Posts Tagged ‘James Greening’

Josh Kyle‘s new album has me jumping for joy.

Not only because it is music worth jumping up and down about – which it is – but because it also reminds me in the best way that there is still adventurous and exciting music out there, with adventurous and exciting artists seeking it.

For Trombone Song Cycle, Kyle has taken the inspired step of performing with the accompaniment of four trombones around his voice, and nothing else. At first, once might think it risky – a misstep of arrangement or vocal approach here or there could spell murky or misguided disaster.

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But on hearing Andrew Murray‘s challenging yet simpatico arrangements under and around Kyle’s unique voice and singular vocal approach, one wonders why this has not been done before. You see, the trombone is one of the the instruments closest to the human voice in its ability to slur, bark, snap and whimper. Its range is also very close to the range of the human voice.

Opener ‘Get Out of My Head’ sets the soundscape – Kyle’s long-note melody repeats over counterpoint in the four trombones, setting a tension that releases slowly as one senses the overlaps and cross currents in the harmonic lattice. The result is mesmerising.

Kyle’s falsetto here – the top of a remarkable range – is luminous; there are times across the whole album where it is difficult to say where the voice finishes and the trombones begin. The voice is used often by Murray as a fifth trombone, as where that same falsetto is nested into the trombones on the piece ‘No 5’ . Kyle1

The aspiration chant ‘I Can’ (“I can be stronger/I can be higher”) has brassy blare and greasy gliss in unison with the voice. A solo is played over the lightest harmonic gossamer pedal below. I would not like to try to pic the soloists across Trombone Song Cycle, though I think I detect James Greening‘s big spirit here or there and James Macaulay‘s sass on one track, though it equally could be Adrian Sherriff or Jordan Murray.

But the scape is not all indigo dream and counterpoint – the spitting syncopation of ‘The One’ has the trombone quartet setting up a charging rhythm against Kyle’s voice,  the percussive ‘crack’ of the trombone’s bell splitting the rhythm.

Album closer is the love song ‘Song For Meg’, a high point for me. Here the trombones lend a bed of crackle-edged dissonance under Kyle’s hymn-like melody, with the tenderness palpable in his delivery. It is this tenderness which elevates Josh Kyle’s vocal artistry; it is always gratifying to see technique subsumed to emotion and ‘the story’ in an artist with so many years ahead of him.

With its artistic courage and truly inspired approach, Trombone Song Cycle would be the jewel in any other artist’s crown. Yet, I have a strong and good feeling that it is another strong port-of-call in a life that will take Josh Kyle – and any of us who want to listen – to some truly wonderful places.

 

Josh Kyle’s website is http://www.joshkylemusic.com

 

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I recently was transfixed while watching my dog running around and around the yard. He appeared to be running purely and simply for the joy of running; the joy of his muscles and his velocity and the ground rushing beneath him.

Children also often tumble or jump or yell purely for the joy of the thing; as adults, this simple joy of the moment is gradually sullied and boxed in and all but eradicated.

Greening Tam2Artists have always seen the value of keeping that joy fresh and pure, jazz artists especially. Trombonist James Greening has always been one of our most joyful and joyous players. His very choice of instrument is joyful – the whinnying, hallelujah-ing of the trombone and the jovial flatulence of the sousaphone just bring a grin to your soul.

Greening’s latest project – with his super-septet, Greening From Ear to Ear (yes, a joyously silly what-the-hell pun…) – is Tam O’Shanter Tales. The compositions were inspired by a network of ideas centred around the natural beauty of Tasmania and the coastal community of Tam O’Shanter, but including the experience of Hazaran refugees settled in Tasmania, as well as thoughts of the hopes, fears and life-struggle shared by all humans.Greening Tam3

The six-track album was recorded last June at Sydney’s Sound Lounge, live in front of a buzzed-up audience – and I am so glad it was.

The joy springs up immediately from opener ‘Parallel Lines’ ­– Brett Hirst’s bass harmonics grow into a Afro-Cuban groove driven by the drums and percussion of Hamish Stuart and Fabian Hevia. A bristling ensemble section opens out to a Greening solo – joyous of course­ – and Andrew Robson’s snaky alto.

Next up is the happy NOLA march-blues, ‘Lumpy’ which has Greening blasting some rumbling sousaphone and Paul Cutlan abstracting the air with bass clarinet Dolphyisms.

‘I’m No Monk’ channels the joy that is Thelonious – pianist Gary Daley’s solo is aptly splay-fingered and righteous.

‘Hazara’ is the centrepiece of the album – spiritually and musically – as Greening gained inspiration during a period of ‘deadlock’ from the novel, The Kite Runner. The asymmetrical 17/8 groove is rendered surprisingly symmetrical by the band’s authority. The mood becomes one of a dance, a proud dance, a quiet celebration of the victory of living another day. Gary Daley’s  accordion sounds like women’s voices, Cutlan’s bass clarinet like a sirocco.

The accordian is also used, now in cluster-chords, to introduce the languid ballad ‘Sleeping Beauty’, which lulls us with watercolours of Tasmanian greens and olive-blacks and mist breathing off a river’s silver surface.

Greening Tam1Greening closes Tam O’Shanter Tales with the loping waltz-time blues ‘Early Morning’ the vibe of which suggest a wry eye on the world and hope for a new morning after darkest night.

James Greening may be a joyous man but he is no clown ­– it is one of the noblest human attributes to know life and the world in all its cruelty and compromise and still remain positive and bright; it is a daily battle for anyone who thinks at all.

In Phillip Johnston’s spoken intro to the recording, he says “Here we are firmly rooted in the present; one foot in the future and maybe an elbow in the past…”, echoing the kind of spiritually-centred mindfulness by which James Greening lives (and plays) and which informs the heart and deep soul of Tam O’Shanter Tales.

 

James Greening’s website is http://www.jamesgreening.net

 

Published Martch 2104 on australianjazz.net

I love all these fantastic unique ensembles popping up wherever I look! From big bands to little big bands to sex-sept-oct-nonets, the desire to create colour, flavour and harmony out of varieties of instruments and personalities seems to be growing.

Mike Nock – an abundant kind of guy himself – has described the debut album of Sydney’s Acronym Orchestra, Initially as an “abundance of ideas…an upbeat collection of original compositions”.

Yes, the septet’s sound is highly original – a horn front line driven by guitar, keys and tuba (Mr James Greening) working in all sorts of intriguing combinations and interweavings – yet, the past is not forgotten.

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From the Soweto Hi-Life shuffle of opener track, guitarist David de Vries’ ‘Miss Coconutz’ through the New Orleans street march of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ to the mariachi flavours of altoist Peter Farrar’s ‘Bastards’ (even if they were crap, I would give them four stars for song titles alone…), the past shadows their Now sound.

De Vries’ ‘Jesus’ has gospel flavours; tenor player James Loughnan’s ‘Branches’ digs into its own kind of blues; trumpeter Joe Derrick’s ‘Joe’s Piece’ unearths a whole different blues (maybe a shade more turquoise) yet again.

It is a wonderful thing to hear The Acronym Orchestra and many of their contemporaries joyfully celebrate and integrate and build upon the musical language of, and beyond, the Jazz tradition – blues, gospel, jump, New Orleans, and even further back to Africa and the Middle East and both West and Eastern Europe.

It is of course what the musicians then do with the tradition they have been given that separates the gilt from the dross.

Echoes from the past bounce around the walls of this music, but what The Acronym Orchestra does next will amaze you – as it did me. ‘Miss Coconutz’ is riven with angular tenor sax; ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ grows into a nagging accelerando; ‘Bastards’ leaves Mexico behind in its jet trail; and the heavy lope of ‘Branches’ phractured Phrygian melody is gunned down in a blizzard of free blowing, with drummer James Waples poking holes through the howl.acronym1

And there is profound beauty too. Pianist Harry Sutherland’s ‘Misty’s Dilemma’ contains some pearlescent, shining horn writing. De Vries’ ‘Deep Sea’ pours out a translucent texture for Farrar’s alto lines to dart beneath like silver fish.

Album closer ‘Funeral March’ is perhaps the most startling. A jaunty, life-gripping march is answered by mourning sighs from the horns until, slowly and almost unnoticeably, the piece smears, like paint, into a wash-blur of sadness, and then… it’s gone.

‘Funeral March’ is only one example here that shows what an original voice and conception The Acronym Orchestra posses. For a debut, ‘Initially’ is truly remarkable.

And, to quote Mr Nock again, it is music – often because it is joyous, but often because it is so damn good – “that’ll put a smile on your face.”

Published February 2104 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