Posts Tagged ‘Sean Wayland’

I was surprised when I put on saxophonist/compopser Andy Sugg’s new album. The last Sugg album I heard was when I (glowingly) reviewed the excellent Berlin Session album in early 2013.

That album was free and wild and had the colossal shadow of John Coltrane falling across the wonderful music made with Sugg’s daughter, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and players Jan Leipnitz and Sean Pentland.

The new one, Wednesdays at M’s, could not be more different. The focus is far more on composition, arrangement and timbral texture and has a decidedly fusion edge, complete with electric flavours.

sugg-wednes-1

But then I was surprised that I was surprised – after all, Sugg is a searching, seeking, probing player. Why would he sound now as he did four years ago?

The Group is entirely different, too, apart from Kelsey-Sugg on piano (and vapour-like vocals on closer ‘Rings Around The Moon’). Made up of leading players such as drummer Nate Wood, Ben Eunson on guitar and Australian-abroad Sean Wayland, this is no ordinary Group.

And they need to be extraordinary to navigate Sugg’s remarkable compositions and bring them to vivid life – each tune is completely owned by the ensemble; the ensemble playing and solos leap from the speakers with a rush of blood and fire.sugg-wednes-2

The electric edge doesn’t become apparent until Ben Eunson’s guitar solo on opener ‘Djuna at One’. The groove is buoyant, rolling along on the tough acoustic bass of Matt Clohesy until Eunson’s electric guitar chops into it, right down to the bone. Eunson’s playing across Wednesdays at M’s is a highlight: biting here, fluid there, he plays with a wide range of textures that should be an object lesson to more than a few contemporary jazz guitarists. His tone is metallic but fleshed out with more than enough blues to make it sing beautifully.

The fusion thing is taken up a notch over the three part Suite, ‘Hemispheric’: Part 1 is swathed in Christian Almiron’s Zawinulesque synth washes. Almiron returns for Part 3, soloing and swooping across the brightly choppy rhythm.

A highlight of the album is ‘Mandela’. Built on a criss-crossing set of riffs, this groove pushes Sugg and Eunson to some spiraling highs. Sugg’s playing throughout is revelatory yet always with deep soul and humanity in his delivery. On the Berlin Session album he played only soprano; here he plays only tenor and it fits the tougher ensemble dynamic perfectly (it is particularly thrilling when in unison with Eunson’s Stratocaster).

Prior to recording, these eight pieces were worked up in a weekly workshop environment on NYC’s Lower East Side in a vacant dance studio belonging to ‘Mike’, hence the album title. You can hear the freedom and care that Sugg was allowed to lavish on their forming: nothing is rushed and there was obviously room for tints of other non-jazz genres to colour the music. In essence, the music was allowed to grow and evolve in a hothouse.

At the foot of his liner notes, Andy Sugg simply says ‘Thank you, Mike.’ I, and anyone who listens to Wednesdays at M’s will surely second that emotion.

 

For more information visit: www.andysugg.com

 

We all love big band jazz. We all love small group jazz. But I also have a very soft spot for those little-big bands in between – those eight, nine, ten piece outfits (which go by the beautifully alien appellations of octet, nonet, decet).

In many ways the smaller ensembles produce a more ‘jazz’ sound than the big bands. The contrasts between solo and ensemble passages is not as jarring as in a big band – the whole thing seems cut from the same cloth. Just by dint of pure logistics, the medium sized group is going to breathe better as a unit and allow for more telepathy and magic to happen. (Look at Birth of The Cool for a place where the medium is the message).

There is a lot of magic on Mace Francis’ recent album Land Speed Record recorded with his New York Nonet – named for the NY natives and Oz ex-pats that make up the nine.Mace Francis Land Speed

In his liner notes, alto player Jon Gordon mentions that the group only had a short time to rehearse prior to recording in New York. In one way, you can’t tell (it is as tight as you would want); in another, you can – each piece leaps from the speakers with an immediacy and life that shows all players had their antennae right out. Gordon also writes of the “depth and searching quality” in Francis’ music – and he is right-on there.

Opener ‘Rosé’ sets up an impressionistic veil of horn textures over a languid ostinato groove. Tenor player Dan Pratt solos in and out of horn groupings (or are they moving in and out of his solo?). The whole thing lattices and meshes beautifully – this is smart horn writing, and the transparency in sound of the smaller group allows all the voices to stand out in high relief.

The organic nature – the ‘breathing’ of the group – is evident on the title piece, ‘Land Speed Record’. A suspended Mat Jodrell trumpet intro leads into a thicket of time-signatures, the band accelerating and moving as one until a free-blown section opens up into a typically inventive and astringent Sean Wayland solo. It sounds like a lot is going on, but Francis’ writing never spends too much time gazing at its own navel. It flows instinctively because the writing and the playing have a lot of humanity – a lot of soul.

The moody ‘Pandora’s Mood’, the gorgeous brass choir intro to ‘Samsara’, the driving mutant bossa of ‘Orla’ all show the ‘heart’ in this music, which extends to the soloists – Alan Ferber’s joyous trombone solo on ‘Orla’, Jon Gordon’s bopalicious alto fun on ‘Samsara’ (big kudos to the rhythm of Matt Clohesy on bass and drummer Mark Ferber, too!), the surreal bass clarinet of Doug Yates on the resigned ‘Well… Maybe Someday’.

The track that leaped out to me was ‘Why A?’ which features guitarist Nate Radley. (I am guessing the title is a question from the Bb and Eb horn guys, the answer being that A is guitar friendly, dudes). Over an A pedal, descending guitar chords are soon reflected by the horns before a snap, crackle and popping swinging solo from Radley. He is one to watch.

Mace Francis is one to watch too. On the strength of ‘Land Speed Record’, I will be watching (and listening) – I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

_____________________________________________________

Prior to posting this review I asked Mace Francis a few short questions. Here are his responses:

1. Your new CD ‘Land Speed Record’ is recorded with a nonet – what was your thinking behind choosing this particular format?

I have pretty much only worked with big bands, as my creative vehicle, since 2003.  I love big bands and will continue to work with them.  The nonet idea came from working with alto player Jon Gordon here in Perth a few years ago.  He gave me a couple of CDs of his which featured a nonet he had worked with and while it still had a large ensemble feel, it allowed the individual musicians to feature more predominantly like in a small group ensemble.  The nonet line-up seemed to have the best of both worlds.  When Jon and I were talking about the recording I asked about that nonet and the recording studio they used and suggested that I would like to do a similar thing.  Jon helped me get a group of musicians together that he trusted and we went from there.

2. Your nonet includes bass clarinet and guitar – they seem a unique choice for such a limited grouping of instruments (they sound great by the way). Why did you include these instruments?

I am a guitarist and have always had a guitarist in my big bands instead of a piano player.  I just prefer the sound of a guitar blending with saxes and brass more so than piano, but having them both was very cool as it meant I could use the guitar to voice with the horns and still have a comping instrument.  As for the bass clarinet it was just because Doug Yates is so awesome.  Jon suggested him because he can double but when I checked him out I decided that having him on bass clarinet would sound great.  His sound is enormous and his solo on the last track “Well, Maybe Someday” is just awesome.

mace01

3. Of course the nonet format brings to mind ‘Birth of The Cool’ and the Gerry Mulligan little-big (big-little?) bands. Did these recordings influence the sound of ‘Land Speed Record’ or did you start with a clean slate?

I have listened to Birth of the Cool and Mulligan’s bands a lot so it may have influenced the music a bit but for most of the pieces they were written to feature different members of the ensemble.  Having less instruments (compared to a big band) was a real challenge as you need to be more specific orchestrationally.

4. You are based in Perth. Perth is known in rock circles as a place from where some quite unique sounds emanate. is it the same for jazz?

I was born and raised in Geelong in Victoria and moved to Perth in 2000 as I was accepted into WAAPA on jazz guitar.  My focus went from performance to composition in 2nd year.  Perth has a great scene with WAAPA pumping out great musicians every year, WA Youth Jazz Orchestra has a great annual program featuring 3 big bands and we have The Ellington Jazz Club putting on 7 nights a week music, Perth Jazz Society etc.  We just get on with business over here in the West.

5. What is your view of jazz today and the place of large-group composition/arrangement in it?

Jazz is strange and it is usually only people who love it – love it.  I love that now jazz is pretty much anything you want it to be, it is always evolving.  It is a shame that so many people, and musicians, think that it needs to sound like something that happened 60 or 70 years ago (or more).  I think jazz is as strong as it has been.  We have to enjoy what is happening now, get excited what will happen and stop reminiscing about the Golden Era or the Good Ol Days.

Large jazz ensembles seems to be coming back into popularity, especially with younger musicians/composers (while we are young and stupid).  Most bands being started now are by people who want to present their own music, which is great.  There are a few here in Perth that have popped up recently and quite a lot in Sydney and Melbourne.  There is something really special about creating music with a large group of people.  It is great to see and I take my hat off to anyone who can organise that many people for a gig and rehearsals.  My hair is a lot greyer than it was 7 years ago.

6. What is your view of music in general today? (You are allowed to swear).

I love most music and especially music with craft, groove, humour and heart – the Idol/x factor phenomenon shits me.  The public are getting bombarded with watered down rubbish on these shows that eat up these useless singers and then spit them out when they stop making them money.  If you are fed only white bread your whole life and then try something else, like a ripe (real) tomato off the vine, it will taste crap to you because your body is used to no goodness, nutrients or flavour.  I will stop now.

For more information visit: macefrancis.com

Published December 2102 on jazz-planet.com

Guilty pleasures – we all have them (ok, mine are 70s Glam Rock and New Idea). To many ‘serious’ Jazz musicians, that much-derided mongrel, Jazz Fusion (Jazz-Rock Fusion, Jazz-Funk Fusion, Fusion), is one such guilty pleasure, lurking in the aesthetic wardrobe, way up the back.

Seen through the clearer lens of time – unencumbered by the era’s afros, flares and white guys wearing dashikis – 1970s Jazz Fusion can (almost) be forgiven for spawning its idiot bastard, Smooth Jazz. Groups like Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (and, later, Elektric Band) – and of course, the electric bands of the genre’s sire, Miles Davis – had some serious jazz mojo going on: brilliant creative arrangements, in-the-pocket ensemble playing and stunning solos. Many jazz fans, used to the timbres of piano, horn and jazz kit were perhaps turned off by the wah-wah’s, clavinets and swooping synths; but there is much of lasting value in this music.

Sean Wayland, in the liner notes to his staggering two volume, 27-track Jazz Fusion-inspired new release, Slave To The Machine Vols 1&2, offers the droll caveat “Some of this music is corny fusion music”. But he obviously loves this synthesizer stuff and doesn’t care who knows it.

From electro-popping whimsy such as ‘Rotovibe’ – a collage of scratch-mixed ideas – to the entirely acoustic pieces such as ‘Special When Lit’ – a beautifully measured sound-river featuring his current band of Matt Penman on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums – Slave To The Machine Vols 1&2, has a over-arching cohesion that belies the fact this music was recorded over a 5-year period, from 2007 to 2012.

That cohesion is tested by Wayland’s strangely cool take – powered by his Nord Modular and astonishing drummer Mark Guiliana – on John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ and at the other end of the spectrum, the truly spiritual ‘Devotional’ – a duet with the always-transporting singer Kristen Berardi. But it all hangs together just fine; hardly a surprise as all this dazzling music springs from the mind of one of Australia’s most gifted jazz composers.

Speaking of hearing fusion guitarist Alan Holdsworth’s Flat Tyre, Wayland says, “The sounds of the synths really captured me. That’s when I realised it was possible to do something very interesting and original with synthesizers.”

And like Chick Corea, like Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul, he has transcended the inherent hollowness of timbre and often stilted expressiveness of these keyboards. Whether it be Nord, Oberheim or Yamaha synths and sequencers – check out ‘Neu Neu’ – grooving Hammond B3 or slinky Rhodes (‘I Still Got It’), Wayland’s solos never lack the same rich expressiveness he has always coaxed from the teeth of a Steinway.

His players on Slave To The Machine Vols 1&2 are worth the price of admission. As well as current bandmates such as Penman and Rueckert, Wayland features Oz mates such as drummer Andrew Gander and guitarist James Muller – Muller as ever making the ears prick up with his deft balance of stratospheric chops and earthy blues (his neo-Sco jazz lines on ‘Boxing Day’ make some beautiful arcs and curves).

Heavy friends such as NYC guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Keith Carlock add some Mahavishnu-metal to the deceptively-named ‘Marshmallows’ – the heaviest tune here.

But the brightest shining star here is Mark Guiliana. Wayland says of the rapidly rising young drummer, “I think Mark has revolutionised improvised drumming. It’s a real step forward in the language and concepts. He sounds like what has been in my head for years and previously only my computer drum programming could realise…”

To let the music speak what words can’t, have a listen to Wayland and Guiliana on the last track, the 11-minute ‘I’ll Face Ya’. Pianist and drummer play (in the true sense, the child-like sense) over a synth ostinato that drops in and out. Over the length of the piece, as well as some genius playing, there are quotes (Monk’s ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’), terse silences, even snatches of good-natured talk between the two, picked up on the drum mic.

But the musical conversation is the thing – this is jazz in its heart, transcending its machinery as all great jazz has transcended its machinery, from Armstrong onwards, the slave to the machine becoming its master.

For more information visit: www.seanwayland.com

Published October 2102 on jazz-planet.com

Sydney tenor saxophonist and composer Richard Maegraith is a deep human being. A committed Christian and free-thinking artist, his work has always resonated with a sophisticated spirituality while maintaining a heartfelt directness. Whether it be blowing tenor with the Australian Jazz A-list – James Morrison, Sean Wayland etc – or whether leading his own ensembles, his voice and soul are unmistakable.

For their new album, The Richard Maegraith Band has become the intriguingly titled Galaxstare. The album title is equally thought provoking – A Time, Times and Half a Time. For this album – recorded live at Sydney’s Sound Lounge – the personnel remains the same as 2007’s buoyant Free Running but you can hear the development from Track One.

And what a Track One it is! ‘Romans VII’ snips along in a clipped Latin groove before relaxing down into a languorous swoon of jazz vocal; the track moves back and forth from one tempo to the other throughout – this band really breathes. Throughout the album, the spicy doubling and great interplay of Maegraith’s horn and Kristin Berardi’s vocal again reminded me of Chick Corea’s early 70s band with Flora Purim, before the synths moved in and Purim moved out.

And like Chick Corea, Maegraith is not afraid to move beyond of the bounds of whatever constitutes jazz in his time, (he refers to Galaxstare’s music as “Jazz-ish sort of music; call it what you will”). His pairing of voice and tenor with Gary Daley’s accordian and/or Rhodes makes for some otherworldly results.

For the title track, ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, this otherworldliness goes beyond anything I have yet heard. The track is dedicated to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s, survivors of the 2011 tsunami that wrought such indescribable havoc across Japan. Switching to bass clarinet and using only the live resources of his band, Maegraith creates a vision of universal pain, wonder and depth. It is one of the most startlingly spiritual creations I have ever heard, Ligeti-like in its suspension of time and space.

We are snapped out of it with the propulsive snap groove of ‘Waiting’ – drummer Tim Firth putting the pots on and cooking all the way. Firth whips Maegraith along during his solo, recalling some of those mighty Coltrane/Elvin Jones codas that seemed ready to split reality right down the middle at any time. Intensity!

The final track ‘The Journey’ – all Maegraith’s track titles have a telling positive/seeking/spiritual resonance to them – is 10:36 of jazz funk reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s spacier moments (special mention to bassist Jonathan Zwartz who lays down the deep river that this tune floats on). ‘The Journey’ takes its time to rise to the sharp peak of Maegraith’s tenor solo. You couldn’t get a performance this juicy in a dulled studio – the decision to record ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’ live in front of a more-than-appreciative audience was a wise one.

Published March 2012 on http://www.jazzandbeyond.com.au/