19 July 2006

Straight Up!

It was a pleasure and a privilege to hear this great Canberra trio last night at the Gods jazz series. Straight Up! have been together for ~18 months. They perform occasionally, especially on the jazz festival circuit, and have recently recorded a CD. Their experience shows. They played with immense energy and a real, close responsiveness between players. The show awed the attentive audience, and the players’ joy in the performance was palpable. It’s hard to describe the pleasure and the deep, searching melodies and interplays and improvisations on the night.

Straight Up! comprise three of the foremost modern jazz players in Canberra at present: Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). Eric, of course, is the much admired bass teacher at the jazz school, with a wealth of experience behind him in US jazz (tours, gigs and recordings with the likes of Chaka Khan and Freddie Hubbard). Michael has a history in Sydney with top players, and Chris has long experience around Canberra. Michael and Chris are both products of the CSM Jazz School. Together, they form a powerful and interactive trio in the modern vein, and offer an almost fully original repertoire.

Eric plays an electric double bass most of the time (Steinberger 5-string), although he finished with two tunes on electric (Steinberger headless, but all the sounds produced from a midi pickup feeding a Roland bass unit; the sound was great and seemed responsive to his fingerwork). Eric is always rock solid in whatever style. He uses lots of slides and interprets freely and richly with plenty of solos. He’s a stunning player of the highest performance level (our little bit of New York in Canberra). He also offers a friendly and familial interaction as he talks with the audience between tunes. Michael plays fast and furious, freely changing tonalities from piano to pads and other synths, and voices it all with elegant tone bends as he moves inside and outside of the relevant harmony. Chris displayed great awareness of the tune and to the others’ playing. He has a sharp, strong sound (BTW he uses two snares: one standard and one high pitched) and pushes the rhythm and interprets the melody strongly throughout. His fills are always apt, and his solos are clear in intent. He did several solos against repetitive patterns held by bass and piano (a common modern style), and one interesting drum solo on a ballad – not a common format for a drum solo.

The tunes varied, but all within modern jazz styles. There were latins, hard bops, ballads and more spacey modernist tunes. They related to events or experiences in their lives, eg, 88 keys to happiness (obviously a pianist’s tune), a tune about Michael’s dog, and a tune about St Thomas where Eric’s father had lived. In fact, the personal aspect of the concert was infectious. The trio smiled often and freely. They were gentle and honest in presence, but strong and expansive in playing. They told us of common aspects of their lives - common birthdays, and common wives’ names - but joked about the different personalities of their dogs. I guess I mean their performance was emotionally satisfying. Certainly, that was the impression of the audience after the show.

An intense, infectious and satisfying concert at the highest level. See this band!


Anonymous said...

Straight Up are awesome, saw them recently at the North Coast Jazz Festival and can't wait to see them gig in Sydney.

Salsa said...

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