Posts Tagged ‘Mike Nock’

The only place on Earth where jazz exists is The United States.

It sometimes feels like that. Especially if you check the (North) American and international jazz press. How many U.S. jazz fans are aware of our great artists such as David Ades, Julien Wilson, Mike Nock or Bernie McGann?

And how many are aware of Japanese, Swedish or French jazz? There is some great stuff to be heard from all over the world; a friend recently put me onto an organ trio from Greece that was knockout!

Ingrid james1Australian jazz singer Ingrid James’ recent release – Trajectoire – just might convince a few more that there is some good music to be had beyond West 44th Street (or 505 or Bennett’s Lane). Made with a mix of Australian, French, Danish and U.S. players, it is a revelation.

James is here paired with the Alexis Tcholakian Trio from France. In fact the album grew out of pianist Tcholakian’s request that she pen lyrics for a number of his compositions. Direct, and with just the right mix of experience, urbanity and poetry, her lyrics work so well it is hard to believe often that they didn’t come first, before the melodies.

Another nice balance across Trajectoire is that James has found the right point between the hip and the sweet. Too many recent jazz vocal albums seem to take the tame path, assumedly in the hope of wider audience – maybe on the fringe of Pop. This collection of songs retains some true grit and jazz light and shade, yet steers clear of the miasmic mists that afflict the jazz vocal recordings at the other end of the spectrum. There is a strong feeling of tradition – but respect for that tradition rather than either a dry clinging to it, or a sickly sugaring of it.

This balance is exemplified by the opening mission statement, a reading of Jimmy Rowles’ ‘A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)’ (lyric by Norma Winstone). James navigates this tricky winding melody with superbly simpatico paino from Tcholakian and his trio.Ingrid james2

The arrangement is smartly considered, with the piano mirroring in unison some sections of the vocal. This device is used to great effect on many tracks, marketely on the two vocal solos written by Louise Denson – the first, a duet with Danish tenor sax player Simon Spang-Hanssen on the Hammond-driven ‘Blue Confluence’; the second on the Bill Evans-ish waltz of ‘Night Reflection’.

The latter duet is with Australia’s Miroslav Bukovsky whose flugelhorn’s round golden tone sounds uncannily like a human voice itself.

The snaky melody, latin groove and Marian Bitran’s flute of the title track, ‘Trajectoire’ recalls Chick Corea’s 70s work with Flora Purim. The album pulls from many styles of jazz – ‘Midsummer Flower’s samba, the Rhodes-driven fusion of ‘Circle of Love’, the languid ballad of album closer ‘It’s Not Over’ – but there is a unity that holds it all together, a major factor being James’ warm and honeyed voice – like Dianne Reeves, a voice born for jazz.

Trajectoire is satisfying on all levels. I look forward to more from Ingrid James and Alexis Tcholakian.

Published March 2016 on australianjazz.net

 

 

In many ways, the piano trio is to Jazz what drawing is to Art. It is the basic frame upon which much of the bigger colourful stuff is hung. It is almost graphic in its lines and cross-hatchings, yet capable of telling the full story with the simplest of means – a small drum set, an acoustic bass and one of the largest of the orchestra’s percussion instruments, the piano.

golden1So it is fitting on a number of levels that pianist/composer Casey Golden’s new Trio album, Outliers, sports a graphic cover drawn in black-and-white by none other than one of Marvel Comics’ finest, Ron Frenz. It is a spacey solarscape that one expects, say, Doctor Strange to zip through on one of his missions to other dimensions.

Much of the music on Outliers seems from another world, too (the word outlier comes from statistical mathematics and is “an observation point that is distant from other observations”). Golden’s compositions roll out based upon their own logic – like Monk or, closer to home, the writing of Mike Nock – a logic that finds its own balance between flow and stop, cluster and spread, tight and open.

Texture seems to take equal weight to melody and rhythm. Harmony is subservient to texture – the woven lines of album opener, the wittily titled ‘Flatpack Empire’, the repeated arpeggios of ‘Paralysis’ as well as that track’s faux-montuno under Ed Rodrigues’ questing drum monologue. The 49 second vignette, ‘Uncovered’ is almost Japanese in its linear economy.

It all seems so perfectly-formed and confidently joyful ­– but this music and this band is no overnite sensation. Both compositions and band have been gestating for almost five years since Golden’s previous recording.

Now, with Rodrigues and bassist Bill Williams, Golden has found a band that not only obviously in synch with his unique compositional approach but one that can breath together during the blowing sections. Check the fleet ensemble sections of ‘Us or Them?’ or the conversational banter and chat of the group soloing on ‘Recluse’. golden 2

One of the delights of Outliers is the blurring of head and improvisation – all merges into a cool yet sunlit miasma of music: total integration, as is with the three instruments, as is with the elements of Golden’s writing, also extends out to wrap all in together, solos, heads, all of it. It is rare that a musical vision is so complete, and completely of its own world.

It is doubly rare that such a refined and rounded-out vision comes from one so young. Casey Golden has already been one to watch for several years – Outliers vindicates our faith and makes me, for one, hungry for more from this unique ensemble.

Published February 2015 on australianjazz.net

I love all these fantastic unique ensembles popping up wherever I look! From big bands to little big bands to sex-sept-oct-nonets, the desire to create colour, flavour and harmony out of varieties of instruments and personalities seems to be growing.

Mike Nock – an abundant kind of guy himself – has described the debut album of Sydney’s Acronym Orchestra, Initially as an “abundance of ideas…an upbeat collection of original compositions”.

Yes, the septet’s sound is highly original – a horn front line driven by guitar, keys and tuba (Mr James Greening) working in all sorts of intriguing combinations and interweavings – yet, the past is not forgotten.

acronym2

From the Soweto Hi-Life shuffle of opener track, guitarist David de Vries’ ‘Miss Coconutz’ through the New Orleans street march of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ to the mariachi flavours of altoist Peter Farrar’s ‘Bastards’ (even if they were crap, I would give them four stars for song titles alone…), the past shadows their Now sound.

De Vries’ ‘Jesus’ has gospel flavours; tenor player James Loughnan’s ‘Branches’ digs into its own kind of blues; trumpeter Joe Derrick’s ‘Joe’s Piece’ unearths a whole different blues (maybe a shade more turquoise) yet again.

It is a wonderful thing to hear The Acronym Orchestra and many of their contemporaries joyfully celebrate and integrate and build upon the musical language of, and beyond, the Jazz tradition – blues, gospel, jump, New Orleans, and even further back to Africa and the Middle East and both West and Eastern Europe.

It is of course what the musicians then do with the tradition they have been given that separates the gilt from the dross.

Echoes from the past bounce around the walls of this music, but what The Acronym Orchestra does next will amaze you – as it did me. ‘Miss Coconutz’ is riven with angular tenor sax; ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ grows into a nagging accelerando; ‘Bastards’ leaves Mexico behind in its jet trail; and the heavy lope of ‘Branches’ phractured Phrygian melody is gunned down in a blizzard of free blowing, with drummer James Waples poking holes through the howl.acronym1

And there is profound beauty too. Pianist Harry Sutherland’s ‘Misty’s Dilemma’ contains some pearlescent, shining horn writing. De Vries’ ‘Deep Sea’ pours out a translucent texture for Farrar’s alto lines to dart beneath like silver fish.

Album closer ‘Funeral March’ is perhaps the most startling. A jaunty, life-gripping march is answered by mourning sighs from the horns until, slowly and almost unnoticeably, the piece smears, like paint, into a wash-blur of sadness, and then… it’s gone.

‘Funeral March’ is only one example here that shows what an original voice and conception The Acronym Orchestra posses. For a debut, ‘Initially’ is truly remarkable.

And, to quote Mr Nock again, it is music – often because it is joyous, but often because it is so damn good – “that’ll put a smile on your face.”

Published February 2104 on australianjazz.net

Elizabeth Bogoni’s striking cover of the new album by WA composer/arranger Alice Humphries’ ECILA shows a deep blue forest symmetrically reflected upon itself. The title across the image is, in fact, Alice’s first name spelled backwards, with the letter C reversed to give us a clue – as well as playing a little visual game-within-a-game. Alice Humphries2

These symmetries and mirror-maze games pop up throughout the ten tracks that make up ECILA, the ensemble’s self-titled debut album. Humphries’ compositions and arrangements are brimming with smart ideas that use all manner of reflections, symmetries, crab-canons and latticed textures to great effect. Australian composer Iain Grandage has mentioned the “rhythmic surprises and games” in Humphries’ music.

But her charts are not some quasi-mathematical brainiac chess-game – far from it: the music here is bursting with life and fun –  as well as great great beauty. And her 11-piece ensemble, made up of some astonishing young talent (check trumpeter Callum G’Froerer on ‘Through The Barrier’ for instance) from Perth and Melbourne, is perfectly suited to Humphries’ challenging arrangements, breathing them all into vivid and deeply-dimensional life.

No less a musical thinker than Mike Nock has described Humphries’ as “…a great talent with a highly original musical conception.” One marker of this original thinking is her use of strings – viola and cello – amongst the usual jazz ensemble instruments. They shimmer on a piece such as ‘Processional’ but, played pizz., scratch at the back of your neck during the little-cat-feet scoring of ‘Blind Panic’. Humphries also uses toys – yes, toys – she and guitarist Brett Thompson employing them on ‘The Music Box’, the album’s nostalgic and evocative closer which brings to mind the atmosphere of Debussy’s ‘enchanted garden’ works, such as ‘Ma Mère L’Oye’.

Alice Humphries 1

As well as intriguing timbres, Humphries reaches into some interesting areas for her source material. Vocalist Allira Wilson is truly captivating on the two vocal cuts here – a cover of Billy Holliday’s heartbreaking ‘Don’t Explain’ and an idiosyncratic take on the early 20th century folk tune ‘Bury Me Beneath The Willow’. On the Holliday song Wilson is strong and clear over a glassy veil of instruments coming in and out like a breeze billowing and receding. On ‘Bury Me…’ the singer stays with the melody, hardly inflecting or bruising its strong, stately flow. It’s a nice demonstration of restraint and, for anyone with ears, it marks Allira Wilson as definitely a jazz voice to watch.

ECILA is a startling debut from an exciting new talent and a dazzling new ensemble. The gratifying part is that, here on their debut, we witness the beginning of a road that I truly hope will stretch far far into the future.

Mike Nock predicts that Alice Humphries is “…on course to make a big contribution to Australian music in the future.” Over the years I have found myself agreeing with pretty much everything Mike Nock has thought, played and said. And I don’t intend to stop now.

Alice Humphries: composer/arranger/glockenspiel/toys

Allira Wilson: voice

Aaron Wyatt: viola

Anna Sarcich: cello

Callum G’Froerer: trumpet/flugelhorn

Tilman Robinson: trombone

Ben Collins: saxophones/clarinet

Mark Sprogowski: bass clarinet/clarinet

Brett Thompson: guitar/toys

Callum Moncrieff: vibraphone/glockenspiel

Nick Abbet: bass

Ben Falle: drum kit

For more information visit: http://alicehumphries.com.au/ecila

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

Published February 2103 on australianjazz.net