Posts Tagged ‘Steve Hunter’

The inner sleeve art of bassist Patrick ‘PW’ Farrell’s debut album, The Life Electric, depicts the man – face obscured by a hip-hop cap – towering over the remains of a smashed and very dead acoustic guitar. He is holding his electric 5-string like the weapon that did the deed.

It is a powerful image and a fitting one for an album that almost entirely eschews the woody acoustic (sound) world for the electric (and electronic) one. Apart from a little trumpet, sax, guitar and vocal spread thinly across the tracks (and ‘real’ drums on only two out of the ten here) all this music is performed and programmed by Farrell.

The purists will yelp (which is never a bad thing) but in The Life Electric, Farrell has created one of the better albums of the year – at least to these ears. Charges of electronic ‘coldness’ and lack of human interaction and warmth will be leveled, but it never bothered Herbie or Miles, so it shouldn’t concern us.

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In fact the whole sheen of the album brings to mind some of Miles Davis’ 80s work, such as You’re Under Arrest and Star People – albums which have recently been re-evaluated as the masterworks they are. Farrell adds a very contemporary spin of samples and chattering computer beats to the mix, all of it done with as much taste as the best constructed Matt McMahon (or Steve Hunter) solo.

But whereas fellow electric bassist Hunter – most recently on his live album Cosmos – moves through the music interacting with his band organically, Farrell gives his bass no less room to move, but istead plays inside a taut web of programmed beats and accents.

A startling instrumental technician – check the three unaccompanied pieces: ‘Irish Sons’, ‘Barcaldine’ and ‘I Have Wandered’ – Farrell will happily sit under on a hip-hop groove such as the title track, ‘The Life Electric’ or a lazily snapping lope such as ‘Inspiration’ (tenor player Daniel Rorke reading the mood perfectly in his solo).Farrell 2

Instruments outside the sealed programmed tracks, such as Carl Morgan’s crisp-toned guitar solo on ‘Jester In The Rain’, never jolt against the computer sounds – it is all woven with great care and skill into a seamless and fine-grained fabric.

When an element is meant to jolt, it does in a surprising and artful way – such as the sample of a Ronald Reagan speech on ‘Liberty’.

In his liner notes to Jaco Pastorius’s 1976 debut album, Herbie Hancock (a man who should know) wrote “Of course, it’s not the technique that makes the music; it’s the sensitivity of the musician and his ability to be able to fuse his life with the rhythm of the times. This is the essence of music.”

The Life Electric is of its time but is also of the tradition of jazz. PW Farrell has caught the balance of both deftly – not an easy thing to do: too many have failed by tipping too far one way or another.

His music deserves a listen.

 

 

Published July 2104 on australianjazz.net

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I recently had the singular pleasure of watching Sydney electric flamenco samurai Steve Hunter perform a solo bass concert. For 45 minutes (or one minute, or a year; time sort of ceased…) Hunter played through a selection of his compositions, ingeniously segueing them together into one integrated and cohesed experience.

After two or three tunes, I stopped trainspotting and just went with the flow, which Hunter kept up effortlessly. One man, one (electric) bass, a little universe of music – a cosmos of one.

steve hunter, the translatorsHunter has always been one of our most single-minded and disciplined players, one whose prolific output has been of one consistently high standard – the standard he applies, bushido-like, to himself and expects (and gets) from his sidemen/collaborators.

His latest album, Cosmos, is a departure in many ways, but a revelation in others. His ninth album as leader, it is his first live album – recorded at Sydney’s 505. It is also an album mainly of previously recorded compositions. And his first without guitar.

Significantly this time around, rather than precisely planning arrangements, Hunter and his band took the more traditional ‘jazz’ approach of using the compositions as musical material for blowing – more departure points than destinations, if you will.

And what a band ­– all Hunter cohorts from many a gig, all entirely familiar with his body of work and with these particular works; and all entirely in tune with the spirit that drives this remarkable music: Andrew Gander on drums, Matt McMahon on keys and Matt Keegan on tenor and soprano.

‘The Kingston Grin’ sets up the easy interplay and conversational mood of the album. A loose-limbed swing which see-saws between the tension of two chords for the solos, it is a simple canvas across which the players paint pictures, poetry and pure joy.steve hunter cosmos

‘Love and Logic’ from 2003’s If Blue was Orange is given a very open treatment, Keegan’s solo searching and finding, searching and finding over the floating 7/8 Weather Report-like groove. Hunter’s music can sometimes bring up his influences a little strongly here and there, but such influences were cataclysmic to a generation, and the Jaco-isms here are welcome and warming. McMahon’s acoustic piano solo is notable on ‘Love and Logic’ – controlled and uplifting.

The lovely Spanish-tinged ‘Cazador’ has shown up on 2007’s Dig My Garden as well as the eponymous 2009 album of Hunter’s flamenco-jazz co-project The Translators. Here it is reimagined differently again, showcasing Hunter’s astonishing virtuosity and passionate ability to get inside the music.

Hunter says that his decision to not use guitar on this album allowed him to exploit some recent breakthroughs he has made in his playing – listen and you’ll see. Gander’s drums here are astounding for their transparency: light washes and translucent colours as background for Hunter.

‘Area 51’ is Hunter’s heartfelt tribute to five jazz spirits who left us at the early age of 51 and as intense as it is lovely. The brawn of Hunter’s playing can push his bands sometimes a little hard, but if it pushes them into a performance such as the one delivered during McMahon’s sparks-spitting Rhodes solo, then all is forgiven.

The closing track, ‘So To Speak’ from 2010’s Nine Lives is here given a spikier, funkier reading. The blowing section is nicely captured by Craig Naughton’s live recording – a little boxy but very in-the-moment – with the band really talking to each other and to us, especially during the simmer of Matt Keegan’s tenor solo. Just listening to the fun Andrew Gander has with the 7/8 groove is worth the price of admission in itself.

A focused and hard-edged album from one of our finest talents – all the more enjoyable for it’s openness and live excitement. An evolution of Steve Hunter’s artistry is seen in the Zen act of letting go and seeing what the universe can bring his way.  Yes, Cosmos is quite a ride.

Cosmos is available here http://stevehunter.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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 www.ripparecordings.com and Birdland.

Published May 2103 on australianjazz.net 

 

One of the true delights of any music festival is that, for a few days – or even just a few precious hours – you are in a strange and beautiful new world, away from the tangle and hum of city life. The 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival reigned over Sydney’s Redfern-Surry Hills Delta for four days in January, staking out the territory in the name of modern composition, improvised music and the jazz life.

And what a strange and beautiful world they conjured for us among the bricks and grime, the litter and the 7-11 Stores.

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I was fortunate to start at the very beginning, with Tom O’Halloran’s solo piano opener on Thursday at Surry Hills’ Tom Mann Theatre. A smart choice to open the Festival, O’Halloran’s sure touch made the piano sigh and glitter. His closer, a sparkling ‘No More Blues’ served as a teasing appetiser for a weekend of stellar music.

jazzgroove mothership orc

And stellar was the word (a TV sports cliché yes, but too apt to not use here) for Jonathan Zwartz’s band, up next. A Dream Team of players – Slater, Maegraith, Greening, Julien Wilson blowing (his and) our minds, Dewhurst, Matt McMahon, Hamish Stuart and percussionista Fabian Hevia holding it down with the calm river that is Zwartz himself. And from that calm river flowed strong and sure compositions, with melodic lines that were often country-simple but Gospel-true. From the opener ‘Shimmer’ through to ‘Henry’s High Life’, it was transfixing soul-blues that had the soloists reaching within – Phil Slater and Richard Maegraith especially going deep on the latter tune – leaving the audience at Tom Mann visibly affected. Like all true wisdom there was very little flash, but a universe of quiet fire.

The opening night was climaxed by the mighty Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, paying tribute to genius jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer (who sadly passed from this earthly plane last year). Even though the Orchestra bristles with astounding soloists, it was the Festival’s International Guest Artist (I suppose Aotearoa counts as international) tenor magus Roger Manins that was featured on all charts. The Orchestra is truly a national treasure and for this, their 10th anniversary gig, they played better than I have ever heard them – snapping and roiling on the fiery pieces and painting colour washed mists on the quieter pieces such as the lovely ‘Fireflies’. Manins stood toe-to-toe with the band on the blasting finale, ‘See Saw’, his tenor sassing back and cajoling the Mothership. Big kudos to drummer Jamie Cameron who rode the roaring beast on all pieces with great style and verve.

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Friday was Fusion Day for me as I took in the electro-jazz of the Alcohotlicks at 505 and later, the flamenco-jazz of Steve Hunter’s Translators down the road at the Gaelic. It had been Sydney’s hottest day ever (!) on record and the evening was still dripping from the day.alcohotlicks

At 505, The Alcohotlicks’ Evan Mannell admitted to ‘shitting himself’ at the prospect of working without a drum kit. He then won us all over with a beautiful funky groove, cut-up on his sample box from Jimi Hendrix’s throaty ‘Who Knows’ riff. Joined by Ben Hauptmann on MIDI guitar and laptop, and Aaron Flower (the hoary traditionalist of the group who merely plays a guitar through an amp) the trio – winners of the inaugural Jazzgroove Association Recording Artist Award  – astounded with tracks from their album Danaïdes. ‘Neon’ was neo-NEU! motorik funk; ‘Baader’ was Goldfrapp/Moroder replicant-porn boogie. Did I sense a few members of the 505 audience shifting in their seats during the Alcohotlicks set? Artists such as these are the ones who move any music forward and all kudos to them for working at the edge of the Jazz comfort zone. A little seat shifting is always a good sign.

steve hunter, the translatorsDown the steaming street to the Gaelic. By now slightly drunk on the merlot and the humidity, I was taken away completely by The Translators. Too loud for the room – not a bad thing at all – electric bass toreador Steve Hunter and the quartet blazed through a set of flamenco-flecked originals that had Míro dancing with Manitas de Plata, Chick Corea dancing with de Falla in my swirling head. At times Ben Hauptmann’s electric mandolin solos sounded like a 70’s micro-Moog, the otherworldly tone beautifully offset by Damien Wright’s flamenco gut-string. ‘Turquoise’ was blue in green in orange. ‘The Last Trannie’ was Madrid via Soweto. Always a fiery and sparkling group, tonight – after not playing together for two years – The Translators shone like a Catalonian sun and lit all our faces with broad smiles. Not so long between sangrias next time, please amigos!

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the fantastic terrific munkle

Saturday my hangover needed the peace of Prince Alfred Park and the gentle afternoon humour of The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Cool breezes blew, people picnicked on the grass, and from between two huge trees, The Munkle – powered by Sam Golding’s tuba and the (snake-)charming clarinet of Jeremy Rose – wove their musical tales of whimsy, recalling ragtime, Dixie, weird old blues and French salon jazz. The song announcements were made through a megaphone, the guitar amp was powered by solar panels and guitarist Julian Curwin wore thongs. It was all so sweetly organic, it made the afternoon time stand beautifully still.

Too much daylight – bah! Back into the night and the Steve Barry Trio with Alex Boneham and the quicksilver Tim Firth at 505. This is the trio that played on Barry’s recent album, Steve Barry – a startling album made (conjured from the elements, rather) by this startling combination of players. All the telepathic play and spiritual-empathic magic that lights up the album was here on stage tonight. Reminding me of Bill Evans’ trios or Keith Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trios, Barry-Boneham-Firth could spat and spar – as on opener ‘B.W.’ – or dissipate like evening mist across an introspective ballad such as the lovely ‘Epiphany’. Some of the most fluidly intelligent music in jazz has been made within the piano trio format and groups such as Steve Barry’s trio remind me why.

After the rollicking fun of altoist Ross Harrington’s vibey, young and fun Midnight Tea Party – Dixie, klemzer, ska flavours; a huge hit with the 505 crowd – we were treated to the Andrew Gander Band.

richard maegraithIn a Festival line-up luminescent with musical wonders, I can unreservedly say the Andrew Gander Band was the highlight for me – and I am sure many there would agree. His five-piece group hit their jaw-dropping stride from the first note and ascended from there. I had already seen each of Gander’s sidemen in other Festival groups but playing with Gander seemed to push each of them into the deeper reaches of their own musical universe. Tenor player Richard Maegraith seemed particularly inspired, blowing hard into the white-hot areas of his horn’s capabilties. (My friend, CC – who knows about such things – said after one of Maegraith’s solos “I could see his aura and light flashing off him!”) Bassist Brett Hirst twinned with Gander through all of the music’s twists and turns almost preternaturally. Steve Barry would smartly sit out during guitarist Carl Morgan’s solos, allowing the drum-bass-guitar trio to stretch the harmonies and rhythms into new fluid shapes. The Gander originals such as ‘Retrograde’ (with one of those sizzling rock feels that Billy Cobham does so well) and the 5/4 roller coaster ride of ‘Prism’ were just eaten alive by the band, who also managed great takes on radically reshaped standards such as ‘Star Eyes’ and Dizzy’s ‘Con Alma’.

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ben hauptmann, zoe and the buttercups

Where to go from there? Thankfully the Sunday program offered sweet soul relief in the form of Festival Guest Roger Manins and the original lineup of his soul-jazz champions, Hip Flask. To a packed 505, Manins’ testifying tenor led the quintet through ‘Bang’, ‘Big Sis’, ‘John Scon’ and others from their Jazzgroove catalogue. Against the indigo-blue Hammond of Stu Hunter, Adam Ponting’s peppery shards of piano dissonance put Hip Flask in their own category without losing any soul-jazz juice. The intro to ‘Blues for Adam Ponting’ moved in and out of harmonic focus until Manins brought us back to the planet with some real deep earth. (Manins was also one of the drollest bandleaders of the Festival, his tongue popping almost through his cheek at times during his stage announcements…)

By now saturated to the brim with music and fine 505 merlot, I took one last rolling stroll down Chalmers Street, climbing the stairs to the Gaelic to bid the Festival adieu with Zoe Hauptmann and her Buttercups. The six piece snapped my jaded mind awake with their patented country-soul stomp and Tele-blaster Aaron Flower’s always-exhilarating chicken-pickin’. Watching Ms Hauptmann leading her Buttercups up there, a question swam into my mind: Where were all the women musicians at the 4th Summer Festival? Ok, there was Zoe H and new bassist Hannah James (yes, Elana Stone too, but I am not counting vocalists in this equation) – that’s two out of an awful lot of male musicians. This is not a polemic point, nor is the question rhetoric; it is an honest query. The Con and other institutions turn out many many women musicians, musicians who have graduated alongside their male contemporaries, women musicians who are out there any night of the week paying as many gig dues as the guys. So why, when you get to the highest levels of jazz in this country – such as the annual Jazzgroove Festival – are women so insignificantly spoken for?

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In his Sunday night wrap-up speech, Jazzgroove President (and Buttercup trombonist) John Hibbard admitted that this year’s Summer Festival almost didn’t happen. The committee had sat around Matt McMahon’s dining table and voted on going through with it or not. It was that dire. After four days of wonderfully attended gigs by our best and brightest – and some performances that seriously deserve to pass into myth and legend – it is hard to believe that meeting ever took place. But positive energy ruled that day – the vote was to go ahead – and that same positive energy ruled the 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival.

And thank God, Miles and Duke that it did.

The Jazzgroove website is here.

Published January 2103 on australianjazz.net