Posts Tagged ‘Alex Masso’

On Saturday, 5th August I checked out the Sirens Big Band performance of Ellen Kirkwood’s new suite [A]part. The show I heard (and saw) was the second of the evening in the intriguingly named Io Myers Theatre at UNSW. Io was, in Greek Mythology, the daughter of Zeus and is, in astronomy, the innermost Galilean moon of Jupiter.

It was fitting, as Kirkwood has previously drawn on Greek mythology in her Theseus and the Minotaur suite and also because [A]part took my head, at times, into the outer galaxy and beyond.

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pic: Catherine McElhone

The themes of this multi-part, hour-long suite are however quite down to Earth. Composer Kirkwood takes on the big issues of this strange and cruel age: climate change, the refugee crisis and the myth of connectedness that is the broken promise of the internet. The title is a pictogram of the feeling of being at once connected and yet separate – a truly modern condition.

Whereas Theseus and the Minotaur combined music with spoken narration, [A]part works with visuals – Cleo Mees’ intriguing video projections: sometimes mysterious, sometimes sardonic and humourous, always startling, as is the music.

The ecological theme opens the piece with guest artist Gian Slater setting up, via loop-pedal, vocal drones onto which she adds layers of swishes, chattering and mouth percussion. By the time the horns enter with a fugue-like figure, you feel as if you are surrounded by nature: wind, animals, insects, rustling grasses.

Pianist Andrea Keller, also a guest of the Sirens, creates a typically unique solo against the rhytm of Alex Masso’s drums and Sirens leader Jess Dunn’s bass. Keller’s work throughout this performance is as imaginative, precise and exciting as one would expect from one of Australia’s finest. In a later unaccompanied solo her raw attack had a few of us sitting up straight in our seats.

The third [A]part guest artist is saxophonist Sandy Evans, a mentor to the Sirens from their beginnings in 2010. She seemed to take great inspiration from Kirkwood’s music on the night – a soprano solo beginning with a scream that was a little too human for comfort; yet later accompanying a faintly demented and disintegrating Balkan waltz with a barrage of kazoos, razzers and squeaking rubber duckies.

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pic: Catherine McElhone

And that ­– from anguish to giddy silliness, and everything in between – is the scope of [A]part. It is a massive piece in every way: challenging to the ear and the mind, highly original (as we know Kirkwood to always be), often cerebral and abstract, all the time threatening to be too much to take in in one sitting. But what saves it from possible overwhelm is that Kirkwood never loses the emotional thread in the music; it is human music and it consistently makes you feel. Sometimes, as with all valid contemporary art, those feelings can be baffling or even plain uncomfortable, but you do feel them deeply.

Kirkwood’s writing here, as in everything I have heard from her, is smart (without ever being clever-clever), dynamic and imaginative. The task she has taken on with [A]part tests her formidable skills as a composer/arranger, yet she never seems to run out of ideas, always finding new sound possibilities and textures to be gleaned from the big band.

She uses hand-claps in polyrhythm from the various sections. She has Jess Dunn rattle her bow around on the wood of her bass, making harsh knocking sounds (which she then contrasts with airy flute textures answering the knocking). She has sections play against each other. She has sections slip out of synch within their ranks. She writes starkly dissonant brass sections which unfolds into satiny 40’s dance orchestra textures (albeit a dance orchestra which slowly dissolves and decays).

Yes, [A]part is massive in every way (it took almost a year of writing and rehearsing and the mentorship of stellar pianist Barney McAll to, as Kirkwood says “Get this music out of my brain”). It is ultimately a massive experience – massive in immersion, like rolling in the currents of an ocean, and massive in response: the music, together with the power of the visuals leave you feeling wrung out and a little wired.

I cannot imagine how Ellen Kirkwood will ever top a work such as [A]part. I know of course that, given what we have seen and heard of her up to this point, she undoubtedly will.

 

 

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I am so glad they called this collaboration The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke, using ‘meet’ rather than the ‘and’ – which suggests two parts less than their sum – or the amicably adversarial The Vampires Vs. Lionel Loueke, as is used often in hip-hop.

I am glad because this new collaboration between one of the jazz world’s most innovative and joyful musicians, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and The Vampires, our genre busting and straddling national treasure is a meeting in the truest sense.

A meeting of minds; a meeting of souls, and all of which that implies: both entities bring their unique voices to the mix and The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke is the Venn overlap of this meeting.

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Maybe it is because both Loueke, and Jeremy Rose and Nick Garbett’s Vampires have much in common, both the Berklee-via-Benin guitarist and the Australian ensemble having arrived, through artistic convergence at a beautifully sympathetic musical place: world music flavours, fusions of genre and innovation within those flavours.

Album opener and album closer are two versions of Rose’s ‘Endings and Beginnings’, the first a Moorish take on the melody and the latter more African – beautiful bookends that bracket a feast of Afro-jazz, reggae, on-the-one funk and some Mwandishi space-blowing.

The rhythm section of Jon Zwartz on bass, with Danny Fischer on drums and Alex Masso on drums and percussion, maintains a warm-blooded percussive bed throughout – bubbling up here, flowing like brown river rapids there: check the rippling 6/8 of ‘Suck A Seed’ and the momentum-rush of ‘Brand New’. Vampires Loueke 1

Rose and Garbett’s compositions are a perfect fit for Loueke to work his magic across and their playing seems as inspired as ever, working around Loueke’s guitar colours and brightly imaginative comping. Garbett’s echo-laden trumpet solos and snap-funky lines are a joy. Rose once again surprises with his Ornettey approach and the human-ness of his playing. The guitar/voice and alto opening of ‘Brand New’ is a conversation between friends, complete with secrets and a chuckle or two at an in-joke.

Herbie Hancock, with whom Lionel Loueke has worked, refers to him as a ‘musical painter’. True, his playing approach seems more concerned with colours and textures than fleet soloing. He plays inside the music, deep inside, and uses everything about his instrument to paint his pictures and hatch in his textures: he scats with his guitar lines, he rubs dissonance against the melody, he utilises some surprisingly radical electronics with surprisingly human results. His playing across this album has the mark of a master innovator and a relentlessly restless spirit.

Playing with the Vampires on this album has pulled some startling performances out of Loueke and, in kind, the band rise to his fire – one catches oneself thinking they sound the best they ever have; then you realise the Vampires always sound this good.

The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke, is a meeting of many things – inspirations, approach, attitude and musical vision. But the glue that binds this fortuitous meeting is respect. You can hear it.

We do hope they meet again.

Album available thru www.earshift.com

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.

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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

 

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