Posts Tagged ‘Matt Keegan’

It’s a hell of a thing, a virtuoso jazz soloist in full flight across the top of a sizzling big band. Dizzy Gillespie playing ‘in the cracks’ of any one of his bebop big bands comes to mind. And much more recently NZ tenor wiz Roger Manins at the 2013 Jazzgroove Festival (remember them?) blowing against (within/around/between) the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra’s Bob Brookmeyer charts. Breathtaking stuff.

Scott Tinkler1

Scott Tinkler

The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra have now collaborated with another celebrated soloist – Melbourne trumpeter Scott Tinkler – on what JMO Artistic Director David Theak calls “our most ambitious large scale project.” The result is Fiddes vs Tinkler, a stunning recording of a work written by composer Andy Fiddes.

Fiddes vs Tinkler is an extended suite of seven pieces, broken by three interludes. The pieces are weighty and complete; the interludes are more about texture and pure colour – each a ‘breather’ of its own hue and shape: ‘Conundrum’’s smoky flutes and clarinets, ‘The Sound of Struggling’’s silvery trumpet streaks across the saxes, before a surprise of heavy power-chords; ‘Past Nirvana’’s web of guitar/piano counterpoint under Theak’s soprano.

Despite the mock-combative title of the album (cheekily supporting by the prize-fight graphics of Rattle JAZZ’s UnkleFranc) the main pieces are constructed to support, colour and dance with Tinkler’s probing and revealing trumpet.

In a world of finger-shredders, lip-rippers and über-noodlers, Scott Tinkler is a complete player who reminds us that virtuosity is not about prestidigitation but about potential. His technical facility, while jaw-dropping, is not there to drop jaws but to open doors – the horn is there to serve his imagination, wherever it may go.

His solo on ‘Pilgrimage’ (the standout to me on Fiddes vs Tinkler) goes places many of us have never heard the trumpet go – full of howls, cries, new pain and old shadows. Across Fiddes vs Tinkler, he rarely fails to surprise, drawing new shapes in the air and working through the byzantine windows and corridors of Fiddes’ suite.Fiddes_vs_Tinkler1

Andy Fiddes’ writing shines as bright as Tinkler’s playing. The range of colours, the breadth of ideas ­– so many audacious chances taken, chances that all work beautifully – the mastery of the idiom: pushing the big idea of The Big Band forward while deeply knowing its traditions (you can hear echoes of the history all across Fiddes vs Tinkler). The rising dawn of ‘Introduction – Awakening’, the Spanish tinged ‘Steps In the Dark’, the almost organically unfurling growth of ‘Gaffer Work’, the blazing energy of ‘Gathering Momentum’ and ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ (Tinkler’s solo here questioning, answering, questioning).

The JMO ­– a band bristling with great soloists itself – realises Fiddes’ compositions immaculately, the ensemble playing lending the quiet passages a real translucency, the heavy sections some tough, burnished muscle. There are exceptional supporting solos from tenor players Evan Harris (his chromatic entry into his ‘Steps In The Dark’ tenor solo made me laugh out loud, joyful) and Matt Keegan, and the always-surprising guitarist Carl Morgan.

Fiddes vs Tinkler is set to become a landmark work in Australian jazz. On every level it adds thrills to a genre and a culture that one is surprised can still surprise, to such a level.

Yes, it’s hell of a thing.

The JMO launch Fiddes vs Tinkler at Foundry 616 on 25 July, 2016.

The CD is available from Rattle JAZZ at www.rattlerecords.net

 

I recently had the singular pleasure of watching Sydney electric flamenco samurai Steve Hunter perform a solo bass concert. For 45 minutes (or one minute, or a year; time sort of ceased…) Hunter played through a selection of his compositions, ingeniously segueing them together into one integrated and cohesed experience.

After two or three tunes, I stopped trainspotting and just went with the flow, which Hunter kept up effortlessly. One man, one (electric) bass, a little universe of music – a cosmos of one.

steve hunter, the translatorsHunter has always been one of our most single-minded and disciplined players, one whose prolific output has been of one consistently high standard – the standard he applies, bushido-like, to himself and expects (and gets) from his sidemen/collaborators.

His latest album, Cosmos, is a departure in many ways, but a revelation in others. His ninth album as leader, it is his first live album – recorded at Sydney’s 505. It is also an album mainly of previously recorded compositions. And his first without guitar.

Significantly this time around, rather than precisely planning arrangements, Hunter and his band took the more traditional ‘jazz’ approach of using the compositions as musical material for blowing – more departure points than destinations, if you will.

And what a band ­– all Hunter cohorts from many a gig, all entirely familiar with his body of work and with these particular works; and all entirely in tune with the spirit that drives this remarkable music: Andrew Gander on drums, Matt McMahon on keys and Matt Keegan on tenor and soprano.

‘The Kingston Grin’ sets up the easy interplay and conversational mood of the album. A loose-limbed swing which see-saws between the tension of two chords for the solos, it is a simple canvas across which the players paint pictures, poetry and pure joy.steve hunter cosmos

‘Love and Logic’ from 2003’s If Blue was Orange is given a very open treatment, Keegan’s solo searching and finding, searching and finding over the floating 7/8 Weather Report-like groove. Hunter’s music can sometimes bring up his influences a little strongly here and there, but such influences were cataclysmic to a generation, and the Jaco-isms here are welcome and warming. McMahon’s acoustic piano solo is notable on ‘Love and Logic’ – controlled and uplifting.

The lovely Spanish-tinged ‘Cazador’ has shown up on 2007’s Dig My Garden as well as the eponymous 2009 album of Hunter’s flamenco-jazz co-project The Translators. Here it is reimagined differently again, showcasing Hunter’s astonishing virtuosity and passionate ability to get inside the music.

Hunter says that his decision to not use guitar on this album allowed him to exploit some recent breakthroughs he has made in his playing – listen and you’ll see. Gander’s drums here are astounding for their transparency: light washes and translucent colours as background for Hunter.

‘Area 51’ is Hunter’s heartfelt tribute to five jazz spirits who left us at the early age of 51 and as intense as it is lovely. The brawn of Hunter’s playing can push his bands sometimes a little hard, but if it pushes them into a performance such as the one delivered during McMahon’s sparks-spitting Rhodes solo, then all is forgiven.

The closing track, ‘So To Speak’ from 2010’s Nine Lives is here given a spikier, funkier reading. The blowing section is nicely captured by Craig Naughton’s live recording – a little boxy but very in-the-moment – with the band really talking to each other and to us, especially during the simmer of Matt Keegan’s tenor solo. Just listening to the fun Andrew Gander has with the 7/8 groove is worth the price of admission in itself.

A focused and hard-edged album from one of our finest talents – all the more enjoyable for it’s openness and live excitement. An evolution of Steve Hunter’s artistry is seen in the Zen act of letting go and seeing what the universe can bring his way.  Yes, Cosmos is quite a ride.

Cosmos is available here http://stevehunter.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guitarist and composer Jessica Green saved me.

Depressed after listening through a covermount CD that came with a recent Blues magazine, her new album Tinkly Tinkly put a big goofy grin right across my face. (Now, I love the Blues dearly but it all is starting to sound the same – new Blues artists seem so scared of losing market share they opt for the tiresomely obvious and the well-worn over new ideas. Can this be the same music that is stamped with the character of great innovators such as Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker?)

Wearily replacing the covermount with Tinkly Tinkly I was sat straight up by the loping township jive of album opener ‘Bamako Youth’. For the next 11:12 I followed the track through chirpy sax motif, tough fusion solo from Green, a Paul Simon-ish vocal section (again by Green – great lyric!) and a coda of massed horns and Matt Keegan’s snarling outro solo. Unlike the drab Blues-by-numbers that had brought me down, this track told a story and took me willingly along its dusty African road.

JessGreensBrightSparksSepia SIMA

The next track ‘Orange Rock Song’ was equally thrilling in its twists and turns, its unexpected rhythms, horn voicings and snaky riffs. Unlike the Blues-under-glass, this track and every one that followed showed Green and her band – the aptly named Bright Sparks – willing to experiment, take chances and strike out for the unknown.

I hear this a lot now in Australian jazz: younger players such as The Alcohotlicks, Aaron Flower, Tim Willis in Melbourne and anyone named Hauptmann (James and Zoe are two of the Bright Sparks on this album) taking the freedom and chops of Jazz as a starting point and filtering it through the kaleidoscopic lenses of rock, electronica, bluegrass, trip- and hip-hop. These mongrel musics – as in nature – cannot help but strengthen and invigorate the music nominally called Jazz.jess green 1

The title track ‘Tinkly Tinkly’ is a good case. Starting with percussionist Bree van Reyk’s glockenspiel-like intro, a building eighth-note lattice of harmony is built until a heavy guitar solo from Green pushes the tune over its tipping point into a jabbing 6/8 riff that could be a cousin of Weather Report’s ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’. It all hangs beautifully together in a deceptively simple manner, but you are always aware there is a shrewd compositional mind behind it.

The moody blues of ‘The Alias’ transforming into a lop-sided oom-pah under Dan Junor’s alto solo; the ambience and snaggle of ‘Rothko’ (I could see the painter’s glowing colours at times here); the ominous leaden riff of ‘Postcard for Alice’ reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s ‘Filthy Habits’ leading into a sprightly latin 6/8 under Simon Ferenci’s spitting trumpet and back again; the hilarious high-spirits of party-jam ‘Dear Mr Cave’; transformation, play, smart decisions, seeking and finding – wonderful stuff from a bright spark.

Thanks for saving me, Ms Green, from a fate worse than deaf.

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Prior to posting this review I asked Jessica Green a few short questions. Here are her responses:

1. You have recently completed your new album Tinkly Tinkly. What was the moment that told you now was the time to record?

Well the first session was 4 years ago, so it’s hard to actually remember! This project is way overdue really, we’ve had a bunch of new good tunes kicking around for ages, more appropriately the question might be “when did I know it was time to release” which was having a good tax return to fund it!!

2. Jazz nowadays – especially releases by younger players – seems to really stretch the genre thing. Tinkly Tinkly has heavy Zappa-esque rock grooves quite happily cheek-by-jowl with New Orleans joyful blues; what is it that you enjoy about mashing (and even utterly ignoring) genre divides?

Well I suppose it’s difficult for me NOT to mash up. This is how I hear music. I am heavily influenced by Zappa (I played in Sydney Zappa band Petulant Frenzy for a year) but also I’ve grown up listening to so much different music. I like to tell a story that leads the listener to unexpected places.

3. Your Bright Sparks really are quite a cast of the best and the brightest – how do you settle on your players?

Well this band had been around for a while. I loved their originality and talent right from the beginning, and at that time I was relying on recommendations. I’m just lucky they keep agreeing to play with the group!

What makes a lot of the songs work is their unique personalities coming through, I’ve always aspired to this sort of band, right from first hearing and reading about the way Duke Ellington worked. He wrote for each player.

4. As a guitar player myself, I am always interested in what makes a player settle on a particular weapon of choice. You seem to have your beautiful Telecaster Thinline in every pic i have seen of you – why the Tele Thinline?

The Thinline was a recommendation from James Muller. I was trying to find a lighter guitar and when I tried this one I was hooked!

It’s such a versatile guitar which suits my music. It can be warm as well as have lots of bite!

5. What are your thoughts on jazz on Australia today?

Seems pretty healthy to me! There’s a lot if experimentation but also it’s great to see a lot if younger players embracing some of the earlier styles of jazz and blues and making it their own.

6. What are your thoughts on today’s music outside of jazz?

Mmm I do listen to a lot of cross over indie pop/rock. I love what bands like St Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear are doing and also groups that are under the New Music banner. Particularly in Australia there is some really interesting music being made.

For more information visit: http://jessgreen.com.au/

To hear and buy the album, go to http://jessgreensbrightsparks.bandcamp.com/

Label: Yum Yum Tree http://www.yumyumtree.com.au

Published February 2103 on australianjazz.net 

Among the slew of bedroom Beyoncés and preteen chirrupers that grind through the X-Factor/Idol/Voice talent-quest mill it is nice to see the occasional hardworking muso get up. It is also nice when success in these nationally broadcast spectacles pushes the career of said hardworking muso into a better place.

Sure, there is always the danger of being seen as ‘selling out’ (whatever that can still possibly mean today) or losing one’s hard-won street fan base, but it is a danger the artist’s popularity should over come. I was happy to see Wes Carr get up on Idol in 2008, and I was even happier to see Darren Percival take out runner up on this year’s The Voice.

percival

Percival has been a well respected and admired performer on the scene – always a knockout as the looping Mr Percival – for years. The story goes he had 18 dollars in the bank when he received the call-up from The Voice – now he tours nationally. And long may he run.

His recent release, A Tribute To Ray Charles – apart from being a great listen – is a smart move. In one fell swoop, the choice of recreating, beautifully, fifteen tracks made famous by Brother Ray will simultaneously satisfy his new fans (his Voice persona was soul man supreme), not alienate his existing fans (anything to do with Ray Charles will be eternally cool) and move him into the next phase of his journey (tuxedo’d no-sweat big stage performer).

Another smart thing about this choice is that it doesn’t take much for Percival to slip into Ray Charles’ musical skin. Neither man has a conventionally smooth voice, yet both exude a larger than life joyousness in delivery which can generate an excitement that whips the audience (and their bands) along – witness Percival’s take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Believe (When I Fall In Love)’ on the Voice finale, a brave choice of song which he turns into a vehicle for some gospel-sized intensity.

Of course, gospel-sized intensity was always Ray Charles’ forte. After all, the man invented Soul music by secularising (and sexualising) the frenzied church music of the American South. He didn’t have to do too much to it either – the call-and-response, high stepping rhythms, melismatic vocal swoops and fevered abandon were already there.

Despite going for a broader appeal, on A Tribute To Ray Charles Darren Percival keeps the wildness and ecstatic edge of the Charles’ originals intact. The band behind him bristles with Australia’s finest – James Morrison, Hamish Stuart, Matt Keegan, go-to-guitar-guy Rex Goh among them – who sound as if they are having as much fun as Mr Percival on the stompers such as ‘I Got A Woman’ or ‘What’d I Say’. But they can equally sound like they are weeping into their beers on the country-Soul gems ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’.

Charles always had great fun (not only with the music but also often too with the sexual politics of the time) with his female backing vocalists, The Raelettes. Vocalists Prinnie Stephens and Mahalia Barnes step up and spar with Percival, most excitingly on ‘Hit The Road, Jack’, recreating Charles’ 1961 sass session with Margie Hendricks.

All the hits are here. By the end of the fifteen tracks on A Tribute To Ray Charles the listener has been hipped, flipped, seduced and hallelujahed into a sweet submission. I would perhaps have liked to see a little more play with the arrangements and delivery, but I am sure the decision to not veer too far from the Charles’ originals is all part of the plan.

I sincerely hope the plan comes together perfectly for Darren Percival. He – like all hardworking musos – deserves it.

Published November 2012 on megaphoneoz.com