27 March 2008

Spanish translation

It was a refreshingly different style of crossover that was presented by The Translators last night at Hippo, and perhaps apt following the weekend of the National Folk Festival. From my JazzGroove emails, it seems there’s a good deal of experimentation with different musical forms coming out of Sydney. Canberra seems to be relatively tame in this regard. I can guess two reasons for this. Firstly, our jazz players are mostly at the student level and are learning their trade; our best tend to leave for bigger smokes before they spread their exploratory wings. Secondly, when you’re in business and earning your crust, you are busy testing new ideas and sounds to see what sells, and that’s another prod for invention. Musical invention in Sydney features several Canberra names (Hauptmann, Undy, Clarke, Dewhurst, Ryan). It’s nice when those names come home for a family visit, as two of them did for the Translators gig.

The Translators had elements common to other jazz formats mixed with tonalities which were decided different. There was Steve’s virtuoso, Gatling, punchy, Pastorial electric bass. Steve’s a stunner with some blisteringly fast but clear fills and sustained 16th note finger play in the tradition of Jaco: world class and not one to miss. James accompanied him with strongly driving but unobtrussive drumming. His has a full and rolling drumming style, with solos which are comfortable within the groove while deceptively crossing rhythms and dissecting bars and beats. Joining this were the less common sounds: Damian’s flamenco guitar and Ben on mandolin. Mandolin? Well, it was perfectly satisfying mandolin for lovers of a hot guitar solos. Ben played plenty of very stylish guitar-like jazz solos but with the clipped, peaky sound of the mandolin. It was interesting and engaging, but also strangely comfortable for such an uncommon instrument . Damian’s guitar was much more diverse in style. He introduced several tunes with classic flamenco solos and flourishes, and his solos were similarly Spanish. Sadly, the finger picking and nylon-strung guitar didn’t cut through like the other instruments, so I missed detail in many of his solos, but my impression was of Al DiMeola with Paco Peña, or a jazzy take on Sky with John Williams.

The music was all original. Each of the members penned at least one tune performed on the night. It was all built on strong beats, and the powerful rhythm section made it incessantly danceable, so again I thought of the folk crowd which loves to dance. I counted several triple time rhythms, although there was also 4/4 and at least one 7/4 on the night. I wondered if it was the rhythm that had got to the couple who were sweatily pashing off in the front row for a full set, but perhaps it was just youthful lust.

Whatever, this was fascinating and refreshing and inventive. A very successful fusion of elements of flamenco, jazz and even rock. The name says it all: translation. Great stuff and recommended.

The Translators are Steve Hunter (electric bass), Ben Hauptmann (electric mandolin), Damian Wright (acoustic guitar), James Hauptmann (drums).