Posts Tagged ‘James Ryan’

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

 

 

 

In James Ryan’s liner notes to Aaron Michael’s eponymous debut, Aaron Michael, he mentions that the Sydney saxophonist took an unusual tack when picking the players for these sessions. He put together people who did not usually play together, players from different parts of the jazz community – a risky move, but one which paid off, as the band appears to greatly relish the new accents and flavours of the experiment. You can hear their buzz jumping from the tracks.

pic aaron blakey

pic aaron blakey

In the goldfish bowl of the Australian jazz scene this might be the sort of calculated risk that we need to see more of. All evolution needs diversity and the occasional short sharp shock to the status quo.

Opener ‘Leytonstone’ is an immediate illustration of the ensemble’s joy: a bright expression of positivity – a happy strut with maybe a whiff of New Orleans gumbo, the tune’s broad smile disguises an intricate melody – intricate in harmony as well as phrasing. Michael digs in for a solo duet with drummer Paul Derricott that cuts up hot and sweet.

And here it must be mentioned that Aaron Michael’s playing has not had the edge knocked off, despite being the go-to horn-guy who seems to be playing all the time, with everyone… everywhere… Consummate professionalism can be a hell of a thing – too many players lose their own identity, their own voice, working nine-to-five replicating the voices of others, as superbly as that may be. But the most beautiful thing, ultimately, is a musician’s own voice, as it has all the scars and laugh-lines and happy-sads of life which make it as unique as fingerprints or a face. Session work can suck that right out of a player.

Aaron Michael’s voice is as true to himself as he would want – a clean, nimble, modern tenor tone, unadorned with effects or false sentiment, it is astringently honest. Check ‘Por Favor’, a lanquid pulseless ballad that Michael’s soprano floats over – bringing to mind Wayne Shorter’s ability to express every part of the straight sax’s vocabulary, sometimes within the same phrase: the sharp jabs widening out to round, sonorous tones. (The lovely bonus track at the end of the CD is for once, truly a bonus – a second take of ‘Por Favor’ with a spare piano accompaniment – lovely stuff indeed).

‘Here and Now’ shows Aaron Michael’s compositional strengths – it is a piece of contrasts: 3/4 against 4/4, swing pulse against straight, with a smartly conceived ensemble section towards the latter part of the tune (and, as a bon-bon, a typically measured and balanced piano solo from Matt McMahon). Michael’s ‘Spicy Beans’ with its rush-hour head and his 9/8 gospel blues ‘Communion’ (with a testifying bass solo from Duncan Brown) are sharp pieces of writing that also show him as a jazz composer to watch.aaron michael Album cover

‘Spicy Beans’ and Paul Derricott’s ‘Evening Haze’ have the band plugging into some fusion electricity. Guitarist Dieter Kleeman snaps, crackles and shreds on these – an impressive player equally at home playing a sweet acoustic jazz tone on the opener ‘Leytonstone’. The whole band, in fact, strongly convinces on the rock pieces while remaining totally mesmerising on the more ‘jazz’ tunes.

But as hot as the players are, and as fine as Aaron Michael’s compositions may be, it is really his playing which makes Aaron Michael such a startling debut. As a pointer, the sheer beauty and downright ‘heart’ of his solo on the last piece ‘Communion’ is a small masterclass in blues, restraint, humanity in music and transcendence of technique. Modern jazz has always been a balancing act between science and poetry, chops and soul – and sadly, too many players fall for the formulae and lose the funk.

Gladly, Aaron Michael is not one of them and you need go no further than Aaron Michael for actual proof.

Aaron Michael is available from http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/aaronmichael2

Aaron Michael’s website is http://aaronmichaelband.com/

Published June 2103 on australianjazz.net 

I once heard John Coltrane’s playing described as the sound of a ‘very large man crammed into a tiny room, shooting notes at the corners of that room.’ I have often though of that neat phrase when experiencing the playing of Sydney tenor colossus James Ryan. Lyrical as it is, in a jazz setting  – even in his big, bad Sonic Mayhem Big Band – his playing can so strong that it sometimes threatens to immolate the horn with that same sort of phosphorescent energy Coltrane could put out.

So it makes sense that jazz-fusion is a good fit for James Ryan. Jazz-rock fusion (theoretically) takes the best of both musics – the unbridled energy of Rock and the freedom and imagination of Jazz – and combines them to make something (theoretically) greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, too much fusion seems to take, instead, the bombast of Rock and the noodling of Jazz and can be excruciatingly awful.

That said, outfits such as Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s various Return to Forevers have made music that hits some stratospheric and ecstatic highs – that wouldn’t be possible in either Jazz or Rock individually.

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Ryan’s fusion super-group, The Subterraneans, are the best of the best. Comprising a core of Ryan, electric bassist Steve Hunter, drummer James Hauptmann and hyperkinetic guitarist James Muller, they are a force of nature, balancing ferocious energy with focused and sharp musical ideas. John Shand has said of The Subs “This is what the fusion of Jazz and Rock always promised but rarely delivered: sophisticated improvising harnessed to raw power.

Their recent album Live at The Townie is drawn from shows The Suberraneans performed at Newtown’s Town Hall Hotel every Sunday in February, March, April and May 2012 and Feb 2013. Every performance was recorded and eight tracks (out of over 100) were selected. Guests Rai Thistlethwayte on keys (lovely gritty Rhodes on the very Miles-ish ‘So To Speak’) and guitarist Ben Hauptmann add to the proceedings. subterraneans1

All this talk of Rock and power, howver, belies the scope of The Subterraneans’ dynamic. Opener ‘Constant Change’ is a demonstration of the freedom the band can spin music from – trippy and ambient, it is the sound of band that can truly breathe together (something surprisingly rare in ‘super-groups’). ‘So To Speak’ begins with bass-harmonic atmospheres from Steve Hunter, reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Continuum’, before moving through 11:09 of beautiful soloing from Ryan and the previously mentioned Thistlethwayte.

But all subtle grooving aside, it is the excitingly hair-raising pieces here that really get the band’s blood flowing – their take on ‘The Subterraneans’ makes the studio version, already a barnstorming performance, pale by comparison. Ryan’s soloing threatens to split his tenor at the seams, but it is James Muller’s shredding explorations that push the band into hyperdrive. Muller’s playing throughout is a reminder of the power in his playing, but power – as it is with every member of The Subs – that is subservient to the music and the collective momentum.

It is a rare treat to have a band bristling with soloists such as Ryan, Muller and Hunter. It is an even rarer treat when they subsume their egos to combine into such a remarkable band. And it is a yet even rarer treat when the performances of such a collective can be recorded (nice work Dave Bourke!) in a live setting with all its attendant fire and brimstone and in-the-moment immediacy. As I said, the best of the best.

The Subterraneans – Live at The Townie is released through Rippa Recordings and available from www.ripparecordings.com and Birdland.

Published May 2103 on australianjazz.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