20 September 2008

Pink Floyd with training

Large ensembles are such a pleasure with their big, complex, harmonised sounds. Two of the Jazz School's large bands played the other night for their annual public outing for friends and families to precede the festival season and Floriade. I just caught the last few tunes of the Big Band. They sounded great in the Band Room. It's their home base so it's comfortable, but it's also got a sound that suits this collective style. The band was tight, big and harmonised with some nice solos. I particularly liked Chris Pound's bass solo on the last tune (but then I play bass). He commented after that it's difficult for a bass to hear itself in such a dense soundscape, but he seemed to perform perfectly well.

Mostly I just heard the Commercial Ensemble and they were playing a storm: tight, funky and fun. This is the TV/variety show outfit, but they ended performing quite a range of styles. Reuben Lewis was playing a lovely muted trumpet solo as I walked in with a beer during the first tune. That didn't seem your normal Commercial fare. More expected was Fish'n'grits, a lyrical Yellowjackets-style chart, and Marvin Gaye's What's going on. It's obviously a vocal tune (meaning it's got lyrics), but Marie LeBrun also featured with a complex and mobile jazz vocal improvisation which blew me out. Persevere was another one out of left field. It has underlying written parts, but leader Eric Ajaye left the band to improvise pretty freely at various times, and the resultant style was almost electronica at times. Matt Lustri on guitar introduced with an effected soundscape, then into jazz rock grooves from drums, then bass, then piano. There was a band melody featured in there somewhere, but mostly drum grooves against rubato soundscapes until James LeFevre arrived with whale-calls on his tenor sax. Thereafter were some more written passages, and finally into an ordered passage of a repeating 4-bar turnaround with solos. Eric Ajaye had suggested it was a challenge to band and listeners, especially given the free improvisation in performance. It was. I described it as Pink Floyd with training; Eric liked that. The band finished with Chicken, a tune made popular by Jaco Pastorius, and so a challenge to any bass player. It was closer to home, and Leigh did it well. Overall, the band was hot and tight, and the humour was good. Congrats to Hugh Deacon (drums) and Leigh Miller (bass) who were the rhythm section key for the band. And also congrats to the Commercials for getting a gig at the coming Wangaratta Festival.

The Jazz School features at Floriade on weekday lunchtimes over the next few weeks. Check out times on CJCalendar.

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