23 August 2008

Intrigue and process

The Matt Keegan Trio were on tour for the release of their third CD, Tone imagination, when they appeared at Hippo last week. There was a small crowd, but it was unusually quiet and appreciative and it seemed to be made up mostly of musicians. The quiet was not really necessary because this was an electric performance, and not too sedate, but the attention is always welcomed. I found the music a strangely insistent and attractive style, challenging to the broad drift of jazz as I mostly hear it and somewhat in a class of its own. I’d heard a track on ArtSound some days before, and it was strangely commanding. So what was different?

This was a sax trio; sax trios have a certain character, but that’s not particularly unusual. The bass was electric, but again that’s not so rare. Perhaps it was the effects on both bass, and interestingly, sax. The processed effect seemed to give a finalised nature to the music, as if directly from the studio. To me, Matt’s sax lines seemed to have a related effect. He plays with intense concentration and deliberate purpose. His tone is big and smooth and his notes are well-considered. There’s a reticence to indulge chops, and the tonal characteristics of the processed tone he toys with just seemed to emphasise this. Cameron was also using effects at times, but he was more notable for his intense busy-ness. To me, it’s his bass that defines the tunes and sets the environment, and his ability to play busy and rich are a key component of the sound. His playing is anything but circumspect, although wonderfully capable. He’s an underlying avalanche of softly wooden tonality. He plays with frequent chords, extended structures, even occasional strums, and his left hand forms itself with double bass training. Dave accompanies with finesse and defines time with a thumpingly clear thud of kick drum and lovely tone all round on his Sonor kit. Fittingly, given the nature of the band, I remember two solos as particularly notable. Both held the audience entranced. One was softly spoken and using his hands; another was unrestrained and explosive. The tunes they played were presumably all originals, so comparisons again are unavailable.

So I’m left thinking of the night as a singular but strangely compelling experience. An amalgam of rhythmic density and considered melody; a complex and processed sound; an intriguing relationship of sound and presence.

Matt Keegan (tenor sax) played with Cameron Undy (electric bass) and Dave Goodman (drums).

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