7 August 2008

A cut above

From the first notes it was evident that this Hippo event was special. Jacam Manricks took a very tarnished alto from his case, and the dull lustre said commitment and experience. He blew a few notes, and they said practice and preparation. He wondered aloud if this was a listening audience. Well no … Hippo is always noisy and chatty, except maybe at the end of the night when the clubbers have departed. But, with the support of Australia’s Contemporary Music Touring Program, he had a powerful quartet of players, and he blew through it with that committed, searching playing that we expect from that jazz mecca, New York.

Jacam has been based in New York for 7 years, after a few years in Sydney, but he’s a Brisbane boy. Danny Fischer, on drums, is a NY-based Melbournite. They both turn out with a swagger and visage which is obviously not local. It’s the same style that was evident with Don Byron’s Trio. Joining them were Brendan Clarke, bassist, Canberra born, bred and trained, and Jackson Harrison on piano. Both Brendan and Jackson won their respective instruments at the Wangaratta Festival’s National Jazz Awards. No slouchers here.

We got what we expected. There was fabulous, intense, closely responsive playing all round. Original compositions and richly reharmonised standards; long complex melodies and charted bass lines in accompaniment; constantly changing implied chordal movements; simple changes that occasionally emerged amongst the reharms; a buoyant extravagance of improvisation. I heard Jacam’s solos as exploring pitch structure and intervallic options within harmonies in a modern bop-influenced style, comfortable with long eighth-note passages which morphed into 16th-notes on call. Jackson seemed more dissonant to me, and perhaps more pensive; I thought I heard more substitutions or chromatic lead notes. Brendan accompanied with a busily moving left hand, dropping lovely but unexpected syncopations freely, and sounded with a soft underlying tone. Danny drummed with a marked smoothness in his movements and soloed with a sustained 16th-note pattern which mutated around the kit then ended with long sustained pattern that held tension but dimmed oh so gradually over time. There was a general feeling of comfort, a lack of struggle with fast playing against presto tempos which was evidence of their abilities.

There were several originals by Jacam. I think it was Super size slippery stick that was I got rhythm under the covers. You could feel the cyclic movements, but the melody was long and complex and the harmony was recreated and richly embellished. There was another that appeared to start as a ballad and later took on a march-like presence with snare drum rudiments but in 9-time. Olivia, a friend from the Jazz School, counted the drums and bass playing in 9/4 and 9/8 so they crossed every two bars. Another tune, Number one, developed into a free extravaganza. The title of another tune, Fours and twos, suggested an intellectual approach to composition, and had choruses ending with a massively quick little unison run. They also played a few from the fake books: Monk’s Introspection and Coltrane’s Satellite and finished with I hear a rhapsody.

Megan mocks me as finding every event as fabulous. I know I take a positive approach and for that reason I call these posts “reports” rather than “reviews”, but this really was a cut above and in a style which is current, and both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. How I long for NY.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Brendan corrected me on the counting in an email: "I thought you'd like to know that that tune you thought was in 9 or 9/8 or whatever is actually in good old 3/4, its just a tricky syncopated rhythm!" Obviously I must think Occam's Razor a little more in future.