Posts Tagged ‘Jess Green’

I wrestled with this one longer than I thought I would.

I wrestle with them all, to a degree, but Sanctuary – the new one from Sydney composer/pianist/accordionist Gary Daley – took more time and listening and thinking and re-listening than any of the others.

Much of it is that Sanctuary is big, very big in every way: the themes, the emotion, the ensemble writing, the very breadth of its conception… big and hard to wrestle to the page.

Much of it also is that music such as this can knock the wind out of my diaphragm, by simply reminding me how far the word falls short of the music – it turns my tongue (and pen) into a wooden clapper. But we can only work with the tools we are given. So…

The core of the Sanctuary suite – and a suite of pieces it is – is Daley’s experience of caring for his mother who was slipping into Alzheimer’s. The ‘sanctuary’ of the title is the comforting world of memories Daley and his family worked to build for her during her suffering.

Sanctuary 2

And yet, in the midst of this dark time, Daley’s first grandchild was born. A little candle in the void. And a powerful reminder of life’s extremes – merciless ravage and sweet new bud.

To express these big life ideas Daley has, across Sanctuary, gone for the primal and the spiritual – the earthy and the ephemeral – in almost equal balance. We have the astounding ‘Introduction,’ with James Daley’s rough hewn field holler shout-sung over a Ligeti-like pulsing chord; a howl in the hollow of the cold universe, but a strong, life-grabbing howl, nonetheless.

We have the afro-groove of ‘Mandolin’ – with its opaque and bluesy Jess Green guitar solo ­– and the joyous hoe-down of ‘Kindred Chant’, led by the clearwater lap steel of Bruce Reid and Veronique Serret’s fiddle. The hoe-down opens out into the colour-field painting that ‘Interlude No 2’ is; Brett Hirst’s bass, bowed and pizz., singing a song of colours overlapping colours.

Green and James Daley sing the folk traditional song ‘The Wandering Boy’ like a Shaker hymn – hardwood pews, cold country chapel, bare to the bone melodically and emotionally. The song tells is of the unique connection between mother and son and needs no prettying up; in some way this makes ‘The Wandering Boy’, with simpatico accordian and National Steel, the heart of Sanctuary.Sanctuary 1

So we are pulled back and forth across the themes and compositional/improvisational spaces of Sanctuary – floating dissonances here, a boinging jaw-harp there, slide steel melisma, Indian sliding melody, blues, 6/8 Cubano. The astonishing Paul Cutlan growls and yodels out of the middle of ‘Time and Place’. James Daley speaks the words of ‘The Wandering Boy’ over Bartokian blue-grey and smudged turquoise strings in ‘Interlude No 1’.

And yet the suite holds sweet – Daley’s sense of balance and reticent drama puts each thing after each thing in an order that heightens and enriches the drama of this sad-happy journey through his themes of pain and regeneration.

I knew when I found myself wrestling with Sanctuary that it was worth it. Like all works that earn the name Art, it takes some work, no mistake. If only all work could have such a rich result.
 

Published August 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

Another strange but beautiful fruit has dropped from Yum Yum Tree Records – the label of great guitar jazz from Jess Green, Aaron Flower and Ben Hauptmann – in the shape of The Ben Panucci Trio’s Short Stories.

In common with the above mentioned guitarists, Ben Panucci is an entirely uncommon player, with a sound and vision entirely of its own logical and aesthetic world.

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Also, in common with Green, Flower and Hauptmann, Panucci’s sound is entirely individual and recognisable from the first notes – in this case the sliding chord of the perfectly named ‘Lethargy Blues’. A crisp, chiming, almost blues tone, Panucci operates without added effects – opting to explore and coax new sounds from the electric instrument with almost an acoustic sensibility, beyond virtuosity.

‘Lethargy Blues’ is an early indicator of the aptness of the album’s title, Short Stories – each track feels like a small soundtrack to an episode in which the characters are just out of sight or obscured by clouds. I have never liked the laziness of the term ‘impressionistic’ when applied to music but Panucci’s compositions and playing – as well as the perfectly simpatico bass and drums of Alex Boneham and James Waples – tend to conjure shifting hazy scenes and fogged dramas just out of sight of the mind’s eye.

‘but anyway it isn’t a game’ – the title a lowercase conversational fragment perfectly reflected in the opaque composition of the tune: Panucci in its solo intro suggesting melancholy in descending resolutions, the sadness only strengthened as Waples and Boneham join him.

The storytelling ranges from the more accessible emotionally to the fascinatingly abstract. ‘Harmonics’ is just that: a skein of bass and guitar harmonics scratched across the top of a snare beat for 0:54. ‘Percussion’ is the band percussing for 1:48 – Panucci scratching, smearing and drumming on his strings, a device used on various tracks for startling effect. The intro to the darkly woven ‘Get Well’ is something to hear, made of smears and scrapes until the notes come.Print

But not all is out-there abstraction – just as one is lulling on all the atmospherics and haziness, the band whips into the Monk-ish ‘Party on the Event Horizon’, its driving swing reminiscent of Larry Coryell’s later work. The trio works beautifully through the solo sections, conversing joyfully and putting a real grin on the playing.

‘A Dance’ conjures Django romanticism in a drowned abandoned ballroom. ‘Old Themes’ calls to mind the exact opposite – a Radiohead miserablist anthem of cold gray towers, its dystopia shattered by the hot primary-coloured splashs of the Trio in full flight as the tune grows and progresses.

Such is the range and span of colours and shifting scenes across Short Stories. That all of this can be expressed through the limited means of a jazz guitar trio – to all intents and purposes acoustic – is not only a measure of Panucci, Boneham and Waples’ creative mastery, but also of their vision.

And it is that vision which – in a musical genre which can all too often veer into the empty adoration of technique – over and over rescues Jazz back for us, for Music.

 

Published October 2103 on australianjazz.net