26 January 2009

Such a perfect day

Canberrans obviously don’t have a problem with a challenging harmony, because there were lots of both of them present when Vertical played for that quintessentially middle-class event, the Summer Series in the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It’s a gorgeous environment, in a dry Australian way, and the weather was perfect and sunny after several days of evening thunderstorms. The families with young kids and grandparents were out, everyone sitting back with picnics, variously chatting or listening or dancing or joking. The good Aussie cheeses and wines and a few beers made the show, but in a dignified and restrained way. Truly, an apt image of a comfortable modern Australia for an Australia Day weekend (which it was). We can agree to forget wars and financial catastrophes and indigenous disadvantage for the duration, and enjoy the pleasure which modern Australian life is for most of the population.

I’ve written up Vertical before. Eric Ajaye leads with his signature lithe, growling and fluent double bass, and sometimes switches to electric for funkier tunes. All the while defining rhythm with authority and harmony with transparency. Paul Dal Broi is an image of concentration and intent, in presence and in playing and there are some gloriously mobile dissonances amongst them, but only when it’s due. I think it was Hancock I heard in the funky tune, but he often spoke with recognisable jazz voices. Chris Thwaite is always carefully expressed, leaning towards understatement, but released some extravagant solos against riffs on the funkier tunes. Niels Rosendahl was sitting in. His playing expresses an experience and intimacy that his years belie. His is a metallic, clean, controlled sound. His is always the true melodic statement that so perfectly befits a piece, perhaps simple blues or balladic melody. But then the release into patterns that repeat through beguiling dissonance to a faithful resolution, or sheets of shimmering but moving harmonic clarity. You can hear his commitment and practice: the basics - scales, arpeggios, extensions, through all the keys - are just plain right, all the time. But it’s not just limited to that. Rather it’s held under musical control. As it should be.

The tunes were mostly ones I’ve heard from this band before. Paul arranges a number of interesting popular tunes, and they are transformed into jazz expressions of complexity and sensitivity. They fit like a glove: One hand one heart, True colours, even Raindrops keep falling on my head. Lean was a new one for me, a medium paced funky number which ended with a heartbeat groove. Paul composed another that I recall, a lovely tune called Three for Rose, dedicated to his deceased grandmother. It was a gently swinging number, with an ascending call and a descending response.

So, a fine performance, and a fine view of modern, cultured, easy-going Australian life. And ArtSound were broadcasting live to air, so just one more confirmation, if needed, of the nature of the Canberra lifestyle. I’ve included a few pics to expand on my word picture. Fine performance; fine and relaxed little society.

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