as they could play with the music, they did!

During some of Corea’s romantic tunes the two stretched the harmony to new areas of dissonance that recalled the 20th Century classical shaman Bela Bartók. Yet, on Hancock’s funky groovy ‘Cantaloupe Island’ they pulled back to the blues, the fruits and the roots.

Sitting next to the two big wooden concert grands were two synth keyboards. Apart from a little ‘colour’ here and there these were reserved for a light-hearted duet of electronic beats and bleeps which Hancock seemed to relish, but which broke the spell.

The closer of the show had the two disassembling Corea’s evergreen, ‘Spain’ with the audience involved in singing a huge E major chord (muso concerts always have great crowd singing) when conducted by Corea. We also got to scat with Herbie – answering his increasingly abstracted lines.

These things gave a little sweet relief from the relentless genius of the piano improvisations. Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock gave us a ride that was uncompromising in its artistry – a few I spoke with afterwards found it too dense, too unrelenting.

I must say I am still processing the experience, and that tells me it is a good thing. Jazz needs to jolt, art needs to jolt.

At an age when many jazz musicians’ faculties have become blunt or stunted – or, worse, touchingly predictable – Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock remain seekers and hungry explorers. One of them alone is a thrill, but taken together – with each pushing, challenging and turning on the other – they are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who digs the art of the improviser.

Published June 2015 on megaphoneoz.com

Watching tenor colossus Dale Barlow tonight at Foundry 616 blowing alongside young altoist Michael Griffin, my mind went back to when I first saw Barlow play, way way back in the hazy day.

At an age not much older than Griffin is now, Barlow used to – in the words of my friend Greg L – “decapitate everyone in the room”. Of course, he continues to astound and his story, Jazz Messengers and all, is well know.

Griffin’s trajectory may not be as well documented yet, though for a younger player it is impressive. A semi-finalist at Washington DC’s 2103 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition, Griffin is rising rapidly and capable of more than a little decapitation of his own.

griffin cannon3To see the two men working together, obviously digging each other’s playing was a thrill that pointed to this being one of the jazz gigs of the year for me. Griffin was overjoyed to be locking horns, literally, with the great Dale; Barlow, for his part, equally seemed to enjoy having the younger player’s sparkling alto nipping at his heels, pushing him into some hair-raising tenor work.

The night was sold as a Tribute to Cannonball and Coltrane, yet – rather than trot out the obvious – Griffin smartly used the first set to recreate the fire and brimstone of Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago, the 1959 album which featured John Coltrane, as well as the Miles Davis Quintet at the time (sans Miles).

The tunes are exceptional hard-bop blowing vehicles and Griffin and Barlow rode straight through them. The band, The Jon Harkins Trio – Harkins on piano, Noel Mason bass and Tim Geldens drums – were high on the ride as well. Harkins’ piano was sometimes muscle, sometimes sinew; the tough physicality of his playing matching the attack of the horns.

Opener ‘Limehouse Blues’ was a burner with Griffin leaping into his solo and turning the heat up early. Barlow answered with equal fahrenheit. Pins dropped. Mouths gaped.

Griffin, after a short spoken welcome – he is a personable and easily funny host ­– took us through the ballad ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’. Like Charlie Parker, Griffin is not only an eighth-note blazer, his ballad playing is lyrical and considered, his lines leaning into the beauty of the melody.

John Coltrane’s fractured and tricksy ‘Grand Central’ had Barlow blowing at his most electrifying. During his solo something clicked and his scything runs and leaps of melody lit us all up. Throughout the performance, the Harkins trio kept all of Coltrane’s little rhythmic shots in place under the solos without losing their collective minds.

The second set was given over to a selection of Adderley and Coltrane pieces – once again, not going for the obvious. All soloists navigated the cycling changes of Trane’s brilliant ‘Just Like Sonny’, Harkins in particular (to my ear) taking them out to their harmonic edges, just as Trane would have meant it to be.

‘Naima’, the only truly obvious choice of the night (how could you not?), was rendered un-obvious by its reading on the alto, rather than the tenor. Once again, Griffin took to the melody like a lover, teasing great beauty out of Naima’s dusky head.

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Half-jokingly apologising to the Trio for the speed of the tune they were about to play, Griffin lit into ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ in triple-time, summoning Parker’s fire and Cannon’s joy. His solo left more than a few of us decapitated, but in the sweetest way. Barlow’s solo reinforced his rep as one of our most thrilling and consistent tenors; his unmistakeable voice on the instrument, his ability to create at the highest level is something else.

The idea of the “perfect expression” of an artform – one where, like a shark or a Gibson Les Paul guitar, no further evolution is needed, or indeed, wanted – is a contentious one. Does the Blues need to go anywhere else?

Jazz, especially in its hard-bop, post-bop or, simply, acoustic form (I avoid the term ‘mainstream’ because it is meaningless) seems to have everything it needs.

Especially when one encounters players such as Griffin and Barlow and Harkins, the words ‘perfect expression’ seem to express its wild and sleek perfection just fine.

 

 
Published April 2105 on australianjazz.net 

 

 

 

Saxophonist and composer Rick Robertson’s Mutiny Music suite has been ten years in the making. But in another sense it has been almost 225 years in the making – as the events which led to its story were set in motion by the famous Mutiny on the Bounty of 1789.

Robertson, born on Norfolk Island and a descendant of the Pitcairn islanders, has composed this wonderfully evocative 12-part suite around this story. He recently presented it with his band, the wonderful Baecastuff, on a sticky, sultry – yes, very Pacific – evening at Sydney’s 505.

Baecastuff – the band’s name a Norfolk word – has long been one of our musical treasures. What has always set them apart is their ability to play and breathe together as one entity;  combine that with a line-up of astonishing soloists and you have magic. Formed in 1996 they have carried the torch for tough hard-bop flavoured jazz like no other.

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Which is why much of Mutiny Music came as a (warmly pleasant) surprise – the sensitivity and openness of much of the suite demanded an almost chamber-jazz touch, revealing a side to the ensemble I had not heard.

After a short history lesson from Robertson, Matt McMahon’s gentle piano octaves magically created a calm sea before our very ears with the band, a wave at a time. This was the “Mutiny” section of the suite, which built into the band blowing over ‘Big Swell’, the driving Afro-shuffle from their 1997 album of the same name.

baecastuff live3“Search for Sanctuary” featured drummer Simon Barker on the Polynesian log drum, or pate, in duet with percussionist Aykho Akhrif, creating probably the only Polynesian-Afro-Cuban mash-up you would have heard in Sydney that night. To add to the cultural gumbo, Robertson and trumpeter Phil Slater coolly intoned a traditional tune over the top of the edgy, feverish drums. The effect was hallucinogenic; your mind being pulled in a number of directions at the same time.

This cross-cultural mash-up worked beautifully across the entire suite – a testimony to Robertson’s smart writing, deep research and even deeper emotional connection to the music. Glorious old hymns such as “Come Ye Blessed” played solo by Robertson (sounding as sanctified and grizzled as an island preacher) at the start of the “Pitcairn Found” section pulled you back in time, a McMahon Rhodes solo put you in back in this humid Sydney night; the traditional “Gethsemane” (and it’s ethereal deconstruction) coming up against the almost electric-Miles skronk of “Arrival at Norfolk”.

An additional level of space-time dislocation came through the startling use of snatches of field recordings (snaps, crackles and scratchy sound intact) of the distinctive Pitcairn language. Phrases, recorded in the mid-50s and triggered from Robertson’s Apple laptop, were woven into the loping grooves (driven by that peerless driver, bassist Alex Hewetson) of “Conflict and Murder (HueHue)” and the later “Discovered (Dem Da Mus Gwen It Et)”. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand what was being said, the dynamic curves and rhythms of this language was music in itself.

The soloists were astounding as is expected of a Baecastuff set, and yet the suite was the greater entity – a true sum of its parts, as the band is. Mutiny Music took us all away, to the Pitcairn and Norfolk islands, to a time far in the past, to an event that had such wide historical ripples. And yet Rick Robertson and the band held us tight in the present, as all great musicians do.

After a short break, Baecastuff came back for three tunes, which was a bonus. However, as rivetting and fiery as these performances were, I couldn’t help noticing the Pacific Ocean seeping in beneath the 505 door, soughing waves all the way from Norfolk and Pitcairn, salt on its breath.

Mutiny Music will be recorded late February with a projected release date sometime late 2014.

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Prior to the performance of Mutiny Music at 505, I asked Rick Robertson a handful of questions about the project. Here are his answers:

1. Rick, you are a descendant of the Pitcairn islanders, so this suite is close to your soul. What was the spark that lead to you writing ‘Mutiny Music’?

I’d heard about a recording made on Norfolk Island in 1954 of a group of islanders singing a few Hymns in the traditional way. There was only a few copies pressed by the ABC and it took months to find one. I can remember listening to it for the first time and the tears were rolling down my cheeks. A few years later I was asked to do a soundscape for a Cyclorama on Norfolk which depicted the Voyage of the Bounty and the history of the Pitcairn people. At that point I thought that I could write a piece that could be performed live that drew upon the history, music and culture of the Pitcairn and Norfolk Islanders.

2. What is it particularly about the Pitcairn culture that stands out as unique to you?

The circumstances under which the culture developed are fascinating.

A few British sailors, led by Fletcher Christian, put their Captain in a longboat and sail back to Tahiti where they pick up a dozen Women and a few Tahitian men and head back to sea to find somewhere to hide. After nearly 12 months at sea they find the wrongly charted and uninhabited Pitcairn Island. Two very different cultures living very closely together with no outside influences led to some very interesting outcomes. 10 years later when they were finally discovered there was only one surviving Englishman, a dozen polynesian women and a bunch of kids. They were pretty much left alone for the next 70 years in which time they developed a very distinctive language and a unique culture.

3. You use samples of the spoken Pitcairn language in the suite. Why did you decide to incorporate these?

Language is a very important part of any culture and the Pitcairn/Norfolk language is a very musical one. Apart from the Hymns very little of the musical culture was recorded. I found some recordings made in 1956 of spoken word and realised that the lyrical way in which the Islanders spoke could be transcribed and used as themes. So I guess it serves two purposes. It highlights and exposes the language and it provides thematic musical ideas.

4. You play with many ensembles, all of them exceptional musicians. What made you choose Baecastuff to present the suite?

Baecastuff is a Norfolk word and I’ve been working with this band for 16 years. I guess we’ve really developed something of our own over a long period of time and I really admire and trust all the guys. They are also the most creative musicians I’ve ever worked with so it wasn’t really a hard decision. I have thought about doing the show with strings and vocalists but that may be for the future.

5. Do we have a recording of ‘Mutiny Music’ to look forward to in future?

I’ve just received an Arts Council Grant to record the music. We’ll be in the studio at the end of February. Very much looking forward to it. I guess we’ll have a CD out in a few months. It will definitely help us get the show onto the international stage.

6. What are your thoughts on current music: jazz in particular and music in general?

There is so much music around these days it’s hard to keep up. I make a conscious effort to listen to new music and keep my ears open but I’ve still got a lot of music that I’ve downloaded that I haven’t listened to more than once. I have teenage kids who love music with a passion so I hear what they are listening to. Some of it I like, most of it I don’t but there’s always something to listen to within the track, whether its the vocal production or the massive bottom end. As far as current Jazz goes there’s a bunch of artists who continue to push the barriers and it’s about going to the venue and hearing them live. That’s as current as it gets.

Photos by F. Farrell

Baecastuff’s website is www.baecastuff.com.au

Published February 2104 on australianjazz.net 

From time to time the modern music lover can be afflicted with ennui. As an outgrowth of the general modern malaise, our appetites – dulled by experiencing countless hours of music – can become jaded. Jaded to the point of boredom, even when faced with the best there is.

Artists often leap to the forefront of the Pop and Art consciousness simply by being willfully weird and opaquely obtuse. But that is a dead end street, in the main, for as soon as the Emperor’s new clothes fall away, we see he is naked, ordinary and empty, and always will be.

Jazz is a music that prides itself on innovation and forward thinking but, especially in this age where the Con turns out astounding young virtuosi by the sheaf, it can often all sound the same. On the other hand, dressing up and self-consciously setting out to shock – look at 60s jazz – ain’t the way to go.

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Tenor magus Sean Coffin debuted his new sextet at Sydney’s Sound Lounge for SIMA recently. And he reminded me that there is still room for truly innovative jazz that swings like Charles Mingus’ mutha and resonates with echoes of the past – while still pointing to the future.

Sandy Evans has said of Sean’s main trip over the past 20 years, The Coffin Brothers“There is great love for the jazz tradition in their music, a joy in the energy, spirit and language of jazz. They build on these powerful roots to create imaginative sonic journeys that are completely their own…” , words which also apply perfectly to the Coffin Sextet.

The Sound Lounge gig presented new and old tunes – opener ‘That Night’ was a reworking of a 20 year old piece – that the Sextet gave their all to. The frontline of Coffin, Nic Garbett on trumpet and alto man Dan Waples sang Coffin’s arrangements with real joy in the telling.

It is a while since I have heard such inventive arrangements for a three-horn frontline – smaller Jazz Messengers-size sections seem to play most lines in parallel or simple harmony, ignoring the possibilities that arrangers use when writing for big band horns. Coffin’s arrangemental trick-bag had the horns playing off each other in myriad combinations to astonishing effect, covering a wide range of emotive colour from rolling chorale to bristling car-horn dissonance.

The arrangements also smartly wove in the rhythm section of Gavin Ahearn, Brett Hirst and James Waples. Ahearn, moving between Rhodes and acoustic piano impressed on me yet again his almost big-C Classical logic. Hirst and Waples fortunately did what they always do – invent, underpin, drive, colour and have wicked fun with rhythm. During the 7/4 funk of ‘The Strength of Your Convictions’ I thought for a minute that Waples was going to bash his kit clear across the stage (and that was in his socks, sans shoes!). Once again, joy in the telling.

Coffin stood beaming like a proud papa – obviously thrilled with the lineup and the stars and colours they wrung from his charts. ‘Alright, Today We’re Gonna’ was written, Coffin explained, just as Mingus and Ellington had written for their own ensembles, as a piece for the band to have fun with. And they did, the logical Ahearn now grinding illogical Don Pullen-style clusters out of the polite Sound Lounge piano and the Waples brothers warming up the winter’s night with a heated horn-drums duet.

Sean Coffin’s tenor tone and approach fits the music perfectly. In his sound there are distinct echoes and cries from jazz history – the blues is prominent if abstracted – yet the same imagination that elevates his arrangements carries through to surprise us in his solos. Funky as fuck in ‘Booga Dunny’ (get it? ‘I’m  a funny cat’, says SC), a soul-jazz boogaloo, he also plays a ballad such as ‘Quiet Thoughts’ with great depth – the coda cadenza was a composition in itself. His horn can bite but it can also kiss.

Closing piece, ‘New England Sketches’, flew through tempo and mood changes as if we were motoring through a landscape. The Sextet flexed their bebop muscles on the fast section, creating horizontally and vertically at a high level. I was reminded – not for the first time that night – that this Sextet was a cap-B Band, a rare mix of particular players, a six-headed entity that breathed and jumped and laughed together.

Sean Coffin promises recordings of this band within the next six months or so. I for one keenly look forward to them – but recordings are recordings. True Jazz is of the moment and the Coffin Sextet gave us some shining moments that night. Do not miss them when they play again.

 

Published July 2103 on australianjazz.net