Back by popular demand – that of both Brandenburg fans and Orchestra members – Israeli mandolin superstar, Avi Avital lit up Sydney’s City Recital Hall stage on Wednesday night.

After a bracing Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in C Major performed by The Brandenburg, Avital bounded out and took centre stage. Tousle-haired and rock-star pretty, he crouched over his tiny tear-shaped instrument and bit into his own arrangement of the Vivaldi A minor Concerto (Opus 3). The smaller Orchestra – nine strings plus leader Paul Dyer‘s harpsichord – were the perfect balance for Avital’s rippling mandolin: lean and sharply sinewy on the energetic outer movements; fragile and luminous on the Largo.

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As ever with the Brandenburg, balance was all – under Paul Dyer’s direction, the programme was smartly devised, with a few surprises to pepper it, and the Orchestra’s restricted size perfectly framed the small but clear sounds of the mandolin.

The Brandenburg sans Avital again: this time Valentini‘s Concerto Grosso in A minor (Opus 7). Paul Dyer seems to have an inexhaustible supply of inspired program pieces, always mixing The Hits with the more esoteric, thus expanding our ears and minds with ever performance.

Avital returned – this time to stay – and we were pulled forwards two centuries to a suite of Six Miniatures on Georgian Folk Themes by the composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze. These wonderful pieces, by turns tenderly or robustly expressed by Avital and the Orchestra, may have been written in the 20th Century but had the timeless quality of folksong with all its real-life dramas, joys and wracking sads. This was a highpoint of the night, in that one could not imagine any instrument expressing these pieces with a better tongue that the plectrum of a mandolin.

Interval and then two Mandolin Concerti: Vivaldi (C major – perfect pizzicato passages with the mandolin) and Paisello (E flat major – the orchestral writing leaving much space for the solo mandolin).

And then, another surprise – but in the form of a Greatest Hit: Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ (Concerto in G minor) from the Four Seasons, this time arranged for and performed by mandolin with strings. The mandolin, despite its strings being double-course, has the same tuning as a violin so can easily adapt violin parts. However, the difference in attack and decay – the mandolin, a sharp attack and almost no decay, or sustain; and the violin, not as sharp an attack yet almost infinite sustain – can lead to some interesting metamorphoses. In this case the mandolin brought the percussive phrasing of Vivaldi’s violin writing to the fore and, when Avital resorted to tremolo to generate the violin bow’s sustain, added another dimension of texture to these well-known passages. And of course, we all wait for the Orchestra to boil over at the storming climax of ‘Summer’ and the Brandenburg, even reduced to ten, did not disappoint.

Avi Avital took leave of us that night with a gift: a solo rendition of a Bulgarian traditional tune, ‘Bucimis’. After a hypnotic single-note serenade the piece heated up, driven by chopped chords and heavily improvisational passages. Avi Avital was, for a moment, not the Grammy-nominated, globally lauded leader of his instrument – he was a boy with a toy, alight with joy.

Which is something he shares with all true virtuosos – all technical mastery, all finely-shaded incremental shadings of interpretation, all mastery of the music is nothing if it cannot convey – as Avi Avital did without pause – the pure joy of music, and through music, living.

Guitarist Tim Rollinson‘s approach – that of taste, space and minimum waste – is one of the joys of anything he puts out into the world: whether it be the Acid-House of D.I.G. (Directions in Groove) or, more recently, the exquisitely urban-nocturnal Modern Congress, or all points between.

Rollinson’s new album – Nitty Gritty – keeps that chill ethos to the fore across ten tracks that conjure old-school/nu-school grooves paying homage to all that is  chilled and tasty. Along for the ride is probably the best band in current Australian jazz that you could dream-team for a project like this: Shannon Stitt on keys (an integral foil on Hammond and Rhodes), Alex Hewetson on Fender bass (as they used to say in the 70s where much of this music lives) and drummer Nic Cecire (who can do anything, but does this oh-so-well).

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Slinky album opener ‘Handful of Clay’ starts bluesy but slow-burns through to a sharply grinding coda – a very live sounding crescendo. The live vibe here is all across Nitty Gritty – in common with the blues and the best jazz, an album such as this dries up and dies on the vine if that in-the-moment feeling is not captured.

‘Gravity Waves’ has Rollinson bringing to mind the loose-wristed lines of Cornell Dupree over a relaxed funky bed (any reference I make to other artists from here on in is only for flavour – Rollinson is always Rollinson, without doubt).nitty-gritty-1

‘Criss Cross’ is reminiscent of The Crusaders‘ more trippy moments with Stitt sampling Joe Sample‘s soul in his beautifully shaped solo (the above referential disclaimer goes for Shannon Stitt as well). His sneaky electronics across the Skatalite-like title track, ‘Nitty Gritty’ bring the project up to date, as equally on the deep-cubby band-collaboration ‘Truce’ (which Rollinson counters with the country-clear steel of six-string banjo). His Headhunters‘ Rhodes makes the tough funk of ‘Hullaboogaloo’ totally Herbie-aceous.

Nice to see the blues here too. ‘Slow Motion’ has a beautiful singing single-pole solo, with the jazz-guitarist in Rollinson keeping the bends to a minimum while still saying everything he needs to say. Album closer, the moody minor mood ‘Snake Oil’, has a much blues as bop in Rollinson’s fluid solo – his vocabulary holds them all quite easily.

Nitty Gritty calls to mind John Scofield‘s enormously successful Scofield Au Go Go of a few years back and in many ways comes from the same place: a love of groove and the improvisational ideas which flower from the deep earth of funk. Tim Rollinson’s album is subtler and, in my opinion, wider in scope and colour than Sco and Co.’s boogaloo-fest.

I suggest, as a recent Nobel Prize winner said many years ago, that you dig its earth.

 

Tim Rollinson launches Nitty Gritty on 22 November at Foundry 616 – https://foundry616.com.au/product/22-november-tuesday-tim-rollinson-album-launch-nitty-gritty/

Tim Rollinson’s website is here – http://www.timrollinson.com

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

Back in 2013 I wrote of Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s startling debut: “The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way.

I am happy to say the new Divergence album ­– cheekily and tartly titled Fake It Until You Make It ­­– is here. And I want to shout about it.

As assured and fully-formed as The Opening Statement was, the three years between it and the new one has added an even greater depth and daring to Cave’s writing and the band’s entirely apt and sympathetic reading (in all senses) of her charts.

Other band members have contributed some gems as well, such as trombonist Luke DavisMorricone-esque opener ‘On Horseback’. Across just under nine minutes, this piece unfolds through various cinematic moods, helped by the Spanish sketches of Will Gilbert’s trumpet and a beautifully evocative tenor solo from David Reglar.

Pic by Brian Stewart

Pic by Brian Stewart

A large part of Jenna Cave’s gifts as a writer is her love for the tradition of the big band, a favourite being the masterful Basie arranger Sammy Nestico. Her ‘For Míro’ is next – a lightly swinging piece strongly evoking Nestico in her tribute to Miroslav Bukovsky, teacher and mentor. Cave’s neo-classicist chart brings out the neo-classicist in Andrew Scott whose piano solo here is pure Basie: all taste and space.

From Cave the neo-classicist to Cave the arch-modernist: ‘Fantastical Epic (Lessons in Jazz)’ is pure impressionism; a journey through the colours of the big band. This is virtuoso horn writing – as much about texture as it is about melody and narrative.

The first time I ever heard Cave’s work was a tricky African chart called ‘Odd Time in Mali’ (written for the Sirens Big Band and included on The DJO’s The Opening Statement). It showed me her deep love for rhythm and on the new one, ‘Miss Party Pants’ (funky as hell with Luke Liang’s citric blues guitar nipping at the heels of the rhythm section) and ‘Twerking it Nyabs Style’ confirm it. Both are irresistible grooves with unfussy horns never getting in the way of that killer groove; the latter bounces with a springy NOLA ‘second line’ jump that shows the deep strength of rhythm section David Groves on bass and drummer James McCaffrey.

So much good art comes from life’s rivers and roads – and sadly some of the best comes from life’s hurts and tears. Two of the album’s highlights are – to me at least – compositions that gave come from low points in Jenna Cave’s journey as a human and as an artist. Both are statements of hope and renewal and yet the maturity in the writing gives a deep sense of the aching sadness behind them. ‘Now My Sun Can Shine Again’ is lush writing perfectly framing Andrew Scott’s piano solo which lifts through the harmonies, as one’s spirit would lift to the sunlight of hope out of black despair. ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ is quietly triumphant, a little like Cave herself. diveergence-fake-2

Trombonist Brendan Champion and trumpeter Paul Murchison contribute great work here too – allowing a widening of contrasting artistic voices for the Divergence band. Champion’s ‘Tones’ grows into a New Orleans strut out of a staggered 7/4 groove – wonderful contrasts here, both between the grooves and the way Champion’s writing weighs sections of the band against each other. His title tune, ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ is sharp and innovative ensemble writing, lots of ideas but with one idea dovetailing nicely into the next.

Paul Murchison’s driving 3/4 blues ‘Trinity’ plays some cute rhythmic games with the 3/4-12/8 waltz-shuffle groove and sparkles with a sharp be-bop solo from alto Justin Buckingham. It is the toughest tune on the album: direct and based around the core of the band, the rhythm trio.

But it is Jenna Cave who shines here. Her big-hearted brass conception of Miroslav Bukovsky’s ‘Peace Piece’ gets to a place deep inside you. Her framing and emotive colouring of Bukovsky’s pleading and very human melody line is one of many high-points of Fake It Until You Make It.

Back in 2013, I, for one, was all ears for anything else The Divergence Jazz Orchestra wanted to shout my way. Now, three years later, I realise, they no longer need to shout. With a voice as assured as this stellar collection attests to, they will only now need to speak.

 

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra launches Fake It Until You Make It at Foundry 616 on Friday October 14.

The album is available here https://divergencejazzorchestra.bandcamp.com/

Website is http://jennacave.com/divergence-jazz-orchestra/

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

 

Who knows how these things happen – my Reviewer’s Box was one day filled with a bunch of new releases that said one thing to me: The Song isn’t dead, after all.

Hell it’s not even ailing. And here was me thinking The Song had passed; lately the evidence wasn’t good, with national Song of the Year gongs going to insipid ukelele bleats and Grammies being throw at nursery rhyme la-la songs. Harsh I know – but we all get those moods from time to time.

Sydney artist Adrian O’Shea‘s Dr Taos album helped lift me out of the fug. Named for O’Shea’s alter-ego under which he performs and records, the whole shebang is as cool as his portrait on the inner sleeve. (Check out the good Doctor: shades, tiger-pattern suit, on a velvet and gilt lounge – you know this album is going to have Style).

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And style it has – O’Shea’s songs are informed by everything from British Pop to US art-rock, a little bit country, a lot folk and everything in between. And yet, was with all good (not to say great) songwriting, his work is all of the above and yet none of it. No pastiche or wannabe here: the songs are his and his alone, written from his heart and sung from his soul.

And it is O’Shea’s voice that is Dr Taos’ secret weapon – in all of popular music a strong song, put across by a truly affecting voice is an irresistible one-two punch. Add to this the songwriter singing his own songs, with all the drama, depth and nuance conveyed and that one-two becomes a triple whammy.taos1

The classic English power-pop of opener ‘Merry Go Round Thieves’ grabs you immediately (great guitar playing too – the guitar playing and classic range of tones all across the album is  a personal delight). ‘Pick You Up’ is wide-eyed psychedelia. The songs range from the epic (the expansively named, and sounding, ‘Forever of Tomorrow’) to the sweetly intimate (‘Love Strikes’). There are Celtic hills and country roads and gritty urban alleys and noisy clubs. It is quite a trip, yet O’Shea’s songs are strong enough to hold it all together – we start at the same place, and we know we will come Home to the same place.

Like all exceptional Pop writing, you feels as if you have heard this line or that hook somewhere before, and you just can’t put your finger on it – but of course you haven’t. The only problem is Dr Taos – at fourteen substantial songs – is maybe a little long for a single serve.

But which of these fourteen good’uns would you lose? It would be a hard edit. Adrian O’Shea has pulled a remarkably consistent stream of great work from his creative inner.

He is off to Europe soon to tour this album – Dr Taos. I do hope he comes back to us. We wouldn’t want to lose him.

In a week where we read sad talk of Angus Young retiring AC/DC, Australia’s greatest rock’n’roll export, this CD popped up in my Reviewer’s Box. And it cheered me right up again.

Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is more than a gathering of the tribes, more than just a summit meeting of Australia’s leading blues artists. It is a project conceived by Queensland musician, Darren Griffis, as a shot in the arm for depression-busting organisation, Beyond Blue.

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Each artist has taken a track of the AC/DC album Back In Black and reinterpreted it in their own image. It’s a smart idea, and one that comes off as brilliantly as one would expect.

From Geoff Atchison’s slinky ‘Hell’s Bells’ with vocalist Jane Michele (fading in out of a smart, scene-setting cut-up of radio grabs announcing Bon Scott’s shocking and untimely death), via Chase The Sun’s heavy ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (wunderkind Jan Rynsaardt sizzling on guitar) to acoustic superstar Lloyd Spiegel’s chugging ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’, Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is a thrill ride for lovers of modern blues – and anyone else with ears and a soul.

Treats along the way are hair-raising Hammond organ whizz, Lachy Doley – also a hell of a singer – showing no mercy to ‘Back In Black’ and Eightball Aitken’s surprisingly slinky (and waaaay more believably horny than the original) ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. Back In Blue1

Gail Page’s almost gospel-tinged take on ‘What You Do For Money Honey’ and Genevieve Chadwick’s whiskey-throated ‘Have a Drink on Me’ show why they will always be regarded by we humble subjects as this country’s Queens of the Blues.

Special mention (and a shiny gold star) goes to Marshall Okell flipping the randy ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ on its black head. Okell’s strutting mid-song rap on depression and fight-back spirit takes the double-entendre sleaze out of the original and replaces it with grit and guts.

It is significant that producer Darren Griffis chose Back In Black to hang the Back In Blue project on, as the original album was AC/DC’s declaration of mourning for recently deceased singer and icon Bon Scott. Yet it was also a statement of spirit and strength, a rallying cry to carry on in the face of tragedy. Let’s hope Back In Blue reaches out to those those who need its spirit the most.

 

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 was a couple of Byron Bay Bluesfests ago when I came across Glenn Cardier again. Seeing his name up, I had made a point of checking him and his crack band, The Sideshow in one of the smaller festival venues. I’m glad I did – apart from being up close to the band (I am quickly losing enthusiasm for the huge tents and screens), I was mesmerised by Cardier, in pork pie and shades, front and centre,  growling his strange songs, his acoustic guitar driving the band and the crowd.

I had been a fan in the 70s. Glenn Cardier always stood out to me, seemingly of a different tribe than the grizzled ‘young fogeys’ who made up the singer-songwriters of the times. Apart from the freak-cabaret whiff of his bowler hat, Lennon specs and waistcoat, his songs seemed wryly funny, yet dark. And always entirely original.

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After seemingly bobbing up on every festival bill and touring the world with that other existential jester, Spike Milligan, Cardier retired for 25 years. In early 2002 he returned to low key gigs, and now has given us his fifth album since his 21st century resurrection, Cool Under Fire.

Recorded almost entirely by himself, with the help of some heavy friends such as Sideshow (and everywhere else) guitarist, Rex Goh and country darlin’ Catherine BrittCool Under Fire is a rich helping of what we love about Cardier. The songs are wry and droll, many illuminated with a cinematic glare or dark-street noir. The humour is there – the hilarious pulp detective ‘A Case of Mistaken Identity’ and the everyman-Elvis of ‘Impersonation of The King’; a lot of it, of course, dark and world-weary, such as ‘Cold Light of Day’ (a Weimar gypsy lurch, tipsy as Kurt Weill). CUF-cov-400

There are the Pop smarts that raise a writer like Cardier above many of his genre: ‘Win Some, Lose Some’ is loaded with hooks and the harmony of ‘Welcome Home, Johnny-Oh’ is a darker shade of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. And of course, commensurate with Cardier’s novelistic approach to lyric, there is romance – the romance of rock’n’roll with its cars (gotta be Cadillacs, Jim), sexual heat and girls girls girls (‘She had bumper-bullets that would do a Cadillac proud‘) but also sweet, everyday romance of the sort that keeps your average, jobbing muso existential jester going.

‘The Day I Fell In Love With You’ is perhaps one of the loveliest, most unadorned love songs I have heard for a long time. Here, Cardier reminds me (not for the first time on they album) of the late American singer Warren Zevon. Cardier, like Zevon’s in his tender moments, is happy to drop artifice and cleverness if something needs to be said plain and simple. This country simple approach raises a smile in ‘Loretta’ and lifts the heart in ‘Rise and Shine’ – a song of hope.

But it wouldn’t be Glenn Cardier if he didn’t leave us with a wink, and a shadow-play and maybe a twinge of loss. ‘The Last Jukebox’ seems set in a post-civilisation Mad-Maxscape, all dust and empty desert winds. It seems dark, listless – with all hope fading out to a pale glimmer. And yet:

“Only one thing left to do –,
Only one thing left to do –,
Come on now, come over here,
It’s gonna be alright –, 
Only one thing left to do.

Dance.”

 

Cool Under Fire is released 1 August 2016.
For more information go to www.glenncardier.com