12 October 2006

Women fused in concert

I don’t understand the “Fused” theme, but a concert featuring this group of women from the CSM was a great idea, and it provided a varied, fascinating and entertaining evening of considerable musical depth.

From left, Anna, Ruth, Sally, Jenna

Ruth Lee Martin is a musicologist and MC for the night. I understand she gathered the concert together after hearing the excellent CD “Take it in colour” (see the CJ recent review). There’s a bit of feminist pride here, and good on them. There aren’t as many women as men in jazz or at the Jazz School, and perhaps they can be overlooked. Jazz can be pretty blokey and it’s a highly individualistic art, which perhaps advantages the guys. But it’s also intellectual and highly respectful of excellence, so the paths are there for the best to shine through. And there are some great female role models to show the way (some personal favourites are Joanne Brackeen, Carla Bley and Sandy Evans). Knowing the CD, I came with anticipation and high expectations, and went away very satisfied. So congratulations for this highly successful celebration of some of our local women of jazz.

Let’s not forget this was a “composition showcase”, so all the tunes on the night were originals. We have some considerable compositional talent here, and mostly from women who are students or only very recently graduated. It bodes well for the ongoing development of the art, and pulls the rug from the feet of the conservative traditionalists.

Anna Thompson (violin) started the night with the Straight Up Trio, Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaites (drums). Anna is influenced by some names that I haven’t heard of for a while (Jean Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood) and it showed in her playing. Violins are strung in fifths, and I was trying to identify whether the lines she plays in solos are different from guitars, basses, etc, which are strung in fourths. I didn’t hear a difference in melodic lines played, but the double stop work was harmonically different from guitar chords. And I really noticed the different control of sound in the violin: the bowed attack and ability to control a sustained note. Anna played very capable solos, led well, and provided an interesting mix of jazz rock, funk and Caribbean/Calypso. Straight Up performed their usual excellent set, with solos all around, and great, solid, inventive rhythms. I’m still wondering about one song title, “Yollop & the Trollop”, but it was a nice start.

Ruth Lee Martin (vocals) followed with a set of original tunes in the Scottish folk idiom. This was quite a change from the jazz normally played in this room: a new musical approach, and intriguing sounds. Words with serious intent: telling stories of poverty-stricken families evicted from Scottish villages, migrant experiences, boats and seas, and of course whisky and freezing temperatures. Also different were the fiddle (rather than violin) styles, the mono-chordal, world-music structures. Ruth was accompanied by her band Eilean Mor: Bill Grose (guitar), Chris Stone (fiddle), and several “ring-ins” from the Jazz School, Bill Williams (bass), Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Anna Thompson (fiddle, in this context). For me, an eye-opener and much enjoyed.

Sally Greenaway (piano) followed with a diverse range of pianistic styles. She opened with a piano/percussion piece with Phoebe Juskevics (percussion; also a composer on the “Take it in colour” CD), then played a larger format piece off the CD, called “E11eventy” and finished with a largely improvised solo piano piece. The first and last pieces exposed more classical and soundscape approaches to playing, as well as being more inward-looking. But I’d loved the bigger piece on the CD, and enjoyed it immensely live. The band for E11eventy was Sally, Phoebe, Gareth Hill (bass), Sam Young (drums), Anna Thompson (violin), Rob Lee and Valdis Thoman (trombones) and Jono Apps (trumpet).

Jenna Cave (alto sax) finished off the night with several of her impressive and complex compositions played by the Recording Ensemble. Jenna’s compositions really are impressive. I hear she may be continuing these studies overseas, so good on her, and best of luck. Jenna led the band from the middle of the horn line. She only led 2 tunes, but they were profound, and well named: “My life, a work” and “Odd time in Mali”. Both have odd timing: the first has bass playing 4/4 bass lines against 6/4 swing on drums; the second alternates 5/4 and 4/4 bars. Interesting! The players Recording Ensemble comprised Jon Apps and Julian Barker (trumpet), Al Clarke (trombone), Michael Cleaver and Jenna Cave (alto sax), Jo Taylor and Bill Williams (tenor sax), Carl Morgan (guitar), Luke Sweeting (piano), Garther Hill (bass), Sam Young (drums), and Phoebe Juskevics (percussion) sat in.

So, a great night and well received by a moderately large attendance. Congrats to these four women, and I hope there are more of these.

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