Posts Tagged ‘Basie’

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.

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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

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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

 

Sydney tenor colossus James Ryan’s Sonic Mayhem Orchestra has been committing sonic mayhem every Monday night at Marrickville’s Lazybones lounge since… well almost since Captain Cook invaded Australia.

Much of their new album, LIVE MAYHEM, was recorded there (bar 2 tunes recorded over at Surry Hills’ 505) and the album captures the Orchestra’s intensity and power probably better than any studio effort possibly could. Possibly? Definitely.

Opening with one of my favourite Ryan charts, ‘Frogs’ with its ribbetting horn counterpoint lines, the Sonic Mayhem Orchestra rolls out its mission statement: tough, funky and sharp, with plenty of smart colour in the arrangements and an embarrassment of Sydney’s best and brightest players in the ranks. Mayhem regular Aaron Michael’s tenor break jumps with the kind of joy this band brings out in its soloists and audiences alike. Nic Cecire’s drum feature takes us way out to Cecireland and back again – cool!

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‘Frogs’ has that big-shouldered toughness and plenty of mid-range grunt that recalls any Mingus big band and some of Basie’s more funk-soaked moments. It is a unique and thrilling sound that is all across LIVE MAYHEM.

The Trish Delaney-Brown led ‘Sunshine’s Out’ shows Ryan’s more soul-jazz side. In Delaney-Brown he has the perfect voice for the Mayhem band – not the little-girl voice, too pretty for the bruised indigos of the horns, but a grown, worldly woman-voice, one of happy and sad and all the gospel colours in between.

The be-bopping titled ‘Ba Ba Do Beep’ is just that – a bop thrill ride at eye-watering tempo. The soloists fly in its slipstream – Adrian Keevil’s Bud Powell spray, Simon Ferenci and Kim Lawson’s horns eating it up. The ensemble passages are chops-busters but chops are what these players have for breakfast. Seeing this music played live is edge-of-your-seat stuff – but this recording comes excitingly close enough for me. sonicmayhem2

Ryan’s Spanish flavoured arrangement of Hoagy’s (Ray’s?) ‘Georgia’ stuck in my mind from a Blue Beat gig a couple of years back. Some tunes are too beautiful to mess with and I thought this was one of them, until I heard this chart. Dave Panichi’s trom solo rides the arc up and the arc down as perfectly as Delaney-Brown sings the sweet ol’ (reharmonised) melody. Make sure you check it out.

Ah, Paul Cutlan, that national treasure; he never lets any of us down. His bass clarinet feature over the top of the humid colours of the Mayhem band’s ‘Bess, You is My Woman Now’ is a thing of wonder – aching, arching, questioning, almost-answering, laughing, sobbing.

The Apple iPhone takes great pictures, and it apparently records pretty good sound – judging by ‘Hey Which Way’ which was recorded here on altoist Kim Lawson’s iPhone (seriously). Thank you Steve Jobs (and mastering engineer Michael Lynch), for it is a stunning performance. Beginning with James Ryan stretching and exploring the baritone horn – á la Hamiett Bluiett – he is soon joined by Lawson’s alto in a twin solo that coils and rubs and dances until the band joins them.

Sydney is blessed to have more than our share of unique jazz orchestras – think the Ethiopia-via-Newtown boogie of he Sirens, the sophisticated jazz classicism of Jenna Cave’s Divergence band. LIVE MAYHEM is more than a document of the toughness and smart writing of James Ryan’s Sonic Mayhem Orchestra. Like all truly worthwhile live albums it stands on its own as a valid document of this unique ensemble.

 

Published April 2016 on australianjazz.net