21 December 2008

Sweep of history

Jazz@Folkus ended the year yesterday with a trio of bands across the sweep of jazz history.

I’m not a frequent listener to the century-old styles, but I enjoyed the Brass Monkeys Dixieland Band. The Monkeys are led by Cam Smith, with a few tunes even sung by Cam (along with a fleeting appearance by Courtney Stark). It’s such a different experience from the modern styles. The bass is that hormone-enhanced brass instrument, the sousaphone. Peter capably played the I and V square on the 1 and 3, with some simple scalar connections. It works, and it’s big and fat, and you can even walk (a short distance) with it, as in a funeral march. The drums play square, too, with the kick on the 1 and 3, the hi-hat on the 2 and 4, and a rudiment-rich syncopation on the snare, and just an occasional cymbal to mark the end of a line. It’s square, and very pre-ride, but it works nicely, and the two rhythm section instruments set up a bouncy and steady, if square, groove to support horn lines in harmony or unison and individual or group soloing. Anton’s excellent accordion weaves around, somewhat like a keyboard role (isn’t there usually a banjo in this style?), as does Tom’s clarinet, backing or integrating with various solo statements. And Cam’s cornet was bright and sweet and authoritative as perhaps the key melody instrument. They even started the show by walking in from the back of the room playing When the saints come marching in. Just like a funeral march. Nice one: very entertaining and much enjoyed. By me, and by a decent audience from the Canberra Jazz Club.

The Brass Monkeys Dixieland Band comprise Cameron Smith (trumpet, cornet), Nathan Sciberras (tenor sax), Tom Manley (clarinet) and Rod Harding (trombone), Anton Wurzer (piano accordian), Peter McDonald (sousaphone), Mark Levers (drums).

Frequently Asked Questions was actually the third band on the day, but was intermediate in jazz historical terms and they shared some players with the monkeys, so I’ll write them up next. FAQ took us back to the mainstream of jazz with a set of known standards and mid-century pop tunes. Theirs was a working-muso style: swinging, light, presentable, sellable, presumably developed by the band in regular performances at the Casino. Sarah Byrne leads on soprano vocals, with a classic cabaret songlist: This can’t be love, Bye bye blackbird, Blues in the night, Spring fever, They can’t take that away from me, and the like. But they are working players, so I wasn’t surprised by a venture into Route 66, although they played it more as jazz blues than R&R. My favourites were Secret love and that masterpiece of jazz humour, Makin’ whoopee. James Groves plays capable piano, in solos and comping and Peter McDonald reappeared from Brass Monkeys, this time on electric bass and tuba. FAQ are in essence a trio, but they added Mark Levers on the day on drums. This is light music for restaurants and bars and background, but lovely tunes and comfortably swung. The songs are insinuating so there’s a reason for their permanence, and any band that sings and swings them is a natural winner. You can find more on FAQ at their website. But add a few words (eg, canberra jazz) or you’ll be lost in millions of website FAQs.

Frequently Asked Questions are Sarah Byrne (vocals), James Groves (piano) and Peter McDonald. They were joined on the day by Mark Levers (drums).

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