22 October 2008

Looking bigger still (Moruya 5)

Large ensembles are big, loud, complex and supremely satisfying. Every jazz nut loves great soloing, but large ensembles are perhaps my favourite. The interaction of parts, the harmonic movements, the diverse tonalities, the rhythmic intricacy, and the unification of all this, which is the composer’s chart.

The ANUSM brings all three of its large ensembles to Moruya. This year, I only caught two: the Commercial Band and the Recording Ensemble. It’s an ongoing game for me to pick a favourite as the bands play each gig, or changes their members or repertoire over time. I loved the hot and sticky Commercials, but the Recording Ensemble got my vote this year. Last year, it was the Commercials. No matter; they’re all fabulous in their own ways.

The Recording Ensemble set had a lovely edge of student humour which partly set it apart. Sebastian McIntosh entertained with droll introductions and Miro was like the proud father at the end congratulating the band for its creativity, but there was seriousness in the original compositions and the performances. It’s clear these guys are friends, and this shows in the music, not just in the repartee. No doubt there’s some competition, but there’s also support for well stated solos and well arranged parts. I remember Nick Combe’s impressive Mingus-influenced composition from last year. This year, Sebastian joked it was the “Nick Combe Show” after the set started with a run of tunes by Nick. He’s impressing as a strong composer/arranger. Somehow, performing on the baritone sax just seems to fit this mold. Other tunes were an arrangement of Monk by Kayla Corlis and Matt Sykes’ original composition, River. I also noticed the doubled-up rhythm section. Two guitarists are common enough, but not two drummers and two bassists. And these instruments (even Chris Pound on electric bass and Hannah James on acoustic bass) often enough played together. It lends another level of complexity, especially to rhythm, and an extended and unusual palette for visceral tunes like River.

The Commercials were fast and exciting and hot and sweaty as they should be. This is fun music and challenging charts, and it had the audience braying for more. There was one original here: the band started with Kayla Corlis’ 8 o’clock traffic (a constant source of amusement for bandmaster Eric Ajaye, who’s experienced traffic in LA as well as our rather less challenging peak hour traffic in Canberra). But mostly these are covers or purchased charts. They did their version of Prince’s Thieves in the temple, Marvin Gaye’s spine-tingling classic, What’s going on, and Jaco’s Chicken as their high-spirited departure tune. Great fun, hot chops, funky and loud, as this style should be.

There was more to the festival than just these bands. I also caught snippets of various other bands, and missed many others. Mike Hallam’s Hot Six and Waiting for Guinness and Syncopators were professional and entertaining and drew the crowds. Spicey Fruit Chutney was folkey and lively and were well received. I just missed or caught just a few bars of old friends Mother’s ruin, and Pierre Kammacher in various outfits and Kooky Fandango. I sadly missed offerings by Lilly Henderson and her dad’s annual funk outing, Turner’s antidote, and Austin Benjamin’s trio playing their own music, and James LeFevre’s latest outfit, and Jo Lloyd’s quintet. Also Moondance, for whom I almost filled in on bass, and who won the audience choice award. I would have liked to have heard All the things you would be if Sigmund Freud’s wife was your mother. With a name like that, it’d have to be suitably experimental. But you can’t catch everything, even at the smallish Moruya Festival, so I take the philosophical approach that I also use when I travel: you should always save something for your return. It’s a much more relaxed way to travel or to attend a festival.

Thanks to the Moruya Festival committee for a pleasant few days, great weather, beautiful local beaches, and the loan of your lovely, intimate town as the backdrop for the music. The 12th was another successful festival of jazz and a locum of musical companionship. Thanks from your mates from the moderately bigger smoke, Canberra. Looking forward to next year.

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