16 January 2009

Cool big band on location

Bennetts Lane Big Band was very cool, as was the venue. The film being made outside the door just added that additional bit of swizzle. Jazz clubs are great for that dark, searching, existential atmosphere that suits movie realism, so it shouldn’t be too surprising. The amusing thing was that it was all shuffle and busy-ness and light for the movie’s creation, and this was so different from the personal themes being filmed. Film making is like that. But musos stood amongst film crews while having a smoko, listeners lined up to pass through the blocked door after the performance, and generally the music had proceeded totally oblivious to the video-based arts happening just outside the door. It was strange in that way.

The BL Big Band was formed in 2001, and plays monthly at the club, along with other occasional performances. Big bands are not easy to gather, so you takes your chances when you can catch one. I was glad I got there for this evening. The band had three irregular players sitting in, and I’m not too clear who they were. Everyone seemed to be concentrating on charts, or otherwise sitting with distant faces while waiting for their parts to arrive. Nothing unusual here. They played two sets totaling 9 or 10 tunes: all originals other than Ian Whitehurst’s arrangement of Ellington’s Half the fun. Half the fun was a unique setting, with a steady rhythmic pulse underlying the whole. The other tunes were more complex, more varying, more symphonic. There were passages of simplicity, others of rabid bop lines, others of subtle and smooth harmonies, and those glorious individual efforts as solos and other features. There were ballads and lively rhythmic pieces and lengthier suites. There was leader Eugene Ball with introductory comments, and some witticisms. According to Eugene, one tune was like “James Brown on acid”, and another was “written for some visiting Danish deros”. I was amused by abstruse changes in a tune by Tim Wilson which moved between swing and sharp staccato horns through boppy lines to piano solo and ultimate cacophony and ended in baritone sax and bass trombone passing solo passages between themselves. It seemed a challenge for the band too, with starts and stops and counts and calls helping the players through the charts. I recognized several of the tunes from the band’s CD, The snip, but I found the performance was far more satisfying than the recording, perhaps given that the actual recording was from the first year of the band, although only released fairly recently. Tunes like Andrea Keller’s Portrait of a simpleton and Jordan Murray’s long and baffling Requiem for a parking inspector obviously tell stories although I was a bit befuddled by such a long piece for a parking inspector. But then I overheard the band talking of parking before the gig, so maybe it’s a big issue around Bennetts Lane and worthy of such an epic.

Some impressions to follow. Andrea Keller’s piano fills and solo passages were of great harmonic complexity and unexpected dissonance layering washes of emotions. Tim Wilson floored me with a really superb feature solo on alto: lengthy, totally unaccompanied, sounds of breath and flapping pads. The bass instruments featured occasionally: Sam Anning (who was sitting in) provided another stunningly effective solo; Adrian Sherriff on bass trombone was fabulously lithe in several solos; the bass horns, Adrian Sherriff and Phil Noye on baritone sax, swapping lines for that big bottom-end feature I mentioned above. Visitor Paul Williamson played another wonderful solo that was smooth sounding and inevitable, but with some challengingly jerky and edgy lines thrown in. But a large ensemble is not about individuality, rather community. Despite some players sitting in for the night, this was a mature and together performance, with sharp rhythms, clear-ringing harmonies, and mellifluous horns parts, to go with their modern, raging and sometimes confronting charts.

This was my first visit to the legendary Bennetts Lane. I obviously chose a great night to attend. I’d heard the CD several times, but I was not prepared for the stunning live performance and the good natured, relaxed presentation in this small and intimate space. Very, very nice and very memorable. See the film (Centre Place) by all means, but go out of your way to hear this big band. Just wonderful.

On the night, the Bennetts Lane Big Band comprised Tim Wilson (alto sax), Julien Wilson and Ian Whitehurst (tenor saxes), Phillip Noy (baritone sax), Paul Williamson and Eugene Ball (trumpets), Jordan Murray (trombone), Adrian Sherriff (bass trombone), Andrea Keller (piano), Sam Anning (bass) and Rajiv Jayaweera (drums).

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