Posts Tagged ‘Surry Hills’

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

 

 

 

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.

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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 

British artist Francis Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington, London was as much a work of art as any of his paintings. So much so that in 1998, years after his death, the entire studio – a rat’s maze of rubbish piles, old paint palettes, torn and scattered photographs and other source materials for Bacon’s art (7500 objects in all) – was dismantled by archaelogists, conservators and curators and painstakingly rebuilt at the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.

bacon_studioBut the whole, military-strength exercise was more than just the preservation of a museum curio. Much like Australian artist Brett Whiteley’s preserved gallery (Bacon was a friend, mentor and a huge influence on Whiteley’s own work) in Sydney’s Surry Hills, the Bacon Studio reveals much about the artist’s methods, inspirations and creative spurs. Various pieces of the studio’s ephemera – photos, magazine clippings, torn images – make up a display at the centre of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ current blockbuster, Francis Bacon: Five Decades which runs until February 2013.

Yet, despite Bacon’s chaotic working environment, his paintings have always exhibited cool control and incisive technique – which usually serves to make their subject matter even more harrowingly repulsive/attractive than if they had been heatedly dashed off. His harsh self-editing over the years (he routinely destroyed paintings throughout his life) helps too.

The 50 plus paintings on display for Five Decades span Bacon’s work from the 1940s through to the 70s and 80s. And they are 50 of the best, drawn from 37 collections internationally including the Tate and MOMA, New York. The AGNSW curatorial team, helmed by Anthony Bond, has really landed a beauty here. The exhibition includes many major works, including several of his well-known three-panel works such as “Triptych August 1971”.

Francis Bacon has been called the greatest British painter since Turner and with good reason – he is. To be able to see the paintings on display here – up close brushstrokes, textures and handwork, the jaw-dropping balance of colour, the audacity of form and shape – is one of the great experiences of Art. His technique is often beyond belief, and the aesthetic leaps he makes are foolhardy at best, insane at worst (Bacon was an obsessive, lifelong gambler) – yet they come off again and again and again, brilliantly.

So much for technique. Bacon’s subject matter is another thing altogether.Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992

The first impression is that of a pornographic butcher’s shop. Many pictures seem to be shining a harsh light on a private act – an amorphous or distorted writhing man-animal entity of flesh contorts on a stage which is often a cube or room-like space. The beings writhe or copulate or bleed as they present themselves to us, for our pleasure/revulsion. Many figures seem twisted into a corkscrew or spasm of agony/ecstacy. Their flesh is blue-pink, blue-grey – the bluing of bruising or decomposition.

The detachment alone is shocking – the neon strobes lighting these works is that of the surgeon, the scientist, the pornographer. Bacon worked often from photos of screaming people, or medical books on diseases of the mouth. Robert Hughes said of Bacon, “It takes no mean feat of self-removal to be able to inspect the gums and saliva of a screaming mouth as Monet did a lilypad”.

But, of course, there is much more to these pictures than their shock value. Bacon seems to use the shock of the image to jar us, to shake the blinkers from our eyes (and minds), so that we can then experience what is happening in these paintings “directly to (our) nervous system”. In interviews he always played his cards very close to his chest. Unlike pop-artist Andy Warhol’s banal statements (which were as tactically premeditated as his art was), Bacon seemed to constantly deflect from thinking too hard – or at all – about his work (he once said “I have nothing to express”) and just feeling it.

And yes, despite the apparent detachment, there is much to feel here. Upon the death of his lover George Dyer, Bacon did not grieve publicly, but embarked on creating several triptychs depicting Dyer with the shadows around his figure either black menacing Death or lilac puddles of Life draining from him. They are touching and truly tender.

Portraits of friends and lovers (Bacon was a popular and hugely social person) such as “Portrait of Michael Leiris” or the studies for his own self-portrait, show an incisive, almost Cubist analysis of planes and surfaces – but also more than we would expect, give away the sitter’s personality or Bacon’s feelings towards him or her.

And that contradiction – together with all of Bacon’s (and all of great Art’s) contradictions – is what will make you never forget Francis Bacon: Five Decades. It truly does hit you “directly to the nervous system” as you are drawn by the beauty and mastery of the pictures but repelled by their subjects – back and forth until you are left in a place of pure feeling, pure sensation that, if you let it, yields some answers to what we are when the chatter of life stops and the lights go out.

 

Published December 2012 on liveguide.com.au