In the boys’ club of Australian Blues, there is a dearth of stand-out women bandleaders. And the few who rise to the top are almost all singers. Which is great, but in a music that in built on the conversation between a human call and a tart guitar response, surprisingly few play blues guitar on the level of a Shane Pacey, Kirk Lorange or Jan Rynsaardt.

One who does is Christina Crofts. And no one plays guitar like Christina Crofts.

A rising voice in the Australian Blues world, Crofts consistently peels back the ears of audiences with her razor-toothed slide guitar work and very Lucinda Williams vocal and attitude. Her playing, performing and songwriting is imbued with the spirit of her late husband Steve, one of this country’s most underrated guitarists.

4087043

But Croft’s voice is very much her own and on her new EP – Like We Used To – she has realised the strongest expression of it yet.

Opener ‘Breakaway’ rolls in like a howling thunderstorm, shot through with the white lightning of Crofts’ Stratocaster. The rhythm section of Stan Mobbs and Tony Boyd literally thunder under the guitars – Crofts and engineer Russell Pilling have gone for the  over-amped Marshall sound of much contemporary blues here, and it is a force of nature.

The title track, ‘Like We Used To’, which follows is a tasty, upbeat contrast. A spry piece of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, it has a sweetly nostalgic feel and a warm ear-worm of a guitar lick. It also brings out the country edge to Crofts’ vocal, which is a perfect foil to her six-string work.covers-0001

‘Don’t Cry’ is even more country rock’n’roll with the groove held steady under the sure tiller of Mobbs and Boyd.

Closer ‘Lucy’ is a juicy Little Feet latino-funk groove which tells a story of Bad Woman Blues. Crofts’ slide-guitar here virtually scratches your eyes out from the first note, its tone befitting the morality tale of the home-wrecking protagonist. Crofts’ lyrics throughout deserve a mention: they work on classic blues and roots templates, as you want, but have a wit and originality about them which is a relief in an often cliché-sodden genre.

It’s been a long wait since 2008’s Midnight Train for some new music from Christina, but Like We Used To will convince anyone with ears that she is back and ready to spit sparks. Watch out boys – she’s the hellhound on your trail.

Like We Used To is available from Christina Crofts’ website – https://www.christinacrofts.com/store

Advertisements

 

Daniel Susnjar’s debut album, 2014’s Su Su Nje, really peeled my ears back. The Perth (via Miami, Peru and NYC) drummer/composer’s intense playing and giddily-layered rhythms stood out in high relief from much else I heard that year in Jazz.

Susnjar’s recent release, Moth To A Flame, revisits the Peruvian-Jazz fusion flavours of his debut, and is peopled with many of the same fiery, empathic players. This time the intensity and the invention are taken up a notch, with compositions, arrangements and performances uniformly stunning.

dfdc6f_862175dbc1c14b4ea68c882521d0f1ccmv2_d_4281_2405_s_4_2-jpg_srz_1054_668_85_22_0-50_1-20_0-00_jpg_srz

To listen to Moth To A Flame one would expect these eight densely arranged, complex and exceptionally recorded pieces to have taken a year or two of performance, and then recording, to get to this level. In fact, the album was done and dusted (bar a little extra later dusting in WA and Miami) in 24 short hours.

Susnjar explains: “I was on tour with the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet at the time. We did a bunch of gigs in the US and had a day-and-a-half off in the middle of the tour. I booked a studio in Brooklyn called Systems Two, rented a hotel for the guys and set up the drums while they were resting. We did a night session, then a full day session, then we went straight to a gig in Washington the next day.”

The drive to create within such a tiny time-window reflects Susnjar’s sharp-edged discipline and singular vision. It is this vision that has led to Susnjar picking up numerous awards as well as playing and record with artists as diverse as Chick Corea and Pharell Williams.

All across Moth To A Flame his vision is there: from the sharply named and conceived opener ‘Rhythm Changes Peru’, to the dense rhythm lattices of ‘Used to Be a Festejo’ (a spiky cousin to Jaco’s ‘Used To Be a Cha-Cha’?) and the joyously festive ‘Tondero’.

The two cover arrangements are great fun. The Leslie Bricusse chestnut ‘Feeling Good’ bounces on a springy Afro-Peruvian rhythm with sharp ensemble playing, a truly ‘felt’ vocal from Vivian Sessoms and Daniel’s father, Danny Susnjar channelling some Santana on a howling guitar solo.img

Susnjar’s take on the Charlie and Inez Foxx 50’s classic call-and-response tune ‘Mockingbird’ has great play with the rhythms and cross-rhythms; currents within currents that rise and fall.

The closer ‘Pius Bartosik’ is a lovely, impressionistic composition that won Daniel Susnjar the WAM 2015 Jazz Song of The Year. A tone-portrait inspired by the indomitable spirit of Auschwitz victim Pius Ludwik Bartosik, it moves through various moods showcasing a number of the exceptional soloists in Susnjar’s ensemble – standouts are tenor saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguia and Susnjar’s short drum solo which plays tag with the horns.

A fascinating release which will reignite any Jazz listener’s love affair with that most important and irresitable element of the art form – rhythm. Moth To A Flame deserves your ears. Your heart – and hips – will follow.

 

For more information visit: www.danielsusnjar.com

 

I was surprised when I put on saxophonist/compopser Andy Sugg’s new album. The last Sugg album I heard was when I (glowingly) reviewed the excellent Berlin Session album in early 2013.

That album was free and wild and had the colossal shadow of John Coltrane falling across the wonderful music made with Sugg’s daughter, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and players Jan Leipnitz and Sean Pentland.

The new one, Wednesdays at M’s, could not be more different. The focus is far more on composition, arrangement and timbral texture and has a decidedly fusion edge, complete with electric flavours.

sugg-wednes-1

But then I was surprised that I was surprised – after all, Sugg is a searching, seeking, probing player. Why would he sound now as he did four years ago?

The Group is entirely different, too, apart from Kelsey-Sugg on piano (and vapour-like vocals on closer ‘Rings Around The Moon’). Made up of leading players such as drummer Nate Wood, Ben Eunson on guitar and Australian-abroad Sean Wayland, this is no ordinary Group.

And they need to be extraordinary to navigate Sugg’s remarkable compositions and bring them to vivid life – each tune is completely owned by the ensemble; the ensemble playing and solos leap from the speakers with a rush of blood and fire.sugg-wednes-2

The electric edge doesn’t become apparent until Ben Eunson’s guitar solo on opener ‘Djuna at One’. The groove is buoyant, rolling along on the tough acoustic bass of Matt Clohesy until Eunson’s electric guitar chops into it, right down to the bone. Eunson’s playing across Wednesdays at M’s is a highlight: biting here, fluid there, he plays with a wide range of textures that should be an object lesson to more than a few contemporary jazz guitarists. His tone is metallic but fleshed out with more than enough blues to make it sing beautifully.

The fusion thing is taken up a notch over the three part Suite, ‘Hemispheric’: Part 1 is swathed in Christian Almiron’s Zawinulesque synth washes. Almiron returns for Part 3, soloing and swooping across the brightly choppy rhythm.

A highlight of the album is ‘Mandela’. Built on a criss-crossing set of riffs, this groove pushes Sugg and Eunson to some spiraling highs. Sugg’s playing throughout is revelatory yet always with deep soul and humanity in his delivery. On the Berlin Session album he played only soprano; here he plays only tenor and it fits the tougher ensemble dynamic perfectly (it is particularly thrilling when in unison with Eunson’s Stratocaster).

Prior to recording, these eight pieces were worked up in a weekly workshop environment on NYC’s Lower East Side in a vacant dance studio belonging to ‘Mike’, hence the album title. You can hear the freedom and care that Sugg was allowed to lavish on their forming: nothing is rushed and there was obviously room for tints of other non-jazz genres to colour the music. In essence, the music was allowed to grow and evolve in a hothouse.

At the foot of his liner notes, Andy Sugg simply says ‘Thank you, Mike.’ I, and anyone who listens to Wednesdays at M’s will surely second that emotion.

 

For more information visit: www.andysugg.com

 

Cameron Undy’s new Twentieth Century Dog album, Bone, has left this reviewer speechless. Which is quite a feat in itself.

The only honest review I could give is “Go listen.” But my pen, once unsheathed, needs to talk, so talk it shall.

Listening to the remarkable improvisations that make up the ten tracks on Bone, I see not a group of separate musicians but a single organism – a big body with waving arms and heads – a Dog of Seven Heads. Surely this music cannot come from separate consciousnesses, even of those consciousnesses are as hyper-conscious as Simon Barker and Jamie Cameron and Ben Kidson on drums and percussion, Jeremy Rose on reeds, Greg Coffin on keys, Ben Hauptmann on guitar, and leader, composer, producer Cameron Undy on barking, growling bass.

bone2

The presser says these pieces are made up out of long buried ideas “dug up, buried in the yard, dug up again” over the ten years that Undy focused his energies on his iconic jazz room, Surry Hills’ Venue 505. These ideas shape the grooves and basic motifs of the improvisations, and also form ensemble sections that rise out of the music and then are gone as soon as they came.

The Dog is big on rhythm too – with two drummers and a percussionist, as well as having a bass-player as leader, it is inevitable that there will be grooves of all flavours, and rhythm games running through the music like pulsing veins. Funk, Afro-beat, jazz: all booty-shaking but mind-bending at the same time.

‘Tail of the Dragon’s’ melodic pass-the-parcel leads to some big-fun messing with time, its play extending into the band comping behind Coffin’s solo, then behind, in and around Rose’s solo. ‘Dog Day’ is taut funk which Ben Hauptmann nips and tugs at until it is reshaped in his image. ‘Bone’ conjure’s the same skull-grinning space-griots as Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band. bone1

‘Broken Creak’ applies Broken-beat to some serious funk: the drummers slip in and out of sync with each other, like a musical moiré-pattern moving in and out of focus. Undy’s bass solo here is muscular and propulsive while Coffin’s soul-gospel piano passage moves against the lagging drums like a sermon that will not be denied.

Bone was recorded live at Venue 505 over two days in late 2016. The live recording brings so much out in the band (have I said before there is a strong argument at all jazz should be recorded live?), giving the album an in-the-moment electricity that charges the air.

It is not all funk and zap though; the three short interlude pieces – ‘Anagram’, ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Constellation’ – are welcome breathers from the tropical storm of Bone. Rose’s bass clarinet on the latter is particularly affecting, singing a folk-like song of universal longing.

Final track, the long workout ‘Bust Down_Parallelism’, captures everything that is good and real about Bone and Twentieth Century Dog. An almost endlessly inventive Hauptmann solo rises to a boil that bursts like a summer storm, washing away to a half-dark duskscape, only to rise through a percussion conversation into Jeremy Rose’s strutting tenor solo. Composition/improvisation. Magic While U Wait. It’s what the Dog does so well.

Ok, I will shut up now. Go listen to Bone.

 

Bone is available from Earshift Music – http://earshift

 

Published on http://jazz.org.au/ January 2017

There are contemporary big bands that lean too heavily on the side of tradition and there are contemporary big bands that eschew tradition almost entirely, throwing the jazz baby out with the Basie-water.

Dan Barnett’s sizzling band has always had a (stylishly shod) shoe in both camps – nodding nicely to the history and tradition of the big band while leaving much room for his stellar soloists and adventurous young arrangers; in other words leaving space for Jazz.

barnett1

The band has ruled the roost at Balmain’s Unity Hall Hotel forever and Walkin’ Shoes – Barnett’s seventh album – captures all the life and spark of those great gigs and of vocalist/trombonist Barnett’s larger-than-life musical personality.

West Coast Cool is the mood for title track/opener ‘Walkin’ Shoes’– Gerry Mulligan’s purring perambulation – with Barnett leaving the melody behind for some wry rap/vocalese, even name-checking Robert de Castella along the way. Barnett’s vocal is a pleasure, by equal measure Tony Bennett or Mark Murphy, leaning either this way or that depending on the mood. The mood of Kelly Ottoway’s arrangement here is one that would even make Gerry Mulligan crack a rare smile.

The wryness continues in a blazing Tim Oram chart of Mose Allison’s ‘I Don’t Worry About a Thing’ – a song where the lyric response ‘ ‘Cause nothing’s gonna be alright’ pretty much sums up 2016 (the year sadly we lost the amazing Mr Allison). Barnett’s trombone solo here reminds us that he is not only a unique vocalist but a bitchin’ bone man.barnett2

Kelly Ottoway’s cheek-to-cheek arrangement of the lovely Jerome Kern ballad ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ shows the deeply traditional side of the band – the chart uses all the cinematic breadth of colour that only a big band can evoke. No fear of romanticism here.

From ballads to bop. The instrumental ‘Tin Tin Deo’ is a dizzying workout for the band’s Afro-Cuban chops. Growing out of a Greg Royal bass intro through a sharp Peter Locke piano solo, the tune culminates in an Andrew Dickerson (really, who else?) drum workout. A (grooving) highpoint!

French vocalist Tricia Evy lends her satin vocal to a number of tunes on Walkin’ Shoes. From the pure romance of Ellington’s ‘All Too Soon’ to the mambo of ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ – the latter teaming with Barnett’s vocal – she lights up each track with her sparkling style.

A surprise is Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ – a slice of the other West Coast Cool. Ottoway’s tough, 70s cop-show arrangement pushes the funk element of the band with nicely nasty solos from Bradford Child on tenor and Sam Rollings, guitar.

Tricia Evy takes us out with ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing…’ and ‘They Can’t take That Away From Me’, a perfect American Songbook one-two punch (a lover’s punch, of course). Both classic jazz staples, they are delivered here with freshness and style.

Freshness and style. That is as good a two-word review of Walkin’ Shoes as I can think of. Considering much big band writing – especially big band writing that tackles the classics – can be stodgy and stiflingly reverent, Dan Barnett and his arrangers and band have opened the window and let some fresh air in along with the noises of the street.

 

Walkin’ Shoes is available from Dan’s website – http://www.danbarnett.com.au

 

Published on http://australianjazz.net January 2017

Dom Mariani and Greg Hitchcock‘s Datura 4 have released an album that says everything about the joy of electric guitar. Checking out the trippy cover art (I want what Joshua Marc Levy is having…) and taking in the title – Hairy Mountain – my son said “This just has to be good…”

It’s better than good, it’s the best thing I have heard all year (to be honest it is a tie for 2016 with Bill Hunt‘s acoustic and startling Upwey). Hairy Mountain serves up riff after delicious riff over ten killer tracks. As a fan of rock and roll guitar, I found myself happily saturated with huge tones, big hearted rock and roll and more than a few nods to the great original psychotic reactors of Detroit, London and Sydney. Rock with great pop sensibility – it is an unbeatable and irresistible one-two punch.

datura4_robbieharrold_1-720x617

Hairy Mountain is all about hooks, hubris and heaviosity. Not surprising considering the pedigree here: Mariani’s Stems and Hitchcock’s Bamboos were two of Perth’s most loved garage rock bands; what is it about Perth?

‘Fools Gold Rush’ opens with a Black Sabbath grind – the tone I expected from the last Sabbath album (but was given Foo Fighters instead) – before lifting off into a Byrd‘s jangle: pure pop for now people. ‘Trolls’ is blues-rock supreme – these songs all have a sour worldview, delivered with a curdled sneer that fights to be heard above the guitars – perfect! “Trolls will find you, they will wind you up…”

‘Uphill Climb” is Stooges-brutal with that momentum that only spiky drugs and/or rock and roll can give you. Same with “Mary Caroll Park” with its Rose Tattoo slide-guitar scraping the paint off my ears.

Title track “Hairy Mountain” rolls on big Led Zep wheels through a tale of perfect surf breaks and peace-pipes – a chink of (not quite) hippie sunlight in a doomy album. Hitchcock’s ‘Greedy World’ is back spitting at the stupid world, over that mutant breed of pub rock that only Australians seem truly capable of.datura4_hairy-mountain

After the raw and red-eyed ride, Hairy Mountain winds up/winds down with Mariani’s melancholically acoustic country-rock plea ‘Broken Path’. It is perfectly placed and just what we hairy mountaineers need to come down after our time spent on the slopes.

Lysergic, heavy, booglarised, wildly colonial, Hairy Mountain is – like all great rock and roll – perfectly imperfect and vice versa, and all the more thrilling for it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the 80s revival is over there; if you do then do yourself a Molly favour and grab some Hairy Mountain.

 

Hairy Mountain is available from http://www.alive-records.com/artist/datura4/

 

In his between sets patter, Club MC Jeremy Sole thanks the Blue Whale audience for “not only showing up but being present“, reminding them (and us) that the two are very very different things. The same can be said of drummer Myele Manzanza and his ensemble for this electrifying live recording at the fabled LA club – OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale).

The word ‘present’ applies here in all its forms – the performances are in the present (the now), Manzanza and the band present (bestow) us with their present (gift) of this music. And what amazing music it is – a feast of jazz-fusion flavoured beauty created before us in a time and space that seems endless.

myele-manzanza-onepointone-pr2

Manzanza’s debut album, 2103’s One, was a stunning introduction to the drummer’s great creativity, spirit of adventure and grasp of contemporary urban styles. The New Zealand born son of a Congolese drum master, Manzanza’s vision is one of virtuosic precision which never enslaves the groove – a very African approach: complex yet irresistable. But where One used an array of samples and had the slightly claustrophobic headroom of electronica, OnePointOne is open and organic, using Manzanza’s trio augmented by the Quartetto Fantastico string quartet and two vocalists, Charlie K and Nia Andrews.

The difference is apparent on the live versions of two pieces which originally appeared on One – ‘7 Bar Thing’ and ‘City of Atlantis’. The former heats up under a bristling Mark de Clive-Lowe piano solo (acoustic piano is to the fore all across OnePointOne), whereas the latter, arranged by the Quartetto Fantastico’s Miguel Atwood-Ferguson becomes a languid, sun-dappled underwater cinematic experience.Microsoft Word - Myele Manzanza OnePointOne PR.doc

Jazz is also everywhere here, the spirit and the joy of it. Album opener ‘A Love Eclectic’ channels the spirit of John Coltrane with the bass of Ben Shepherd riffing a mutated version of the ‘Love Supreme’ bass hook (Shepherd’s solo, bonus track ‘Ben MF Shepherd’ is dazzling). The samba of ‘Absent Fade’ has Manzanza and de Clive-Lowe spinning each other off the dial, at one point tying the 4/4 bar into 7/8 knots.

A high-point for me is Manzanza’s drum solo ‘Circumstances’. He tells a story and paints his canvas and takes us down the roads of his choosing – yes, I am mixing metaphors but Manzanza does all this and more. He is one of those rare players than can keep you totally engaged with only a collection of percussion instruments and a fair sprinkling of his own magic.

OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale) is sprinkled all over with that magic and has made me a fan all over again of Myele Manzanza, despite his debut and this current album being remarkably different from each other in approach. And yet they are held together in style by Manzanza’s skill, vision and sense of deep beauty. I deeply recommend it.

OnePointOne (Live At the Blue Whale) is released 11th November 2106 through www.firstwordrecords.com

Myele Manzanza’s website is http://myelemanzanza.com

Published November 2016 on http://theorangepress.net