15 February 2009

Jazz in abundance

It seemed an abundance of riches this afternoon when I dropped in the local shops: not one but two bands. I live near Manuka, so I could hop down for a few minutes to catch this week’s women in jazz gig. Actually, I was wondering where all the women were going to come from; they remain under-represented amongst instrumentalists around town. So it was no surprise when I found a singer with two guys accompanying. Interesting, though, it was a new generation of the jazz school, and I like to see the turnover happening. Matilda Abraham was singing, and I only caught a few tunes, but they included two originals by Matilda and several well known songs sung with a largely unadorned, but clear and ringing voice, and a gently insinuating vibrato. Very nice for the latins (Dindi) and the standards (Polkadots and moonbeams, Skylark) and especially the ballads (You don’t know what love is). It was a voice that expressed the tunes with honesty and deference. Very satisfying. I hear Matilda is a great admirer of Nina Simone: it fits. Matilda was accompanied by frequent collaborator, Andy Butler, on piano, and first time associate, Simon Milman on bass. Andy did a capable job with sustained eighth-note lines of clarity and aptness, and an awareness of Matilda's style that comes with ongoing accompaniment. I’ve written about Simon before, playing all manner of basses, but never double bass. He’s been around for some time: mature and capable, with well formed thoughts on the instrument. Apparently it was a new double bass, but he played it with comfort to belie this new track in his playing. This was a gentle, café outing, and good playing all round.

I’d noticed Michael Azzopardi was back in town, and someone told me he was playing at the Belgian Beer Cellar for the Dave Rodriguez gig. I turned up to find Dave and Michael with Ed Rodrigues (he’s the regular drummer) and James Luke on double bass. I guess James has been playing the gig while Bill Williams has been out of town. This was very different from the café gig in Manuka. It was hot, sweaty, blister-forming music. Taking the Miles and Shorter standards (Nardis, Footprints, Juju) and a few related standards (Softly…, bebop, a blues) and treating them with passion and energy and some humour. Fabulous, hot, exciting playing from some current local masters. Michael and Ed were bouncing off each other with endless energy. Neither can help playing with passion and exuberance. Michael’s solo development was exemplary. Quotes and hints at the underlying melody throughout, but ever-lifting, every-rising excitement. Fabulous stuff. Dave was controller, with clear, consolidated lines, but sometimes even his demeanour burst into flourishes, but mostly his was a sensitive and tonally defined style. James was blistered from long hours of double bass gigging over recent days, but stated some lovely defined support lines, and solos that moved decisively in style and tenor. My ears picked up during his Nardis solo with a sustained 16th note line, and as I listened there was melodic purity, then simple solidness, then cross rhythms with whole note triplets, then the power of pedalpoint. Superb variation of intent and mood. Admirable playing. I’ve never seen Ed when he’s not emotionally committed and true to the music. There’s busyness but endless dynamics, with his body expressing every nuance. Not overly pretty to see, but bliss to hear. Another local master. So they all were: this established generation of players, toying with great modern standards. And bliss to the ears of the local initiates who listened in wonder.

So, just another day around the inner south. Australians can complain (as I guess does every nation) but we have tons to be thankful for: a rich country, good climate (although threatening change), wealth and comfort. Abundance in most things, not least jazz. What a fabulous little few hours at the local shops for a jazz lover!

Matilda Abraham (vocals) played in Manuka with Andy Butler (piano) and Simon Milman (bass). Dave Rodriguez (guitar) played in Kingston with Michael Azzopardi (piano), James Luke (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

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