Posts Tagged ‘Paul Weber’

The music of Thelonious Sphere Monk is a world of its own. So unique in jazz is Monk’s conception – both in composition and in improvisation  – that it has pretty much carved out a sub-genre of its own.

Because of its unique language, it has proven down the years a notoriously difficult book to play. Some of the greats have struggled with its quirks and almost Zen-like mind-games: the staggered rhythms, the displaced phrases, the lines that seemingly go nowhere, only to bob up from rabbit-hole a few bars later. John Coltrane and Monk’s long-time foil, Charlie Rouse come to mind, but not too many others.

To improvise over Monk’s compositions – even a deceptively traditional blues such as ‘Blue Monk’ – demands an understanding of his highly personal logic. To move within that successfully, while not losing your own voice, is the grail.

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Sydney altoist, Michael Griffin has put together a tribute to Monk’s music based around an octet Monk toured in 1968. Griffin’s octet (a very Monk word I think; as ‘quintet’ is a very Miles word) is made up of some of our best and brightest. I was fortunate to catch them at Sydney’s swish Foundry 616.

After the opener, the sweetly melancholic ‘Ruby, My Dear’ played by the quartet of Griffin, Aaron Blakey on piano and the rhythm section of Tim Geldens (drums) and Tom Botting (bass), Griffin brought out the horns. With ‘Epistrophy’ I knew Griffin has done his homework. He explained, mid-set, that he had voiced the horns based on transcriptions of Monk’s piano voicings. So all the harmonic quirks were there – the clashed seconds and flat-seconds, the clusters, the more open intervals such as sixths and ninths (Monk seemed to favour either very close or very open harmony) – and the effect was, like Monk himself, akin to nothing else in jazz.

The band swung through a nice mix of faves and obscurities – the gonzoid mis-steps of ‘Evidence’, the fractured bop of ‘We See’, a wonderfully driving ‘Off Minor’, the horns – Griffin plus Michael Gordon and Louis Gordon (2 tenors), with Paul Weber on trombone and Tom Avenicos on trumpet – sounding huge on ‘Oska T’ and almost Stravinsky-like on closer ‘Crepuscule with Nellie’.

The soloists all dug into the material with zest. Griffin’s smart selection of players afforded a range of approaches – Michael Gordon’s reflective tone and ideas, Louis (no relation) Gordon’s more biting attack, the sharp tone of Avenicos (a beautiful solo in ‘I Mean You’ where the piano laid out and the trumpet notes played contrapuntal tag with the rhythm section), Paul Weber’s blues-inflected voice-like lines.

Griffin’s Parker-classic alto flurries at times could seem at odds with the more open Monk ideas – serving as an illustration as to the immense differences between these two ‘architects’ of Bebop, Monk and Charlie Parker (as different as Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi, though I couldn’t say who was which). That said, his more lyrical side was the highpoint of ‘Blue Monk’, beautiful long blues lines and lovely phrase endings. But what the hell – he is one of our most exciting players whatever he does.

Someone who seemed to be having too much fun was pianist Aaron Blakey. And what jazz pianist wouldn’t with the Monk book? Resplendent in a wide Sonny Rollins hat, Blakely placed perfect ‘Monk bombs’ under the soloists and laid out for great gaps, shoring up the tension as Monk used to (though, I noted, without Monk’s sweet, abandoned dance movements around the piano). Blakey’s solos had an equal measure of his own sparkling ideas and some Zen-lunatic Monk humour. His solo-piano take on ‘Pannonica’ which opened the second set was another high-point in a night of highs.

If only to experience the wonderful, eternally-modern music of T S Monk you need to see this band. The fact that Michael Griffin has rendered such perfect arrangements, kept close and respectful to the spirit of Monk, and engaged such a killer ensemble makes it  an essential to any fan of Jazz.

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Back in 2013 I wrote of Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s startling debut: “The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way.

I am happy to say the new Divergence album ­– cheekily and tartly titled Fake It Until You Make It ­­– is here. And I want to shout about it.

As assured and fully-formed as The Opening Statement was, the three years between it and the new one has added an even greater depth and daring to Cave’s writing and the band’s entirely apt and sympathetic reading (in all senses) of her charts.

Other band members have contributed some gems as well, such as trombonist Luke DavisMorricone-esque opener ‘On Horseback’. Across just under nine minutes, this piece unfolds through various cinematic moods, helped by the Spanish sketches of Will Gilbert’s trumpet and a beautifully evocative tenor solo from David Reglar.

Pic by Brian Stewart

Pic by Brian Stewart

A large part of Jenna Cave’s gifts as a writer is her love for the tradition of the big band, a favourite being the masterful Basie arranger Sammy Nestico. Her ‘For Míro’ is next – a lightly swinging piece strongly evoking Nestico in her tribute to Miroslav Bukovsky, teacher and mentor. Cave’s neo-classicist chart brings out the neo-classicist in Andrew Scott whose piano solo here is pure Basie: all taste and space.

From Cave the neo-classicist to Cave the arch-modernist: ‘Fantastical Epic (Lessons in Jazz)’ is pure impressionism; a journey through the colours of the big band. This is virtuoso horn writing – as much about texture as it is about melody and narrative.

The first time I ever heard Cave’s work was a tricky African chart called ‘Odd Time in Mali’ (written for the Sirens Big Band and included on The DJO’s The Opening Statement). It showed me her deep love for rhythm and on the new one, ‘Miss Party Pants’ (funky as hell with Luke Liang’s citric blues guitar nipping at the heels of the rhythm section) and ‘Twerking it Nyabs Style’ confirm it. Both are irresistible grooves with unfussy horns never getting in the way of that killer groove; the latter bounces with a springy NOLA ‘second line’ jump that shows the deep strength of rhythm section David Groves on bass and drummer James McCaffrey.

So much good art comes from life’s rivers and roads – and sadly some of the best comes from life’s hurts and tears. Two of the album’s highlights are – to me at least – compositions that gave come from low points in Jenna Cave’s journey as a human and as an artist. Both are statements of hope and renewal and yet the maturity in the writing gives a deep sense of the aching sadness behind them. ‘Now My Sun Can Shine Again’ is lush writing perfectly framing Andrew Scott’s piano solo which lifts through the harmonies, as one’s spirit would lift to the sunlight of hope out of black despair. ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ is quietly triumphant, a little like Cave herself. diveergence-fake-2

Trombonist Brendan Champion and trumpeter Paul Murchison contribute great work here too – allowing a widening of contrasting artistic voices for the Divergence band. Champion’s ‘Tones’ grows into a New Orleans strut out of a staggered 7/4 groove – wonderful contrasts here, both between the grooves and the way Champion’s writing weighs sections of the band against each other. His title tune, ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ is sharp and innovative ensemble writing, lots of ideas but with one idea dovetailing nicely into the next.

Paul Murchison’s driving 3/4 blues ‘Trinity’ plays some cute rhythmic games with the 3/4-12/8 waltz-shuffle groove and sparkles with a sharp be-bop solo from alto Justin Buckingham. It is the toughest tune on the album: direct and based around the core of the band, the rhythm trio.

But it is Jenna Cave who shines here. Her big-hearted brass conception of Miroslav Bukovsky’s ‘Peace Piece’ gets to a place deep inside you. Her framing and emotive colouring of Bukovsky’s pleading and very human melody line is one of many high-points of Fake It Until You Make It.

Back in 2013, I, for one, was all ears for anything else The Divergence Jazz Orchestra wanted to shout my way. Now, three years later, I realise, they no longer need to shout. With a voice as assured as this stellar collection attests to, they will only now need to speak.

 

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra launches Fake It Until You Make It at Foundry 616 on Friday October 14.

The album is available here https://divergencejazzorchestra.bandcamp.com/

Website is http://jennacave.com/divergence-jazz-orchestra/

 

Published October 2106 on http://australianjazz.net and http://jazz.org.au

 

Jazz fads and styles may come and go but the thrill of the big band – like Classic Rock, ABBA or Mozart – will never go away. To experience the heavy impasto textures or watercolour washes of a large jazz ensemble is a buzz like no other.

Importantly, the Big Band sound harks back to a time when jazz was King (yes, kidz, a Jazz Age!) yet, at the same time, suggests a future maybe not entirely Pro-Tooled and Auto-Tuned into meek submission.

Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra is one of Australia’s keepers of the big band flame. More power to them.

And now we have their (astonishing) debut, The Opening Statement.

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Of course, quality – of conception, arrangement and execution – is where it’s at. This is not a nostalgia trip (if it is only that, it deserves to wither and drop) – it is music of Here and Now. Luckily, the Divergence band has arranger Cave at the helm and an astonishing array of Australia’s best and brightest to breathe (literally, in the case of the horns) life into her brilliant charts.

Check opener, ‘A Stranger In Helsinki’ – a snappy (and snapping) chart based on a nimble guitar figure (like the later tune ‘Odd Time In Mali’). The noticeable lack of piano across The Opening Statement allows a greater range of dynamics – Luke Liang’s guitar solos and comps in a lighter way, with those slightly odd guitar voicings, allowing all nuance and colour of the horns to remain at the forefront.

This is apparent in the multi-part suite ‘Dear Miss Upstill’ – one of Cave’s most idiosyncratic and adventurous charts. Led by Wil Gilbert’s understated flugelhorn, the piece grows from a melancholy prelude through a punchy middle section – with smart and funky tenor from Michael Avgenicos – back into a translucently pretty restatement. The arrangement has no fat or flab, reinforcing Cave’s skill and great ear for economy and emotional trajectory. Gilbert shines on this track and across The Opening Statement – def a player to watch.

‘And Then There Was One’ is also built on a spidery guitar figure – 7/4 then 6/4 and back again, but hey who’s counting? – and features a sharp drum break from James McCaffrey, messing with the horn riff to great effect. Cave’s arrangement keeps the rhythm section to the fore, never forgetting – unlike too many contemporary large ensemble arrangers – that rhythm is King, which is one of the many delights of her charts all over The Opening Statement.divergence3

‘Jazz Euphoria on Frenchman Street’, a chart inspired by Cave’s visit to Where-It-All-Began, New Orleans, draws out some tasty/dirty blues guitar from Liang and some real joy-in-the-telling from the band. It also reinforces Jenna Cave’s – and through her, the Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s – commitment to the tradition of jazz and the big band expression of the past, and the future. It’s a beautiful thing.

Title track, ‘The Opening Statement’ (nice title for a confident debut, n’est-ce pas?) is pure modernist tones spread across the pallet of the ensemble. The writing is clear, aquatint and astringent and speaks to me of cities and streets and bars, with neon reflecting off wet nighttime streets. It also is a very beautiful reminder of the entirely original voice of the Divergence Jazz Orchestra.

Closing track ‘Odd Time In Mali’ holds a special place in me – I first saw Sydney’s all-woman Sirens Big Band, when Cave was their altoist-arranger, grapple with its tricksy Afro-Jazz 9/8 rhythm at their inaugural gig a couple of years back and it made me prick up my ears to this young arranger on the block, Jenna Cave.

Smoothing out to straight 4’s for a range of solo workouts (Weber trom, Matt Collins tpt, Josh Willard alto, David Groves bass and McCaffrey dms), ‘Odd Time In Mali’ seems to encapsulate the joy, chops and colour of the Divergence Jazz Orchestra.

The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that – it is apparent – has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way.

 

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Prior to posting this review I asked Jenna Cave a handful of questions. Here are her responses:

 

John Hardaker:  What was the spark that led to the formation of The Divergence Jazz Orchestra?

Jenna Cave: For so long it was one of those “dream scenario” fantasies that seemed impossible but that I couldn’t get out of my head. I remember about 7 years ago (when I was 22) I had a saxophone student who was about ten or fifteen years older than me. I think he thought it was inspiring that I was a musician.  He asked me “If you could do anything with music, what would you do, ultimate dream scenario” I thought for a minute and just blurted out of nowhere “to have my own big band that I get to compose for”. On election night 2010 one of my friends had a house party and a bunch of musicians were there. Paul Weber and I were chatting and he told me he wanted to form a big band, then I said ” Hey! I want to form a big band”. By the end of the night we’d pretty much decided we were going to form a big band together down the track. Then when we both had some time to dedicate to it in 2012, so it began.

JH: To compose, organise, record and perform with a jazz orchestra is a huge undertaking. What is the rush that makes it all more than worthwhile?

JC: I love composing. I love getting in the creative zone where all that exists is you, and the music in your imagination. It’s a fun place to be. Having your music performed really well, especially when it carries forth your emotional intentions, is an incredible feeling. For me there is no better way to express how I experience the world.

JH: The band is pretty much packed with some of the best and brightest of today’s young players. Do you seek them out or do they gravitate towards you? 

JC: When we started the band Paul and I had many a long discussion about who to recruit. In the end the bulk of the band we first put together were in the Con big band when we were both there (Paul doing jazz trombone, myself doing masters in composition). As time went on some players moved on as people do, and the new players we got on board tended to be people we knew and had worked with, or that other people in the band had worked with. Rapport is very important, considering we don’t rehearse all the time, existing musical relationships are very handy to draw from. Equally, it’s important to have players who are willing and keen to put in the group rehearsal hours. Even if someone is a great player, if they don’t want to be a team player there’s not much point with what we are doing here.

JH: Your compositions have always struck me as highly original in concept – where do they come from?

JC: I have heaps of influences, there so much music I love. But I don’t think this inspires me to go and write music to sound like those musicians. I mean sometimes ill like a groove and want to write something with that feel, but mostly other people’s music just opens up my imagination to all the possibilities. So when I compose I just sit down and write what I’d like to hear.

Sometimes this can take me a long time, because ill have a vague concept in my head of a sound that I imagined, but then actually getting that on to paper can take a lot of fumbling until you can hear it clearly. It’s very exciting composing this way though. It means you are following your instincts and intuition which is a lovely way to express yourself and have your own voice.

JH: What are your thoughts on the state of large jazz ensemble musical  today?

JC: There seems to be a fair bit happening!

JH: What are your thoughts on mainstream music in general today?

Not much, I don’t really follow it. Occasionally there’s something mainstream that I will really enjoy, but mostly I just listen to music that catches my ear.

 

Published October 2103 on australianjazz.net