Posts Tagged ‘Jon Gordon’

Two jazz releases around the beginning of the year that really made me prick up my ears were Mace FrancisLand Speed Record and Alice HumphriesELICA. Both were bristling with unique vision and sparkling with ideas. Both contained performances among the best I’d heard in Australian jazz. Both emanated from Perth-based artists.

This month I was sent a quartet of new releases from Perth’s Listen/Hear Collective, the ‘record label – music community – home of creativity’ set up by Mace Francis and Johannes Luebberslistenhear3

They were Sweethearts by the Sam Anning Trio (beautifully open and conversational trio work), City Speaks by Callum G’Froerer (impressionistic and sharp music from the trumpeter who leapt out at me from the ECILA album), Wear More Headbands from THE GRID (quirky and tough grooves, jazz power trio) and lastly – the one that really knocked my socks off – Caterpillar Chronicles from the Steve Newcombe Orchestra (some of the most ecstatically original large ensemble material I have come across to date).

Again, the same daring, fun and crackling energy of creation that I had earlier encountered on the Francis and Humphries albums sizzled off each of these releases. Looking through the online catalogue of the Collective I saw an embarrassment of riches in creative music.

And I really fell for their line: ‘The recordings we sell will paint a picture of a scene without a name, without trying to give it one.

Even though some of the artists are based elsewhere – Newcombe in Brisbane, Perth-born G’Froerer now in Melbourne – there was a definite Perth thing going on. I asked Mace Francis and Johannes Luebbers a handful of questions about the Collective and Perth and music.

Here are their responses:

What has attracted me to the Listen/Hear Collective is your reaching for eclecticism. Do you feel that jazz needs cross-pollination from other genres to survive?

Mace Francis – Definitely.  Musicians and composers have access to so many more influences and each generation grows up listening to different styles of music that gets stuck into your subconscious.  I certainly didn’t grow up listening to Ellington or Armstrong rather it was commercial radio, then guitar gods like Clapton, Hendrix, then hip hop, then jazz.  Jazz is different in every period of history and has relied on cross-pollination to grow and survive since the beginning.

listenhear2Johannes Luebbers – I agree. In my view, the capacity for jazz to draw on other kinds of music is the thing that most defines it. It grew out of the collision of different styles and has evolved pretty consistently over the past century through the assimilation of other influences. So rather than needing cross-pollination to survive, I would say cross-pollination is core part of it’s identity. I love swing and bebop, but I think the overemphasis on these styles runs the risk of turning jazz into a museum piece, when its essence is really improvisation and spontaneity. You need new inputs to keep these aspects alive.

You say the Collective is not afraid to explore the ‘places where those genres meet’. What is that place? Could it be a new music?

MF – We don’t know where that place is either but, the excitement is in the journey to find it.

JL – The reality is most people creating contemporary music sit in between traditional genres. I suppose we just want to acknowledge and support these growing areas and support a space where artists don’t feel the need to conform to a particular label. If we name the ‘place’ it might stop being so open!

I have been pretty knocked out by much i have heard from WA – is there something in the water?

MF – Maybe its all the chlorine? It is a small but strong scene.  Musicians understand that you need to train, practice and rehearse.  WAAPA and WAYJO have certainly helped to instil this in young players and then you just get some freaks that come out of nowhere… and then move to Melbourne (unfortunately for us).

JL – There are limitations to a scene the size of Perth, but I think there are certain benefits also. It can act as a bit of an incubator. You get to know pretty much everyone in the scene and there is often great camaraderie.

WAAPA seems an epicentre. Is it all WAAPA or is that institute just a lightning rod for a wider scene?

MF – WAAPA has a great reputation around the country and here in Perth.  It was the reason I moved from Victoria.  It has great musicians on staff and they really push the importance of the fundamentals of the music.  There are other organisations in WA that then support these pools of great musicians that graduate every year.  WAYJO (WA Youth Jazz Orchestra) has been around for 30 years and gives young musicians great professional performance, recording and touring opportunities.  Perth Jazz Society is the longest running modern jazz society in the country (40 years) and they promote performance opportunities.  We now have the Ellington with music 6 nights a week so there are many more performance opportunities and there are more venues opening up and hosting live music.listenhear1

JL – WAAPA is also the reason I moved from Victoria to Perth. It’s certainly the hub of the jazz scene, but as Mace said there are various other organisations and opportunities that surround it. From a people point of view WAAPA is certainly the hub. Most of the top players in town would teach there and as a young artist that’s where you meet people at a similar level. Most of the people I work with now I either studied with or met through WAAPA in other ways.

Manhattan pops up as a jazz sister city to Perth – Mace Francis’ ‘Land Speed Record’ was as much of Manhattan as of Perth and the Steve Newcomb Orchestra grew out of trio jams at the Manhattan School of Music – what is the connection there?

MF – It is the new home of jazz and a mecca to many musicians.  Most of the connections have come out of personal ones.  There are loads of Perth musicians in NY at the moment, Matt Jodrell, Troy Roberts, Des White, Sam Anning, Linda Oh, Sean Little and they are all doing well.  My connection was with Jon Gordon who came to Perth to work at WAAPA, he then randomly suggested Matt Jodrell as a trumpet player to play on the recording.  Steve Newcombe studied with Jim McNeely and had many Aussie musicians on the recording.  It makes the world a smaller place when you have personal friends and contacts around the world – just so happens that many friends have moved there.

JL – Steve is actually based in Brisbane, but as Mace said there are quite a number of Perth (and Australian) musicians in NYC. I think perhaps because of the relative smallness and isolation of the Australian jazz scene, and the Perth jazz scene specifically, musicians feel more of a need to move elsewhere to expand networks and, to an extent, validate what we do. Australians aren’t always great at acknowledging our own worth. If you’re going to move anywhere New York is a pretty good choice! Some of the greatest artists of any genre are based there, so the potential to network is huge. So I think the desire to leave Australia, combined with the huge number of excellent jazz and improvising musicians already in NYC, results in the high representation there.

It seems too glib to suggest that all this creative hothousing comes from Perth being the most isolated capital city in the world, but it is the sort of too-neat shit that us writers thrive on – indulge me…

MF – It is isolated, in that it is 4 hours flight to the next big city but I am happy with that.  Perth is great for all the reasons above and the weather is sweet.  It would be different if we were on horse back.  I dont ever think about the distance or isolation.  We are speaking across the country, you can email/skype anyone in the world for pretty much free and we are closer to Europe than the eastern staters, depending which airline.  So no, I wont indulge you.

JL – Ha, it is the classic question. As I’ve already said, I think isolation plays into it. But at the same time we are no more isolated than Melbourne from the happenings of New York, London, Berlin etc. The interweb means it is all a click away! I guess when it’s just me, the desert and the roo’s out here what else there to do but go and practice more?

Following on from that idea – I am sent a lot of jazz releases over time, but I did find many of the releases from Perth refreshingly original in concept – Mace Francis, Alice Humphries’ ECILA ensemble (a favourite) and now the rather amazing Steve Newcombe Orchestra. Am I imagining it?

MF – What can I say – we are awesome! Steve has always been based in Brisbane but we would claim him if he was here.  Perth has a strong large ensemble composition culture for quite awhile now which was started by Graeme Lyall almost 20 years ago. He was involved with WAAPA and WAYJO and many composer have come through that program and all been bitten by the large ensemble bug.

JL – Yeah there is a great culture of composition which really lends itself to large ensemble writing. As well as those you’ve mentioned there are people like Tilman Robinson (who’s soon to release his debut), guys like Andrew Murray and Jordan Murray (unrelated) in Melbourne, Grant Windsor and Chris Grieve over in the UK… As Mace suggests, it really is the legacy of Graeme. He managed to teach you just enough, but not too much (probably to the frustration of many), which meant if you were interested you had to chase down leads he suggested and figure a lot of stuff out yourself. It resulted in a whole bunch of graduates who had come at it from slightly different angles. If you compare the writing of Mace, myself, Alice and others, we don’t sound the same at all. The experience of WAYJO for many was also a fantastic opportunity that furthered the interest in big band music. Then once you get a few people starting their own group others see what’s possibly and follow suit. I was a couple of years behind Mace and his creation of MFO was an example for me of what I could do to – others then follow on as we go too.

Does the Collective seek out all the singular talents on your roster – jeez, where do you get a Callum G’Froerer? – or do they find you?

MF – It goes both ways.  We seek out some and some seek us out.  What we release is based on the quality and the timing of it.  Because we are a small organisation and we are also busy doing other things we can only limit ourselves to a certain amount each year.  Sometimes there are some great releases and the artists wants it out a week ago but we cant help at that time.  As for Callum, we was in my big band when he was 16 so it was only right that we released his first CD.  Now that he is famous he might want to go elsewhere.

JL – Yes Callum has worked with both of us in different contexts over the years, so we knew his stuff pretty well. To date we have been pretty reactive to things that have come our way, and we’ve just been lucky some interesting things have come. It would be great to curate things a little more, but it’s been hard to find the time and resources to do it properly. It’s been a slow burn but we’re slowly moving more in that direction.

What next for the Listen/Hear Collective?

MF – We have a part-time administrator now who is keeping us in line and we have a few releases planned coming out soon.  At the moment we are just trying to get the word out on our recent releases  http://listenhearcollective.bandcamp.com/

JL – Hopefully more great music. In the current financial and digital climate a record label is a tough sell. It’s an ever evolving process, but we’re trying to tighten up a few processes and do things better all the time. The website is about to be redesigned which is exciting. As Mace said, we’ve now got some administrative help too, which is great and we are doing some mentoring with Room40 Records in 2014, so will be hopefully developing the business further. Ultimately we just want to provide a great platform for interesting music to be heard! But sustainability is a constant question (know any mining magnates who love jazz?).

And finally – what are your thoughts on jazz at present and on the wider art/commercial form of music today? Feel free to use bad language.

MF – TV talent shows are ruining everything.

JL – There’s a lot of great music being made – in both commercial and art music spheres – but there is also a lot of shit. I find the sheer quantity of music out there overwhelming – there’s never enough time to check out all the things that seem to pop up. It’s also difficult to get noticed above the noise, and the democratising of recording means there’s a lot more noise out there. In terms of jazz, people seem to reject the term more and more frequently, which I guess is partly where Listen/Hear comes from (though both Mace and I’s music is probably often pretty firmly in the jazz camp). The rejection of labels and the fluidity of different genres has led to some exciting sounds – I’ve been listening a lot to the Claudia Quintet lately, who bring aspects of 20th century composition into a contemporary jazz setting, creating some wonderful sounds. A number of Australian jazz and improvising artists have been pursuing cross-cultural collaborations for some time, one example being Simon Barker and his work with Bae Il Dong. This has resulted in some really interesting stuff that also breaks away from conventional stylistic divisions. As a very different example, someone like Esperanza Spalding makes incredible music that pulls in the world of pop and and results in music that is completely accessible but very sophisticated too. Leading back to your first question, this all highlights jazz’s affinity for cross-pollination. I think the most exciting jazz related music I’ve heard in recent years is that which brings in other sounds and styles in some way.

Check out the Listen/Hear Collective online at http://listenhearcollective.com/ and http://listenhearcollective.bandcamp.com/

 

Published October 2103 on australianjazz.net 

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We all love big band jazz. We all love small group jazz. But I also have a very soft spot for those little-big bands in between – those eight, nine, ten piece outfits (which go by the beautifully alien appellations of octet, nonet, decet).

In many ways the smaller ensembles produce a more ‘jazz’ sound than the big bands. The contrasts between solo and ensemble passages is not as jarring as in a big band – the whole thing seems cut from the same cloth. Just by dint of pure logistics, the medium sized group is going to breathe better as a unit and allow for more telepathy and magic to happen. (Look at Birth of The Cool for a place where the medium is the message).

There is a lot of magic on Mace Francis’ recent album Land Speed Record recorded with his New York Nonet – named for the NY natives and Oz ex-pats that make up the nine.Mace Francis Land Speed

In his liner notes, alto player Jon Gordon mentions that the group only had a short time to rehearse prior to recording in New York. In one way, you can’t tell (it is as tight as you would want); in another, you can – each piece leaps from the speakers with an immediacy and life that shows all players had their antennae right out. Gordon also writes of the “depth and searching quality” in Francis’ music – and he is right-on there.

Opener ‘Rosé’ sets up an impressionistic veil of horn textures over a languid ostinato groove. Tenor player Dan Pratt solos in and out of horn groupings (or are they moving in and out of his solo?). The whole thing lattices and meshes beautifully – this is smart horn writing, and the transparency in sound of the smaller group allows all the voices to stand out in high relief.

The organic nature – the ‘breathing’ of the group – is evident on the title piece, ‘Land Speed Record’. A suspended Mat Jodrell trumpet intro leads into a thicket of time-signatures, the band accelerating and moving as one until a free-blown section opens up into a typically inventive and astringent Sean Wayland solo. It sounds like a lot is going on, but Francis’ writing never spends too much time gazing at its own navel. It flows instinctively because the writing and the playing have a lot of humanity – a lot of soul.

The moody ‘Pandora’s Mood’, the gorgeous brass choir intro to ‘Samsara’, the driving mutant bossa of ‘Orla’ all show the ‘heart’ in this music, which extends to the soloists – Alan Ferber’s joyous trombone solo on ‘Orla’, Jon Gordon’s bopalicious alto fun on ‘Samsara’ (big kudos to the rhythm of Matt Clohesy on bass and drummer Mark Ferber, too!), the surreal bass clarinet of Doug Yates on the resigned ‘Well… Maybe Someday’.

The track that leaped out to me was ‘Why A?’ which features guitarist Nate Radley. (I am guessing the title is a question from the Bb and Eb horn guys, the answer being that A is guitar friendly, dudes). Over an A pedal, descending guitar chords are soon reflected by the horns before a snap, crackle and popping swinging solo from Radley. He is one to watch.

Mace Francis is one to watch too. On the strength of ‘Land Speed Record’, I will be watching (and listening) – I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

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Prior to posting this review I asked Mace Francis a few short questions. Here are his responses:

1. Your new CD ‘Land Speed Record’ is recorded with a nonet – what was your thinking behind choosing this particular format?

I have pretty much only worked with big bands, as my creative vehicle, since 2003.  I love big bands and will continue to work with them.  The nonet idea came from working with alto player Jon Gordon here in Perth a few years ago.  He gave me a couple of CDs of his which featured a nonet he had worked with and while it still had a large ensemble feel, it allowed the individual musicians to feature more predominantly like in a small group ensemble.  The nonet line-up seemed to have the best of both worlds.  When Jon and I were talking about the recording I asked about that nonet and the recording studio they used and suggested that I would like to do a similar thing.  Jon helped me get a group of musicians together that he trusted and we went from there.

2. Your nonet includes bass clarinet and guitar – they seem a unique choice for such a limited grouping of instruments (they sound great by the way). Why did you include these instruments?

I am a guitarist and have always had a guitarist in my big bands instead of a piano player.  I just prefer the sound of a guitar blending with saxes and brass more so than piano, but having them both was very cool as it meant I could use the guitar to voice with the horns and still have a comping instrument.  As for the bass clarinet it was just because Doug Yates is so awesome.  Jon suggested him because he can double but when I checked him out I decided that having him on bass clarinet would sound great.  His sound is enormous and his solo on the last track “Well, Maybe Someday” is just awesome.

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3. Of course the nonet format brings to mind ‘Birth of The Cool’ and the Gerry Mulligan little-big (big-little?) bands. Did these recordings influence the sound of ‘Land Speed Record’ or did you start with a clean slate?

I have listened to Birth of the Cool and Mulligan’s bands a lot so it may have influenced the music a bit but for most of the pieces they were written to feature different members of the ensemble.  Having less instruments (compared to a big band) was a real challenge as you need to be more specific orchestrationally.

4. You are based in Perth. Perth is known in rock circles as a place from where some quite unique sounds emanate. is it the same for jazz?

I was born and raised in Geelong in Victoria and moved to Perth in 2000 as I was accepted into WAAPA on jazz guitar.  My focus went from performance to composition in 2nd year.  Perth has a great scene with WAAPA pumping out great musicians every year, WA Youth Jazz Orchestra has a great annual program featuring 3 big bands and we have The Ellington Jazz Club putting on 7 nights a week music, Perth Jazz Society etc.  We just get on with business over here in the West.

5. What is your view of jazz today and the place of large-group composition/arrangement in it?

Jazz is strange and it is usually only people who love it – love it.  I love that now jazz is pretty much anything you want it to be, it is always evolving.  It is a shame that so many people, and musicians, think that it needs to sound like something that happened 60 or 70 years ago (or more).  I think jazz is as strong as it has been.  We have to enjoy what is happening now, get excited what will happen and stop reminiscing about the Golden Era or the Good Ol Days.

Large jazz ensembles seems to be coming back into popularity, especially with younger musicians/composers (while we are young and stupid).  Most bands being started now are by people who want to present their own music, which is great.  There are a few here in Perth that have popped up recently and quite a lot in Sydney and Melbourne.  There is something really special about creating music with a large group of people.  It is great to see and I take my hat off to anyone who can organise that many people for a gig and rehearsals.  My hair is a lot greyer than it was 7 years ago.

6. What is your view of music in general today? (You are allowed to swear).

I love most music and especially music with craft, groove, humour and heart – the Idol/x factor phenomenon shits me.  The public are getting bombarded with watered down rubbish on these shows that eat up these useless singers and then spit them out when they stop making them money.  If you are fed only white bread your whole life and then try something else, like a ripe (real) tomato off the vine, it will taste crap to you because your body is used to no goodness, nutrients or flavour.  I will stop now.

For more information visit: macefrancis.com

Published December 2102 on jazz-planet.com