Posts Tagged ‘Nadia Burgess’

Since forming in 2010, the Sirens Big Band have been a blast of Persian-scented fresh air into Sydney’s jazz scene, a scene where the rare female musician (who is not a vocalist) can stand out like a sapphire in the gravel. The Sirens are all-female, all-funky and all-embracing in their influences.

Sirens - pic Quirijn Mees

Band co-leaders Jessica Dunn and Harriet Harding have guided the Sirens from the beginning into a unique style heavy on the world-music grooves – oh, how I hate that word (as John McLaughlin, himself a great cross-pollinator, said “we ALL live in the World, don’t we?”) – there are Ethiopian, African, Latin, Balkan, Indian sounds there as well as New York funk, Chicago swing and Newtown boogie.

The Sirens’ debut album, Kali and The Time of Change reinforces these pan-continental grooves just as it reinforces the good time the band has when making music. Opener ‘Balkanator’ – penned by trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood (definitely a composer to watch) – jumps out like a joyful and slightly tipsy village wedding dance, the players throwing the solos around over drummer Lauren Benson’s grinning groove.

Sirens mentor (“our jazz mamma”) Sandy Evans’ Indian-spiced nine-minute-plus piece, the title track ‘Kali and The Time of Change’ opens with Harding’s sopranino talking back to the Band’s unison riffs. The piece settles down into a floating groove over which Harding raps “something majestic/ something lyrical/ female Aladdin representing future changes yo…” – a bright rap that evokes scenes in the mind and a call for peace in the heart. Quite beautiful.

Harriet Harding and tenor saxophonist Ruth Wells travelled to the Middle East last year and came back with more than they took away. These inspirations fuelled Harding’s ‘Kali’ rap and also Wells’ gorgeous ‘Hawassa to Addis’. This piece has guitarist Milan Ring singing over the entire band singing as a choir. I don’t know why it affects so deeply but it does – is it the lovely pentatonic Ethiopian folk tune the piece is based on? or is it that the choir of female voices sounds like children? or is it the low blues moan of Jessica Dunn’s bass during her solo? Who knows – best not to dwell on these things, best to just dig beauty as she should be dug, unquestioningly.Sirens Kali

The Sirens have, since their inception, played charts by some wonderful local composers and it is gratifying to see they have included several pieces here that they have had in their setlists from Day One. Paul Murchison’s hip-shaking 7/8 (if there can be such a thing, this is it) ‘I Still Remember’ gets the whole band cooking before a coolly soulful piano solo from Monique Lysiak. Nadia Burgess’s evocative, watercolour-washed ‘The Music in My Dreams’ is a masterclass in jazz big band tone-colour and restraint.

Jenna Cave’s sprightly African-limbed 9/8 jaunt ‘Odd Time In Mali’ has long been a Sirens’ favourite – by the time it smoothes out to 4/4 for Emma Riley’s sinuous trombone solo and Milan Ring’s chicken-picked guitar solo, if your foot ain’t tapping you are either made of machine-parts or dead.

Closing track Mulatu Astatke’s ‘Yekatit’ has all the elements that we love about the Siren’s Big Band – Ethio funk that swings, killer solos (Sophie Unsen’s baritone sax burning here) over a blasting band, and a joyful vibe presiding over all. It is a combination you won’t get anywhere else and they are one of Sydney’s – if not Australia’s – treasures.

The Siren’s Big Band – long may they sing us over the edge.

The Siren’s website is

Published February 2103 on 


What a pleasure to the ear and soul it is to hear a large group of instruments played acoustically in the same room. Every nuance and colour-shade floats up, as bold and brassy or as transparently wispy as the composer and the instrumentalist intends, entirely uncorrupted by the distorting mirror of electronic sound reinforcement.

This has long been the intimate joy of acoustic jazz, but when that joy is made manifest by a 17-piece jazz big band, it can be truly a thing of wonder.

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra – the new large group put together by composer Jenna Cave and trombonist Paul Weber – is one such aural wonder. The band was launched at Petersham’s Bald Faced Stag and showed great strength, colour and balance. On the night they needed all the strength they could muster to combat the sirens wailing by on Parramatta Road and the thud of Lucy De Soto’s blues-rock band in the front bar (only a thin wall away – good timing, Bald Faced Stag…).

The distractions thankfully didn’t detract from the music of the Divergence Orchestra at all. Created to perform the works of Cave and other Australian jazz composers, the band is made up of some of Sydney’s brightest young players, which gives it a high-energy, bright-eyed attack, evident throughout the eleven tune set.

Opener, the aptly named ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ roared the band into life, after being counted off by the pixie-like Cave. The enthusiasm of the group was evident from the first beat – they came out of the gate warmed up and ready to go – and carried through bristling solos from Chris O’Dea on baritone sax and Peter Koopman on guitar.

The Sammy Nestico-inspired ‘For Miro’ showed Cave’s swinging side with the band putting out a sweetly traditional sound, trumpeter Paul Meo playing a beautiful solo ‘in the cracks’. ‘And Then There Was One’ rocked between 7/4 and 6/4 timing without losing its latin-rock groove, Evan Atwell-Harris signifying on tenor.

One of the aims of the Divergence Orchestra is to give voice to the work of Australian jazz arranger-composers. Nadia Burgess’s crisply swinging ‘34 Degrees South’ was the first non-Cave choice for the night. Later in the set the band would play two tunes by Cameron Earl (conducted by the composer), ‘Run Run’ and ‘Ruby’s Tune’. All proved to anyone with ears that this music is alive and well and living in Australia.

Jenna Cave has a nice line in incorporating West African grooves in her arrangements. ‘A Stranger in Helsinki’ was based on a joyous township high-life jive that was infectious (we were here to listen but I saw every toe tapping) and taken to a far hotter place than Helsinki by Justin Buckingham’s weaving soprano solo. Later in the set every soloist in the band got to fun it up on Cave’s snaky 9/8 Afro-jump ‘Odd Time in Mali’, with drummer James McCaffrey ‘putting the pots on’ (as people far hipper than me are allowed to say).

The well-travelled Cave has drawn inspiration from her globe-trotting jazz odysseys. She is also a rare jazz arranger in that she hasn’t forgotten the power of rhythm. ‘Jazz Euphoria on Frenchmen Street’ finished the night on a jumping New Orleans hand-jive note, as funky as only a Nawlins-inspired gumbo can be.

The whole room smiled. The Parramatta Road sirens and Lucy De Soto’s blooz didn’t matter anymore; they had been blown far far away. The Divergence Jazz Orchestra had belied the fact that this was their first gig through a vibe of fun, happy work and collective groove. Long may they sail.

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s Facebook page is here.

Published August 2012 on