Posts Tagged ‘Sirens’

The cover illustration of Queensland guitarist/composer Toby Wren’s new trio album Black Mountain at first seems an incongruous choice. An epic 1760 painting (de Louthenbourg’s ‘A Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast’)­, its mannered classicism seems at odds with the angular modernism of the music within.

But it is not the subject, nor the treatment, of this painting that fits; it is the colour palette. Wren’s compositions are rendered in these olives, aubergines and purple-blacks, with shots of mustard and saffron – and even a window of lilac/sky-blue here and there.

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His trio ­– Wren together with bassist Andrew Shaw and Chris Vale on ‘drum set’ ­– render all the complex colours of these unique compositions beautifully, considering the limited instrumental palette at hand.

Equally, Wren uses little on his guitar bar some mild dirt and amp colours. The tough ‘Bedroom for Improvement’ reminds of Larry Coryell’s musclular trio albums from a few years back, with their distortion and backbeat.

But in the main, Black Mountain brings up fond recollections of the great Abercrombie/Holland/DeJohnnette 1975 album Gateway. Which is not to say it is not its own animal; the good vibes between the players, the sense of adventure, and the push/pull between soloist and ground are what brought the comparison to mind. Toby Wren 1

Wren’s collection, though, has the added dimension of post-rock ­– something unthought of in ’75. ‘An Unbearable Weight’s recipe of flowing/floating arpeggios (with flashes of silvery harmonics), bowed bass and skittering drums takes Black Mountain out of the jazz ballpark. Just as with ‘Sevens’ and its sister piece ‘Sixes’ – both creating shimmering rhythmic lattices of the titular time-signatures which, as the pieces evolve, work against and within that rhythm.

Wren’s guitar approach – as with his compositions – draws on jazz, rock (pre- and post-), blues and anything else that his mill needs to grist (he is a student of the Carnatic music of India; check the multituplet clusters in ‘Guitargam’). There is the rolling blues of opener ‘An Epic Rock’; the pleasingly plump be-bop of ‘Black Mountain Resolve’ (and the minimal 34 second solo guitar haiku of its sister, the title track ‘Black Mountain’); the unhinged guitar solo of ‘Sirens’; and the lovely lullaby of album closer ‘Sentimental Old Thing’.

Black Mountain is a unique and rewarding listen; all the more for its sparseness of means: the invention demanded by, and apt interpretation of these pieces would test any group, but Wren and his men seem never to be anything but entirely at ease here.

Take a listen. It is great music – whatever its colour.

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Sydney tenor colossus James Ryan’s Sonic Mayhem Orchestra has been committing sonic mayhem every Monday night at Marrickville’s Lazybones lounge since… well almost since Captain Cook invaded Australia.

Much of their new album, LIVE MAYHEM, was recorded there (bar 2 tunes recorded over at Surry Hills’ 505) and the album captures the Orchestra’s intensity and power probably better than any studio effort possibly could. Possibly? Definitely.

Opening with one of my favourite Ryan charts, ‘Frogs’ with its ribbetting horn counterpoint lines, the Sonic Mayhem Orchestra rolls out its mission statement: tough, funky and sharp, with plenty of smart colour in the arrangements and an embarrassment of Sydney’s best and brightest players in the ranks. Mayhem regular Aaron Michael’s tenor break jumps with the kind of joy this band brings out in its soloists and audiences alike. Nic Cecire’s drum feature takes us way out to Cecireland and back again – cool!

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‘Frogs’ has that big-shouldered toughness and plenty of mid-range grunt that recalls any Mingus big band and some of Basie’s more funk-soaked moments. It is a unique and thrilling sound that is all across LIVE MAYHEM.

The Trish Delaney-Brown led ‘Sunshine’s Out’ shows Ryan’s more soul-jazz side. In Delaney-Brown he has the perfect voice for the Mayhem band – not the little-girl voice, too pretty for the bruised indigos of the horns, but a grown, worldly woman-voice, one of happy and sad and all the gospel colours in between.

The be-bopping titled ‘Ba Ba Do Beep’ is just that – a bop thrill ride at eye-watering tempo. The soloists fly in its slipstream – Adrian Keevil’s Bud Powell spray, Simon Ferenci and Kim Lawson’s horns eating it up. The ensemble passages are chops-busters but chops are what these players have for breakfast. Seeing this music played live is edge-of-your-seat stuff – but this recording comes excitingly close enough for me. sonicmayhem2

Ryan’s Spanish flavoured arrangement of Hoagy’s (Ray’s?) ‘Georgia’ stuck in my mind from a Blue Beat gig a couple of years back. Some tunes are too beautiful to mess with and I thought this was one of them, until I heard this chart. Dave Panichi’s trom solo rides the arc up and the arc down as perfectly as Delaney-Brown sings the sweet ol’ (reharmonised) melody. Make sure you check it out.

Ah, Paul Cutlan, that national treasure; he never lets any of us down. His bass clarinet feature over the top of the humid colours of the Mayhem band’s ‘Bess, You is My Woman Now’ is a thing of wonder – aching, arching, questioning, almost-answering, laughing, sobbing.

The Apple iPhone takes great pictures, and it apparently records pretty good sound – judging by ‘Hey Which Way’ which was recorded here on altoist Kim Lawson’s iPhone (seriously). Thank you Steve Jobs (and mastering engineer Michael Lynch), for it is a stunning performance. Beginning with James Ryan stretching and exploring the baritone horn – á la Hamiett Bluiett – he is soon joined by Lawson’s alto in a twin solo that coils and rubs and dances until the band joins them.

Sydney is blessed to have more than our share of unique jazz orchestras – think the Ethiopia-via-Newtown boogie of he Sirens, the sophisticated jazz classicism of Jenna Cave’s Divergence band. LIVE MAYHEM is more than a document of the toughness and smart writing of James Ryan’s Sonic Mayhem Orchestra. Like all truly worthwhile live albums it stands on its own as a valid document of this unique ensemble.

 

Published April 2016 on australianjazz.net