14 February 2008

Salute to Carl & Sorry Day

John Mackey’s Quartet grew to a sextet last night to send off Carl Morgan as he departs for Melbourne. As we expect from John, this was a greatly satisfying few sets of modern jazz in a fervid and fiery, early 60s style. Coltrane is always evident in John’s playing, and with trumpet and several of the back line John used for his Coltrane retrospective, this was a deeply satisfying gig for this lover of that period.

I find it interesting how different players take your attention one night, then disappear into the woodwork another. There are probably various factors – the listener’s frame of mind, the player’s chops or commitment on the night, the sound or clarity or environment. As a bassist, I obviously take an inordinate interest in that instrument, but acoustic bass is so often hard to hear and so to distinguish note choices. Bass is often a thump that satisfies. The front liners are virtually always clear and distinguishable; the drums too. Piano can get lost, especially as Rhodes, but does better than bass.

Last night, Mark Sutton’s drums were the focus for me. This was a performance of great mastery: freely interpreting melodies and structure; constantly churning beats and grooves against the underlying rhythm patterns; clean and clearly intentioned playing throughout. I also have a standing focus on sax. It’s the voice of jazz, doubly so for this period. I remember reading that to study soloing, regardless of your instrument, listen to the sax player. There’s some truth in this (although each instrument has its own limitations and characters and quirks which influence improvisation). Saxes seem to have it all – voice-like articulation, pitch and tonal variation, and a natural tendency to interesting phrasing. John was fast, impassioned, exploratory as always; sheets and sprays of chordal and melodic flurries over the full range of the horn; rich, rounded sounds and occasional quotes; and clear as a tutorial in effective modern playing. I loved his solo rendition of In a sentimental mood, which was all lone saxist leaning from NY loft window. But Mark and John were not alone. Miro was wonderfully structured and searching in his solos and throwaway flourishes. Carl threw chordal colours in with blistering guitar solo lines. Wayne was pensive on the night. I particularly liked his comping to John with mobile fourths tonalities. Chris is just entering 2nd year, but his tone is full, his intonation good, his beat accurate and steady, his walks fast, and his one short solo was impressive, too.

The tunes were not ones I readily recognised. There was Pantano Drive, the title track from John’s CD, and perhaps others from this CD. There was at least one that sounded like it came from the pen of Miro. Even Sentimental mood, being solo sax, was well disguised.

The jazz year is young, and I felt the night started pretty laid back, but it intensified even as the audience dissipated and the listeners took over. Quality playing and a favourite style made this a pleasure for me, and a fitting end to an emotionally satisfying national Sorry Day.

John Mackey (tenor sax) played with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Carl Morgan (guitar), Wayne Kelly (piano), Chris Pound (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

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