Posts Tagged ‘Jon Zwartz’

I am so glad they called this collaboration The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke, using ‘meet’ rather than the ‘and’ – which suggests two parts less than their sum – or the amicably adversarial The Vampires Vs. Lionel Loueke, as is used often in hip-hop.

I am glad because this new collaboration between one of the jazz world’s most innovative and joyful musicians, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and The Vampires, our genre busting and straddling national treasure is a meeting in the truest sense.

A meeting of minds; a meeting of souls, and all of which that implies: both entities bring their unique voices to the mix and The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke is the Venn overlap of this meeting.

Vampires Loueke 2

Maybe it is because both Loueke, and Jeremy Rose and Nick Garbett’s Vampires have much in common, both the Berklee-via-Benin guitarist and the Australian ensemble having arrived, through artistic convergence at a beautifully sympathetic musical place: world music flavours, fusions of genre and innovation within those flavours.

Album opener and album closer are two versions of Rose’s ‘Endings and Beginnings’, the first a Moorish take on the melody and the latter more African – beautiful bookends that bracket a feast of Afro-jazz, reggae, on-the-one funk and some Mwandishi space-blowing.

The rhythm section of Jon Zwartz on bass, with Danny Fischer on drums and Alex Masso on drums and percussion, maintains a warm-blooded percussive bed throughout – bubbling up here, flowing like brown river rapids there: check the rippling 6/8 of ‘Suck A Seed’ and the momentum-rush of ‘Brand New’. Vampires Loueke 1

Rose and Garbett’s compositions are a perfect fit for Loueke to work his magic across and their playing seems as inspired as ever, working around Loueke’s guitar colours and brightly imaginative comping. Garbett’s echo-laden trumpet solos and snap-funky lines are a joy. Rose once again surprises with his Ornettey approach and the human-ness of his playing. The guitar/voice and alto opening of ‘Brand New’ is a conversation between friends, complete with secrets and a chuckle or two at an in-joke.

Herbie Hancock, with whom Lionel Loueke has worked, refers to him as a ‘musical painter’. True, his playing approach seems more concerned with colours and textures than fleet soloing. He plays inside the music, deep inside, and uses everything about his instrument to paint his pictures and hatch in his textures: he scats with his guitar lines, he rubs dissonance against the melody, he utilises some surprisingly radical electronics with surprisingly human results. His playing across this album has the mark of a master innovator and a relentlessly restless spirit.

Playing with the Vampires on this album has pulled some startling performances out of Loueke and, in kind, the band rise to his fire – one catches oneself thinking they sound the best they ever have; then you realise the Vampires always sound this good.

The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke, is a meeting of many things – inspirations, approach, attitude and musical vision. But the glue that binds this fortuitous meeting is respect. You can hear it.

We do hope they meet again.

Album available thru www.earshift.com

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Now. The place where the best improvised music lives.

‘Now’ is the reason we go to check live music, especially in those small venues, up close so we can live in this small slice of super-heated or multi-coloured or deep-blue Now.

The recording of jazz has long been an anomaly – once the performance is frozen in the frozen time of a recording, it loses its Now. We have, of course, all of our favourite live albums that we listen to over and again, but it is a rare thing for a live jazz album to match that Now, simply because it was Then. (Doesn’t make Live at The Village Vanguard any less headfucking though).

Julien Wilson is a player who can always bring a strong sense of the Now into his recordings. His is such an immediate take on the music that the freshness of his playing binds itself to the music. Like all of the best in jazz his recordings always retain their power and energy.

Julien Isthmus2

Wilson’s new album, This Narrow Isthmus, has the Now all over it. From the title, taken from Thomas Moore’s quote “This narrow isthmus ‘twixt two boundless seas/The past, the future – two eternities” to drummer Allan Browne’s inspirational mantra “Hold onto the now, through which all future plunges to the past”.

Wilson elected to record this set of compositions live at Sydney’s Sound Lounge, to keep the Now factor to the fore. The almost telepathic empathy of his Quartet helps – Barney McAll piano, Jon Zwartz bass and dear and departed Allan Browne on drums (Browne left us mid-2015, This Narrow Isthmus was recorded mid-2014); the same lineup which recorded Wilson’s dreamy and luscious This Is Always in 2013.

Yet whereas This Is Always leaned deep into the moodier indigos of jazz, touching on standards and their fine romance, This Narrow Isthmus is all-original Julien works and pulls from every compass point stylistically.

Opener ‘Rainman’ establishes the deeply romantic strain in Wilson’s music – too many modern badasses are afraid to show some sweetness and beauty, and this tune is one of the sweetest Wilson has dreamed up.

The Monk-ish blues ‘McGod’ has an intoxicated and intoxicating abandon to it that Wilson and McAll both dig deep into, blue to the elbows. The hard thrust that Browne pushes the tune with belies the fact that he was badly ailing – in fact, his doctor had told him he couldn’t fly to Sydney for the gig, so he hopped in this car and drove the 900k’s – ha!

One of the aspects I have always enjoy in Wilson’s music is his impressionistic side – even though a player who resonates with the deep history of the artform, he never baulks at going where the music takes him, whether an un-jazz place or not (see Swailing, the album that came out in tandem with This Is Always). ‘Barney & Claude’ here came out of two Debussy-flavoured chords and grew into a gorgeous ballad ­– you can hear those two chords rolling around each other like pale suns at the end fade of the track. You can also hear, even though it is a live album, no applause at the end of this fade; any applause was snipped off during mixing (as with ‘Aberdeen’) so as not to break the spell.Julien Isthmus1

This Narrow Isthmus casts many spells – ‘Weeping Willow’, a retooled ‘Willow Weep for Me’ begins with a beautifully conversational bass solo from Zwartz; ‘Bernie’ is a hello-up-there to McGann; ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ throws caution to the wind and grins bebop optimism right in your face.

‘Aberdeen’ has that lovely dark-cocoa sermonising that Coltrane’s McCoy-quartet preached so deep and meaningful. This tone-poem was composed with the Scottish town of Wilson’s childhood in mind, but I swear this Quartet makes jungle vines grown up Brooklyn brownstones before my very ears.

‘Farewell’ is Wilson’s farewell to us and to those who have left us to ‘continue on to the next adventure’ – absent friends, such as Dave Ades. He plays clarinet here, and the deeply human voice of this sadly neglected woodwind blows through veils of nostalgia in a deeply affecting way.

Once again I find myself saying I have found the album of the year and it is barely half-past February.

This Narrow Isthmus will be hard to beat – it is everything I always expect from Julien Wilson, but this time it holds even more of that precious and beautiful thing, the Now.

Published February 2016 on australianjazz.net

 

It seemed fitting that on the week that David Bowie left us to become a star in the night sky, the 2016 Jazzgroove Festival should open with the spacey starman-scapes of Alon Islar’s ensemble, The Sticks.

Kicking off Friday night’s Foundry 616 triple bill, The Sticks – drummer Islar with keyboardist Daniel Pliner and bassist Josh Ahearn – followed Alon’s mission statement, “We’re going to improvise for 45 minutes…” with a ton of imagination and a galaxy of verve. Built around Islar’s curious but astonishing invention, the AirSticks (in its simplest form: two hand controllers linked to laptop samples) the group made music – as all good jazz should be – literally out of the air.

Special guest, guitarist and polymath Ben Hauptmann sat right inside the Sticks’ orbit, blending with their space-scapes, moving with their funk, clicking and clacking with the more motorik beatz, talking their talk and walking their walk. Beautiful stuff; the 45 minutes passed in a wink, leaving us (me) wanting more.

This year’s Festival program was put together smartly by Jazzgroove to get all the flavours of jazz rubbing up against each other and to pleasantly jolt by contrast.

And so, the electro-funk of The Sticks was followed by The Cooking Club – tenor player Michael Gordon’s tough acoustic jazz quartet. The contrast could not have been more thrilling – and yet something was missing. The last time I saw The Cooking Club was after they launched their pretty fantastic CD High Energy Jazz from the Sydney Underground. The format was the piano-less quartet of Gordon on tenor, Finn Ryan on drums and Tom Wade on bass, with Ken Allars’ trumpet putting the Cherry on Gordon’s compositions.

Tonight the trumpet of Allars was replaced by Andrew Bruce on piano and its chords, sharp as they were, led to the music losing part of it’s Ornettey orneryness, it’s skinny rawness – at least to my ear. They still grabbed me though – the opener (also the CD’s opener) ‘Big Job’ bristled with energy – which is what this band does so well.

Closer ’Comedown’ had Gospel handclaps and Gordon summoning the ghosts of Albert Ayler’s ‘Ghosts’ in his throaty sermon.

JG3 - lekker, pic- Ellen Kirkwood

Lekker, pic- Ellen Kirkwood

Closing the night – and contrasting equally vividly with what had come before – was the much-anticipated performance of Lekker, Guitarist/composer Ben Hauptmann’s jazz-rock-reggae-bluegrass-funk-jazz septet. Built over the pulse and groove of James Hauptmann and Evan Mannell’s drums and percussion and James Haselwood’s bass, the group had Hauptmann shared guitar duties with Arne Hanna. Harry Sutherland and Dan Junor on piano and alto completed this astounding ensemble.

Hauptmann’s musical vision has always confounded any expectations (what is it about guitarist/composers?); tonight it put a grin on my face that he opened with a fleet bluegrass breakdown. Moving through compositions from both his Benjamin Hauptmann and Lekker albums, the band ate up all grooves – reggae, funk, West African 6/8, rock. Hauptmann’s solos, all held fire and cool chromatic sparks, contrasted beautifully with Arne Hanna’s more greasy, blues-accented touch. Hanna’s solos throughout were each a mini-masterclass on shaping and pacing a solo (young hotheads take note!).

A highlight for me was hearing the tunes such as ‘Shuffle Over’ – which gets a heavy electro treatment on the Lekker album – played by this ensemble: not better, just different flavoured, seasoned with human breath and sweat. (Also grin-making to hear Hauptmann’s ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ and ‘Eat That Question’ quotes in the coda fades. All guitarists are rockers at heart.)

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Sunday, Foundry 616 again and the sunny Ollie McGill trio. James Hauptmann (drums) and Jon Zwartz (bass) making McGill’s Tunes – vocal and instrumental – really spark and catch. After a rockin’ opener they were into the intriguing ‘Fishy’, alternating between a Latin groove and heavy funk, the trio at ease with the two different tempos and grooves.

JG5 - jon zwartz, pic- Hardaker

Jon Zwartz, pic- Hardaker

Vocal piece ‘Constancy’ was a good-hearted Dr John funk groove. McGill’s vocal, while not the most arresting, proved to me (again) that composers often do their own tunes the best justice, on an emotive level. Closer ‘Let The Wind Blow’ reminded us, yes, this was Sunday: spreading sweet Gospel tones and a hushed hallelujah over Foundry 616.

I had really looked forward to seeing bassist/composer David Groves and his ensemble – a new voice is always a reason to be cheerful. Groves himself thanked Jazzgroove for giving young composers such as himself a platform and an audience for his compositions. And his compositions were worth it – unique, nicely conceived, all intriguing and testing vehicles for blowing.

And yet his set was, to me, in part let down by a lack of cohesion in the group. Groves and Sydney’s tallest drummer, Cameron Reid often got the groove flying, and pianist Steve Barry did his usual elegant and harmonically shrewd thing. But the horns of tenor Scott Kelly and Simon Ferenci on trumpet rarely gelled and a general lack of forward motion seemed to hamper the band.

The classic hard bop quintet format – rhythm plus two horn front line – can be the most thrilling in all of jazz, but tonight Groves’ ensemble never seemed to give themselves the chance to blaze and thunder. I hope – no, I know – next time they will knock my socks off.

The twin crown of the 2016 Festival was the David Ades tribute performance by Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson. As part of a national tour to perform and celebrate the music of Melbourne’s brilliant and influential alto player and composer, David Ades, the two tenor colossi took the stage with Cameron Undy (bass) and Simon Barker (Drums). After a few words from Hurren, welcoming us to the festival and their performance, they proceeded to incinerate our minds with the sort of white heat that only jazz can cook up.

JG8 - hurren, pic- Hardaker

Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson, pic- Hardaker

In the car on the way home later, the phrase ‘music made in the moment; music made for the moment’ swam into my mind. This was a performance that stopped time or rather, pulled and twisted and melted time into new and phantastic shapes. The two tenors faced each other across the stage and blew each others minds whilst blowing ours. No juvenile ‘cutting’ contest, this was as Trane and Pharoah spoke: heading up and out for joy.

Opening with Ades’ ‘La Ripaille’ the joy flared up like lust: Barker and Undy began pouring on the energy which never let up the entire set. The rest of the set was drawn from Ades’ lovely posthumous release A Day in A Life.

Hurren’s tone was rounder and more full-bellied, with fat dollops of the blues in his lower register and a woman’s loved cry at the top. Wilson’s voice was bright and sweet and riven through with lightning and other storms. Both players swooned as the other played, digging each other, meshed in mind and soul-spirit.

It was not all fire, brimstone and lava: Hurren and Undy’s measured and relaxed take on Ades’ ‘Arco and Alto’ had a suspended loveliness, reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ ‘Eclipse’ – a breeze from another planet. The set closer, ‘Removab’ built and built until we were all spent. Spent and blasted into joy.

Zac Hurren walked around the venue afterwards, personally thanking everyone for coming. As I shook his hand, I told him he had to be the happiest man in Australia. “Yeah! I am happy!” he beamed.

After that set – indeed, after what may be the last ever Jazzgroove festival – we were all pretty happy. As happy as Zac Hurren. And that’s happy.

 

Published February 2015 on australianjazz.net