Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Zwartz’

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” So said that well-know bebopper (in words), Walt (‘Woody’) Whitman.

The quote came to mind when listening recently to two new releases from Melbourne saxophonist and composer Julien Wilson. Swailing is Wilson in Trio mode with guitarist Steve Magnusson and Steve Grant on accordion; This is Always has his big toned horn set amongst a classic quartet made up of Wilson, Barney McAll, Jonathan Zwartz and Allan Browne (and I don’t think I need to list what instruments each of these gents play…).

Julien Wilson3Swailing is as free as This is Always is restricted; it is as open as the quartet recording is closed. Swailing is the magpie, picking from electric Miles, Massenet and Fats; This is Always is the osprey, its eye fixed on the one prize.

And both are deliriously beautiful for all of these qualities and more.

I was thinking that together they represent the two sides of Julien Wilson, but then the Whitman quote swam into my mind and made me realise that an artist such as Wilson – a true artist in any and every sense – has more than two side: he has multitudes. And we are fortunate that he shares as few or as many as he wishes, with us.

I asked Julien Wilson a baker’s half-dozen questions, and his replies came back generous, insightful and filled with some cool riffing on the head. Thank you, Julien. Enjoy, people.

 

 

1. ‘Swailing’ and ‘This Is Always’ are obviously very different works which flow from the mind of the same artist – what is the aspect that you feel unifies them in your aesthetic?

Well, apart from the fact that I play tenor saxophone on both of them, there are a couple of unifying factors. In each case they are records that I have wanted to make for a long time, with musicians I have known and respected for most of my musical life. I met Steve Grant the same year I first heard Allan Browne play, 1986 I think. Al was in the first “live” jazz band I ever heard and Steve came to a jazz workshop I was playing clarinet at. He played seven tunes on seven instruments that day, and from memory, didn’t say a word. It was probably that same year that my Aunt gave me a Vince Jones Cassette Tape for Christmas that featured Barney on piano.

Anyway, I’m digressing already!

Both albums contain a mix of my tunes (originals?) and other peoples compositions (covers?). Both albums were recorded within a few months of each other. I mixed and mastered them during the same period – mid 2013 – (with different teams) and formed my own label to release them. Both represent a desire to retain 100% control of my own product, both musically and visually from conception to realisation, to release date and physical appearance. Both are available as High Resolution 24bit Downloads as well as CD, the point here being: I really care about the way the albums “sound”. Both in the recording process and through the mixing and mastering stages I was very aware of producing the highest quality product, which I guess is as “aesthetic” an answer as I can give. Julien wilson2

 

2. Did the players suggest the directions of both works, or did you start with a concept and then build a band around it?

The trio has been together for ten years now. Our first album was live, and we’ve discussed how to go about making a studio album for some time. The band kind of “presented” itself to us as a collection of friends, rather than a pre-determined selection of instruments, with players then selected to play those instruments. Mags and I have played in many bands together over the years, often without a bass player, and in trio with drums we’ve worked on making the time very elastic.  So the opportunity to play without drums seemed natural. All three of us have a love of various music and musicians from South America (esp. Argentina) so the accordion’s “bandoneon” qualities, combined with the nylon-string guitar’s obvious “Brazillian” references, and the expressive elements of the saxophone that conjure links to Tango and, of course, Stan Getz took us in a certain natural direction. Tunes I had written previous to the trio’s formation took on connotations of bossa rhythms and phrasing that were never originally intended. Magnusson’s composition, ‘My First 2001’ is a tune we’ve played with many groups. It was written before the trio was formed, but has become almost a signature piece for this band. My composition, ‘Midway ‘was written just before the recording. Actually the melody was written overnight between the 2 days in the studio, and overdubbed the next day, so this is one tune that was really custom built for the trio. The bass clarinet is a new instrument for me, and one that I’ve heard more and more fitting in to the fabric of the trio. The lack of a standard rhythm section of bass and drums means that the trio have to challenge the traditional roles of our instruments and find new relationships and responsibilities. Mags’ move from nylon-string to electric guitar (and more recently Moog Guitar) have changed my role in the trio, and the bass clarinet lets me move further in to an area that I’ve been interested in for many years. With the pitch and sonority of the bass clarinet I can play more of a supportive and propulsive function within the group. Additionally, the group has always been about the blend of tones we can achieve between our instruments, which is really unique to this band. The sound of the bass clarinet combining with the accordion has been more and more appealing to me lately. Interestingly, the tenor sax, accordion and guitar have almost identical pitch ranges, which means the roles within the group can be highly interchangeable.

Another point of interest with the trio is that for some reason an uncanny number of people seem to draw connections between our sound (perhaps the instrumentation and romanticism of it) with “French music”. Rather than fight this any longer, Steve Grant visited France a number of times in 2011 and 2012. He reported, despite visiting an extensive number of cafes and clubs throughout France, (and especially in Paris) of hearing NO accordionistas accompanying baristas. Despite this, he returned to Australia with a swath of French manuscripts for us to play, and, as fortune would have it, just before the recording session, we were hired for a season of concerts at the National Gallery of Victoria in support of a Napoleon exhibition! From the variety of “french” music we looked at, we adopted and recorded “Thai’s Meditation” by Massenet (incorrectly credited to Gabriel Faure on the album by yours truly).

For the quartet album, I basically just wanted to make an album with Barney while he was in town at Allan Eatons with Ross Cockle. Ross had recently recorded Sweethearts with Sam Anning and Allan Browne and I had such a good time doing it I wanted to do it again with Barney. I’ve always wanted to make a ballads album with piano, acoustic bass and drums, and the chance to have Al and Barney together seemed to good to let go. As luck would have it, my trio became unavailable for a concert we were booked for, and I managed to get Jonathan and Barney to replace them and book Eatons the next day. The half hour concert was all the rehearsal we had before the recording. Barney and I brought a handful of charts of “standards” on the day, and I picked a couple of my originals (all written very recently) that I thought would complement the other songs. So in this situation, the “concept” and the “band” were almost the same thing. I really wanted to just play all the tunes once, with as little discussion/instruction as possible, and let the musicians bring their individual voices to the music.

 

Julien wilson13. How do you pick your players on both works? What was the quality you looked for?

With the quartet record, Barney and Al have a long history together. Barney and Jonathan also have a long a history together. I’ve played with them all in various projects. Recently I’ve been playing more and more regularly with Al & Jonathan in a variety of projects. They seemed like they would make such a perfect team. It wasn’t until I booked them that I realised Al and Jonathan had never played in a band together.

The trio: Mags and I have played in so many bands together I’ve lost count. It started in 1992 when I was 20. Strangely enough, the first official gig we did together may have been in Niko Schauble‘s Tibetan Dixie! (We recorded Swailing at Niko’s Studio). We formed the trio with Steve Grant when Will Guthrie (who played drums with us in the assumptions trio) moved to France. (Hmm, there may be a French connection with the trio after all?!?)

Most of my music-making with Steve had involved playing traditional (and some modern) jazz with him playing trumpet (or piano, or trombone, or bass, or alto sax!). in 2004 we were living together in a share house in North Fitzroy and Steve was often sitting in the backyard “practicing” what we affectionately called his “screaming suitcase”. I remember one morning hearing “Blue in Green” drifting through the back door (strangely familiar, but surreal on accordion) then, later in the day  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It struck me all of a sudden that the accordion could give a really interesting take on material not normally associated with it.

The qualities I look for in musicians, (beyond ability, SOUND and touch) is honesty, confidence, heart-on-sleeve bravery, and the ability to tell their own story, regardless of style or influence. I like players who can commit spiritually to many styles of music but who don’t feel sacrilegious about stepping outside the confines of a given style. As an improvisor first and foremost, I give maximum credit to individualists, but I believe that dedication to immersing yourself in specific styles of music can open creative doors that stay closed to people who strive to stay free of influence in the pursuit of creative purity. I like to give my band members as few instructions as possible, so they can play what they hear, which is ultimately going to be more interesting to me than what I think I might want to hear them play. Ultimately, if I feel I can trust the musicians, I can just play, and let them find what the music means to them, without having to give it a label, or place it in the correct bag.

 

4. Your composition ‘Trout River’ gets quite distinctly different treatments on both albums – was this the band’s conception, or yours?

I actually wrote this tune around the same time as “I Believe This Belongs To You”. I had my regular electric quartet in mind during the compositional process, so both these recordings are different from the initial conception of the song. From a personal perspective, the treatment is the same. I basically just presented the lead sheet to the band and counted it in. The tune is a blend of sweetness and melancholy I guess and there’s a bluesy element to both those. After the first take with the quartet, I decided to just feature Barney, and do some restrained blowing on the intro and outro. It reminded me of a Wayne Shorter kind of vibe where the melody is just repeated and fragmented while the rhythm section solos internally. With the trio we’d performed the tune live a few times already before the recording so it was something we all felt comfortable blowing on. It sounds simple, but the changes are tricky to solo over smoothly. Everyone who’s played this tune quizzes me about the chord changes. Strangely enough, given the instrumentation, the quartet version to me feels like the floaty dreamlike version, whereas the trio really digs in and gets funky on it. I especially love the rhythm sections dreamy intro on This is Always, and the accordion solo and funky outro on Swailing.

 

5. What was you thinking behind the selection of non-original pieces on both ‘Swailing’ and ‘This Is Always’?

I like songs. I like playing other peoples tunes. I also like improvising and composing my own material, but there is a wealth of beautiful music out there that deserves to be at least “recycled”. On Swailing, they are mostly tunes we have had in the repertoire for a while, although some of them got new treatments in the studio. The Massenet tune was brought in by Steve Grant for our Napoleonic Season at the NGV. ‘Little Church’ is from Live-Evil, (Miles with Hermeto) which I’ve always loved. ‘Chanting’ is on the first Ornette record I ever owned. It is one of his lesser known pieces, but an incredibly soulful melody. Ornette actually plays it on trumpet. The trio only play the verse of ‘Stardust’, as a piece in it’s own right. It struck us as something the Paul Motian Trio would do. ‘Creole Rhapsody’ was taught to me by John Scurry, and I play it any chance I get. It’s early Ellington and just pure genius.

The idea behind This is Always was to do a jazz ballads session. My originals just kind of snuck in there as appropriate vehicles. I’ve been playing ‘The Feeling of Jazz’ & ‘Deep Night ‘on gigs for a few years and they’ve both got some voodoo about them. I guess neither of them are really ballads actually. I don’t really know anyone else who plays either of those songs. Barney suggested ‘This Is Always’, ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘Stairway to the Stars’, which were all new to me. I loved that because it kept a freshness about the session that I wanted. I messed around with some other harmonies, some of which made it on the record, and some got vetoed by the band! We actually recorded enough material for two albums on the day. 17 songs I think. I wanted songs that haven’t been done to death, and that have something unusual about them. ‘Body and Soul’ of course has been done by everyone, but for some reason nobody plays the verse. I love that we just play one verse and one chorus on this version. FOR THE RECORD: None of us were trying to DO anyone on this recording. No song is a particular tribute to any one player. I dedicated some tunes to different friends in the liner notes, but the idea when playing the songs was just to play them as honestly as possible with respect to the song, the spirit of the music, the other musicians in the room and to myself.

 

6. What are your thoughts on jazz in Australia today?

As I write this I’m painfully aware that David Tolley has just left us. Dave was an inspiration to so many to find your own voice and be a product of your own culture. As was Brian Brown who died just over a year ago and inspired a whole generation (or two or three) through his playing and his teaching at the Victorian College of The Arts. Both were dedicated to encouraging others to find their own voice, express their true identity and reject established (and imported) stereotypes of what improvised music should be. In the interim between the departure of Tolley and Brownie we also tragically lost Bernie (McGann) and Dave (Ades). These four musicians were personally responsible for a lot of my convictions about music, and were an amazing source of inspiration and encouragement for me, as musicians dealing with the Australian landscape, and as close friends and mentors. They were my heroes, along with Mark Simmonds (who hasn’t performed for years) and Phil Treloar (who has been in Japan for decades). They all had (have) incredibly unique voices and were/are an inspiration for others to create their own.

I don’t want to get in to a “is there an Australian sound?” debate, as I almost think in this day and age of information overload and instant global communication that an artistic National identity is becoming a moot point. Unfortunately in the wider community there seems to be a disgusting move in Australia towards a Nationalistic attitude that I thought we’d grown out of. It’s ironic that This is Always  was recorded on Australia Day, and also they day Brian passed away. I’ve always been patriotic in the sense that I’m proud of Australian innovations and openness, but I’m finding it hard to deal with the Nationalistic attitude of “We were here first, so if you don’t like it, go back where you came from”. What happened between Hoge’s “Throw another Prawn on the Barby” and Hanson’s “I don’t like it”? Surely as a nation we don’t want to be seen as the kind of people that “give” a drowning family a raft and push them back out to sea!!!!! Where’s the honour and humanity (fair go??) in that?

But, back to music:

“New” is old. “Experimental” music is now as predictable as Mozart and Beethoven. “Mouldy” music has become “refreshed” again as young people adopt it. We have a new set of young musicians that understand all this and can straddle the fence rather than sitting on it. Brett Thompson, James Macauley, Marty Holoubek, and Aaron Flower are a younger generation of guys who embrace all styles, without arguing about which ones are more or less “relevant”. It’s ALL MUSIC. The guys from Cope Street Parade and Geoff Bulls Band and The New Sheiks and FLAP are reinvigorating music from another era in their own way. This is recycling in the best sense. Making something useful and relevant from something that has already been used, but is by no means worn out. The ideas of the Modernists who wanted to destroy the museums in an effort to stop glorifying the past have been proven merely interesting, rather than essential to the progression of art.

For jazz in Australia to continue to evolve and mature, it needs young people to reinvigorate it and continue reinventing not just the music, but the spirit of it. I like old music, but I don’t want to play in a museum. I like creating new sounds and experimenting and developing “my art”, but I don’t want to always play to an intelligentsia underground crowd of 5. Jazz (or whatever you want to call it) should be SERIOUS FUN. It should have the ability to tell the saddest story ever told, but still be UPLIFTING! It HAS TO BE playful and contain challenges as well as beauty. Above all, it needs to be emotive and expressive and communicate with an audience, because if we don’t have them…

 

7. What are your thoughts on music in general today?

See above. Without Music I would be …. …. … probably dead or in jail to tell the truth.

Music is becoming less and less of a commodity as everyone can now get it for nothing.

Anyway, there is so much music out there now … how can you make a dint in it?

Musicians are giving away their albums (and still finding it hard to be heard and reviewed!)

There is a generation now that don’t give a fuck about quality of sound. They love big TV’s with Full Definition Screens but are happy to listen to music on shitty compressed MP3’s through tiny tinny boxes. A survey I read recently said something like 85% of Teenagers surveyed on a blindfold test PREFERRED the sound of MP3’s to full quality High Def files??????? Some of my students at Uni prefer to hold a microphone to the speaker on their iPhone to play a tune through the PA rather than plug in in to the nice old stereo the school has. WTF??

There are more musicians in the world than ever before.

Many of them have (multiple) degrees.

Gigs generally pay the same (or less) than they did when I started doing gigs in the late 80’s!

Working musicians can no longer “join a band” or get an apprenticeship with one group.

Everyone is chasing their tail doing 8 gigs a week with 10 different groups.

“Popular” music (see Fox FM) picks up a few songs a month and squeezes them dry, wringing the very life out of them until they are bled-dry, disposed of and forgotten while they move on to the “flavour-of-next-month”

However, all this means that grass-roots musicians have taken control of their own products and their own performance spaces and are creating their own opportunities to perform, record and distribute their music. People know what they want and have the ability to be totally in control of their own products. Niche venues and homespun performance spaces are springing up like wildflowers amongst the corporate dust and music is being taken back where it belongs: [in to the local community] and re-establishing it’s place in society [a balm for weary souls and an elixir for our spirits]

‘Swailing is available here – http://lionsharecords.bandcamp.com/album/swailing

‘This is Always’ is available here – http://lionsharecords.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-always

Julien Wilson’s website is here – http://julienwilson.com

Published Martch 2104 on australianjazz.net

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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 

Sydney tenor saxophonist and composer Richard Maegraith is a deep human being. A committed Christian and free-thinking artist, his work has always resonated with a sophisticated spirituality while maintaining a heartfelt directness. Whether it be blowing tenor with the Australian Jazz A-list – James Morrison, Sean Wayland etc – or whether leading his own ensembles, his voice and soul are unmistakable.

For their new album, The Richard Maegraith Band has become the intriguingly titled Galaxstare. The album title is equally thought provoking – A Time, Times and Half a Time. For this album – recorded live at Sydney’s Sound Lounge – the personnel remains the same as 2007’s buoyant Free Running but you can hear the development from Track One.

And what a Track One it is! ‘Romans VII’ snips along in a clipped Latin groove before relaxing down into a languorous swoon of jazz vocal; the track moves back and forth from one tempo to the other throughout – this band really breathes. Throughout the album, the spicy doubling and great interplay of Maegraith’s horn and Kristin Berardi’s vocal again reminded me of Chick Corea’s early 70s band with Flora Purim, before the synths moved in and Purim moved out.

And like Chick Corea, Maegraith is not afraid to move beyond of the bounds of whatever constitutes jazz in his time, (he refers to Galaxstare’s music as “Jazz-ish sort of music; call it what you will”). His pairing of voice and tenor with Gary Daley’s accordian and/or Rhodes makes for some otherworldly results.

For the title track, ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, this otherworldliness goes beyond anything I have yet heard. The track is dedicated to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s, survivors of the 2011 tsunami that wrought such indescribable havoc across Japan. Switching to bass clarinet and using only the live resources of his band, Maegraith creates a vision of universal pain, wonder and depth. It is one of the most startlingly spiritual creations I have ever heard, Ligeti-like in its suspension of time and space.

We are snapped out of it with the propulsive snap groove of ‘Waiting’ – drummer Tim Firth putting the pots on and cooking all the way. Firth whips Maegraith along during his solo, recalling some of those mighty Coltrane/Elvin Jones codas that seemed ready to split reality right down the middle at any time. Intensity!

The final track ‘The Journey’ – all Maegraith’s track titles have a telling positive/seeking/spiritual resonance to them – is 10:36 of jazz funk reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s spacier moments (special mention to bassist Jonathan Zwartz who lays down the deep river that this tune floats on). ‘The Journey’ takes its time to rise to the sharp peak of Maegraith’s tenor solo. You couldn’t get a performance this juicy in a dulled studio – the decision to record ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’ live in front of a more-than-appreciative audience was a wise one.

Published March 2012 on http://www.jazzandbeyond.com.au/

It is seven years since Sydney guitarist and musical polymath Tim Rollinson has put out a release under The Modern Congress banner. 2005’s The Hidden Soul of Harmony was described as a smooth seductress that aims (and succeeds) to tease and tantalise lovers of contemporary jazz.” (In The Mix, May 10 2005). Purple prose aside, it really was a delight; an urbane, chilled delight.

Rollinson’s tenure as an original member of D.I.G. (Directions In Groove) as well as a sharp and imaginative jazz guitarist (check out his jazz trio sometime) allows for his musical vision to be an eclectic one. His studio/electronica alter ego The Modern Congress widens that vision even further – limited only by Rollinson’s imagination, a singular imagination both febrile and fertile – for the new one, 2012’s The Protagonist.

From the dubby snare shots into the tabla groove of opener ‘Mesquite’, Rollinson pulls out myriad upon myriad of sound, his liquid guitar glistening over the top. ‘The Halo Effect’ is a gorgeous slice of Latin rock with a sly Hammond solo from Darren Heinrich and a wicked Green-powered guitar solo, (Grant, that is – not Bob Brown) from Tim Rollinson himself.

‘Justified’ features the wise yet pained vocal of Linda Janssen over a smoky chill groove. Tina Harrod lends her wonderful talents (singing at the top end of her register to great effect) to ‘Little Man, Big Man’.

As you can see, Rollinson has an A-list of collaborators on The Protagonist. The album bristles with input from international and Australian jazz heavy hitters. Almost all of D.I.G. is here (Alex Hewetson, Scott Saunders, Rick Robertson), as well as go-to guys such as Gerard Masters, Hamish Stuart and Jonathan Zwartz. New York-based Barney McCall lends some dreamlike Wurlie electric piano to ‘Dew’.

But this is not a ‘jazz’ album in the sense of head-chorus-head; far from it. As stellar as Rollinson’s contributors/collaborators/partners-in-groove are, they do not impose their will upon the music beyond lending each track just what is needed. In fact, several of the individual musicians recorded their tracks remotely and sent them in to Rollinson. 

And it is this sense – the sense of Tim Rollinson as The Improviser – weaving music in the studio from all these great players’ individual threads that retains The Protagonist’s ‘jazz’ feel: that feeling of wonderful openness and possibility, even though the tracks were painstakingly put together in a low-lit studio and not a humid stage somewhere. It is testament to Tim Rollinson’s artistry and deft feeling for music that this works at all – let alone as beautifully as it does.

A perfect example is The Protagonist’s 2-part closer – ‘Once Upon A Time (Parts I & II)’. A lazy drift of beats and accents, it features Eduardo Santoni’s wordless vocal in Part I and Chris Field’s tabla in Part II. It just goes on and on, like clouds blowing across an afternoon hilltop or a midnight rain streetscene sliding by a cruising car, one idea dovetailing into the next as if Rollinson was sitting at a great keyboard, ‘playing’ his players. Which, in effect, he was.

Check out The Modern Congress’s website here.

Published April 2012 on theorangepress.net