15 January 2009

Cool Choulai

The Paris Cat is a jazz bar in what I understand to be true Parisian style (not that I remember such luxuriant surroundings at the few clubs I attended in Paris way back). It’s small and dark and in a basement; it’s supplied with a well stocked bar with barmaids in Parisian best-black; it has round tables with candles; it has jazz portraits aplenty, even on the ceiling. Nice one. The program shows it’s closed Sundays to Tuesdays, but otherwise seems to present a busy series of modern jazz bands. I noticed that the program handouts have Bennett’s Lane on the back. I’m told they have different management but work together closely. We can be greater than the sum of our parts.

This night, the Melbourne Jazz Coop was meeting for Aaron Choulai playing with Sam Anning and Rory Mcdougal. I was glad I caught Aaron, as it was my last opportunity before he was to leave for Tokyo for several years in the following week. From the first bass and drums notes setting a miasmic rhythm pattern, I was in bliss. This was the highest quality of modern playing. It was mostly original tunes. There was one standard (I’ll be seeing you) that only showed its head with the melody after long interludes of piano and bass improvs. There was also a Neil Young tune, which reminded me of Bad Plus in its interpretation. This was all dramatic: growing and mutating naturally through a rich assortment of harmonies; fluid in metre and malleable in harmony. Aaron playing contrapuntally or drifting through harmonies with sheets of rolling arpeggios or deliciously timed sparseness. So, tasteful, but far more: profound and witty, and always appropriate. (He had a nice taste in beer, too: Coopers green, Pale ale I think).

Sam Anning is one of my favourite bassists these days. I’ve heard him at Wang and at Hippo, and he’s always wonderful. This night he was stunning. A beautiful tone, reminiscent of gut (Velvet strings, Realistic pickup, Gallien-Krueger amp; not sure about his bass although this may be the most significant component). But most importantly, his playing: stunning! Modern, fluid, responsive, contrapuntal, implicit; lots of solos, stunning speed but only when needed. It was a beautiful and memorable performance. I hadn’t seen Rory Mcdougal before, but I heard him as perhaps reserved, providing a busy but gentle wash of colour, some lengthy solos and just a very few hard snaps for accents. The trio as a whole was a wonderfully engrossing: truly stunning and satisfying modern piano trio playing.

A few other impressions. The final tune was a C-blues played with exemplary perfection and with constant, obscure, intriguing turnarounds. I loved it. And the penultimate tune, which was an original ballad by Aaron dedicated to now-deceased Melbourne bassist, Gary Costello. I remember seeing Gary with Vince Jones. I think this was when he talked of just wanting to be the best bass player in the world (I thought this was a big call at the time). And again playing a challenging duo set at the Melbourne International Women’s Jazz Festival a few years back. I’ve heard several players speak admiringly of him, so he was obviously much loved. Vale, GC.

Aaron Choulai (piano) played a trio set with Sam Anning (bass) and Rory Mcdougal (drums) at the Paris Cat Jazz Club in Melbourne.

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