11 April 2009

Other worldly

The Space Cadets played at Gods the other night. It’s a strong combination of youth and long experience, presenting very earthy music from post- and hard-bop into the 70s: loud and hot and richly improvised, but at times gentle or expressive. John Pochee, that long-renowned drummer, was perhaps responsible for that (this drum seat is not a back seat). It made it a memorable night of originals and a string of tunes from several greats.

They started with Pochee’s opener by Matthew Ottignon: a hard bop tune which was Blakey-esque in commitment and go-ahead blowing and good, solid volume. Then another Blakey reference in Good for the soul, by ex-jazz Messenger Don Harrison, that was considerably more circumscribed and simply melodic. Then a gentle piece called Constant stream by Roger Frampton, the musical genius who is so often resurrected by the Sydney jazz establishment. I remember seeing him on piano and soprano; the respect is obviously justified; he was a giant of that era of Australia jazz. Then Freddie Hubbard’s Happy time, and a wonderful, comprehensively exploratory take of an Ornette Coleman tune, Trigonomety, in which all the players weaved through melodies and grooves with clarity and intelligence and aural communion. The second set mostly comprised a suite of 4 pieces by Matthew Ottignon called Space which travelled nicely through a range of feels and emotions, then a light and pleasant last number by Christian McBride called In a hurry. Looking back, it was a very successful combination of tunes that took the audience through both entertaining and profound musics with jovial comments from John Pochee to meld it all together. Very nicely programmed, and an indication of the maturity and experience of the band leader.

More on youth and experience: this band had it all. On the experience side was John Pochee, a drummer with decades of history in Australian jazz behind him. His story about how he first heard Ornette Coleman said it all: he and mates had read about him, and he finally got a listen to the first LP of Ornette imported into Australia sometime in the early 60s (and the landlord turned off the power part way through). John’s power and commitment from the first beats and richly varying rhythms pushed the outfit from the top. Warwick Alder is a similarly experienced and respected player. His playing was clear with beautifully formed trumpet tone and often punctuated but sweet and clear lines. Matthew Ottignon played a responsive tenor to Warwick, much softer in impact and with a different, more flowing and extended melodic sense, but still forming nice harmonies and interesting parallel solos. Earlier on, Greg Coffin seemed to me fairly tonal and mainstream, but he let go into varied harmonies and dissonance in a far more modern style as the night went on. And Mark Harris, bassist with the band for a first gig, was wonderfully impressive. He used a softly rounded tone and deadened sustain to play some outstanding solos, constantly high into thumb positions, fast, intriguing: a masterful performance, doubly so given this was his first appearance with a band and it was playing rabidly improvised music like Ornette’s.

Just a last bit of humour from the show as memory of a hot and inventive night. Miro had apparently provided an urgent fix to Warwick’s trumpet. The result? A snippet of 60s pop-latin, and the comment: “What have you done to it, Miro?”. Brilliantly funny on the night.

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