6 November 2008

Return of both master and style

I’d heard tell of Andrew Robson, and heard some snippets here and there, but never heard him or his band live. I did last night. And it was a stunner. I have spoken here before of two of my favourite albums of all time: The cry of my people / Archie Shepp and Love from the sun / Norman Connors. Both are from the early ‘70s; both have vibrant, earthy, rhythmic, soulful playing and political comment around race issues. Andrew Robson’s band reminded me of that music and that era.

The night started with a horn duo, Andrew Robson on alto and Paul Cutlan on bass clarinet, playing an apparently free set. They were both spectacular, calling up harmonies then melting into new ones, bouncing lines and echoing each other, changing rhythms and roles at will. This was intense and communicative and emotionally mobile music by two players who obviously know each other musically. Paul switched to Eb clarinet and tenor sax, and Andrew to soprano sax, so the tones changed, but the interaction remained intense and true. Andrew sounded more jazz-influenced lines, and Paul, perhaps inevitably given the clarinets, impressed me as a more classical idiom. They played two tunes. The first improvisation lasted perhaps 30 minutes; this was dense, exploratory, searching. The second was much shorter, in expectance of the trio to follow; this was flighty, buoyant, jumpy. I’d heard an earlier concert with this pair on ArtSound, but hearing them live was insinuating and engrossing. So I was stunned before the rhythm section even appeared.

The performers were billed as the Andrew Robson Trio with Paul Cutlan. After the two duets, Andrew called up the other members of the trio, Steve Elphick and Hamish Stuart. The tone of the evening changed. The first tune hit with simplicity at first, then a devilishly fast rainfall of bass notes which was to be repeated later in the tune, long lines of alto, continuing changes in rhythm and groove, abundant life and energy, and a clear path to the history and tradition of the art of jazz. A second tune was given over to Barack Obama’s win which occurred on this day (Australian time). You could hear New Orleans, and extended bop lines, and 60s free and sax masters. The first tune was Big Ben, a dedication to Andrew’s major influence, saxist Bennie Wallace. A mate reported that Albert Ayler is another influence. Whatever, I looked at a friend when the break came, and we were both overwhelmed by the virtuosity and honesty of this music.

The second set continued with long and sinuous unison melodies, a rhythm section that continuously mutated and weaved its way under clear and expressive solos, walks and syncopations, horn counterpoint, deceptively simple drumming and a wonderfully expressive drum solo, and horns and bass freely exploring their full ranges, into thumb positions on the bass and honks and squeals on the horns, with long intervals and extended intervallic runs. But always with purpose. The final tune was a dedication to Don Johnson, the inaugural head of the Jazz School in Canberra. He died several years back, but is well remembered by Andrew. This was his Ode to Abe Snake, apparently Don’s Native American name.

Here’s a product of our Jazz School who’s come back as a master. This was truly an intelligent, engrossing and profound concert, and a welcome visit to my favourite style of jazz. ArtSound was recording, so listen out for the broadcast sometime on Friday Night Live. It was a stunner.

Andrew Robson (alto, soprano sax) played with Paul Cutlan (bass clarinet, Eb clarinet, tenor sax), Steve Elphick (bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums).

No comments: