14 September 2008

What’s in a name?

On the week of a double murder in Canberra, the Lethals broadcast live from the Artsound studios for a Friday Night Live session. But I don’t imagine the name is related to this, or a run of crime-related deaths that Canberra has seen over recent months. Rather, I think the name is a punny reference to the leader’s name, Leigh Miller, so it could have been Leigh-thals in place of Lethals. In fact, the night was more concerned with start than end of life. But more on that later.

I heard just a little of the broadcast on the radio, being busy with other matters, but what I heard were several funky, groove-based tunes in different styles, but consistently satisfying. There were originals. Beginnings was penned by Leigh and was funky and gave everyone a chance to blow and warm up. A long number by Sam towards the end of the night hinted at the Bitches Brew era of jazz rock. A non-original was from Soulive. Soulive is a bass-less trio of organ, guitar and drums. The simple, descending lines on bass were evidence of the organ bass, but the unexpectedly hip melody put the tunes clearly in the jazz idiom.

The grooves supported frequent and inventive soloing. Leigh sometimes reminded me of that great rock bassist, Jack Bruce, with what seemed to me to be a similar soloistic conception, although he had a far more modern tone of deep bass and prominent highs rather than JB’s fat, middy Gibson sound. Leigh can play some hot licks and blistering runs and works the scales effectively and likes to colour his sound with echo and effects. It’s a little off-putting to think that he came to ANU to play classical bass and only recently entered the jazz stream. Niels is back from London and a pleasure to hear. Mature, considered, skilled and just plain musical. His melody playing is simple and true to the tunes, and his solos are clear and entrancing statements. Many soloists impress with busy-ness, but I found myself observing Niels’ long pauses and hanging out for his next line. I’m not saying this was simple playing: there are fast passages and obvious dissonances, but they arrive as clear developments of a solo statement and are not out of place. I’d noticed this with Niels at White Eagle a few years back, but he seems to have further refined this path. Lovely stuff. Aron seemed to be in his element. This was lithe playing, rich with echo and related effects (phasing or flanging or whatever). Strong solos, and I noticed some whiffs of early McLaughlin comping which just confirmed the Bitches Brew reference. I mentioned it to Aron and he just said he’d been playing that tune for years and it just felt right like that. Sam is a stalwart of this groove-based style of music with his watchful eyes and ears and steady reliability. You often hear him in this context around town. I missed any solos on the night, but then I didn’t catch most of the concert.

This is a new incarnation for the Lethals. They had their first night at Hippo just two days earlier. But the real start of life reference was to Aron and his wife who were expecting their second child any day. There was relief in his voice when Leigh mentioned this while introducing the last tune: the phone hadn’t rung and they’d got to the end of the broadcast with a guitarist. So the Lethals actually presented a much more positive life experience than the name suggests. Catch them at their next gig at Moruya, but expect Aron to be looking a little tired.

The Lethals are Leigh Miller (bass), Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax), Aron Lyon (guitar) and Sam Young (drums).

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