Posts Tagged ‘t bone walker’

Guitarist and composer Jessica Green saved me.

Depressed after listening through a covermount CD that came with a recent Blues magazine, her new album Tinkly Tinkly put a big goofy grin right across my face. (Now, I love the Blues dearly but it all is starting to sound the same – new Blues artists seem so scared of losing market share they opt for the tiresomely obvious and the well-worn over new ideas. Can this be the same music that is stamped with the character of great innovators such as Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker?)

Wearily replacing the covermount with Tinkly Tinkly I was sat straight up by the loping township jive of album opener ‘Bamako Youth’. For the next 11:12 I followed the track through chirpy sax motif, tough fusion solo from Green, a Paul Simon-ish vocal section (again by Green – great lyric!) and a coda of massed horns and Matt Keegan’s snarling outro solo. Unlike the drab Blues-by-numbers that had brought me down, this track told a story and took me willingly along its dusty African road.

JessGreensBrightSparksSepia SIMA

The next track ‘Orange Rock Song’ was equally thrilling in its twists and turns, its unexpected rhythms, horn voicings and snaky riffs. Unlike the Blues-under-glass, this track and every one that followed showed Green and her band – the aptly named Bright Sparks – willing to experiment, take chances and strike out for the unknown.

I hear this a lot now in Australian jazz: younger players such as The Alcohotlicks, Aaron Flower, Tim Willis in Melbourne and anyone named Hauptmann (James and Zoe are two of the Bright Sparks on this album) taking the freedom and chops of Jazz as a starting point and filtering it through the kaleidoscopic lenses of rock, electronica, bluegrass, trip- and hip-hop. These mongrel musics – as in nature – cannot help but strengthen and invigorate the music nominally called Jazz.jess green 1

The title track ‘Tinkly Tinkly’ is a good case. Starting with percussionist Bree van Reyk’s glockenspiel-like intro, a building eighth-note lattice of harmony is built until a heavy guitar solo from Green pushes the tune over its tipping point into a jabbing 6/8 riff that could be a cousin of Weather Report’s ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’. It all hangs beautifully together in a deceptively simple manner, but you are always aware there is a shrewd compositional mind behind it.

The moody blues of ‘The Alias’ transforming into a lop-sided oom-pah under Dan Junor’s alto solo; the ambience and snaggle of ‘Rothko’ (I could see the painter’s glowing colours at times here); the ominous leaden riff of ‘Postcard for Alice’ reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s ‘Filthy Habits’ leading into a sprightly latin 6/8 under Simon Ferenci’s spitting trumpet and back again; the hilarious high-spirits of party-jam ‘Dear Mr Cave’; transformation, play, smart decisions, seeking and finding – wonderful stuff from a bright spark.

Thanks for saving me, Ms Green, from a fate worse than deaf.

_____________________________________________________

Prior to posting this review I asked Jessica Green a few short questions. Here are her responses:

1. You have recently completed your new album Tinkly Tinkly. What was the moment that told you now was the time to record?

Well the first session was 4 years ago, so it’s hard to actually remember! This project is way overdue really, we’ve had a bunch of new good tunes kicking around for ages, more appropriately the question might be “when did I know it was time to release” which was having a good tax return to fund it!!

2. Jazz nowadays – especially releases by younger players – seems to really stretch the genre thing. Tinkly Tinkly has heavy Zappa-esque rock grooves quite happily cheek-by-jowl with New Orleans joyful blues; what is it that you enjoy about mashing (and even utterly ignoring) genre divides?

Well I suppose it’s difficult for me NOT to mash up. This is how I hear music. I am heavily influenced by Zappa (I played in Sydney Zappa band Petulant Frenzy for a year) but also I’ve grown up listening to so much different music. I like to tell a story that leads the listener to unexpected places.

3. Your Bright Sparks really are quite a cast of the best and the brightest – how do you settle on your players?

Well this band had been around for a while. I loved their originality and talent right from the beginning, and at that time I was relying on recommendations. I’m just lucky they keep agreeing to play with the group!

What makes a lot of the songs work is their unique personalities coming through, I’ve always aspired to this sort of band, right from first hearing and reading about the way Duke Ellington worked. He wrote for each player.

4. As a guitar player myself, I am always interested in what makes a player settle on a particular weapon of choice. You seem to have your beautiful Telecaster Thinline in every pic i have seen of you – why the Tele Thinline?

The Thinline was a recommendation from James Muller. I was trying to find a lighter guitar and when I tried this one I was hooked!

It’s such a versatile guitar which suits my music. It can be warm as well as have lots of bite!

5. What are your thoughts on jazz on Australia today?

Seems pretty healthy to me! There’s a lot if experimentation but also it’s great to see a lot if younger players embracing some of the earlier styles of jazz and blues and making it their own.

6. What are your thoughts on today’s music outside of jazz?

Mmm I do listen to a lot of cross over indie pop/rock. I love what bands like St Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear are doing and also groups that are under the New Music banner. Particularly in Australia there is some really interesting music being made.

For more information visit: http://jessgreen.com.au/

To hear and buy the album, go to http://jessgreensbrightsparks.bandcamp.com/

Label: Yum Yum Tree http://www.yumyumtree.com.au

Published February 2103 on australianjazz.net 

The electric (or electrified – or as Jeff Lang calls it, ‘amplified’) guitar is one of Music’s greatest anomalies. An instrument originally designed for chamber music or polite vocal accompaniment, the guitar had various microphones and pickups lashed to it early last century in an attempt to keep up, volume wise, with the dance bands it played rhythm under. Innovators such as Charlie Christian in jazz and T-Bone Walker in blues loved and exploited the new, ‘vocal’ tone that the guitar now had. By the time Jimi Hendrix came along, guitarists were playing the electrics more than the guitar itself.

Iconoclastic Australian guitarist Jeff Lang has never lost sight of the origins of the guitar – even when he is ‘amplifying’ it to the point of gnashing ripped-metal thunder. Over the course of thirteen albums, Lang – described by Bruce Elder as “the godfather of an Australian-based back-to-basics blues movement that encompasses John Butler, Ash Grunwald and Xavier Rudd” – has evolved his style through folk, blues and rock into something these tags would not come close to classifying. A relentlessly artful and restless musician, he has crossed frets with Bob Broznan and collaborated with Malian kora master Mamadou Diabaté and Australian-Indian tabla player Bobby Singh. He continuously seeks to discover further and further variations on the concept of strings across a soundboard: slide, fretless, clean, distorted, odd tunings et al.

‘Carried in Mind’, Lang’s new album, brings many of these threads together, but all as servants to a collection of strong songs. He calls his music ‘disturbed folk’, which says as much about his traditional/non-traditional approach as it does about his wry sense of humour (check the darkly hysterical rocker, ‘Frightened Fool’) and calls the new album “A batch of brand-new, reconditioned, rust-removed, freshly ventilated, instinct-driven musical conversations between sleep-deprived, cheaply-clothed, (mostly) freshly-shaven, (partially) clean-living, flinty-eyed gentlemen wielding precision instruments with all due care and respect” – which, under the flip jokes, is pretty accurate.

Lang cuts his music live in the studio – “eyeball to eyeball” – with his shit-hot rhythm section: Danny McKenna on drums and Grant Cummerford on bass (more about new chum, pedal steeler Garrett Costigan in a minute). I was lucky to experience Lang and his band at this year’s Bluesfest and I remember marveling at the almost jazz-like telepathy drummer McKenna brought to the intuitive flow of Lang’s music (I also remember walking away muttering the words ‘intense, intense, intense’ under my breath). The album’s opener ‘Running by The Rock’ – one of two murder ballads here, albeit a revved up 6/8 – captures that rush and rolling flow perfectly. The rhythm gets snared here and there by Lang’s nasal Eastern licks – sounding like knotted wire – before the band jams it out with the transcendant abandon that only a truly disciplined band can spit out at will.

‘I’m Barely There’ and ‘Fishermans’ Farewell’ bring the mood down to show off Lang’s songwriting – each piece sweetly atmospheric and a small world of its own (the bubbling water-wah-guitar on the latter is masterful). It is hard to believe many of these songs are Lang originals; some sound like old old folk melodies that one seems to remember from a distant past – check the truly chilling child-murder ballad ‘Newbridge’. The pedal steel of new member Garrett Costigan adds so much to these tunes; that ‘high, lonesome sound’ soars over Lang’s sound-worlds like eagles or bright parrots here, shredded orange clouds there. On the humidly erotic ‘Towards Love’ Costigan’s steel perfectly compliments Lang’s gut-wrench-heavy Neil Young guitar. This is country music from hell.

One true delight of almost all of Jeff Lang’s output – and surely a large part of his strong influence on younger players – has been the sense of ‘ancientness’ in his music. The unbreakable link to the folk and blues of the far distant past has always been there – a reassurance in stupidly fast times, a humanness in a robotic world – and there are two utter gems on ‘Carried in Mind’ that carry that charm. One is an instrumental miniature, ‘You Never Know Who’s Listening’: one minute and two seconds of san syen, e-bowed banjo and drum that summons the blues all the way from Africa over the seas and across the centuries in a simple and devastating way.

The other is Lang’s arrangement of the British sea shanty ‘Jack-A-Roe’. He cites the Bob Dylan version (from ‘World Gone Wrong’) – I know it from a Grateful Dead official bootleg – whatever: the humorously twisted subject matter (disguise, deception, danger) could well be Lang lyrics. Over McKenna’s insistent brushes, Lang recounts the tale before his guitar  thunders and grinds across the top. A real trip in every way.

‘Carried in Mind’ – the album title conjures a culture of storytelling before the written word, when all history was held in the memory of the elder, the wise and the wizardly. Jeff Lang has made another remarkable album, using the unwritable language of music – another remarkable album made as no one but Jeff Lang can.

Published October 2011 on theorangepress.net