Posts Tagged ‘Larry Coryell’

The cover illustration of Queensland guitarist/composer Toby Wren’s new trio album Black Mountain at first seems an incongruous choice. An epic 1760 painting (de Louthenbourg’s ‘A Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast’)­, its mannered classicism seems at odds with the angular modernism of the music within.

But it is not the subject, nor the treatment, of this painting that fits; it is the colour palette. Wren’s compositions are rendered in these olives, aubergines and purple-blacks, with shots of mustard and saffron – and even a window of lilac/sky-blue here and there.

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His trio ­– Wren together with bassist Andrew Shaw and Chris Vale on ‘drum set’ ­– render all the complex colours of these unique compositions beautifully, considering the limited instrumental palette at hand.

Equally, Wren uses little on his guitar bar some mild dirt and amp colours. The tough ‘Bedroom for Improvement’ reminds of Larry Coryell’s musclular trio albums from a few years back, with their distortion and backbeat.

But in the main, Black Mountain brings up fond recollections of the great Abercrombie/Holland/DeJohnnette 1975 album Gateway. Which is not to say it is not its own animal; the good vibes between the players, the sense of adventure, and the push/pull between soloist and ground are what brought the comparison to mind. Toby Wren 1

Wren’s collection, though, has the added dimension of post-rock ­– something unthought of in ’75. ‘An Unbearable Weight’s recipe of flowing/floating arpeggios (with flashes of silvery harmonics), bowed bass and skittering drums takes Black Mountain out of the jazz ballpark. Just as with ‘Sevens’ and its sister piece ‘Sixes’ – both creating shimmering rhythmic lattices of the titular time-signatures which, as the pieces evolve, work against and within that rhythm.

Wren’s guitar approach – as with his compositions – draws on jazz, rock (pre- and post-), blues and anything else that his mill needs to grist (he is a student of the Carnatic music of India; check the multituplet clusters in ‘Guitargam’). There is the rolling blues of opener ‘An Epic Rock’; the pleasingly plump be-bop of ‘Black Mountain Resolve’ (and the minimal 34 second solo guitar haiku of its sister, the title track ‘Black Mountain’); the unhinged guitar solo of ‘Sirens’; and the lovely lullaby of album closer ‘Sentimental Old Thing’.

Black Mountain is a unique and rewarding listen; all the more for its sparseness of means: the invention demanded by, and apt interpretation of these pieces would test any group, but Wren and his men seem never to be anything but entirely at ease here.

Take a listen. It is great music – whatever its colour.

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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