17 March 2008

Ben’s big band

Ben Marston commenced his Jazz Project for 2008 with a big band session in the Street Theatre on Sunday. Big bands present a high level of complexity in organisation and in presentation, so they are not too common, but they are blissful in tone and complexity. It’s doubly difficult and impressive when you are composing and arranging all the music, as Ben did.

The concert was in two sets, with plenty of variation in harmony and tonality. The first set opened with a dissonant tune with a political theme: “Canberra does not say anything” was indignation at Canberra standing in for Parliament and Government in the media. The next two tunes also had a Canberra theme, but were more joyous and pleasant, picturing a Garema Street Parade and Canberra’s autumn weather. These three tunes comprised the Canberra Suite. I particularly liked the complex, moody piece that followed. “Accidental instigation” was apparently written for, and played by, Ben’s band of recent years, 12 Tone Family. This was controlled, composed, emotive music. The set ended with James switching to electric bass and a stronger groove for the rest of the concert. Theophanaic synchronicity was the last tune of the first set. I’m not sure what the tune represented (although Theophanous is a federal political name) but I remember it as sixteenth notes with plenty of soloing from trumpet and other. The groove continued in the second set, along with some recurring references: a searing comment on politics in Dance of Disillusionment, and a gentler reference to Canberra weather in December rains. There was a gentler Lament for music, with some expressive soloing by John Mackey. But the feature for me was another suite, the perfectly expressive, and suitably worldly, African Roadside suite. It was made up of three pictorial tunes which described a car journey in Rwanda: a red earth roundabout, an open road journey, and the obvious relief in relaxation on arrival. More impressions? Several pieces of written counterpoint; quite a few guitar solos from Lachlan, and leads and solos from Ben; an expressive solo from John Mackay; and some collective solos, one of two trombones, another of alto and baritone sax.

The encore was a case of sublime to ridiculous. Ben has played many small band outings with this rhythm section at Trinity on Tuesday nights. Madonna’s Material girl has become a standard at these sessions. It forms a great little groove for a blow; Chris, Lachlan, James and Ben carried it off with humour and funky precision. Nice one.

The event was well supported, with lots of family and friends, so it was one of those pleasant jazz events with an easy and intimate atmosphere. I doubt it was so easy for ArtSound who recorded the event. Theirs was a challenging job, with more mics in the mix than I’ve seen them use before, and two mixers on the go.

Ben’s project returns to the Street Theatre on 15 Jun, 14 Sept and 7 Dec, all Sunday afternoons at the Street Theatre. Apparently the next concert will be broadcast nationally by ABC-FM. For once, the media can say Canberra and we can feel comfortable with the label. Ben will be pleased!

The band comprised: Miroslav Bukovsky, Dan Mclean, Ben Marston (trumpets), Alistair Clarke, Valdis Thomann, Rob Lee, Dave Hicks (trombones), Adam Mathews, Andrew Pogson, John Mackey, Joe Lloyd, James LeFevre (saxes), Chris Thwaite (drums), James Luke (bass), Lachlan Coventry (guitar), Wayne Kelly (piano).

No comments: