18 May 2008

Ivey Divey (Sat 2)

Oh my god. I just heard Don Byron’s Ivey Divey trio.

From the top, these guys seemed something from beyond. They snaked through the awaiting audience in the foyer of the Street Theatre just 10 minutes before the gig, moving towards backstage. I was assured they’d been warming up throughout the day, but this was impressively nonchalant. Three snappy dressers: casual, with a beat mix of earth colours, fashionable glasses (they all three wore glasses) and slouching caps. Comfortable, with an air of intelligent commitment but hip alternatives. George Colligan’s bearded chin is fashionable these days, but did nothing but confirm a fifties, Krebsian reference. Don later chatted of the cartoon strip, L’il Abner and distant university romances, so reminiscences of the past, of the fifties, beatniks and even Maynard G, seem appropriate.

The true masters of an art are in some ways, almost beyond comprehension in their statements, but in other ways they make it all seem simple and self-evident. I felt both these emotions with this trio. I could understand Don’s playing on various horns - he played mostly clarinet, a good dose of a very silver tenor sax, and one tune of a squeaking bass clarinet which he explained didn’t survive the long flight to Australia at all well. At base, as Megan observed, there were arpeggios and scales, taken to high levels of complexity. Of course it was, and it always is, but it was also investigatory and intelligently dissecting or even disinterring the harmonies to reveal fellow-travelling patterns and movements and sounds. This is not a field for simple, stated melodies, although melodies are there and rich. This is a walk in a field on a black night revealed under a searing light of knowledge and intelligence.

I was particularly taken, or should I say dumbfounded (gobsmacked, to borrow that US-derived term now so popular), by George Colligan and his pianistic endeavours. I knew the name, and it’s well respected: for good reason. This was an avalanche of stylistic references and manual dexterity: an ability to establish a musical context and follow it without limitation of skills or intent. Again, intelligence comes to mind. These guys are educators, GC at Julliard, so they know their stuff. But they play it too. There’s reverence and expression of history here, but also interpretation and reinvigoration. This is not just replaying, but revisiting and renewing an older tradition, or perhaps it’s better to say these guys are part of a continuing history. The night was dubbed a tribute to Lester Young. Don spoke at one time about Lester Young making a link between instruments and voice, and this was his intention. So this was the nature of the tribute, but the palette was the history of jazz; far broader than just one man.

Back to George. His solos were an extravanza, and that’s where I most felt the evening take off. Rudy Royston played some delightful solos, played brushes often, intoned sensitively and sweetly on the drums, but the temperature really lifted in synch with George’s solos. This was intensity over a broad spectrum,white light on the crevices of the underlying tunes. Just two guys (remember, no bass) creating a storm.

So what of this? I just thought this must be New York: a competitive, busy place, a need to impress and a drawcard for capability. But I’ve heard other New Yorkers visiting here and elsewhere, and this was something else. There was a depth of history and respect, and a profundity of knowledge that you don’t encounter too often. Perhaps Wynton Marsalis when he visited, but I didn’t feel this intensity on that night. Admittedly, the Street Theatre is more intimate, but this was special. So off to NY? Not cheap! The guy next to us volunteered this would have been two sets, each individually charged, in a NY club. Big, city; big expense.

But Canberra had our visit, and it was both profound and a blast. And we gave it our standard treatment: a lovely theatre, an involved audience, and an ArtSound recording. Chris, when can we expect to revisit this fabulous night? I’m hanging out for more.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Hmmm...well, Eric asked for a comment and so here it is, but first, my music credentials, such as they are. My two music musts in the year are our Musica Viva Subscription and the National Folk Festival. You can tell from that that I am not a jazz afficionado, but I do like to widen my musical horizons and so have been known to attend a jazz concert here and there. I also have a daughter who played clarinet and piano for many years so this trio had a particular interest for me.

Because I don't fully understand what makes jazz tick, I am more inclined to like the bits that relate to what I love so, for example, I love to hear melody and tend to appreciate that more than what
sometimes seems to be an emphasis on technical virtuosity and musical cleverness. OK, so tell me I'm wrong but sometimes it seems to me that jazz musicians are more interested in responding to musical challenges they set themselves and each other than in entertaining their audience. That's a bit of what I feared when the concert started. However, it turned out differently and I thought it was an exciting concert.

Byron's clarinet playing as he warmed up was inspiring...he really pushed the instrument to its limits in a way I hadn't seen before. And while the squeaks in the bass clarinet were a little off-putting it was also reassuring that even experts
can have problems with their tools! I loved the confidence he had to keep playing on and pushing through to some rather interesting music. The
pianist and percussionist were also impressive with some very exciting solos. I was impressed by the group's rapport. I know that is a critical aspect for jazz or any group really, but I also know that jazz groups can be pretty fluid forming and reforming as circumstances arise. I don't know how often these three have worked together but they worked very well with each other, showing respect for each other and flowing well from one to the other. I don't know how much was improvised and how much was rehearsed but it felt pretty seamless.

I particularly liked the couple of ballad-like pieces - partly because ballads tend to have accessible melodies (!) and partly because slower pieces can show just how expressive a musician is, something they can escape a bit with the fast technically
virtuosic pieces (as entertaining as those can be). Anyhow, his ballads achieved that goal for me - I could really feel the teen angst in that "entanglement" piece (I've forgotten its exact name). So, all in all, it was a great experience and I feel that we did experience something pretty special. (Oh, and it is so much easier commenting on something that you don't know much about - nothing to lose!)