Posts Tagged ‘Gil Evans’

With the new album Colours of Your Love, Brisbane jazz singer Ingrid James brings together a unique and multi-layered collaboration.

James has come together with pianist/composer/arranger Louise Denson and the 9-piece Wild Silk Strings Project to create something quite exquisite – 12 songs/arrangements ranging from Satie to Mongo to Supertramp with some lovely excursions into Afro-Cuban, Latin and the ballad form.

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The Wild Silk Strings Project is a unique 9-piece hybrid of rhythm section and strings, with some horns added here and there for timbre and solos. Stan Getz‘s 1961 album with composer/arranger Eddie Sauter, Focus, is a touchstone, as I am sure are a number of jazz-plus-strings experiments between then and now.

As with all experiments, some worked, most didn’t – Denson’s arrangements work here beautifully as she appears to have approached them with a clarity of mind and a sharp – pardon the pun, Stan – focus. Also, As Sauter had Getz’s languid tenor to wrap his strings around, Denson is lucky to have Ingrid James’ clear and warm voice to swathe in hers. Gauze-like at times, as on lovely latin ballad, the Denson/James original ‘First Love’, or heat-haze-shimmering as on opener, Erik Satie‘s ‘Gnossienne No 1’.

Nowhere is this strings-by-numbers: Denson’s string arrangement on Mongo Santamaria‘s Cuban driver ‘Flame Tree’ is quite Gil Evans in its dissonances and tart flavours; whereas on K D Lang‘s ‘Constant Craving’ the ensemble behind James’ vocal  draws out the lyric’s yearning through creative voicings. Paul White‘s tenor solo, together with James’ perfectly held reading of Lang’s 1992 song, make us believe it is the jazz standard we always knew it was. Ingrid James 22

The pop songs covered on Colours of Your Love are an intriguing choice that, for the most part, work. Supertramp‘s whimsical ‘Logical Song’ is taken at a 6/8 Afro clip, with the beat cut up cleverly to appear as a slow waltz for the middle eight. Carole King‘s ‘It’s Too Late’ suffers from a too-radical rethinking of the melody – the wistfulness of the lyric seems to be lost in the chop and change. Gordon Lightfoot‘s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ always was a lovely song and always will be – Denson and James’ reading here can be added to the better interpretations of it.

But this is all devil’s detail – what I do love about Colours of Your Love is the overall feeling of breeziness and sunlight. Even though nowhere near a bossa nova album, I can feel the ozone off Ipanema and feel my skin warmed by it’s tropicalia. The yin is Ingid James’ eminently listenable voice – devoid of histrionics or flash, clear as a bell and velvety – and the yang is Louise Denson’s apt and sharp arrangements of the tunes – and of course the talents of The Wild Silk Strings Project themselves – all coming together so impeccably well.

Ingrid James’ website is https://www.ingridjames.com

 

 

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When I reviewed Melbourne guitarist/composer Tim Willis’ 2012 release Keep Your Chin Up, I referred to his music as ‘jazz for the Miasma Age’. It is not jazz or post-rock or contemporary classical music or minimalism and yet is all of the above. Beautifully.

Keep Your Chin Up, and its predecessor, The End – named for the collective Willis performs and records with – were both remarkable collections of music that springs from a mind equally free and grounded: the melodic invention is playful, almost colourful, yet the arrangements are tight as skin.

Willis’ new album – called Night and Day for the six-part suite that dominates it – has The End expanded from a five-piece rock-and-roll band to an eight-piece mini-orchestra, adding Dan Sheehan on piano, Brae Grimes on trumpet and a second electric guitarist, Dan Mamrot.

Tim Willis Night and Day

Altoist Jack Beeche and bassist Gareth Hill are carried over from the earlier group, with drummer Sam Young and tenor Kieran Hensey brought in, new.

The Night and Day suite was written for the PBS106.7 Young Elder of Jazz Commission and premiered at the 2013 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. I can imagine the mix of reactions among the festival goers at Willis’ uncompromising and entirely original approach.

Yet, despite the expanded palette of harmonies and timbres afforded by the larger band, Willis keeps a firm hand on the tiller throughout – his characteristic minimalistic and repetitive touches are all here, as well as the timbral and melodic surprises which playfully dent and scratch the sheen of his music.

The suite begins with ‘Night’ and moves through six degrees to ‘Day’. Willis’ night, far from being a dead dark empty void, is alive with rhythm and restless energy – of carnal human fun? of animals skittering on the hunt? of water and wind rattling in the moonlight? This night is relentless and propulsive, running on hammered eighth-notes, unstoppable as sex.

‘Cold’ kills the night-life off with long repeated grey chords only answered with patches of silence. ‘Dark’s guitars are reminiscent of the Black Sabbath flavours of the earlier End albums; Willis’ solo here reminding me how much I enjoy listening to composers when they improvise – like Frank Zappa or Gil Evans, Willis is shaping his solo as he shapes his compositions.Tim Willis Night and Day 2

‘Dark’ moves into a stabbing sixteenth-note texture that has a cry inside – the Dark here is not just environmental but in our sad hearts.

‘Dawn’ pushes a brighter tonality on and on, yet it feels more of hoping against hope, than one of hope. All of this music is deeply affecting, and has a sorrow either inside it or halo’ing it – Willis suggests and expresses the complexity of our feelings as humans; happiness is built on sadness, sorrow is almost a natural state.

The clipped syncopations of ‘Thaw’ push against that sorrow, sparring from all sides. The guitars have a King Crimson insistence and dark edge. Hill’s bass solo preludes a complex series of sound-pictures in the coda: morning sunlight on rocks, dripping icicles, wet branches.

When ‘Day’ comes, it is with a sense of joy over a heavy rock snare – Willis plays games with timbre and harmony across the final suite track: whether under horn solos, blazing ensemble sections or limpid sparse ghost-harmonies. ‘Day’ is the mirror of ‘Night’ but only a slightly more polished mirror. Nature continues unrelenting, whether under the gibbous moon or the white sun.

Night and Day is rounded out by two Willis originals – as equally fascinating in their shape and ideas as the suite – ‘Alone’ and ‘A Better Place’.

It has taken me more than half the year to find the album that is easily the best thing I have heard in 2015. For invention and a truly clear-eyed, uncompromised vision, Night and Day gets the guernsey. It is my only sad that my words can barely get across what a wonderful musical and poetic experience this album is. I guess you will just have to listen to it for yourself.

 

Published August 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

 

The innovators in any genre are always remembered kindly by history. But the popularisers of any artform are also as important, if in some ways not more so. Jazz icon Dave Brubeck, who died yesterday aged 91 was both.

Like Stravinsky, Miles Davis or Thom Yorke, pianist and composer Brubeck managed to stay true to his artistic vision while enormously expanding the audience for his chosen music. His most popular album, 1959’s Time Out (the first million selling jazz record) was largely an experiment in playing jazz over odd rhythmic meters or time signatures. Nothing on the record is in the usual 4/4 – and the biggest hit of his career, ‘Take Five’ is played over a five beat pulse. ‘Take Five’ (actually composed by Brubeck’s long time foil, the über-chilled altoist Paul Desmond) seemed to epitomise the ‘cool’ of the time – not as weirded out and dissolute as the beatniks but still not as straight laced as 1959 America wanted you to be. To this day it has lost none of its freshness and eternal hippery.

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Brubeck’s compositions were always heartfelt, soulful and innovative – among them ‘The Duke’ (covered by Miles Davis on his groundbreaking 1957 album with Gil EvansMiles Ahead) and ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ (covered by everyone, everywhere) – and contained harmonies and ideas as much from European classical music as from American jazz (he had studied under the French composer Darius Milhaud). His exclusion from the pantheon of jazz greats for many years was as much due to the inverse racism which existed/exists in American jazz as it was to his genial, sunny, un(bad)newsworthy character.

Dave Brubeck’s energy was known to have put pianos out of tune in clubs across the US. He never really learned how to sight-read music properly and was often accused of not being able to “swing” (usually by music critics whose own prose swung like a housebrick). Like Herbie Hancock, he was always interested in the music of the times – in the mid 1970s he mounted a world tour with his sons, Darius, Chris and Danny as The Two Generations of Brubeck, mixing in jazz-rock fusion elements and night after night wearing out the young’uns with the relentless drive of his playing.

US sax giant Dave Liebman put it well when he said, in a tribute: “Dave had the misfortune in jazz to become popular … how dare you?” For those that care about such things, walk on. For the rest of us, it will do to put ‘Take Five’ on the stereo, raise a glass of something cool and chic and whisper a thank you starward to Dave Brubeck who managed to alchemise something timeless and universal out of the thin air of jazz.

Published December 2012 on theorangepress.net

Creativity transcends material. The truly creative artist can work with material that appears to have reached its final expression, reworking and reshaping the existing into new forms, drawing out detail and design that might be hidden from the rest of us. Look at the junk-art collages of Robert Rauschenberg or the Eastern European folk-song themes in Bartók or Stravinsky – or, closer to our line here, the recasting of the blues in the hands of Duke Ellington.

Sydney tenor giant James Ryan – as well as being a startling instrumentalist – is a truly gifted and, in a world where the word has been buffed clean of all its edge, a truly creative composer and arranger. He recently arranged a selection of Ray Charles tunes for his powerhouse big band, The Sonic Mayhem Orchestra, a collection of Sydney’s best and brightest and that rare bird: a large ensemble bristling with astonishing soloists that play as an ensemble, as one.

For their September 20 show at Blue Beat – a chic and funky nite spot on possibly Sydney’s most unfunky strip, Double Bay’s Cross St – The Sonic Mayhem Orchestra took on George Gershwin’s 1935 “American folk opera” ‘Porgy and Bess’.

Or rather, James Ryan’s 2012 take on Gil Evans’ 1958 take on George Gershwin’s 1935 ‘Porgy and Bess’. Creativity transcends material.

In 1958, Gil Evans and Miles Davis – after the critical and artistic success of the previous year’s ‘Miles Ahead’ – re-imagined ‘Porgy and Bess’ in a challenging and truly modern way. Evans’ idea of harmony and timbre took much from 20th century European classical music and stretched jazz writing out of shape, paving the way for the almost entirely impressionistic ‘Sketches of Spain’ two years later.

I was very excited to see how James Ryan, as uncompromising an arranger as Gil Evans himself, would cast Evans’ arrangements and harmonies.

The opening set began with a soulful chart from the pen of trombonist Dave Panichi and the power and cohesion of the band was evident – they ‘felt’ the colours and textures of that chart and those that followed almost preternaturally. As I say, a rare bird. The street-tough reading of Charles Mingus’s thrilling ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ – with a bluesy solo-bass intro from Karl Dunnicliff and a rousing series of chase-choruses from alto players Kim Lawson and Aaron Michael – and the Eastern flavoured arrangement of ‘You Go To My Head’ – with bass clarinet musings from the almost-mystic Paul Cutlan – took my breath away.

The ‘Porgy and Bess’ set began with ‘Summertime’ – a smart choice as it is the most emblematic tune from the opera, but smart also because the arrangement showed how far Ryan had taken the music from its source. All that was left it seemed was Gil Evans’ rhythmic (and rhythmically displaced) horn section vamps behind the solos and a suggestion of melody here and there. It laid out the mission statement for what was to come.

The set was hung on a series of monologues from singer Trish Delaney-Brown, bridging the pieces with snatches of lyrics, spoken rather than sung. Delaney-Brown’s voice was also written into much of the music as a wordless vocalese ‘instrument’ which worked beautiful, adding ‘air’ to some of the phrases and brass block chords.

There were snatches of the Evans arrangements throughout but Ryan had taken what he wanted and re-built the music for his Band. And he had mixed up the earth with the ether – sure, there were gorgeously voiced, impressionistic pieces such as the lovely ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ and the street-joyous ‘There’s a Boat Leaving’ (with a burnished brass-choir intro; great writing!) – but, like Charles Mingus, he never shied away from a groove.

The Kim Lawson showcase, ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ swung with real soul and flow. Ryan’s own tenor feature, ‘A Red Headed Woman’ was as raw and intense as I have heard. Delaney-Brown’s fragment of lyric which introduced the piece mentioned one of the opera’s characters answering a devout chorus with ‘vulgar’ speech – and, yes, Ryan answered the Band’s ‘devout’ chorus with many Pharoah Sanders ‘vulgarisms’ but also sheets and sheets of Coltrane joy.

The set wound up with ‘Gone’, featuring drummer Nic Cecire who worked his way through the twisted mirror-maze of accents and grace-beats. (Even the drummer on the 1958 recording stumbles and trips on a few of these; it’s true – have a listen). His ease and passion was typical of the whole thing – Ryan and the band had really delivered a brilliant take on an already iconic work in Jazz. That James Ryan had not just charted the Gil Evans/Miles Davis arrangements note for note reinforced to me what Jazz should be about –moving ever forward, on the wings of the past.

 

Published September 2102 on jazz-planet.com