31 December 2008

Getting around

It’s another Christmas, and another time for visiting family in Adelaide. That side of things is lovely and much enjoyed. But I also try to manage a little time for CJ and this year it was very easy. We were staying at Glenelg and the Bill Parton Trio was playing at the local Salt Bar and Restaurant on the Sunday afternoon. Salt has jazz each Sunday afternoon, and I’m happy to announce it to this blog. Bill seems to be a busy bloke from what I’ve read on www.jazz.adelaide.onau.net. At least, he plays an eminently sellable set and performs it with panache. He leads a piano trio as pianist and vocalist. The tunes are common enough. I caught one set made up of the absolute standard mainstream repertoire: Fly me to the Moon, Don’t get around much anymore (think exhortatory vocals), All the things you are (interesting lyrics which we don’t hear too often), I can’t give you anything but love, the Nearness of you (a ballad and quite a change from the earlier swingers), Bye bye blackbird (bye bye), and a new set starting with a tune a mate always calls Girl with Emphysema.

This was nice, popular, well-known, mainstream jazz. Solidly played, with plenty of fretless bass solos and occasional swapped fours on drums. Good, solid, satisfying swing, with simple and steady accompaniment. The piano solos were full and rich and commonly chordal. The bass solos were frequent and reminiscent of double bass (perhaps being fretless), although he mostly fingered with pinkie like an electric player. There were regular switches from ballad to swing, or latin to swing. In fact, swing was the key factor here. And a sultry voice, often held behind the beat, occasionally reminding me of our Vince Jones. This was comfy jazz, well received and perfectly presentable and sellable. This is a business so I certainly don’t say this to be demeaning.

Bill Parton played piano, and once switched to organ tones. Jeremy Martin played fretless five string bass, and Joel Prime played drums. Bill has been playing publicly for seven years, and Jeremy and Joel have been sitting in with Bill for the last two years. Jeremy and Joel are recent graduates of the jazz course at the Adelaide Conservatorium. The unit was tight and responsive and nicely presented and perfectly professional. Well done.

I also met a local pianist of another generation, Bill Messner, who sometimes relieves for Bill P. Interestingly, he has played with our own Pierre Kammacher. Small world. And discussion with the band turned to the number of players who’d left Adelaide for Melbourne. Small world; doubly so.

All this was happening while Adelaide’s most important annual athletics event, the Bay Sheffield, was being run on the adjacent green. I’ve included a pic of that, too. It’s quite a tradition, having been run for 122 years as a handicap race over 130 yards (now 120 metres), and a significant post-Christmas event in my old home town.

21 December 2008

Sweep of history 2

The second band at yesterday’s Folkus was a jump to funk and the seventies: more an offshoot of jazz than part of its mainstream. Turner’s Antidote performs at local festivals, but doesn’t seem to otherwise appear in the CJCalendar. But they are lively and fun, as in Brecker Brother and Commodores and the like, so worth the effort to catch them. Hot bass grooves with guitar, keys and drums form the back line, and they combine with three horns up front. All hot and sticky and sexy, as this style should be. Nice to see a combination of generations, with a few stars from the jazz school combining with the moderately age-challenged amongst us. Music’s a great leveller. I’d guess at least one of the players can remember the era. It was hard not to notice Lethal Leigh Miller’s bass and some raging solos from Dan McLean, but everyone had their space in the sun. Picking up the pieces was surprisingly cool, complete with chants. All blues was airy and on edge but worked. I particularly liked some tensions that just sat with wah-guitar or floating keyboard flitting through. And there was a theme from Billy Cobham’s classic album, Spectrum, in there somewhere. The ‘70s are a much maligned era, but it had its high points and unique visions … disco and punk and platforms and sequins amongst them. Catch Turner’s Antidote at the next Moruya Festival, or otherwise if you can.

Turner’s Antidote comprises Peter Henderson (tenor sax), Richard Manning (guitar), Leanne Ballard (keyboards), Dan McLean (trumpet), Rod Harding (trombone), Leigh Miller (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

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).

17 December 2008

Nearer, my God, to thee

Excuse a little blasphemous humour, but Miles is a god for many of us. Last night, I had a blissful evening basking in a recreation of Miles’ Second Great Quintet (the ESP Quintet) of the mid-1960s. Joseph Taylor led a surprisingly mature, lively and authentic set of players through the intense, sustained but malleable, modal style of this quintet. From the top, it was unbroken music interspersed with recognisable melodies, mutating through varying meters and deep dynamics, sometimes sitting on a lone piano or bass then launching into a rapid walk with explosive drumming or dropping at the end of ecstatic solos to periods of calming recovery. Congratulations to the whole band for the satisfying and authentic interpretation of an era we only hear on CD. I much enjoyed Corey’s characteristic sparsely melodic style of Milesian trumpet. Joseph played the Wayne Shorter role, the more restrained but harmonically inventive follower of another god in Miles’ sax seat, Coltrane. This is a less dramatic and less authoritative role than Miles’, and he played it with considerable harmonic sophistication. And even if you only listened with your eyes, Corey and Joe formed a characteristically cool and nonchalant front line. Very well done! Luke’s piano was endlessly responsive and supportive, with nice fourths tonalities and especially with lovely, falling modal chordal movements. Ed was heavier and more fiery in this context, responding to Luke’s rhythmic suggestions, and always pushing change and exploring meters and rhythms, and blasting out strongly accented fills. There were times the rhythm section seemed telepathic. I was stunned when they dropped into unison whole note triplets with seemingly no hint it was coming. Just that tap of the hi-hat, I guess. Bill was at his best: long, fast bass walks high on the neck; slightly buzzy tone that was so solid and of clear tonality; and some solo lines that had me grinning with his alacrity. Overall, the sound was a bit unbalanced, but it’s an odd little corner they play in. The tunes are well-enough known: Round midnight, Milestones, Footprints and the like. But the interpretations moved far from base, as it had done with the original quintet. This was no sauntering about or unguided search. This felt like solid exploration, intelligent, passionate and powerful, with an occasional return to the base which is the melody.

I’ve missed a few good shows recently after perhaps too much of a good thing. But this return to the source was just the medicine. Thanks to Joe and mates for a refreshing visit to one of the lifebloods of modern jazz. It was a blowout. And thanks also to Candy Amble and mates who organise the Trinity jazz sessions on Tuesday evenings. It’s a comfy venue, the music cycles weekly through various interesting bands associated with the jazz school and it’s free entry. This was the final Tuesday Trinity for this year; watch the CJCalendar for a startup in the new year. It’s an excellent development and highly recommended.

Joseph Taylor (tenor sax) played with Corey Booth (trumpet), Luke Sweeting (piano), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums) on a tribute to Mile Davis’ second great quintet of the mid-1960s.

  • Tuesdays @ Trinity (Facebook group)
  • 3 December 2008

    Honorary alumnus for the night

    I guess I got invited as a friend, because I definitely haven’t studied at ANU (although I do have a sandstone university in my past). The event was the annual Canberra Summer Reception for ANU Alumni and Friends. Ian Chubb spoke, and it was held at the ANU Arts School, of which the Music School is a part. I’d expected to find lots of the ANU jazz scene there, but in the end, there was just Dave Rodriguez’s quartet playing, and a few hundred not too recent graduates. Anyway, Dave’s band was good, I met a few old friends and one current student who I know, and had a few free beers, so it was pleasant enough.

    Dave played with Bill, Ed and Sebastian. I only caught a few tunes, but they were smooth as silk, beautifully played standards. This band now has a long history of performances in this style, and they do it with panache. I particularly liked Recordame, and heard a few others I don’t remember, then mingled and visited the various galleries and workshops. Then a beer and the VC, Ian Chubb. The weather was good, so the evening was pleasant. Nice enough way to wile away a few hours.

    Sebastian McIntosh played with Ed Rodrigues, Bill Williams and Dave Rodriguez at the ANU School of Arts.

    2 December 2008

    Infidel-ity?

    Just why the studio is called Infidel, I don’t know, but Duncan Lowe obviously does a good job, so what’s in a name?

    Over the weekend, my commercial jazz cum disco/pop band, Stolen Moments cum Crisp cum Kitsch in Synch, went into Infidel Studios at Queenbeyan to record a demo CD. It was a solid day’s work, especially for Duncan who engineered, mixed and finally mastered. We managed 9 tracks with a few extra layers for harmonies, Hammonds, percussion and the like, although it took us a few extra hours to finish all the mixing and mastering. We’d gone into the studio hoping to record 6 tracks and put down two takes on each. In the end, we added three throwaways with a single take, and they were good enough given we were nicely warmed up by that stage. As for the twin takes, we generally found take 2 was the better one, given a reorientation to the tune from the first take. We found that first take often moved slightly in speed, then would settle to a tempo, and this would be the right tempo that defined the second take. It was surprising how just a few clicks on the metronome made so much difference to the feel.

    Everyone was in good form on the Saturday. We played the takes with headphones and well isolated instruments. My bass amp was in a separate room and miked with a speaker (a speaker is really only a mic in reverse). I’d read about the technique, and Duncan says he likes it for the high-end roll-off on bass. It certainly ended up sounding good. Nicky was singing in the master suite for the guide track, and James ended up isolated in the kitchen, but we could all hear each other well enough given individual headphone mixes. I found it was not at all difficult to work through headphones, given decent settings for headphone levels. I finished my part early, so could then relax. We selected takes, did a few minor digital fixes. Then a few hours to record the vocals and layer harmonies, percussion and extra keyboards. Duncan had used a few tube pre-amps and compressors during the tracking, especially for vocals, and had been riding the sliders. But his ear and gear came particularly into play with the mix, where he was busily EQ-ing and patching in various outboard toys: more pre-amps, compressors, delays and a deft touch of reverb. He finished mixing final tracks on Monday night, then a little mastering and we had a decent 30minutes of demo.

    Infidel seems to record plenty of local rock and indie-folk acts (of which there’s a strong local scene), but he’s also done some jazz and funk styles (Casual Projects recorded a CD there). Our session was just one-day to record a demo CD, but he does longer projects, albums and the like, and will often work with other studios, especially for the mystical mastering stage for CDs due for release. He’s obviously proud of his analogue gear and 2” multi-track tape recorder, although his digital work seems bloody good to my ears. He can also record on location. He did a great job, worked hard and our band was excited with the results as they appeared. It’s been a great experience, hard work but fun, and we get something a little more permanent out of it. And it sounds bloody good.

    Stolen Moments comprises Nicky King (vocals), James Hoogstad (tenor sax), Peter Kirkup (keyboards), Mick Schow (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). We recorded at Infidel Studios, Queenbeyan, with Duncan Lowe producing.

    BTW, this is CJBlog post no. 300. Still going pretty strongly and heading towards 500. Wish me luck.