25 July 2008

Not for the fainthearted

Zac Hurren’s Trio arrived at Hippo last night with some fierce playing all round. I wrote of MFO recently as blissful. Blissful is not the word for this, but emotionally charged it was. Descriptions like hard, demanding, unflinching, challenging are more apt for this art.

The trio is chordless, comprising sax, bass and drums. This clears the air and leaves space for individual expression and equal roles for all players. It’s a demanding task master for all performers and audience, but exhilarating with the intensity and free flowing nature of the sounds that emanate. I’ve heard various sax trios and they all have this air to some degree, but Zac’s compositions, influences from free jazz and few standards, just highlighted the intensity. This is take no prisoners; commitment to the fore. Not the cultured, self-controlled, witty, civilised world of the American popular song. This is the earthly struggle of primal screams, jungle calls and primitive drums. Obviously, there’s plenty of training to required achieve this, but the emotions are blatant, on display. Zac’s music is like this.

But there were some foundations that were recognisable. There was at least one blues, although with a wealth of substitutions and varied turnarounds, and there was a standard: Sophisticated lady (no surprise the standard was from Ellington and not Cole Porter). There was Joe Henderson's Inner Urge and Monk's Nutty and the night ended with Lester Young’s Lester leaps in. The playing throughout was high intensity, rhythmically jagged, harmonically multilingual, constantly mobile and communicative. Zac introduced each set with a solo passage, then into melody then into solos. He may have a rounded, full tone on early lyrical playing, but quickly descended to screams and extravagant speed and feverish tonalities. He’d leave space at times, and bassist Phil would fill these gaps with his own deliciously precise intonation, long intervals, equally jagged but accurate lines. There was a bop-like conception of triplet fills early on, and straighter 8s and rocky feels later in the night, but all precise in groove and melodically purposeful. Perhaps a bass solo would ensue, or perhaps Zac would re-enter his solo. Evan would engage with the others, especially Phil, in conversation, and make a solo statement of his own. His was an open feel, wooden rather than metallic, with busy, loud but creamily-thudding kick drum. Even the swapping of blues choruses with drums was not obvious in this context, although plenty correct (except for a heel used to damp the snare at one stage: an unconventional technique!). Where Zac and Phil were jagged and unexpected in conception, it seemed to me that Evan was inclusive in melding this surrounding whirlwind of passion. Whatever, the band sat well despite high levels of intensity and rawness.

On a lighter note, I got to thinking that jazz can be a very economically efficient music! Lordy, jazz players sure can play lots of notes. Maybe we should take that to government for more grants. They like performance measures and evaluations: number of notes per player per gig; low CPD (cost per dot) = high efficiency. Economic man hits the yartz; passion satisfies the bean counter. But I jest! After all, Coltrane had it pretty right with Naima, and his CPD would be pretty low there, although he’d make it up on Giant Steps.

But more seriously, Zac Hurren led a seriously challenging and very capable band which impressed immensely. More proof, if needed, of the vivacity and quality of jazz in Australia’s present cultural quilt.

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