Posts Tagged ‘rock’

Trumpeter and composer, Ellen Kirkwood is a Sydney jazz artist I always look forward to hearing more of.

She first made me prick up my ears with the all-women Sirens Big Band, whose catholic orbit happily included her Balkan/jazz/blues mashups (check her ‘Balkanator’, the opening track on Siren’s LP Kali and the Time of Change). Her first album under her own name (ok, Captain Kirkwood), was a jazz/spoken word retelling of the ancient Greek legend of Theseus and The Minotaur.

She also bobs up with Mister Ott and Serge Stanley’s On The Stoop as well as others around town, including David Sattout’s grisly Zappa-flavoured Facemeat. The binding quality of her music and her collaborations is that is consistently has one foot firmly in jazz and the other trailing in the waters of a tangy broth of blues, rock, gypsy swing, klezmer, reggae and you-name-it.

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Her new release – under the band-name of Fat Yahoozah – titled I Don’t Care, is no exception to her unique catalogue. Maybe a bit more fun, maybe a little more raucous, but as smart and brightly arranged as anything that has come before.

And she adds the arrow of vocalist to her quiver. The title track, ‘I Don’t Care’ has Kirkwood singing a world-weary lyric over a breezy pop song (Lotte Lenya goes to Bondi?). Simon Ferenci’s trombone solo is light and grinning before a lilting horn/voice ensemble riff.

‘Klezmore’ (get it?) is a drunken wedding waltz with a dark lyric of childhood foreboding. Even though I am reviewing this album in dry July, I look forward to listening to this tune (hopefully live) after maybe one too many shiraz cabs. Once again, beautifully balanced and heartfelt horn arrangements paint the picture.

‘Translation Day’ has Ruth Wells’ soprano intro-ing with some Eastern European blues before the ensemble clips along on a lovely village polka; Jessica Dunn’s bowed bass singing like Grandpapa. The tune accelerates and accelerates until all the winter leaves are blown off the trees. This tune made me realize how vivid the sound pictures are on the album; how much Soul it has.fat yahoozah 1

The band Kirkwood has assembled helps paint the pictures beautifully. She has smartly drawn the players from her previous and current collaborations – Wells from the Sirens and Facement, David Sattout on guitar, Serge Stanley on sax and accordian, Ferenci, The Sirens’ Dunn on bass with Evan McGregor on drums and percussives.

I know the band has been knocking everyone out playing live around town – it’s a killer one-two punch: jazz chops with gypsy party moods that anyone can love. It’s awfully good to drink to, but even better to listen to. I recommend you do.


Published July 2015 on



Ah, Fat Freddy’s Drop – more than just a band, more a force of nature.

Aotearoa’s ‘seven headed soul monster’ has grown organically over the years, eschewing much modern music-biz marketing stratagems and long-range forecasts. They just play music, man. I always loved the fact that their first full length, 2001’s Live at The Matterhorn contained four 18-minute tracks – four gorgeously open-ended deep soul/dub adventures in sound. (It was barely promoted and sold and sold and sold…)


Subsequent releases have been more song based in parts, but it is still the great strength of The Drop (named after LSD blotters carrying a pic of Zap Comix freak brother, Fat Freddy) to take us out to the further reaches of dub with an almost Jazz sensibility laying the road beneath us as we travel.

New album Blackbird holds some delicious dub as well as some beautifully stoned soul. Opener, title track ‘Blackbird’ sets up the trip with a bass line that is worth the price of admission alone. The track moves through some Latin piano, sweet soul vocal and dubby horns, coming out the other end into a big, blazing horn coda. All the FFD elements are there, better than ever to my ear – Blackbird seems to have distilled the most perfect expression of their sound yet.

‘Russia’ continues the trip, digging even deeper. ‘Clean the House’ suggests a Motown soul thing, complete with squelchy guitars and floating horns – you won’t hear another rhythm section play a straight 1/8th-beat pattern as funky as this.

You also won’t hear another band roll out a shuffle – the track ‘Silver and Gold’ – quite like The Drop. And here is where the genius of FFD and the remarkable interaction of the band lies – after playing this many gigs (innumerable European and Australian tours) each member seems to work ego-less and uncannily as a part of the ‘seven headed soul monster’, intuitively shaping the sound. Telepathy abounds! It is a very ‘black’ music consciousness – working as part of a greater community, the opposite mid-set of the ‘white’ thing of ego-battle and cult of the individual. (Pardon my glaring generalisation here – but you get my drift…).ffd

And it makes for some entirely sumptuous grooves – the soul pump of ‘Bones’, the almost surreal dubscape of ‘Soldier’, the rattling Latin clip of ‘Mother Mother’ (which contains some of the tastiest horn writing on the album). What is always remarkable about Fat Freddy’s Drop is that they can pick the eyes out of contemporary music, mixing elements of any style – blues, dub, techno, jazz (acid and acoustic), electronica, soul, R’n’B and rock – and always come up sounding like themselves. Is it magic? Blackbird certainly sounds like it is.

To their fans and to new audiences at home and around the world, Fat Freddy’s Drop can do no wrong. It is music that has an irresistibility that comes from its deep humanity and echoes of the most deeply-felt musics of the recent and deep past. And Blackbird will continue to spread the good word, in wider and wider circles.

Details of the Blackbird AlbumTour are at

Published July 2013 on

I once heard John Coltrane’s playing described as the sound of a ‘very large man crammed into a tiny room, shooting notes at the corners of that room.’ I have often though of that neat phrase when experiencing the playing of Sydney tenor colossus James Ryan. Lyrical as it is, in a jazz setting  – even in his big, bad Sonic Mayhem Big Band – his playing can so strong that it sometimes threatens to immolate the horn with that same sort of phosphorescent energy Coltrane could put out.

So it makes sense that jazz-fusion is a good fit for James Ryan. Jazz-rock fusion (theoretically) takes the best of both musics – the unbridled energy of Rock and the freedom and imagination of Jazz – and combines them to make something (theoretically) greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, too much fusion seems to take, instead, the bombast of Rock and the noodling of Jazz and can be excruciatingly awful.

That said, outfits such as Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s various Return to Forevers have made music that hits some stratospheric and ecstatic highs – that wouldn’t be possible in either Jazz or Rock individually.


Ryan’s fusion super-group, The Subterraneans, are the best of the best. Comprising a core of Ryan, electric bassist Steve Hunter, drummer James Hauptmann and hyperkinetic guitarist James Muller, they are a force of nature, balancing ferocious energy with focused and sharp musical ideas. John Shand has said of The Subs “This is what the fusion of Jazz and Rock always promised but rarely delivered: sophisticated improvising harnessed to raw power.

Their recent album Live at The Townie is drawn from shows The Suberraneans performed at Newtown’s Town Hall Hotel every Sunday in February, March, April and May 2012 and Feb 2013. Every performance was recorded and eight tracks (out of over 100) were selected. Guests Rai Thistlethwayte on keys (lovely gritty Rhodes on the very Miles-ish ‘So To Speak’) and guitarist Ben Hauptmann add to the proceedings. subterraneans1

All this talk of Rock and power, howver, belies the scope of The Subterraneans’ dynamic. Opener ‘Constant Change’ is a demonstration of the freedom the band can spin music from – trippy and ambient, it is the sound of band that can truly breathe together (something surprisingly rare in ‘super-groups’). ‘So To Speak’ begins with bass-harmonic atmospheres from Steve Hunter, reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Continuum’, before moving through 11:09 of beautiful soloing from Ryan and the previously mentioned Thistlethwayte.

But all subtle grooving aside, it is the excitingly hair-raising pieces here that really get the band’s blood flowing – their take on ‘The Subterraneans’ makes the studio version, already a barnstorming performance, pale by comparison. Ryan’s soloing threatens to split his tenor at the seams, but it is James Muller’s shredding explorations that push the band into hyperdrive. Muller’s playing throughout is a reminder of the power in his playing, but power – as it is with every member of The Subs – that is subservient to the music and the collective momentum.

It is a rare treat to have a band bristling with soloists such as Ryan, Muller and Hunter. It is an even rarer treat when they subsume their egos to combine into such a remarkable band. And it is a yet even rarer treat when the performances of such a collective can be recorded (nice work Dave Bourke!) in a live setting with all its attendant fire and brimstone and in-the-moment immediacy. As I said, the best of the best.

The Subterraneans – Live at The Townie is released through Rippa Recordings and available from and Birdland.

Published May 2103 on 


Sometimes I think it is Europe that will save Jazz – not that Jazz really needs saving, just as Rock doesn’t need saving, but both could do with the occasional cracker up the wazoo.

Whenever Jazz seems threatened by the over-zealous or paralysingly-respectful American approach, I am heartened by Northern sounds such as Esbjörn Svensson’s  E.S.T. (R.I.P. the band and the man) from Sweden or more recently Norway’s crushingly heavy Elephant9. I also think back to the enormous popularity among the hashish-and-Escher set of the arty ECM label from Germany, who gave us Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett (Americans ignored initially by their homeland) and continues to break new and intriguing artists to this day.

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The recent release of Walking Dark by Scandinavian-British trio, Phronesis, as well as reminding me of that particularly European approach to improvised music, is a delight. I say ‘improvised music,’ instead of Jazz, as their approach seems – like so many Euro Improv artists – to have leached any trace of the Blues out of it, finally cutting off that already shrivelled branch to Mother America.

The Euro approach seems to take as much from Northern European classical music as anything else, and (surprisingly) Latin music – especially the rhythmic quirks of Cuban music, which in itself was a beautiful mongrel of Spanish, African and anything else that happened to sail into port. Blues out, Latin in – ‘Chega De Saudade’ indeed.

Just check out Walking Dark’s ‘Upside Down’ which starts with a single, repeated syncopated piano note from Ivo Neame (UK). This simple-yet-complex motif is soon joined by the bass of Jasper Hoiby (Denmark) and the drums of Anton Eger (Sweden) to create a very Latin lattice of cross-rhythms and cross-currents that works so perfectly. Maybe it is because the piano cannot bend a note that the Blues is banished but I don’t see that as the full story. Phronesis seem to work best when creating this mesh of sound and pulling and pushing it into different texture and shapes.

Phronesis – the word means ‘wisdom’ or ‘intelligence’ or, more specifically ‘the wisdom to change our lives for the better’ – is the brainchild of London-based bassist Hoiby and was formed in 2005. The group has been described by Jazzwise Magazine as “the most exciting and imaginative piano trio since E.S.T.” and I think they are right.PhronesisLP

Much of this excitement, to my ear, comes from the democratic approach of Phronesis, each player given entirely free rein to move their strand of the music forward as they see fit, or feel at the time. In this sense, ‘democratic’ is not an accurate term, as it suggests a lowest common denominator. Phronesis are all leaders – they just lead simultaneously (is this the essence of true democracy?). Check out some of the improvising – or ‘blowing’ sections – on Walking Dark, such as the middle of ‘Lipwash Part II’ or the drum solo over a groovy montuno (there’s that Latin vibe again) in ‘Zeiding’.

Walking Dark is a revelation. Any Radiohead or Brian Eno fan out there will dig it – once again, the European-ness of it all brings it together.

Thinking of checking Jazz out? Now’s the time, Phronesis is the band, Walking Dark is the album.

Pics by Katja Liebing. Check out Katja Liebing’s gallery of photos from Phronesis’s recent Blue Beat show here.

Phronesis’s website is here.

Published March 2013 on

When Lenny Kaye and Jac Holzman released the compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 in 1972, I doubt they had any idea of the size of the pop-culture floodgate they were opening.

Ostensibly a vanity project by a fan of early US garage-rock (but, in Holzman, a fan who just happened to own Elektra Records), it was a massively successful and influential release for a number of reasons. The first was Holzman’s impeccable taste in picking the sweetest and sourest cherries of the era for his compilation; the second was Lenny Kaye’s liner notes which coined the term “punk-rock” – liner notes which were almost as inspirational as the music itself (Kaye went onto become the guitarist in punk-poetess Patti Smith’s band). And the third – and main – reason for Nuggets’ world-shaking impact was the music.18609

This music – rock-pop singles from the earliest days of guitar-rock – is often mistakenly referred to as “primitive”. Sure, it sounds basic and it is often whacked out with a loose-limbed flailing where precision comes a distant last after more visceral charms – but it is more “primal” than “primitive”. And there is a distinct difference.

That “primal” edge – stripped back, no-frills, down the line, groove based – has been the spine of all great Rock since the early days of rock’n’roll in the 1950s. And it was happening all over the world. The new release Down Under Nuggets: Original Artyfacts 1965-1967, collects 29 Australian releases of the time, with superlative liner notes by Ian D Marks.

And what a strange, snotty, twangy, frugg-adelic trip it is, through the fevered young Australia of the time. Sure the US influence are there – after all, “Wooly Bully” and “Louie Louie” are in Rock’s DNA – but there is so much here to be greatly proud of.

In among all the one-hit wonders (Gawd bless ‘em!), Hit-making names abound: The Masters Apprentices (who, like Billy Thorpe, seemed to have hits in all of Australia’s rock eras of the 60s and 70s: pop, rock-pop, heavy blues-rock), The Atlantics (our still-reigning surf-rock Gods), The Easybeats, Bobby & Laurie (safari-suited RSL Club balladeers in a later life) and – believe it or not – The Bee Gees (years before they became UK Pop Kings and, later, US falsetto Disco Queens). All turn in wild and woolly performances – they have to to be included here among genius rockers like The Purple Hearts (led by amp-melter Lobby Lloyd) and the astounding Loved Ones (their innovative yet groovy 9/8 stomp ‘The Loved One’ was brilliantly covered by a young INXS before the perms, synths and international glitter bloated them).


The irresistible charm of this music is that it is all so gorgeously unselfconscious. A good example is the cracker Easybeats song here, ‘Sorry’. This was their Hit prior to ‘Friday On My Mind’ and the difference between the two songs is the difference between innocence and experience, effervescent youth and what-comes-after. Only released a few months apart, ‘Friday…’ is all contrapuntal lines, resolving chords and rococo invention – whereas ‘Sorry’ has none of that bollocks: just a power-riff, a shout-along hook-chorus and Little Stevie going ape-shit – in short, perfect.

The last piece on Down Under Nuggets is a rare surf-film sound-track version of ‘The Hot Generation’ by surf-rockers The Sunsets. It is five and a half minutes long – every other track here is under the magic three minutes. The Sunsets would soon become Oz prog-heroes Tamam Shud, with vocalist Lindsay Bjerre transforming from fresh-faced surfer teen to moustached LSD warlock. The clouds of Prog (and grownupness) were gathering.


In conjunction with the arrival of Down Under Nuggets Rhino has released Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations. In a strange fun-park mirroring of the past, where an entire generation of bands payed tribute in their own music to the original 1972 Nuggets, this Antipodean Interpolations has Australian bands of 2012, obviously influenced by those bands, paying tribute to the originals as well.

And it is a testament to the enduring vibe of the originals that The Oz bands really don’t have to step too far away from their sound to lovingly recreate the excitement of songs like The Electric Prunes’ ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night’ (nailed by Velociraptor) or The Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’ (frugged-up real nice by Geelong’s Murlocs).

In his liner notes (yes folks, when it comes to Nuggets, the liner notes ain’t just liner notes) to Antipodean Interpolations, US über-journo David Fricke refers to Baptism of Uzi’s reworking of The Amboy Dukes (reworking of Big Joe Williams) ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ as “Seventies Kraut-Rock hypnosis, Nuggets-goes-NEU!”. As ever he is spot-on – it has to be heard to be believed (when is the world going to wake up to Baptism of Uzi?).

The Straight Arrows’ “Lies”, Pond’s “Hey Joe” (owing as much to Love’s take as Nuggets’ The Leaves’), The Eagle & The Worm’s acid-carousel waltz “An Invitation To Cry”: 18 tracks of great music way beyond just tribute – I allow myself a little jingoistic pride to say they are all bonzer. Taste and see.


Published December 2012 on