Posts Tagged ‘Alex Boneham’

The first time I really heard altoist/composer Jeremy Rose was on a side stage at a Darling Harbour Jazz Festival (remember them?) a few years back. He was leading a lean, raw-boned quartet with – I think – trumpeter Eamon Dilworth, but I couldn’t be sure.

What I can be sure of was that I stayed for his whole set, ignoring the main stage for the duration. And, since then, I have kept an ear out for whatever Jeremy Rose is doing.

And I have always been intrigued, amazed, challenged and – to be frank – totally gassed by his restless artistic nature and his consistently questing music, both as a composer and as a soloist.

Through the bony reggae of The Strides, to the funk-Ornettey grooves of The Vampires, to the moody chamber jazz of The Compass Quartet and on to his many other projects, Rose’s pluralistic musical vision has always taken me to some interesting and strangely bejewelled places.

pic: karen steains

pic: karen steains

His latest – with his Quartet – is ‘Sand Lines’. It is a delight to hear Rose back in the arms of (almost) straight-ahead Jazz – an added delight is to hear him rocking so sweet and heavy in those arms.

Opener, the title track ‘Sand Lines’, has Rose’s silvery soprano leading over a staggered ensemble section until the band climbs into a swing section – Rose’s solo breaks into a grin that won’t stop. His soprano tone and playing has the gift that Wayne Shorter has – the ‘eastern’ nasal inflection, a joy of Trane’s sound, is replaced by a roundness and warmth, with those big-throated, round notes opening the tone at just the right points.

Pianist Jackson Harrison glitters like an heirloom diamond in his solo on the ‘Sand Lines’ track. Barefoot drummer James Waples and Rose’s fellow-Vampire, bassist Alex Boneham, push the performance with a combination of grin and sweat. The vibe set up by the energy of the ‘Sand Lines’ track sets the tone for the rest of this rich and tasty album.

Guest Carl Morgan adds his guitar to ‘The Long Way Home’ – Rose’s languid memory of childhood drives through the Australian bush – his snaking solo winding in and out of the background melody fragments.

Morgan also appears on ‘Precipice’ – the tune’s shape a perfect example of Rose’s compositional ability to blur melody and improvisation (in effect, ‘head’ and heart) into a seamless skin. Quite lovely.Jeremy-Rose Sand-Lines_Cover

‘Mind Over Matter’ is Rose’s tribute to the dear and sadly departed David Ades, his mentor, mate and fellow surf-dog. The piece dances in a joyful place, rising and falling as if buoyed by surf currents, summoning Ade’s bright life-lust in primary colours. Harrison’s solo here is particularly sharp – rhythmic play with melodic curves curving around each other in new shapes.

The album’s standout to me is ‘Hegemony’. It is a half-lit ballad that exists on the same shadow-theatre stage as Miles Davis’ ‘Blue in Green’ and shares with Miles’ and Bill Evans’ iconic piece a melodic ambiguity which the musicians build on to deep effect. Alex Boneham’s measured and lovely bass solo takes this already twilight piece into even darker waters, wading thru the indigo.

After nailing such a sharp and intense Jazz album, I am sure we will lose the restless Rose now to his next project – of indeterminant genre – but whatever it is I know I will want to be on his listeners list. Jeremy, you have my number.

Published December 2015 on australianjazz.net

Advertisements

A dubby fanfare from Jeremy Rose and Nick Garbett and we are off into the new Vampires album, Tiro – into that unique Vampires place where Ornette Coleman jams at Black Ark, while New York traffic snarls by outside and Bondi surf laps at our (tapping) toes.

The said dubby fanfare introduces Rose’s ‘Mandala’, an upbeat slice of reggae-jazz that is reminiscent of the UP vibe of their last (wonderful) album, Garfish.

But that vibe is a touch misleading – overall Tiro is more blues, more downbeat and definitely (maybe not but maybe because of the blues) more truly beautiful (define that!) than Garfish. It is a leap, horizontally and vertically, from that 2012 album; the band and the compositions widening and deepening as any great band does as it evolves.

Vampires-KarenSteains

Garbett’s ‘Palau’ follows – a churchy NOLA blues that reminds us why we love the Vampires so much – as with Ornette, the piano-less, astringent sound reveals such poetry: funny how less voices make for more poetry. We fill in the gaps from our own experience and it hits us in the gut.

Rose’s ‘Pseudoscience’ is the most Ornette-y track here – over an Alex Boneham ostinato, Rose and Garbett weave and duck and feint and jab almost telepathically. The later track, ‘Colombiana’ also kicks nicely over Boneham’s Fender bass with Garbett’s heavily reverbed solo recalling the lightning sparkle and shimmer of electric Miles. Drummer/percussionist Alex Masso jumps right out at you here, snapping shots and accents all around the frantic funk of the two-horn melody.

The blue mood returns for Rose’s ‘Beautiful Decay’ before the first of two ingenious remixes in collaboration with Paul Bromley at Brisbane’s Tanuki Lounge Studios, ‘Tiro-Tanuki remix’ – 0:49 of the title track tipped at a surreal angle. The second remix is ‘Mandala-Tanuki remix’, a beautifully reverb-heavy dub take on the opening track in 1:27. The remixes are a nice touch and, as well as reminding us of the roots of The Vampires’ music, serve to lighten the mood with some fun and spacey atmosphere.

There is a liner note from Nick Garbett for Tiro’s final track ‘Brother Sykes’, a dedication to a friend lost at sea, the brother of the title. ‘Brother Sykes’ – maybe because it is suffused with such emotive rawness – is the standout here: building from a muffled drumbeat – a muted but merciless hammer of grief – the twinned clarinet-trumpet melody winds its sorrow around its own heart, squeezing it and then stopping when it hurts too bad to trickle away on a limpid melodic downcurve. Then it starts again…MadCds 2 outer pocket 4 P gatefold wallet

The band play around each other here, as if conversing, exchanging their grief – the feeling is one of a wake, funereal and puffed-out. It is a nod to the complete musicianship of Alex Boneham that the bass dominates here, expressing so much in answer to the gray-blues and watery mauves thrown at him by Rose and Garbett. All seems to happen underwater, beneath a heavy lid of mortality.

‘Brother Sykes’ finishes in an unresolved cadence, unsatisfying, hanging there – just as their good friend’s life and possibility was cut too short. It is a remarkable piece of music and a true expression of what great music can be – sadly overlooked in too many jazz releases in favour of clever-clever – a mirror on life, and us, and our path through it all.

‘Brother Sykes’ is a remarkable piece of music on a remarkable album – ‘Tiro’ is The Vampires fourth and doubtless best. It will be exciting to see where Rose, Garbett, Boneham and Masso go next. Long may they run.

Published October 2103 on australianjazz.net

 

Another strange but beautiful fruit has dropped from Yum Yum Tree Records – the label of great guitar jazz from Jess Green, Aaron Flower and Ben Hauptmann – in the shape of The Ben Panucci Trio’s Short Stories.

In common with the above mentioned guitarists, Ben Panucci is an entirely uncommon player, with a sound and vision entirely of its own logical and aesthetic world.

panucci1

Also, in common with Green, Flower and Hauptmann, Panucci’s sound is entirely individual and recognisable from the first notes – in this case the sliding chord of the perfectly named ‘Lethargy Blues’. A crisp, chiming, almost blues tone, Panucci operates without added effects – opting to explore and coax new sounds from the electric instrument with almost an acoustic sensibility, beyond virtuosity.

‘Lethargy Blues’ is an early indicator of the aptness of the album’s title, Short Stories – each track feels like a small soundtrack to an episode in which the characters are just out of sight or obscured by clouds. I have never liked the laziness of the term ‘impressionistic’ when applied to music but Panucci’s compositions and playing – as well as the perfectly simpatico bass and drums of Alex Boneham and James Waples – tend to conjure shifting hazy scenes and fogged dramas just out of sight of the mind’s eye.

‘but anyway it isn’t a game’ – the title a lowercase conversational fragment perfectly reflected in the opaque composition of the tune: Panucci in its solo intro suggesting melancholy in descending resolutions, the sadness only strengthened as Waples and Boneham join him.

The storytelling ranges from the more accessible emotionally to the fascinatingly abstract. ‘Harmonics’ is just that: a skein of bass and guitar harmonics scratched across the top of a snare beat for 0:54. ‘Percussion’ is the band percussing for 1:48 – Panucci scratching, smearing and drumming on his strings, a device used on various tracks for startling effect. The intro to the darkly woven ‘Get Well’ is something to hear, made of smears and scrapes until the notes come.Print

But not all is out-there abstraction – just as one is lulling on all the atmospherics and haziness, the band whips into the Monk-ish ‘Party on the Event Horizon’, its driving swing reminiscent of Larry Coryell’s later work. The trio works beautifully through the solo sections, conversing joyfully and putting a real grin on the playing.

‘A Dance’ conjures Django romanticism in a drowned abandoned ballroom. ‘Old Themes’ calls to mind the exact opposite – a Radiohead miserablist anthem of cold gray towers, its dystopia shattered by the hot primary-coloured splashs of the Trio in full flight as the tune grows and progresses.

Such is the range and span of colours and shifting scenes across Short Stories. That all of this can be expressed through the limited means of a jazz guitar trio – to all intents and purposes acoustic – is not only a measure of Panucci, Boneham and Waples’ creative mastery, but also of their vision.

And it is that vision which – in a musical genre which can all too often veer into the empty adoration of technique – over and over rescues Jazz back for us, for Music.

 

Published October 2103 on australianjazz.net 

One of the true delights of any music festival is that, for a few days – or even just a few precious hours – you are in a strange and beautiful new world, away from the tangle and hum of city life. The 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival reigned over Sydney’s Redfern-Surry Hills Delta for four days in January, staking out the territory in the name of modern composition, improvised music and the jazz life.

And what a strange and beautiful world they conjured for us among the bricks and grime, the litter and the 7-11 Stores.

________________________________

I was fortunate to start at the very beginning, with Tom O’Halloran’s solo piano opener on Thursday at Surry Hills’ Tom Mann Theatre. A smart choice to open the Festival, O’Halloran’s sure touch made the piano sigh and glitter. His closer, a sparkling ‘No More Blues’ served as a teasing appetiser for a weekend of stellar music.

jazzgroove mothership orc

And stellar was the word (a TV sports cliché yes, but too apt to not use here) for Jonathan Zwartz’s band, up next. A Dream Team of players – Slater, Maegraith, Greening, Julien Wilson blowing (his and) our minds, Dewhurst, Matt McMahon, Hamish Stuart and percussionista Fabian Hevia holding it down with the calm river that is Zwartz himself. And from that calm river flowed strong and sure compositions, with melodic lines that were often country-simple but Gospel-true. From the opener ‘Shimmer’ through to ‘Henry’s High Life’, it was transfixing soul-blues that had the soloists reaching within – Phil Slater and Richard Maegraith especially going deep on the latter tune – leaving the audience at Tom Mann visibly affected. Like all true wisdom there was very little flash, but a universe of quiet fire.

The opening night was climaxed by the mighty Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, paying tribute to genius jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer (who sadly passed from this earthly plane last year). Even though the Orchestra bristles with astounding soloists, it was the Festival’s International Guest Artist (I suppose Aotearoa counts as international) tenor magus Roger Manins that was featured on all charts. The Orchestra is truly a national treasure and for this, their 10th anniversary gig, they played better than I have ever heard them – snapping and roiling on the fiery pieces and painting colour washed mists on the quieter pieces such as the lovely ‘Fireflies’. Manins stood toe-to-toe with the band on the blasting finale, ‘See Saw’, his tenor sassing back and cajoling the Mothership. Big kudos to drummer Jamie Cameron who rode the roaring beast on all pieces with great style and verve.

________________________________

Friday was Fusion Day for me as I took in the electro-jazz of the Alcohotlicks at 505 and later, the flamenco-jazz of Steve Hunter’s Translators down the road at the Gaelic. It had been Sydney’s hottest day ever (!) on record and the evening was still dripping from the day.alcohotlicks

At 505, The Alcohotlicks’ Evan Mannell admitted to ‘shitting himself’ at the prospect of working without a drum kit. He then won us all over with a beautiful funky groove, cut-up on his sample box from Jimi Hendrix’s throaty ‘Who Knows’ riff. Joined by Ben Hauptmann on MIDI guitar and laptop, and Aaron Flower (the hoary traditionalist of the group who merely plays a guitar through an amp) the trio – winners of the inaugural Jazzgroove Association Recording Artist Award  – astounded with tracks from their album Danaïdes. ‘Neon’ was neo-NEU! motorik funk; ‘Baader’ was Goldfrapp/Moroder replicant-porn boogie. Did I sense a few members of the 505 audience shifting in their seats during the Alcohotlicks set? Artists such as these are the ones who move any music forward and all kudos to them for working at the edge of the Jazz comfort zone. A little seat shifting is always a good sign.

steve hunter, the translatorsDown the steaming street to the Gaelic. By now slightly drunk on the merlot and the humidity, I was taken away completely by The Translators. Too loud for the room – not a bad thing at all – electric bass toreador Steve Hunter and the quartet blazed through a set of flamenco-flecked originals that had Míro dancing with Manitas de Plata, Chick Corea dancing with de Falla in my swirling head. At times Ben Hauptmann’s electric mandolin solos sounded like a 70’s micro-Moog, the otherworldly tone beautifully offset by Damien Wright’s flamenco gut-string. ‘Turquoise’ was blue in green in orange. ‘The Last Trannie’ was Madrid via Soweto. Always a fiery and sparkling group, tonight – after not playing together for two years – The Translators shone like a Catalonian sun and lit all our faces with broad smiles. Not so long between sangrias next time, please amigos!

________________________________

the fantastic terrific munkle

Saturday my hangover needed the peace of Prince Alfred Park and the gentle afternoon humour of The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Cool breezes blew, people picnicked on the grass, and from between two huge trees, The Munkle – powered by Sam Golding’s tuba and the (snake-)charming clarinet of Jeremy Rose – wove their musical tales of whimsy, recalling ragtime, Dixie, weird old blues and French salon jazz. The song announcements were made through a megaphone, the guitar amp was powered by solar panels and guitarist Julian Curwin wore thongs. It was all so sweetly organic, it made the afternoon time stand beautifully still.

Too much daylight – bah! Back into the night and the Steve Barry Trio with Alex Boneham and the quicksilver Tim Firth at 505. This is the trio that played on Barry’s recent album, Steve Barry – a startling album made (conjured from the elements, rather) by this startling combination of players. All the telepathic play and spiritual-empathic magic that lights up the album was here on stage tonight. Reminding me of Bill Evans’ trios or Keith Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trios, Barry-Boneham-Firth could spat and spar – as on opener ‘B.W.’ – or dissipate like evening mist across an introspective ballad such as the lovely ‘Epiphany’. Some of the most fluidly intelligent music in jazz has been made within the piano trio format and groups such as Steve Barry’s trio remind me why.

After the rollicking fun of altoist Ross Harrington’s vibey, young and fun Midnight Tea Party – Dixie, klemzer, ska flavours; a huge hit with the 505 crowd – we were treated to the Andrew Gander Band.

richard maegraithIn a Festival line-up luminescent with musical wonders, I can unreservedly say the Andrew Gander Band was the highlight for me – and I am sure many there would agree. His five-piece group hit their jaw-dropping stride from the first note and ascended from there. I had already seen each of Gander’s sidemen in other Festival groups but playing with Gander seemed to push each of them into the deeper reaches of their own musical universe. Tenor player Richard Maegraith seemed particularly inspired, blowing hard into the white-hot areas of his horn’s capabilties. (My friend, CC – who knows about such things – said after one of Maegraith’s solos “I could see his aura and light flashing off him!”) Bassist Brett Hirst twinned with Gander through all of the music’s twists and turns almost preternaturally. Steve Barry would smartly sit out during guitarist Carl Morgan’s solos, allowing the drum-bass-guitar trio to stretch the harmonies and rhythms into new fluid shapes. The Gander originals such as ‘Retrograde’ (with one of those sizzling rock feels that Billy Cobham does so well) and the 5/4 roller coaster ride of ‘Prism’ were just eaten alive by the band, who also managed great takes on radically reshaped standards such as ‘Star Eyes’ and Dizzy’s ‘Con Alma’.

________________________________

ben hauptmann, zoe and the buttercups

Where to go from there? Thankfully the Sunday program offered sweet soul relief in the form of Festival Guest Roger Manins and the original lineup of his soul-jazz champions, Hip Flask. To a packed 505, Manins’ testifying tenor led the quintet through ‘Bang’, ‘Big Sis’, ‘John Scon’ and others from their Jazzgroove catalogue. Against the indigo-blue Hammond of Stu Hunter, Adam Ponting’s peppery shards of piano dissonance put Hip Flask in their own category without losing any soul-jazz juice. The intro to ‘Blues for Adam Ponting’ moved in and out of harmonic focus until Manins brought us back to the planet with some real deep earth. (Manins was also one of the drollest bandleaders of the Festival, his tongue popping almost through his cheek at times during his stage announcements…)

By now saturated to the brim with music and fine 505 merlot, I took one last rolling stroll down Chalmers Street, climbing the stairs to the Gaelic to bid the Festival adieu with Zoe Hauptmann and her Buttercups. The six piece snapped my jaded mind awake with their patented country-soul stomp and Tele-blaster Aaron Flower’s always-exhilarating chicken-pickin’. Watching Ms Hauptmann leading her Buttercups up there, a question swam into my mind: Where were all the women musicians at the 4th Summer Festival? Ok, there was Zoe H and new bassist Hannah James (yes, Elana Stone too, but I am not counting vocalists in this equation) – that’s two out of an awful lot of male musicians. This is not a polemic point, nor is the question rhetoric; it is an honest query. The Con and other institutions turn out many many women musicians, musicians who have graduated alongside their male contemporaries, women musicians who are out there any night of the week paying as many gig dues as the guys. So why, when you get to the highest levels of jazz in this country – such as the annual Jazzgroove Festival – are women so insignificantly spoken for?

________________________________

In his Sunday night wrap-up speech, Jazzgroove President (and Buttercup trombonist) John Hibbard admitted that this year’s Summer Festival almost didn’t happen. The committee had sat around Matt McMahon’s dining table and voted on going through with it or not. It was that dire. After four days of wonderfully attended gigs by our best and brightest – and some performances that seriously deserve to pass into myth and legend – it is hard to believe that meeting ever took place. But positive energy ruled that day – the vote was to go ahead – and that same positive energy ruled the 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival.

And thank God, Miles and Duke that it did.

The Jazzgroove website is here.

Published January 2103 on australianjazz.net 

New Zealand pianist and composer Steve Barry has been living and performing in Sydney since 2009. Well known as a sideman for touring artists such as John Hollenbeck, Theo Bleckmann, George Coleman Jr. and Chris McNulty, he is also the regular go-to-guy for local artists such as The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Dale Barlow, Simon Barker and James Muller.

On the strength of his eponymous debut album, Steve Barry, I get the feeling we will have to do as we did with the Finn brothers and Rusty Crowe (and any other frighteningly talented Kiwi) and willingly refer to him as the Australian pianist and composer Steve Barry. The album really is that good.

In a world of astounding soloists (yes, those 14 year old YouTube Yardbirds) what seems to set the finest jazz apart is the communication and empathy between interacting players. This communication is so expected today that it is pretty much a cliché – that is, until one asks, How often do I hear true, ego-less empathy in jazz ensembles; that virtually telepathic group-mind of a Bill Evans Trio or Miles First or Second Quintet? (Not such a cliché after all, is it?)

Steve Barry

From Steve Barry’s album opener, ‘B.W.’ we know we are in for a treat. The trio of Barry, Alex Boneham and the always elevating Tim Firth truly have that spooky rapport, that twined-consciousness that leads to great things. As much as ‘B.W.’ cooks and roils, the ballad ‘Vintage’ allows that superlative communication to flow across a piece that reminds us of the true meaning of ‘nostalgia’ – ‘homecoming ache’ in the Greek.

Guitarist Carl Morgan joins the trio for the cooking ‘Changes’ and the bopping ‘Unconscious-Lee’ – an angular Monk-trip, a wigged-out cousin to Lee Konitz’s ‘Subconscious-Lee’. Morgan shines on this track, snaky and biting.Steve barry cover

Morgan returns for the driving 6/8 ‘Sparse’ – one of the many tunes here where Barry’s playing brought to mind Keith Jarrett. The sparkle, the fingers-joy over the top of truly effortless technique, the swoon (no, Steve Barry doesn’t spin around in that Keith J trance when he plays) – all served to bring Jarrett to mind.

But of course, Steve Barry is more than an imitator of anyone – he has his own voice, in performance and in composition (check out the utterly transporting Esbjörn Svensson-via-Bartók ‘Clusters’) and in Boneham and Firth he has a magic band. It is hard to conceive that Steve Barry is his first album as a leader. I eagerly await the next twenty or so.

________________________________________

Prior to posting this review I asked Steve Barry a few short questions. Here are his responses:

1. You have been on the scene for a few years now. What was the spark that led to this album?


Musically it wasn’t so much a spark as a graudal developmental process. I’d been working on the music for a while and had reached the point where I thought the album would be an honest artistic statement. Having said that the instigator was really facing a few months overseas in the middle of the year and being largely away from a piano, as well as Alex living in Italy for most of the year. On top of that Tim and his wife are about to have a baby, so if it hadn’t been then it might not have been for a while!

2. Even though your playing has a nicely original voice, I can hear Keith Jarrett in there as well as others. Who’s playing shaped yours?


Sure, Keith has been a huge influence. I love his seemingly inexhaustible knack for melody (especially with the standards trio) and his solo cadenzas/concerts are just incredible. Herbie Hancock is huge for me to, especially with Miles in the 60s. Lately I’ve been listening to a wide range of stuff, from modern jazz guys like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Aaron Parks, back to things like Shostakovich‘s Preludes and traditional African pygmy music. I’ve also been geting more inspired by works of fiction, I just finished a great book by Jonathan Franzen called “Freedom”, which looks at the implications of the word in modern families and society. Check it out!

3. They are great players, but what did you see in Alex Boneham and Tim Firth that would fit your music so well?


Alex and I met at the Sydney Con when I moved over in 2009 and have been playing together a lot since then. He has a huge sound and is a really strong creative presence both on and off the bandstand. He also has an infectious perpetual excitement about life and learning, which is really inspiring (and he makes great coffee). He’s happily taken though sorry ladies… Tim and I started playing together a few years ago and he’s just what I like about a drummer – he’s always listening and interacting and also supporting whatever is going on. He’s also got a huge amount of flexibility and is always ready to take the music to different places. And he has monstrous chops! It also helps that he’s a lovely dude, a great poker player and enjoys a nice scotch.

We’ve been playing together as a band for about 2 years now, and there’s a really strong, almost intuitive musical connection happening. I’m also happy to call them very close mates.

4. You use Carl Morgan on three of the 10 tracks on the album. Why guitar instead of, say, a tenor horn?


Carl and I started playing together when he moved up from Canberra a few years ago – we lived together for about 2 years and did a lot of playing/drinking of beer/talking about music during that time. Carl is totally passionate and focussed about creating music and is always striving to explore new ways of playing and composing. I wanted him on the album because I love his playing and I like the timbre of piano and guitar together. The tunes were also arranged so we could could get a lot of interaction in (and hopefully I could steal some of his licks).

5. What are your thoughts on Jazz in Australia right now?


It’s really strong – I think we have a pretty special thing happening. Australia is a great environment and culture for creating and exploring new music – we have access to a huge range of sources, and in Sydney at least there are more performance venues springing up all the time. We don’t have anywhere near as strong historical tie to jazz as the Americans do, which I think has both pros and cons – the pressure to “pay our dues” isn’t as strong as there’s a real focus on original music and ways to create it. Having said that I think there are a few ideas we could take from the Americans – for example there’s a powerfully competitive spirit in NY that continuously pushes all the musicians there forward. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but in general I feel we could have more outgoing faith in presenting what we do and what we’re about.

6. And finally, what are your thoughts on music in general today?

That’s a big question! I think it’s really healthy. There’s always going to be your Lady Gagas/One Directions/Justin Biebers but there’s a lot of incredible music happening out there if you’re interested in finding it. Sure, it would be nice if a few more people came to jazz gigs, but I have a great lifestyle and get paid (mostly good money compared to the rest of the world) for doing what I love. Can’t complain about that!

 

Steve Barry’s website is here

Published December 2102 on australianjazz.net 

Frank Zappa’s famous dictum of “Jazz is not dead; it just smells funny” was made at a time when Jazz had left the listener behind, cordoning itself off with fences of impenetrable theory and barbed wire tangles of unlistenable mathematics. Artists like Anthony Braxton, who named many of his compositions with symbols and numbers, chose to forget entirely about that function of music that activates the body below the cerebellum. The only way out seemed through fusing with rock, blues, funk and other, more vigorous mongrel-like musics.

Even though Jazz ultimately found its way again, it still intermittently reinvigorates itself by sucking on the funky, vital blood of other, more populist musics now and again – check current shining light Robert Glasper’s incorporation of hip-hop and urban favours into his Jazz, or our own D.I.G who mixed up House and Jazz so successfully in the 90s.

Sydney’s Vampires have long mixed reggae (Marley et al plus the Ethiopian skank of the great Mulatu Astatke and such) and African funk into their brew. Featuring compositions from altoist Jeremy Rose and trumpeter Nick Garbett their sound is beautifully open and spry – with no chordal instrument (piano or guitar) to thicken the sound, this allows the band to not only keep the jazzheads happy with some curly chromaticism in the solos, but helps the rest of us shake our asses to the surefooted grooves driven by Alex’s Boneham (bass) and Masso (drums).

Their prior releases – 2008’s South Coasting and Chellodene from 2009 – were hugely successful, pushing The Vampires out into the festival circuit and painting grins on the faces of all who heard them. The new one, Garfish is more of the same, thank God (and Ornette Coleman).

The title track opener, Nick Garbett’s ‘Garfish’ walks in with a beautifully  assured reggae stroll – the band, augmented by trombonist Shannon Barnett, moves between reggae, New Orleans march music and a joyous free-blown Dixieland section. Chilean percussionist Fabian Hevia introduces ‘Haiti’ and we are off into a Randy Weston-style Afrogroove. The ingredients are thrown in, the gumbo mix swirls and the album unfolds like a feast.

Much of this material was developed at the 2011 Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music under the direction of US trumpeter Dave Douglas – a musician known for eschewing genres and elitism: a righteous man, in other words. 

The calypso of ‘Dragon Del Sur’, the relaxed Cuban jump of Rose’s ‘Antipodean Love Song’ – it all reminds me of John McLaughlin’s statement that “all music is World music” – we all live in the World, don’t we? The Vampires take what they want and use what they want, to great effect.

And it is this which makes Garfish such a satisfying album – the solos and ideas are what is best about Jazz: adventurous, poetic, free and soulful; but the grooves and good humour here are also as valid as any other element. Seventy years ago, Jazz used to make the best dance records – in 2012, The Vampires make equally irresistible dance music. Garfish will have you shaking your ass while bright jungle flowers grow between your ears.

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net