31 August 2006

John Mackey Quintet

Hippos hosted John Mackey’s band last night, and it was another demonstration of talent from the CSM Jazz School. The band comprised John Mackey (tenor sax) as leader, Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Michael Azzopardi (piano), Gareth Hill (bass) and Sam Young (drums). John and Miroslav are teachers at the school, and come with considerable reputations. Michael, Gareth and Sam are students, but highly capable.

John is a strong and emotive player in the Coltrane, early-60s, avant-garde mode. He will reliably blow complex and impassioned solos with a hard tonal edge, and lots of out playing; often long and demanding; often frantic or wailing, but always intense. He didn’t disappoint this time, and the tunes were suited to his style. They played several originals, and some covers, by Nat Adderley and others.

I have written before of Miroslav as a local Miles, in the sense that he gathers great musos to work together. In this case, he played the trumpet part in a 50s/60s-style small combo. He played melodies in harmony or unison with John’s tenor, and blew strong and well formed solos. He displayed more of a soloist bent in this formation than in Wunderlust or his own combos, and it was very impressive playing: few fluffed notes (common enough with the best of trumpeters), some harmonic backdrops, good internal structure and development in solos, occasional flourishes and fast runs.

Michael Azzopardi is everywhere these days, but he’s a great player and well worth the frequent listens. He played wonderfully as always, providing excellent backing with ever-changing rhythms and harmonies. He led a rich and changing rhythm section, often breaking into cross rhythms, or whole-note triplets, or similarly challenging the underlying rhythm. But he also provided numerous impassioned solos. I remember one especially when he followed one of John’s long solos. He told me after that he decided against trying to match this flurry of outside notes, so he played a lovely, rippling surface of steady, arpeggiated notes, which then developed into a softer and more thoughtful solo. It was a brilliant change of tack from the band, displaying a considerable competence in producing different styles on demand.

Gareth struck me from the start with a fast post-bop walk, and he held that throughout the night. He has a soft but present sound, and provided a steady, reliable undercurrent. He did several nice solos, too. Not flashy, but well conceived, tasteful and capable explorations of the harmonies. I especially liked some chordal double-stop work with accompanying drums and piano in the second set.

Sam kept the steady beat through the night, responded well to Michael’s explorations to the rhythm, and provided interesting changes and fills to underlie the heads and solos.

I only stayed for the first and second sets. To me, the second set was the more satisfying. It felt more settled, less frantic, generally more “musical”. But what I saw was a pleasure. Much more challenging than relaxing, but that’s how I like it.

This was classic 50s/60s avant-garde: John in his trademark long, leather overcoat, Miroslav cool beside him, Michael hunched over his keyboard; Gareth and Sam thrusting away underneath it all. Another great night of local jazz.

25 August 2006

White Eagle jammers

Here are the four jamming groups for the last White Eagle Jazz session. Don’t miss the next session. These sessions are off to a great start. There were about 30 people at the first event, and about 120 at the second. Some work’s required on the PA, but it’s a great night and interesting food and drink on tap. It opens at 7.30 and starts promptly at 8pm, so get there early for the full show.

Afro Blue. Played by Mike Azzopardi (piano), Carl Morgan (guitar), James Luke (bass), Andrew Swift (drums), Sebastian McIntosh (tenor sax)

Nostalgia in Times Square, Oleo. Played by Julian Banks (tenor sax), Daniel Hunter (guitar), Wayne Kelly (piano), Andrew Swift (drums), Brendan Clarke (bass)

Things ain’t what they used to be. Played by Hannah James (bass), Jono Apps (trumpet), Al Clarke (trombone), James LeFevre (tenor sax), Ben Foster (piano), Dave Rodriguez (guitar), Sam Young (drums)

My romance. Played by Hugh Deacon (drums), Madeleine Hawke (vocals), Stu McKnown (bass), Sebastian McIntosh (tenor sax), Andy Campbell (guitar)

Mike Price - Carl Dewhurst

A teacher-pupil reunion was celebrated last night at the White Eagle Jazz Series. Carl Dewhurst was a student of Mike Price at the CSM Jazz School a good time back. Carl is now a major player on the Sydney jazz scene, and Mike is now the Head of the Jazz School. Accompanying Carl and Mike were two other alumni of the CSM – Brendan Clarke (bass) and James Hauptmann (drums).

This mostly was a night of standards played by a small combo, but with a few interludes featuring the two guitarists playing without the rhythm section. I particularly liked these more introverted pieces. They provided a real interplay by the guitarists, and I thought it let them express their styles more individually. Lots of the tunes for the night were well known: I hear a rhapsody, Have you met Miss Jones, Footprints, C-Jam Blues/Bag’s groove. There were also lesser known tunes, by George Benson (Thunderwall?) and John Scofield (The Beatles?). Darn that dream was done as a guitar-only piece and it was beautiful.

Carl played a strong, modern style. Electric guitar, lots of difficult substitutions resolving after lengthy (occasionally humourous) flights of fancy. The band lifted with his solos. He’s a hot and powerful player, and well received by the large numbers of students in attendance. Mike’s of another generation. Not less capable, but cooler and sweeter. He’d also break away from defined harmonies often enough, but not with the contest to the underlying harmonies that Carl would offer. Mike plays a semi-acoustic, and his style fits: fast, sweet and more diatonic. It was an interesting contrast.

I first thought Brendan Clarke (bass) provided a strong and conventional basis to the chordal movements, but during the night, his solos increasingly broke away from the stated harmonies. He plays with great chops; his fingers running accurately all over the neck. James Hauptmann (drums) kept a watchful eye on all the proceedings, provided a strong swing accompaniment, and broke into several strong solos.

Jamie Oehlers Quartet

Jamie Oehlers came with a string of prizes and a matching reputation. He lived up to it. This was another of those magic nights of performance excess. I raved about Dave Weckl a few weeks ago. This was another show on this level, although in a very different genre.

I was sitting very close to the band and the bell of JO’s tenor, so I was able to catch every note. But what were they? Firstly, the sound was rich and rounded, surprisingly so in this field of hard post-bop improvisation. But the notes were the big challenge. He’d often introduce solos with long, fast diatonic flourishes, then launch into streams of harmonic invention that left me dumbfounded. I really was lost for understanding in these harmonies – obscure, changing, profoundly challenging. And patterns based on big intervals (much harder than small) and carried on over long ranges from the top to the bottom of the register. Then you’d arrive at an extreme and realise the tone on that low note was smooth, rather than the more common honk of lesser players, or that high note remained sweet. Amongst all this, his solo lines would cross over the bars and beats, in a way that matched the malleable harmonies. I found JO’s solo performance on a blues less convincing (fast but more obvious) and I felt the first set was the better (maybe the band was fresher – it certainly was intense playing). But this was a master at work, of obvious international standard. I read in the paper the weekend before the concert that Charles Lloyd had led the judging panel for the big sax prize JO won at the Montreux Festival. It was apt. This was a master at work, and of clearly international class.

But he wasn’t alone. I’ve seen Ben Vanderwal a few times recently at Hippo’s. He’s a great drummer – not so much for his chops; more for his immense and endless creativity. He plays a standard kit. It’s got a good sound: hard and full, powerful; smooth, not edgy but not that soft swing tone. And his playing is so much more that swing-style rhythms played well, although they are there too. He seems to have a sense of theatricality that has him playing latin, rock, trad, modern, any style from one bar to another. Just endless change and invention, and a drive and readiness to lift that matched Jamie’s creations. One minute toms, next cow bell (that old hoary thing), then mallets, whatever. Ever changing. Great solos too. This is someone I didn’t know of at the start of the year, but now he’s an icon.

The others were no slouches either. Sam Anning holds it together, as bassists do in this style. But his fills were neat and sharp, and his solos matched: well pitched and with a great woody tone. I was looking for his amp, and it was this little diminutive thing at his feet – uh, new tech! Sam Keevers was another name I knew of, but hadn’t heard live. He was a bigger guy sitting over this small, red keyboard, with a Roland 60w bass cube for his amp. But it was a great piano sound that he got, with occasional lapses into effected piano and synths. It reminded me of Herbie Hancock’s inventions in ethereality and groove.

The music was largely original – presumably mostly by JO, although one was announced as by Sam Anning, and they also played Coltrane’s Dear Lord, and I loved their rendition of Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation.

Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax) appeared with Ben VanderWaal (drums), Sam Anning (bass) and Sam Keevers (piano).

  • JamieOehlers.com
  • 5 August 2006

    Bob Mintzer

    The Jazz School welcomed Bob Mintzer, famed New York sax player and arranger/composer for a public concert last week. Bob had just spent 2 days getting from New York to Canberra, and came to the concert after a day with the students. He was looking forward to getting some sleep, but even in this state, we got a show of expert musicianship.

    The first set was a small combo with staff of the school. Eric Ajaye (bass), Mike Price (guitar) and Mark Sutton (drums) played the whole set; Miroslav Bukovsky (flugelhorn) and John Mackey (tenor sax) sat in for the last tune. They played 6 tunes - I recognised two (Body & soul, Tenor madness). Someone said there was another standard that I obviously didn’t recognise, and I guess the others were BM originals. Bob was a master on his bright gold (gold-plated?) tenor. He interpreted and embellished melodies with subtlety and skill. He interspersed flowing solos with fast and fluid flourishes. He blew considerable harmonic alterations but with it all seeming totally appropriate and unforced. I especially loved his open tempo intro and ending for Body & soul – just like the on recordings, really. Great, modern playing. The band started pretty quietly and laid back, but built up during the set. Eric played solidly as always, but worked up to some powerful and inventive solos towards the end. Mike played complex chordal work and fluid solos. Mark was apt and obviously concentrating for this outing. Miroslav, always tasteful, played a lovely flugelhorn solo. And it was both interesting and instructive to see the contrast of John Mackay’s Coltranesque style against the more discreet inventions of Bob Mintzer.

    But it was the second set that I especially loved. This was the student Big Band playing charts by Bob and led by him. I believe the band has been practicing the charts for a few weeks, and John Mackay commented that they were hard charts. They made them seem easy. The band excelled, with excellent pitch and tempo, and some impressive solos. They played 6 BM charts: Papa lips, Bright lights, Original people, Tribute, Each day and Latin dances. I was interested in watching BM lead the band – I don’t know what the fist symbolised, although the finger counts were obvious. BM did several solos himself, and it was fun to watch the 3 tenors just by him gazing in respect. Michael Azzopardi (piano) excelled himself with his solo on Bright lights. BM responded after with “that was good” – it was impressive when he said it on the night. Carl Morgan (guitar) got in two interesting solos, and Luke Sweeting (piano) did a lovely understated one. There was an alto sax solo which I found hard to hear (more on sound later!); Ed Rodrigues (drums) got a nice one in too. I loved Phil Jenkins’ (acoustic bass) playing – steady and perfect for the role, and he looks the part perfectly! I’ve left out lots of good playing here – either players I didn’t recognise or whatever. They all played really well – it was a very professional presentation. There was one spot that I really loved, I think is was at the end of Original people (?) The trombones and trumpets played a staccato passage, perhaps in fourths, where they bounced off each other, somewhat reminiscent to me of Carla Bley’s orchestration. Lovely stuff. In summary, a great performance – sharp, well intoned, and lively. Congrats to the band.

    BTW, the lineup of the big band was: 4 x trumpet, 1 x scat vocals, guitar, bass (electric or acoustic), drums, percussion, piano, 3 x tenor sax, 1 x soprano sax, 2 x alto sax, 1 x baritone sax, 3 x trombone, & Bob Mintzer.

    From left: Michael Azzopardi, Bob Mintzer, Carl Morgan.

    I was interested to hear Bob talk of his history. He’d played with Thad Jones, and said he was his major influence. Then he talked of Thad Jones updating what Ellington had been doing. Interesting. Today I looked on allmusic.com, and Thad Jones was described as “harmonically advanced trumpeter/cornetist with a distinctive sound and a talented arranger/composer”. It all rang true to what I heard in Bob M.

    The sound was nothing to write home about. Mics were often turned off when needed, balance was poor and I lost a few solos. At one stage, BM even said “Sound, finally”. Not a good look for a small town showing off to the big smoke.

    But what else went well? Nice to see John Mackay welcoming their classical colleagues to the concert, and also to see they were there. Nice to see a full house, although the venue was small, so that was not too difficult to achieve. Nice to hear Bob M’s chatter and name dropping – easy when the names are of the ilk of Brecker, Sanborn and Erskine. And, at least for Bob, nice when he finally got the chance to pack up and go home to bed.

  • BobMintzer.com
  • 2 August 2006

    Luke Sweeting Trio

    The Luke Sweeting Trio played for the last of the Jazz at the Gods series last night. LST are Luke Sweeting (piano), Hannah James (acoustic bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). Luke and Ed are 2nd year students at the CSM Jazz School, and Hannah is a 1st year student. The quality of the concert is a measure of the output from the Jazz School, and congratulations to both the band and the school.

    LST played two brackets of standards. I loved the choice, and I learned the titles of a few well-known but unidentified melodies. Tunes included Lullaby of Birdland, You don’t know what love is, Sandu, Groovin’ high, Stella…, Softly as a morning sunrise, Whisper not (including the rarely-played march in the C section) and Wayne Shorter’s Deluge. It was an oddly conceived but fascinating version of Autumn leaves that they played, and I was taken by a down-home bluesy version of Blue monk. But I especially loved their take on Invitation. It’s a great latin tune and a favourite of mine. They played it later in the night when they were warmed up and more relaxed. It was a complex rendition, with lots of variation, moves from latin to swing and back and plenty of solos passed between the players. Lovely! Then the encore of Bird’s Scrapple from the apple demanded all their chops to finish the night.

    Luke played lines from the heart of the tune: always defining the underlying movements, although often enough challenging with moves out of the strict harmonies. Hannah played solid and ever-reliable rhythm section lines in latin and walks, and was always right on the harmonic and rhythmic structure. And despite her obvious concentration against double-time and bebop walks, she continued to mark the tune out clearly. Ed provided a solid underlying rhythm with cymbal colours and interesting solos. He amused me with two solos where he played the tune’s melody by changing pitch of a tom by pressing the skin. Synth for skins?

    Another proof of the quality of the Jazz School, and a fine way to end Geoff Page’s Jazz series at the Gods for 2006.

    Dave Weckl Band

    By the end of the night, cheers are superfluous. I’m convinced, perhaps beaten into submission. I announced this performance on CJ as “not my favourite style, but you’ve got to admit these guys have chops”. But I was enchanted, and overwhelmed, and intrigued. I loved this concert. It could be just the sheer abilities. No doubt they had chops – these are world masters in the style and they displayed their skills in great measures. But I was also intrigued by the style itself. Despite a past love for Mahavishnu, Return to Forever and the like, I’ve more recently thought of fusion as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, just a few chords with lots of predictable busy-ness. But I stopped to analyse the melodies, and they were complex, madly syncopated and plain interesting. The rhythms and harmonies were essentially simple and repetitive, but the interpretations were joyful, complex, playful, rich. I could go on. I’ve since spoken to people in two camps: one group was ecstatic; the other was unimpressed. It reminds me of the battles between modern and trad jazz, or between the modern jazz and jazz-rock people when Bitches Brew arrived, or the folkies complaining when Dylan went electric. Perhaps this demeans the arguments; each side has some validity. But to defy the tenor of our times, I’ll choose not to be polarised, and say I loved this concert (while I also love modern, mainstream and other forms).

    DWB was Dave Weckl (drums), Steve Weingart (keyboards), Gary Meek (sax) and Tom Kennedy (bass). They played 2 hours of the most energetic music I’ve seen in ages. The tour was called Multiplicity and presumably they were mostly performing tunes from their new album with this title. Their resilience reminded me of a time I saw Chick Corea playing in Adelaide: he played a long set, then surprised me when he said he’d return after the break. DW didn’t even get a sweat up despite the threshing performance he’d given. I had attended a workshop which Weckl gave years ago at the Southern Cross Club. His talk then suggested he and his mates were fit, clean-living music machines, and this just looked to me to be proof (although Gary was seen smoking outside in the cold Canberra winter air). I won’t comment too much on the performances. Get one of their live albums, but discount the fact you’re not there, or you may be underwhelmed. To me, this stuff doesn’t transfer well to a CD. There seems to be a sterility and dullness to the incessant sheets of recorded notes. But live, it was powerful, fluid and overwhelming.

    To see these guys in a little club with only about 150 people is bliss. To be able to chat to them after is additional bliss. Someone said a bomb in the Holy Grail that night would have knocked out the whole Canberra drumming community. I’d add a good few of the other instruments, too. This audience was peopled with musos. There was a rush to talk with the stars after the show. Lots of interesting muso chat about gear and the like. Can’t help but be seduced!

    Someone mentioned poor communication between players, but I didn’t see that. Tom and Steve were always musically toying with each other and smiling broadly at the results. Gary would glance over above his sax at key points. Only Dave was locked into his instrument, doing his communication mainly by ear.

    Tom was my hero (but then, I am a bassist). He flayed his lovely 5-string Fodera (beautiful quilted maple top; standard B-E-A-D-G tuning). Most of his playing was in lower positions, but then he’d move through higher positions, and above the 12th fret for chords, or do chordal runs up the neck. He played slap, fingerstyle with 2 and 3 fingers, and thumb for various effects. No compression; just a few foot pedals (chorus, EQ and octaver, but they weren’t overworked) and Ampeg amp. He mainly just poured out sheets of notes with a Pastorius-like tone. And what notes? You could identify one or two chords below, but there were all sorts of harmonic, chromatic, whole tone and such movements. At one stage, I realised in the middle of a tune (they had been playing for maybe 5 minutes) that this was a blues. They had introduced it as blues, and this was the first really visible referral to the obvious blues structure. How did they do this and hold it together? Beyond me.

    Gary on tenor and soprano saxes was a little more reverent of jazz traditions. He was a Garfunkel-looking character off to one side, doing these difficult heads, and blowing power solos. I felt he was lost in a rhythm-section-heavy mix which I felt didn’t do him justice.

    Dave was the ever-busy powerhouse, as expected. Head down, sheer concentration. Great precision and delicacy when required, but mostly just ceaseless power and push. Lots of cymbals, lots of double bass drum work (and little jazz hi-hat), lots of triplets and complex partitioning of the beat, but always this incessant, changing understory of rhythmic energy.

    Steve was a pixie, playing then not playing, toying with the sounds, often enough taking a solo, mostly piano sounds, but occasionally synth. He was a back-woods man, moving in, changing things, moving on. Just two keyboards, but through a laptop for effects and midi tones, presumably. Interestingly, perhaps 6 foot pedals.

    The whole effect was a writhing reptilian barrage of notes. Not discordant and never still. But intense, challenging, overwhelming, vigorous, fast, and damn good fun.

    Top class. Don’t miss them next time around, or anyone else of this level that visits. Regardless of the style.

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