636676055426018760-Aretha-Franklin--Atlantic-R

Since Ray Charles created Soul music in the mid-1950s by combining Gospel ecstacy with the secular (and sexual) themes of the Blues, the genre has given us almost an embarrassment of astonishing vocalists. Charles himself, Smokey Robinson, David Ruffin, Chaka Khan, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Amy Winehouse – it has always been a singer’s music.

But the one who shone over all of them was Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, who passed away this week. Media – mainstream and social – was numb with grief while ablaze with outpourings of love for Aretha, from an incoherent Donald Trump to Franklin’s contemporaries, as well as current stars from all genres.

This was no mere celebrity passing. Since her breakthrough hit, 1967’s ‘Respect’, her music came to be a cultural signifier.

‘Respect’ was perfectly timed. It enlarged composer Otis Redding’s original tired-man narrative while sassily flipping it’s meaning. It resonated strongly with the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, and the general late 60’s right-on vibe. That is why she is iconic – like Dylan, Beatles, Bowie, the Sex Pistols and Nirvana – a signifier of something far more than just the music. Oh, and it was a bitchin’ piece of music, too. ZPlXzR

Franklin’s catalogue contains the same proportion of missteps of any artist with equal longevity, but at her best she was utterly unbeatable. Often heartstoppingly so.

Prior to her success at Atlantic Records, she had been with Columbia, who saw her as a piano-playing Gospel and Blues artist. Her later classic Atlantic sides, under producer Jerry Wexler brought her music up to date, but never tried to leach out the Blues, or especially the Gospel, from that remarkable voice.

Franklin’s voice came from the wounded heart, much like Billie Holliday before her and Janis Joplin after. She was singing for everywoman, and by extension, everyman. But unlike the raw, excruciating hurts of Holliday and Joplin, Aretha’s bell of a voice rang clear and proud, a spirit not to be bowed.

‘Respect’ is strident and builds to a righteous Gospel blast over a simmering, hip-rolling groove. By contrast, Franklins’ reading of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Say A Little Prayer’ is almost introverted, her bell voice pealing softly and wistfully in its small suburban tower. Hers was a vocal scope that should be a lesson to too many current ‘soul’ singers who entirely miss the point of Soul.

A personal note: A few years back, a band I played in was asked to pepper our set with Top 40 material for a regular gig. I agreed but, ever contrary,  brought in songs from the Top 40 of the late 60s. One was ‘Respect’. I wrote a head chart and brought it to the band in rehearsal. From the first note our singer – one of the finest I have ever worked with and one with a flawless top register – shook her head and said “I can’t get up there”. So we dropped the key. And dropped it… and dropped it…

This small episode confirmed to me in the real world what I had always known – that Aretha Franklin’s voice was something supernatural. The effortlessness in musical areas many singers would blanche at, the steely control which came across as silken flow, the absolute immersion in a song’s meaning and message – any song Franklin covered, such as Bacharach/David’s “Prayer” mentioned above, she owned thereafter and for ever more.

Her influence is, and will always be immeasurable. And not only musically – she wore her mantle as a spokesperson and activist regally and, I am sure, inspired many get to their feet in life.

Goodbye, Aretha Franklin. There will never be another true Queen of Soul. You took us higher. Long live the Queen.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

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

1449514757847

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Paradigm is available from http://davepanichimusic.com

Being a prolific artist and being a surprising, ever-original artist – despite much evidence to the contrary – need not be mutually exclusive.

Pianist/composer Andrea Keller continues to surprise, as well as being one of our most consistently prolific music makers. Her latest project is the ensemble Five° Below and their debut is the six-track teaser Five° Below Live.

AndreaKeller-web-5793-bw

I say ‘teaser’ as this is a preview of a larger work slated for 2019 which will include saxophonists Julien Wilson and Scott MacChonnachie. ‘Teaser’ it may be, but it stands firm and strong as a work in its own right. For this Live album, Keller has intriguingly limited it to rhythm section instruments, with startling results.

The two bass players – Sam Anning on acoustic and Mick Meagher on electric – plus drummer James McLean and guitarist Steve Magnusson, plus Keller herself on piano reimagine a collection of her previous works across a range of styles.

‘Fern Tree’ from 2013’s Family Portraits grows from a textural piano pattern with Keller’s solo morphing from Charles Ives to some real rock’n’roll, before the double heartbeat of the two basses rolls out the joyous dance of Magnusson’s guitar. ‘Of Winter, Ice and Snow’ moves glacially, with guitar swells and sharp shards of piano making this, magically, seem more weather than music. Such is its enveloping and mesmerising atmosphere.a4059568909_10

The mood across Live is largely pensive and dynamically introverted, so the track ‘Grand Forfeit’ leaps out like an animal. Beginning with ominously grinding guitar and electric bass feedback it suddenly surprises with a jagged asymmetrical riff over which Maganusson howls and gnashes. His guitar solo is red in tooth and claw, reminiscent of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp at his most brutal.

‘Warm Voices’, originally from 2013’s From Ether, lulls with double bass chords and percussion moving and out like the sea; the piano is ebbing waves and the guitar is distant clouds on the horizon – the picture the ensemble builds is exquisitely balanced and blissfully hypnotic.

Andrea Keller stretches jazz into whatever she wants here – as a composer, musician and visionary, she always has. Using many of the most noble aspects of modern jazz – its curiosity, freedom and genre-inclusive nature – Keller enriches and expands the form. It is always a thrill to see where she goes next.

Five° Below Live is available from https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

Andrea Keller’s website is at https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

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.

0013300086_100.png

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

 

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.

large_MattyTWall-4607

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.

James-Macaulay1

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.

christianjulius

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