Posts Tagged ‘The Way You Look Tonight’

Watching tenor colossus Dale Barlow tonight at Foundry 616 blowing alongside young altoist Michael Griffin, my mind went back to when I first saw Barlow play, way way back in the hazy day.

At an age not much older than Griffin is now, Barlow used to – in the words of my friend Greg L – “decapitate everyone in the room”. Of course, he continues to astound and his story, Jazz Messengers and all, is well know.

Griffin’s trajectory may not be as well documented yet, though for a younger player it is impressive. A semi-finalist at Washington DC’s 2103 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition, Griffin is rising rapidly and capable of more than a little decapitation of his own.

griffin cannon3To see the two men working together, obviously digging each other’s playing was a thrill that pointed to this being one of the jazz gigs of the year for me. Griffin was overjoyed to be locking horns, literally, with the great Dale; Barlow, for his part, equally seemed to enjoy having the younger player’s sparkling alto nipping at his heels, pushing him into some hair-raising tenor work.

The night was sold as a Tribute to Cannonball and Coltrane, yet – rather than trot out the obvious – Griffin smartly used the first set to recreate the fire and brimstone of Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago, the 1959 album which featured John Coltrane, as well as the Miles Davis Quintet at the time (sans Miles).

The tunes are exceptional hard-bop blowing vehicles and Griffin and Barlow rode straight through them. The band, The Jon Harkins Trio – Harkins on piano, Noel Mason bass and Tim Geldens drums – were high on the ride as well. Harkins’ piano was sometimes muscle, sometimes sinew; the tough physicality of his playing matching the attack of the horns.

Opener ‘Limehouse Blues’ was a burner with Griffin leaping into his solo and turning the heat up early. Barlow answered with equal fahrenheit. Pins dropped. Mouths gaped.

Griffin, after a short spoken welcome – he is a personable and easily funny host ­– took us through the ballad ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’. Like Charlie Parker, Griffin is not only an eighth-note blazer, his ballad playing is lyrical and considered, his lines leaning into the beauty of the melody.

John Coltrane’s fractured and tricksy ‘Grand Central’ had Barlow blowing at his most electrifying. During his solo something clicked and his scything runs and leaps of melody lit us all up. Throughout the performance, the Harkins trio kept all of Coltrane’s little rhythmic shots in place under the solos without losing their collective minds.

The second set was given over to a selection of Adderley and Coltrane pieces – once again, not going for the obvious. All soloists navigated the cycling changes of Trane’s brilliant ‘Just Like Sonny’, Harkins in particular (to my ear) taking them out to their harmonic edges, just as Trane would have meant it to be.

‘Naima’, the only truly obvious choice of the night (how could you not?), was rendered un-obvious by its reading on the alto, rather than the tenor. Once again, Griffin took to the melody like a lover, teasing great beauty out of Naima’s dusky head.

griffin cannon1

Half-jokingly apologising to the Trio for the speed of the tune they were about to play, Griffin lit into ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ in triple-time, summoning Parker’s fire and Cannon’s joy. His solo left more than a few of us decapitated, but in the sweetest way. Barlow’s solo reinforced his rep as one of our most thrilling and consistent tenors; his unmistakeable voice on the instrument, his ability to create at the highest level is something else.

The idea of the “perfect expression” of an artform – one where, like a shark or a Gibson Les Paul guitar, no further evolution is needed, or indeed, wanted – is a contentious one. Does the Blues need to go anywhere else?

Jazz, especially in its hard-bop, post-bop or, simply, acoustic form (I avoid the term ‘mainstream’ because it is meaningless) seems to have everything it needs.

Especially when one encounters players such as Griffin and Barlow and Harkins, the words ‘perfect expression’ seem to express its wild and sleek perfection just fine.

 

 
Published April 2105 on australianjazz.net 

 

 

 

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Counterpoint in music is a lovely thing which seems to satisfy something in the listener. The intermeshing of disparate melodic lines to make a loosely woven rope of music – one with knots of harmony and dissonance detailing its length – has, since the Greeks, then Bach all the way through to Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro and even Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden, always been a thrill that seems to hold some sort of underlying truth.

Maybe counterpoint is a symbol for the intermeshing of personalities that has always been a human ideal. Especially in Western culture, where the cult of the individual has been raised to the level of worship, the pleasure of intertwining with another is all too rare. Sometimes it seems to only exist in love, and in music.

In 1991, five leading lights of Australian Jazz performed a handful of gigs at South Melbourne Venue, The Limerick Arms. When the question arose as to who should be the leader, they all pointed at one another. Seeing the humour in this, they called the outfit The Hunters & Pointers.hunters and pointers

Recently unearthed, the tapes of those gigs – originally nicely recorded by Phil Georges in 1991 and polished digitally in 2014 by Hadyn Buxton – have been edited and released on CD as The Hunters & Pointers.

From the first few bars, the intermeshing of personalities is there. Trumpeter John Hoffman and alto Graeme Lyall start weaving lines around each other until Tony Gould’s piano joins them to bring in ‘Just Friends’. Ben Robertson’s bass and Tony Floyd’s drums play lovely and loose around Gould’s spiky solo.

The band rapport during Lyall’s solo and Hoffman’s relaxed answer to it brings to mind a recurring thought ­– that all jazz should be recorded live. It is ridiculous I know, but there often seems to be much more of a sense of the moment and the heady vibe of openended-ness than in many studio recordings.

The counterpoint pops up again during Lyall’s solo in ‘The Way You Look Tonight’; Gould talking back (and talking Bach) to his fleet bop lines. Gould’s sly comping under Robertson’s bass solo takes the music far away from the song  to areas of freedom and poetry. Throughout The Hunters & Pointers there is this feeling that there is all the time in the world, to do whatever we want with the music.

The tunes take their time to go where they will – ‘Just Friends’ is 18:23, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’ (a lovely ballad reading built architecturally from Gould’s hymnal intro) is 12:10; Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Little Sunflower’ is 22.49.

‘Little Sunflower’ is the monolithic centre of The Hunters & Pointers, and not only for it’s size and scope. The simple 1967 Hubbard melody (with it’s lovely major lift) is the perfect bare bone frame for these five brilliant players to feed and flesh. Through Lyall’s eastern tinged exploration, via Gould’s quote-flecked meditations, on to John Hoffman’s teasing Hubbardisms and out through a surreal conversation between Robertson and guest drummer George Polyhronakos, ‘Little Sunflower’ is improvised music at its most cinematic and sumptuous.

All the time in the world, to do whatever we want with the music. Few players – though brilliant on paper – could make something this good out of such freedom. Chops alone can’t do it – in fact chops often work in the opposite way. It is the subsuming of the ego and the meshing of consciousnesses that will get the players, and we the fortunate audience, there. And, here, The Hunters & Pointers do it every time.

And if that is all a little mung-beans and spacey for you, you can at least enjoy the very funny joke that Graeme Lyall tells at the end of The Hunters & Pointers – a joke involving a bear, a hunter, some heavy weapons and some even heavier sex.

 

The Hunters & Pointers is available from https://www.whichwaymusic.com

 

Published April 2104 on australianjazz.net