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For a week I have been trying to find time to write my impressions of the new Art As Catharsis release Unfound Places. What I realise I really needed was space.

Even moreso, I needed this sunny mid-Winter Sunday afternoon, with everyone out and me alone in the house. For this new music from Ben Marston and Hugh Barrett is made for the mid-Winter Sunday afternoon of the soul.

Shaped by Barrett’s acoustic and electric keys, and Marston’s trumpet and laptop manipulations/atmospheres the music is evocative of places and faces just out of reach – the haze of memory rather than the data of recollection. There is a difference and this exquisitely conjured music is its soundtrack.

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Soundtrack is the lazy genre-classification Unfound Places calls to mind, only because of the quietly cinematic breadth of tracks such as ‘The Quiet Hero’ (a very Eno title in its entirely accurate vagueness) – which grows and grows imperceptibly over a slowly meshing laptop texture. The pacing of the improvisations/compositions is deftly handled by the two, as the works’ often fragile skein of notes and underlying harmonies rest like fine glass on the air.

Opener ‘The Crisp Breath of Dawn’ has Marston’s trumpet pealing ominously/joyously (the moods are shadowy) over deep textures – his tone is not stridently Morricone yet also not quite as folded-in as Jon Hassell. Eno and Hassell of course come to mind, yet only in the most positive way, taking nothing at all away from Marston’s and Barrett’s vision. a3782214624_16.jpg

The music is not all mist and shadows – ‘Rock the Boat’ seems to have a rhythm and bass line until you realise the keys-bass and laptop tics are just a pattern of texture, unique among the many unique textures each track is played across.

‘The Northward March’ brings to mind the Bowie (and Eno) of Low‘s ambient side – its European sorrow evoking ‘Warsawa’ and bleak history with Hassell-harmony trumpet and the trudge of block chords. Birds fly through sleet overhead. Black birds.

Too often, open-ended works such as Unfound Places push melody down below other compositional qualities – maybe because the bold statement of melody threatens to nail the music down too tight, or can pull up an emotion that is too clear-edged, and the spell is broken. Marston and Barrett don’t shy away from melody – check the blues lines on ‘Sleepyhead’, blues lines which stray into Moorish noir – in fact they use melody, across Unfound Places, to amplify and expand the emotional palette, rather than constrict it.

It is beautiful work.

 

Unfound Places is available from https://benmarston.bandcamp.com/album/unfound-places

Art As Catharsis’ website is at http://www.artascatharsis.com

 

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Perth blues-rocker Matty T Wall‘s 2016 debut Blues Skies came out fully-formed as an album of surprising power, variety and originality – the latter a component sorely missed in the current blues scene.

Second albums can suffer from that “sophomore slump” where the artist has shot their bolt, using up all their ideas and energy on the first. Luckily for anyone who loves blues and gun guitarists, Wall’s new collection  – called Sidewinder – takes everything that was so damn good about his debut and works it up a notch – or two.

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Pic by Sean Clohesy

An integral component on Sidewinder is the presence of esteemed sound guru Bob Clearmountain. Having worked with the greats of the age, Clearmountain’s sonic fingerprint adds something remarkable to everything he touches.

In the case of Sidewinder, Clearmountain’s mix serves to focus the inherent power and energy of Wall’s attack into a laser-sharp rush. The two instrumentals here – opener “Slideride” and the later “Sophia’s Strut” – leap out of the speakers, the former a torrent of metallic slide with plenty of greasy Johnny Winter abandon, the latter a masterclass in fretboard hammer-ons/offs, set over some heavy junkyard percussion.Sidewinder-COVER-ART-600x600

We are treated to beautifully leather-slick blues-rock on the title track “Sidewinder” and “Shake It”, the latter’s loose-hipped groove one that would do classic-era Aerosmith proud. Yet, as on Blues Skies, the light and shade are also here: the slinky Shuggie Otis-style soul in the Trombone Shorty cover “Something Beautiful”, some surprisingly jazzy guitar lines in the soul-funk of “Ain’t That the Truth”. And the road-hardened rhythm section of Ric Whittle on drums and Stephen Walker on bass are with him all the way, blasting the light and chilling the shade.

A small quibble is the inclusion of chestnuts “Goin’ Down” and Sam Cooke‘s “Change is Gonna Come” – their presence seems superfluous amongst the riches of Wall’s originals. That said, the monster crunch of the Don Nix perennial and the chance to hear Wall’s vocal shine on “Change…” could almost change my mind.

If there is any justice in this world – and there far too often isn’t – Sidewinder will take Matty T Wall to the top of the blues-rock tree, with the rewards of festival headlines and an ever-growing international following. If his next album is an much of a step up as Sidewinder is from his excellent debut – I have strong hopes that justice will be served.

 

Sidewinder is available from July 2 from Matty T Wall’s website – which also has has Sidewinder launch dates – https://www.mattytwall.com 

I recently had the sinful pleasure of hearing traditional jazzer Geoff Bull in full flight with his energetic band, The Finer Cuts. The ribald energy of the band, especially when the horns went tutti, had that anarchic joy shout that is one of the great charms of early jazz.

Even though the aesthetic is markedly different, I hear that same anarchic shout on the second release by Melbourne trombonist/composer James MacaulayToday Will Be Another Day. That said, maybe the shout comes from a similar place to Bull’s, as Macaulay also performs with his own traditional jazz group, The Lagerphones.

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Today Will Be Another Day was recorded in Tokyo with a dream team of Melbourne and Japanese musicians. The band rumbles out of the gate on opener ‘Mashigo Jukja’ with stabbed piano from long-time Macaulay cohort Aaron Choulai leading the charge into a dense thicket of horns. The texture thins into sinewy Ornette Coleman freedom, with trumpeter Ben Harrison playing some stunning virtuoso passages. Harrison’s playing across the album is a stand-out – he pulls sounds from the horn that startle in their abrasion, vocal-like textures and imagination.

The warm shadow of dear departed drummer and guru Allan Browne continues to lie across Australian jazz and Macaulay’s beautiful reading of Browne’s ballad ‘Prednisolone’ is a touching tribute to the man. The only cover here, its arrangement is build from the heart up and deeply affecting. James-Macaulay2

The rhythm section of ex-pat drummer Joe Talia and Melbournian Marty Holoubek on bass are a delight throughout – at times they kick it, perfectly interlocked on the groove, as on spicy tango ‘Chicken Liver’ (Scott McConnachie‘s alto a knockout here); on other tracks they play almost entirely free or in complex dislocated rhythmic counterpoint. Holoubek’s extended solo on vehicle ‘Freedom Jazz Girls’ is mesmerising.

‘Freedom Jazz Girls’ also features the bass koto of Miyama McQueen-Tokita. The instrument’s exotically evocative voice gives the polytonal ‘Square Dance’ a feeling of, oddly enough, rural blues guitar – its slides and moans mirrored in Macaulay’s exceptional slipping-and-sliding trombone solo.

The two chorales here both have a pang of nostalgia (that bittersweet sister of homesickness). ‘Tokyo’ is rain-soft and impressionistic, Choulai’s piano perfect in its wistfulness. Album closer ‘Spring Chorale’ – a collaboration with singer Lisa Salvo – has the added emotional lift of three part vocals. It leaves you on a cloud.

The title track, ‘Today Will Be Another Day’ (named not for a Zen Buddhist aphorism but taken from a mysterious T-shirt slogan) encapsulates all that is good about James Macaulay’s playing, writing and musical vision. Over its 12 minutes it moves from Ellingtonian dissonant blues (and aubergine blacks and moody indigos) through various tempos and feels; all built around two duos – one of alto sax and bass koto, the other of trumpet and piano. Its cohesion reflects the intelligent cohesion of its parent album.

And that anarchic joy shout, while not always jumping out, is definitely always grinning in the background.

 

Today Will Be Another Day is available from Earshift Music  https://www.earshift.com

James Macaulay’s website is at http://www.jamesmacaulay.com.au

The most affecting track on guitarist Julius Schwing‘s 2016 album edge2:isthmus is a piece called ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’. It is little more than a field recording of Schwing playing guitar on the sand of The Neck, an isthmus on Schwing’s home, Bruny Island off Tasmania. What makes it special is the accompaniment of wind and sloughing waves, which Schwing reacts to in his playing.

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This music-as-nature idea appears to be the inspiration behind his new recording with Danish percussionist, Christian Windfield, called Rhubarb. The two got together on Bruny in early 2017, spending time playing music surrounded by the island’s pristine wilderness and unpredictable elements. The collaboration led to peformances at Hobart’s Schmørgåsbaag venue where Rhubarb was recorded.

Over two extended pieces – named ‘Baag 1’ and ‘Baag 2’ – the two move in perfect rapport through varying textures. Using only guitar and drums (and objects) they conjure a remarkable range of sounds, from the gossamer light to the sharply abrasive, a wide dynamic curve from minimal throb to clattering skitter.a3162837903_16

The only constant appears to be the influence of the wilds of Bruny Island. This is music achieving one of the ultimates: to play with the elements, as an element. All truly masterful instrumentalists reach a point where the instrument – the machine, the tool – is transcended and their playing becomes their voice, as a bird sings or a lover moans or the wind howls.

What Schwing and Windfield do here is deeply primal – they play sand and water and whistling winds, dried beach grasses and dawn fogs. It is mesmerising, and time is irrelevant, or at least reduced to the dreamtime clock of nature.

Rhubarb is the latest release on Julius Schwing’s Isthmus label. It is a small, creative music label that keeps coming up with consistently fascinating music. Take the time to have a listen – you may be surprised, as I was, to smell the salt of Bruny Island coming off the music.

This album and others are available from http://www.isthmus-music.com

Bassist/composer Sam Anning brings his wonderfully poetic cast of mind to his third album as bandleader, Across a Field as Vast as One.

Recorded with long time collaborators trumpeter Mat Jodrell, saxophonists Julien Wilson and Carl Mackey, pianist Andrea Keller, and drummer Danny Fischer, the eight-track collection draws inspiration and ideas from lost friends, Balkan women singers, volcanic lakes, taxi conversations and aircraft wreckage gleaming in a field of sunflowers.

Of course, this is not being wilfully quirky, because Anning in his compositions pulls great emotion out of these disparate experiences and satori. Across a Field as Vast as One  is an album of great beauty that avoids the trap of complexity to focus on the emotional.

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Indeed he says that his track “Sweethearts” “…was a sort of rebellion against the dense and complex harmonic and melodic homework of my masters studies at the Manhattan School of Music. … I just wanted two simple chords and a nice melody!” The track jumps with a lovely West African lilt and Andrea Keller’s piano solo reflects that joy in its rising attack.

Sweethearts was the title of Anning’s 2013 album with Julien Wilson and dear departed drummer Allan Browne. Browne is remembered here on the title track which takes it’s title from an Anning poem: “As eyes opening for the first time / On light splattering into a / Flat natural shimmer / Across a field as vast as one / Your name is to be spoken slowly / And carefully… / When I awake I’ll know we shared this dream / And I’ll know that I loved you.”  The pain of this ballad of loss and longing is expressed in the pang of Matt Jodrell’s aching trumpet tone.anning2

Anning’s compositional smarts are to the fore throughout – the ethereal arpeggios on ‘Lake’ conjuring the deep blue waters of the Mt Gambier blue volcanic lake which inspired it; the chattering talk-like melody and human-hips groove of ‘Talking Wall’, about a graffiti wall in Libya; the bittersweet Balkan blues of album closer ‘Telos’ (with a stunning Julien Wilson bass-clarinet solo that wails, literally and figuratively).

Anning says, tellingly, when speaking of his piece here called ‘Hands Reaching’: “(It is) a piece that came out naturally with little intervention from the deprecating voices in my head.”  I think anyone who truly creates spends half their time shouting down those deprecating voices – those voices that say the work is worthless, the effort is pointless, the  world isn’t listening. Hallelujah! that artists like Sam Anning consistently manage to shut that chattering homunculus up, who manage to replace the void with the life-force of their beautiful and meaningful work.

Across a Field as Vast as One is one such work – brave, beautiful and above all, the best of what it is to be human.

 

Across a Field as Vast as One is available at www.earshift.com

Sam Anning’s website is at www.samanningmusic.com

Like many communities outside the main urban centres, the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, has long had a thriving and self-seeding music scene. Artists as diverse as hip hoppers Hermitude and DIY roots wizard Claude Hay have sprung from the Mountains musical melting pot.

Linda Mizzi is a Blue Mountains singer-songwriter who, over a relatively short time, has come to the attention of festival audiences local and interstate. Her debut album, Real People, will doubtless expand her audience with its honesty, charm and simple gifts.

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Pic by Elizabeth Lawson

These twelve songs are written and sung very much from the heart. They are songs of everyman’s (and everywoman’s) blues – songs of longing, pain, joy and going down that road again.

Beautifully captured by Alexander Keller, who also plays bass (and sundry incidental instruments), the songs are allowed to breathe in their own atmosphere, rollout under their own sky. The musicians Mizzi has assembled have perfectly realised the nuances of her melodies and stories with intuition and balance, never cluttering or cloying the performances.

Keller and Mizzi have gone for a widescreen Americana palette here – desert moods and lonesome highways, the guitar of Stefano Cosentino painting the rangy vistas with reverb, tremelo and just plain good taste, and drummers Lindsay Tebbutt and Ian Morrison kicking things along with just the right amount of boot-heel.14761_linda

Players are added where needed – harp player Simon Crosbie breathes blues into ‘Crooked Man’ and ‘Mademoiselle”s rock’n’roll; Vince Pace‘s ethereal electric piano shimmers on ‘Qiqihar’ and his acoustic playing grounds the album closer ‘The Kind’ in gospel solemnity.

But it is Mizzi’s songs and her voice that make Real People such a pleasure. Her vocal has the country of Patty Griffin and Alison Krauss in it, but when the emotion rises, a honeyed burr enters the edge of it, to tell some low down Lucinda Williams tale. The album’s only cover, a measured and delicate reading of The Choirboys‘ (drummer Tebbutt’s old band) ‘Run to Paradise’ reminds of The Cowboy Junkies‘ hazy 1988 take on Lou Reed‘s ‘Sweet Jane’ – a ballad-like interpretation of a rocker, that turns the lyrics around to mean quite something else.

Real People is an impressive debut – especially considering Mizzi’s relative newcomer status. Doubtless it is that freshness that has her never second-guessing her listeners but speaking clear and pure from the heart.

Real People is real. And you don’t have to do much to be convinced, other than taking a listen. I think you should.

 

Linda Mizzi’s website is https://www.lindamizzi.com.au

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