Posts Tagged ‘Bill Evans’

The only place on Earth where jazz exists is The United States.

It sometimes feels like that. Especially if you check the (North) American and international jazz press. How many U.S. jazz fans are aware of our great artists such as David Ades, Julien Wilson, Mike Nock or Bernie McGann?

And how many are aware of Japanese, Swedish or French jazz? There is some great stuff to be heard from all over the world; a friend recently put me onto an organ trio from Greece that was knockout!

Ingrid james1Australian jazz singer Ingrid James’ recent release – Trajectoire – just might convince a few more that there is some good music to be had beyond West 44th Street (or 505 or Bennett’s Lane). Made with a mix of Australian, French, Danish and U.S. players, it is a revelation.

James is here paired with the Alexis Tcholakian Trio from France. In fact the album grew out of pianist Tcholakian’s request that she pen lyrics for a number of his compositions. Direct, and with just the right mix of experience, urbanity and poetry, her lyrics work so well it is hard to believe often that they didn’t come first, before the melodies.

Another nice balance across Trajectoire is that James has found the right point between the hip and the sweet. Too many recent jazz vocal albums seem to take the tame path, assumedly in the hope of wider audience – maybe on the fringe of Pop. This collection of songs retains some true grit and jazz light and shade, yet steers clear of the miasmic mists that afflict the jazz vocal recordings at the other end of the spectrum. There is a strong feeling of tradition – but respect for that tradition rather than either a dry clinging to it, or a sickly sugaring of it.

This balance is exemplified by the opening mission statement, a reading of Jimmy Rowles’ ‘A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)’ (lyric by Norma Winstone). James navigates this tricky winding melody with superbly simpatico paino from Tcholakian and his trio.Ingrid james2

The arrangement is smartly considered, with the piano mirroring in unison some sections of the vocal. This device is used to great effect on many tracks, marketely on the two vocal solos written by Louise Denson – the first, a duet with Danish tenor sax player Simon Spang-Hanssen on the Hammond-driven ‘Blue Confluence’; the second on the Bill Evans-ish waltz of ‘Night Reflection’.

The latter duet is with Australia’s Miroslav Bukovsky whose flugelhorn’s round golden tone sounds uncannily like a human voice itself.

The snaky melody, latin groove and Marian Bitran’s flute of the title track, ‘Trajectoire’ recalls Chick Corea’s 70s work with Flora Purim. The album pulls from many styles of jazz – ‘Midsummer Flower’s samba, the Rhodes-driven fusion of ‘Circle of Love’, the languid ballad of album closer ‘It’s Not Over’ – but there is a unity that holds it all together, a major factor being James’ warm and honeyed voice – like Dianne Reeves, a voice born for jazz.

Trajectoire is satisfying on all levels. I look forward to more from Ingrid James and Alexis Tcholakian.

Published March 2016 on australianjazz.net

 

 

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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

Counterpoint in music is a lovely thing which seems to satisfy something in the listener. The intermeshing of disparate melodic lines to make a loosely woven rope of music – one with knots of harmony and dissonance detailing its length – has, since the Greeks, then Bach all the way through to Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro and even Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden, always been a thrill that seems to hold some sort of underlying truth.

Maybe counterpoint is a symbol for the intermeshing of personalities that has always been a human ideal. Especially in Western culture, where the cult of the individual has been raised to the level of worship, the pleasure of intertwining with another is all too rare. Sometimes it seems to only exist in love, and in music.

In 1991, five leading lights of Australian Jazz performed a handful of gigs at South Melbourne Venue, The Limerick Arms. When the question arose as to who should be the leader, they all pointed at one another. Seeing the humour in this, they called the outfit The Hunters & Pointers.hunters and pointers

Recently unearthed, the tapes of those gigs – originally nicely recorded by Phil Georges in 1991 and polished digitally in 2014 by Hadyn Buxton – have been edited and released on CD as The Hunters & Pointers.

From the first few bars, the intermeshing of personalities is there. Trumpeter John Hoffman and alto Graeme Lyall start weaving lines around each other until Tony Gould’s piano joins them to bring in ‘Just Friends’. Ben Robertson’s bass and Tony Floyd’s drums play lovely and loose around Gould’s spiky solo.

The band rapport during Lyall’s solo and Hoffman’s relaxed answer to it brings to mind a recurring thought ­– that all jazz should be recorded live. It is ridiculous I know, but there often seems to be much more of a sense of the moment and the heady vibe of openended-ness than in many studio recordings.

The counterpoint pops up again during Lyall’s solo in ‘The Way You Look Tonight’; Gould talking back (and talking Bach) to his fleet bop lines. Gould’s sly comping under Robertson’s bass solo takes the music far away from the song  to areas of freedom and poetry. Throughout The Hunters & Pointers there is this feeling that there is all the time in the world, to do whatever we want with the music.

The tunes take their time to go where they will – ‘Just Friends’ is 18:23, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’ (a lovely ballad reading built architecturally from Gould’s hymnal intro) is 12:10; Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Little Sunflower’ is 22.49.

‘Little Sunflower’ is the monolithic centre of The Hunters & Pointers, and not only for it’s size and scope. The simple 1967 Hubbard melody (with it’s lovely major lift) is the perfect bare bone frame for these five brilliant players to feed and flesh. Through Lyall’s eastern tinged exploration, via Gould’s quote-flecked meditations, on to John Hoffman’s teasing Hubbardisms and out through a surreal conversation between Robertson and guest drummer George Polyhronakos, ‘Little Sunflower’ is improvised music at its most cinematic and sumptuous.

All the time in the world, to do whatever we want with the music. Few players – though brilliant on paper – could make something this good out of such freedom. Chops alone can’t do it – in fact chops often work in the opposite way. It is the subsuming of the ego and the meshing of consciousnesses that will get the players, and we the fortunate audience, there. And, here, The Hunters & Pointers do it every time.

And if that is all a little mung-beans and spacey for you, you can at least enjoy the very funny joke that Graeme Lyall tells at the end of The Hunters & Pointers – a joke involving a bear, a hunter, some heavy weapons and some even heavier sex.

 

The Hunters & Pointers is available from https://www.whichwaymusic.com

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

 

 

The cover art for Melbourne pianist ade ishs’ new Trio album is of a dark deep lake, its surface untroubled, its edges calm and waveless.

Being a visual person, images often swim though my head while listening to music. This image appealed instantly as a perfect expression of the Trio’s music and especially of ishs’ playing – calm and settled on the surface, held in place by a spiritual gravity, its smooth face belieing the many cross currents interweaving and shaping the dark waters below.

Strength without force. Power without friction.

ade ishs 2

Opener ‘Acceptance’ is a perfect manifestation. At first almost too pretty, it asserts its calm power beneath ishs’ sure fingers. Drummer Chelsea Allen and acoustic bassist Daigo Nakai supply warm undercurrents to the untroubled waters of ishs melody and soloing.

‘Night Birds’ (composed in 2002) heats the Trio with its latin-rock groove propelled by Allen’s snapping backbeat – ah, a jazz drummer who doesn’t mind a backbeat, kudos! Nakai’s bass solo on ‘Night Birds’ lowers the dynamic with no expense to the groove.

ade ishs (lowercase respectfully observed) says of the Trio: “I’m trying to avoid having the piano always the front liner. On this recording the bass and drums are all front liners on different tracks”. As well as a nice balance across the album between the three – as all good piano trios must have, from Bill Evans down – Nakai also features prominently on the driving waltz ‘For What It’s Worth’ and Allen delivers more of that tough backbeat on the short, sharp shock that is ‘The Differing Sky’.

ishs’ own playing reminds me – although they are vastly different players technically and stylistically – of Dave Brubeck (of all people). The smile that is across his solos, the sometimes pugilistic attack, the open-heartedness, never afraid to play pretty but also never afraid to drop a dissonance, sweet-and-sour – the things I love about dear departed Dave I also love about ade ishs.ade ishs 1

After several solo piano recordings, this is the pianist’s first with his Trio. The lovely solo piece ‘Understanding’ makes me keen to check his solo albums. Truly beautiful, the pace of this measured and deeply meditative performance slows the worlds to its tempo – the openness and poised spaces in its intro and outro are haiku, breath in winter, bare trees.

As the ade ishs Trio album begins, it ends. ‘Go On 3’ is, like opener ‘Acceptance’, a calm waterway of three currents moving through time and days. It carries its stillness with assuredness, both knowing but not knowing where it is flowing to. And that is what has always made great jazz.

Published November 2103 on australianjazz.net 

 

 

 

It is only six short weeks into the new year and I feel I have heard the best jazz recording of 2013. But that sense of time dislocation is okay because the album I am talking about was recorded and released thirty-two years ago, in 1981.

Live at PBSFM 1981 by the Ted Vining Trio was originally released as an LP by Bill Hawtin of Jazznote Records. Long known, and discussed in reverent – and not so reverent – whispers, this legendary recording has been reissued by Newmarket Music on remastered CD. The sound quality is good, not great; the performances are sky-high motherlovin’ fantastic.

Ted Vining - pic Laki Sideris

For a music such as Jazz – which celebrates ‘the moment’ by its very definition – the live recording has to be the apex. MilesFour and More, Bill Evans’ and John Coltrane’s separate Village Vanguard live masterpieces, Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert – their living-in-the-present immediacy has made for some of the form’s greatest performances.

Live at PBSFM 1981 deserves to be up there with these iconic albums. Drummer Vining, pianist Bob Sedergreen and bassist Barry Buckley – together with guest percussionist Alan Lee – whip up the excitement from note one and never let up. We hear it said all the time, but this gig truly sounds like the last one they will ever play, they play with such abandon – an abandon somehow reckless yet measured, the players simultaneously inside and outside the music.

Sedergreen’s McCoy-Tyner-flavoured piano intro to Trane’s ‘Impressions’ is physical, brutal and tangibly heated – he shows that poor piano no mercy throughout the entire recording; he rocks that box. And suddenly the band is there under him, flying breakneck down the freightTrane track. Buckley (who sadly passed on in 2006) has that compellingly raspy stringy bass tone here that is full of exclamations and percussive snaps popping out of his driving line. Vining of course is joy-in-drumming personified – his freedom is never at the expense of groove and vice versa – his short solo is a journey in and out and round again.

Blossom Dearie’s ‘Sweet Georgie Fame’ is three-quarter-time Gospel-soul that magically turns, at the coda, into a driving four-four, and back again into some fun play between the three. Live at PBSFM 1981 is brimming with these ultra-musical, extra-musical conversations between Vining, Sedergreen and Buckley – the three play, in every sense of the word. Peppered with vocal exhortations, affirmations and joyful egging-on between the musos, the album is as raucously cap-L Live as you can want.Ted Vining 2

Even Dizzy’s latin-Bop chestnut ‘A Night In Tunisia’ is exhumed, dressed in sharp new clothes and sent spinning round the block in a fast car. Dizzying stuff indeed, with Sedergreen’s elongated solo piano coda a particular high. ‘Little Sunflower’ is a 15:49 thrill-ride that has the trio and Lee taking every drop of musical material in Freddie Hubbard’s simple latin-jazz tune and twisting it, melding it and alchemising it into strange and sometimes alien alloys. It is a masterclass in making much out of very little – which is what jazz should be, n’est pas?

In fact, Live at PBSFM 1981 should be required listening for anyone studying piano-trio jazz at present and well into the future. As with John Coltrane’s best later work, it is an object lesson in what you get if you lose all inhibitions, stop thinking with the front-mind and just play and play and play – the result is something beautifully human, giddyingly spiritual and deliciously fullblooded.

Of course it does help to be Ted Vining, Bob Sedergreen and Barry Buckley – a trio that will live on through this remarkable album.

For more information visit: http://newmarketmusic.com

Published February 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.

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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.

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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!

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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’.

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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?

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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.

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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