Posts Tagged ‘Weather Report’

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Outside of hardcore jazz, albums built around a particular instrument are rare. If they do exist, they are either impenetrably virtuosic, one-trick ponies or for shred-heads only. Which kind of makes them a failure as music, in a way, if the value of music is to move you and me and my uncle Bernard.

When an album is built around the drums, the potential for failure increases. It is a brave artist – one with a true and deep belief in their ability to move their listeners, above and below the waist – who would attempt to carry it off.

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In the case of New Zealand drum polymath, Myele Manzanza it helps to be the son of Congolese master percussionist, Sam Manzanza. It also help that Myele Manzanza concieves of the drums as a “talking” instrument, one with a language which can speak to people. “Growing up, music and rhythm was all around me and I understood it from a very early age. Through my father I learnt the language of the drum probably at the same time as I learnt to talk!”

Long a core member of New Zealand’s acclaimed modern jazz-soul group, Electric Wire Hustle, Manzanza has stepped forward with his debut solo album, One.

And as if to lay out the fact that this is no po-faced instrumental professional’s showreel, One starts with the wickedly funny ‘Neighbour’s Intro’ – a jittering polyrhythmic drum solo sandwiched between two phone messages from politely irate neighbours calling to complain about Manzanza’s nocturnal drum practicing.

While we are smirking he smacks us with the roller coaster ride of ‘Big Space’, a 7/4 latin groove that carves its way through a dense, muli-coloured mesh of electro, shooting out the other end with a lovely wordless vocal from Bella Kalolo – reminiscent of 50s sci-fi movie soundtracks, but definitely cruising the Space of Now.Print

Kalolo features – with lyric this time – on the smooth-as-skin ‘Absent’ next: a cool soul groove built across an angular skeleton. The groove here is typical of Manzanza’s thing – irresistible drum rhythms which are built from highly original architectures: quite beautiful from whichever angle you look at them.

An example is ‘Delay’ which has Manzanza playing with the shapes thrown back at him by reverb echo delay – on the surface quite a simple backbeat but the ripples beneath the waters lend it a shimmering sparkle.

The lovely ‘Elvin’s Brew’ features keys player (and major collaborator) Mark de Clive Lowe. Perhaps namechecking jazz drum colossus Elvin Jones (and Miles Davis‘ Bitches Brew) the track is built on a dreamlike cloud of billowing tom-toms under acoustic keys and electro blips-and-snaps.

Other guests include Myele’s father, Sam Manzanza, NZ’s Ladi 6, Bella Kalolo, Mara TK and Rachel Fraser. International guests include Charlie K from ex-Philadelphia Hip Hop group ‘Writtenhouse’, Canadian vocalist Amenta and James Wylie’s Boston based woodwind section.

The lovely woodwinds form a spectral backwash to the completely transporting ‘City of Atlantis’, their timbre reminiscent of Herbie Hancock‘s psych-funk albums of the 70s such as Speak Like A Child. There are so many flavours here from a similar time and headspace – Stevie Wonder synth squiggles, Weather Report ‘world’ beatz (dig the pan-African percussion of ‘7 Bar Thing’), George Duke Rhodes phat phunk.

The old and the new, the acoustic and the digital, soul and jazz, rap and song – all these strands are bound together by the tight yet embracing sinew of Myele Manzanza’s omniscient drums.

He says of One: “Creating this album has been a real process. Each track has it’s own story and developed in it’s own interesting and sometimes unexpected way. This is my first experience in creating my own solo full length body of work and the guest artists were great in helping me to realise my vi­sion. It was also really exciting to work with a woodwind sec­tion in Boston with James Wylie, and see a little fragment of harmony I was messing around with turn into the blooming orchestral parts of ‘City of Atlantis’ and ‘7 Bar Thing’.”

Blooming. One has a feeling of flowering and blooming, a joyful and summery efflorescence that could not come from a mere virtuoso. It need to come from a Musician – there is a difference.

And if you don’t know the difference, check out Myele Manzanza’s One and you will.

Myele Manzanza’s website is here.

Published September 2013 on theorangepress.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 

 

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.

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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 

Saxophone icon Wayne Shorter is – apart from Miles Davis – possibly the most uncompromising artist in jazz, if not in modern music. Shorter, whether in his own early Blue Note recordings, in his playing and composing for Miles’ 1960’s quintet or his time co-leading 70’s jazz-rock juggernaut, Weather Report has only ever done things Wayne Shorter’s way. And the jazz canon has undeniably been the richer for it.

In March 2010, Wayne Shorter toured Australia with his quartet and – as all truly pioneering artists do – fiercely divided audiences across the country. I was at his Sydney Opera House gig and recognised more than a few of our supposedly more progressively minded jazz players in the streams leaving the hallowed hall during his set.

Wayne Shorter

Shorter’s new album, Without A Net is eight live recordings (and one orchestral piece) from a late 2011 European tour with the same band that blitzed Australia – pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and the explosive Brian Blade, a hyper-kinetic drummer that makes Keith Moon look like Karen Carpenter. This is the 80 year old Shorter’s first album for the Blue Note jazz label for 43 years – yes, the numbers suggest great age and a charitable homecoming, but Without A Net is far from a creaky, olde tyme trip: it is as vital and new as tomorrow’s sun, each track roaring out of the speakers with full-blooded urgency. It is the three younger sidemen trying to keep up with Shorter rather than the other way around.

Of the three remakes on the album – Shorter also reworks his own Weather Report composition ‘Plaza Real’ and the 1933 film tune ‘Flying Down to Rio’ – the opening track ‘Orbits’ sets the pace. ‘Orbits’ was a piece Shorter contributed to Miles Davis’s 1967 album Miles Smiles – there it was a brisk bebop line, here it is a lugubrious piano riff that gets thrown around from piano to bass to soprano sax until the whole band has picked its bones.

Unlike most jazz you will hear today, it is not just one solo predictably following another but more of a group improvisation as the muse takes them. This group soloing not only aligns Shorter’s new music with the Free Jazz movement of the 1960’s but, surprisingly, with original Dixieland jazz of the 20’s. It also seems to cheese off the more conservative jazz listener more than it really should.

It’s not all frenetic momentum though – the lovely ‘Starry Night’ and the opaquely impressionistic ‘Myrrh’ show the band’s more introspective side; the intro to ‘Myrrh’ in particular is like listening to music underwater, floating in a warm current, unafraid and tranced-out. The band can also pull off a great Latin groove too (Shorter has always drawn heavily on the rhythmic innovations of Cuban jazz and the harmonic quirks of Brazilian Bossa Nova) – ‘SS Golden Mean’ (with a wry quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Manteca’) and ‘Flying Down to Rio’ have a light Latin skip to them – but of course, as seen through the lens of Shorter and his band, which can be a sharpening lens or conversely, a distorting lens (groovy either way to my ear).WayneShorterQuartet_Withoutanet

The centrepiece of Without A Net is the 23 minute tone poem ‘Pegasus’. Recorded with the quartet and The Imani Winds, ‘Pegasus’ moves between shadowy, veiled passages which move slowly like cloud-shadows over savannah and sharply rhythmic passages with the orchestral ensemble stabbing and riffing in and around the jazz group. As is expected of Wayne Shorter, ‘Pegasus’ is like nothing you or I have ever heard: like much of his Weather Report work, it pulls in flavours and energies from European classical music, African talking drums, American jazz and points north south east and west. The result is pure Shorter and pure wonder. Not an easy ride, but what soul-deep experience ever is?

I will give the final word to Wayne Shorter himself. When reflecting on his lifelong dedication to the path of the artist, he says “The challenge we as artists face today is to create a ‘singularity’ or an ‘event horizon’ so that as human beings we will break the cycle of ego dominated actions which through repetition keep us bound to stagnation which denies us entrance to the Portal of Life’s Ultimate Adventure!”

Without A Net will be released worldwide February 5, 2013.

Wayne Shorter’s website is here.

 

Published January 2013 on theorangepress.net

Galaxstare. The name Sydney tenor savant Richard Maegraith rechristened his rather prosaically named Richard Maegraith Band for their second album, is a word to conjure with.

Galaxstare. Is it the feeling of staring outwards towards the galaxy, seeking answers, in awe of its wonders? Or is it the stare of the galaxy back towards us; the eye in the sky, its vast omni-vision casting its diamond gaze over our little lives? As a spiritually-attuned man and musician – his Facebook page declares “I’m a student of everything… and I play the saxophone” – Maegraith perhaps is suggesting both.

Galaxstare the band suggests this wide cosmic vista in their playing and sound. Maegraith’s compositions seem to come from a place wider than Jazz and the band’s acoustic/electric sound gives a wider timbre than Jazz to realise them.

Not that there is anything wrong with Jazz timbre: the opener at Galaxstare’s 2 October gig at Sydney’s Venue 505, the piano-bass-drums Chris Poulsen Trio, proved that. Great driving piano jazz – but with the funky colours Herbie Hancock raises up whenever he plays acoustic piano – Poulsen’s witty and swinging heads won us all over. His bass player, Jeremy O’Connor stood out – are you allowed to have this much fun with jazz?

Then Galaxstare – with Matilda Abraham filling in for the group’s vocalist, Kristen Berardi – took to the stage and played us four tunes in a row, without pause. As on their album, A Time, Times and Half a Time, three tunes – ‘Love Feast’, ‘New One’ and ‘The Comforter’ (with an extended and involved Rhodes solo from Gary Daley) were fused together into a seamless flow. ‘The Comforter’ then grew into a new tune – Maegraith’s tribute and celebration of Indigenous Australians – ‘The Ones Who Were Here First’. The new piece was meditative and roiling by turns with Maegraith featuring the black-on-black tones of his bass clarinet. I heard ochre, deep desert wind and crackling dry branches – as with much of Galaxstare’s music, the piece was entirely transporting.

After the deep meditations of the opening quartet of tunes, Galaxstare snapped us out of it with the funk of ‘Romans VII’. And I realised that the band has toughened up their sound considerably. Karl Dunnicliff’s electric bass and Tim Firth’s drums – for all their hair-trigger dynamics and inventiveness (and Tim Firth constantly amazes) there is some serious rock crunch in the grooves, with backbeats that pay the rent. The funk under Maegraith’s tenor solo was electric, snapping and crackling.

A mention here must go to vocalist Matilda Abraham who filled in “at the last moment” – her canny negotiations of the rhythmic quirks and intervallic leaps of Maegraith’s melodies was admirable. Dig the relentless 16th offbeats of ‘Romans VII’ – whew. Her scatting on the bright and funky closer, ‘The Journey’ was inspired and lit up the room.

The most staggering piece of the night was ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, the title track of the band’s latest album. A tribute to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s who survived the terrible Japanese tsunami, it is a deep deep meditation on existence, the galaxy-sized power of nature, and the depth of sorrow. That Galaxstare are capable of creating this huge, deep, wide, bottomless universe of music in a room on Cleveland Street using only bass clarinet, voice, accordian, bass and drums is astounding and humbling.

Richard Maegraith’s music draws from many musics. It is nominally Jazz but, like Miles Davis and Weather Report, and today’s Christian Scott, it kneads in many other flavours. Maybe Maegraith’s music has greater depth because he moves in a world away from only Jazz and jazz musicians – he is a deeply committed Christian and a family man with three boys.

All I know is that the thought “Why is this room not full to the brim? Why doesn’t the world better know about this music?” came into my mind – as it does with saddening regularity these days. Of course I know the reasons why, but in the case of Galaxstare, the question needs to be answered. If this review can motivate you to buy their albums and/or go see their next gig then my words will have been worth it.

 

Galaxstare’s website is http://galaxstare.com/

 

Published October 2102 on jazz-planet.com

 

 

 

Guilty pleasures – we all have them (ok, mine are 70s Glam Rock and New Idea). To many ‘serious’ Jazz musicians, that much-derided mongrel, Jazz Fusion (Jazz-Rock Fusion, Jazz-Funk Fusion, Fusion), is one such guilty pleasure, lurking in the aesthetic wardrobe, way up the back.

Seen through the clearer lens of time – unencumbered by the era’s afros, flares and white guys wearing dashikis – 1970s Jazz Fusion can (almost) be forgiven for spawning its idiot bastard, Smooth Jazz. Groups like Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (and, later, Elektric Band) – and of course, the electric bands of the genre’s sire, Miles Davis – had some serious jazz mojo going on: brilliant creative arrangements, in-the-pocket ensemble playing and stunning solos. Many jazz fans, used to the timbres of piano, horn and jazz kit were perhaps turned off by the wah-wah’s, clavinets and swooping synths; but there is much of lasting value in this music.

Sean Wayland, in the liner notes to his staggering two volume, 27-track Jazz Fusion-inspired new release, Slave To The Machine Vols 1&2, offers the droll caveat “Some of this music is corny fusion music”. But he obviously loves this synthesizer stuff and doesn’t care who knows it.

From electro-popping whimsy such as ‘Rotovibe’ – a collage of scratch-mixed ideas – to the entirely acoustic pieces such as ‘Special When Lit’ – a beautifully measured sound-river featuring his current band of Matt Penman on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums – Slave To The Machine Vols 1&2, has a over-arching cohesion that belies the fact this music was recorded over a 5-year period, from 2007 to 2012.

That cohesion is tested by Wayland’s strangely cool take – powered by his Nord Modular and astonishing drummer Mark Guiliana – on John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ and at the other end of the spectrum, the truly spiritual ‘Devotional’ – a duet with the always-transporting singer Kristen Berardi. But it all hangs together just fine; hardly a surprise as all this dazzling music springs from the mind of one of Australia’s most gifted jazz composers.

Speaking of hearing fusion guitarist Alan Holdsworth’s Flat Tyre, Wayland says, “The sounds of the synths really captured me. That’s when I realised it was possible to do something very interesting and original with synthesizers.”

And like Chick Corea, like Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul, he has transcended the inherent hollowness of timbre and often stilted expressiveness of these keyboards. Whether it be Nord, Oberheim or Yamaha synths and sequencers – check out ‘Neu Neu’ – grooving Hammond B3 or slinky Rhodes (‘I Still Got It’), Wayland’s solos never lack the same rich expressiveness he has always coaxed from the teeth of a Steinway.

His players on Slave To The Machine Vols 1&2 are worth the price of admission. As well as current bandmates such as Penman and Rueckert, Wayland features Oz mates such as drummer Andrew Gander and guitarist James Muller – Muller as ever making the ears prick up with his deft balance of stratospheric chops and earthy blues (his neo-Sco jazz lines on ‘Boxing Day’ make some beautiful arcs and curves).

Heavy friends such as NYC guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Keith Carlock add some Mahavishnu-metal to the deceptively-named ‘Marshmallows’ – the heaviest tune here.

But the brightest shining star here is Mark Guiliana. Wayland says of the rapidly rising young drummer, “I think Mark has revolutionised improvised drumming. It’s a real step forward in the language and concepts. He sounds like what has been in my head for years and previously only my computer drum programming could realise…”

To let the music speak what words can’t, have a listen to Wayland and Guiliana on the last track, the 11-minute ‘I’ll Face Ya’. Pianist and drummer play (in the true sense, the child-like sense) over a synth ostinato that drops in and out. Over the length of the piece, as well as some genius playing, there are quotes (Monk’s ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’), terse silences, even snatches of good-natured talk between the two, picked up on the drum mic.

But the musical conversation is the thing – this is jazz in its heart, transcending its machinery as all great jazz has transcended its machinery, from Armstrong onwards, the slave to the machine becoming its master.

For more information visit: www.seanwayland.com

Published October 2102 on jazz-planet.com