5 August 2009

Visiting Gods

Dale Barlow played at the Gods last night. He’s not divinity, but he’s definitely a classic of Australian modern jazz. He’s not a frequent visitor to Canberra, but you get a night of hard swinging post-bop when he does visit. Showers of notes, flurries and effusions of phrases that play around the harmony. An ability to maintain lines, move phrases in and out of dissonance, cut the beat into smaller parts, and hold lines based on those parts for long, sinuous passages. Simply, a hot player in that hot post-bop mould. And with such a lovely big fat tone. He was playing a King Super 20, the same instrument that Cannonball Adderley played. The quality of the tone was obvious. Also occasional flute and alto flute. The selection was somewhat improvised, with the band stopping between tunes to discuss what to play next. But, as Dale said, these guys had been playing together over the years it was all perfectly comfortable. They are professionals of a high calibre, and this is stock of trade.

For our local pride, it was a Canberra rhythm section: Ben Hauptmann and Brendan Clarke, both Sydney-based but Canberra-bred and -trained, and Mark Sutton who is Canberra-based. Ben always blows me out with exciting guitar lines weaving through dissonances and across the full range into searing high notes; finger picking that imparts extra complexity to his chordal playing; a wonderfully rich and hot sound from an old Fender valve amp. Brendan is a renowned bassist for good reason. Fluently and busily exploring the fingerboard, up into thumb positions (did he reach to two octaves? I think so), variously moving across or up and down the neck, some lengthy chromatic lines in solo fills, or beautifully evident and simple chordal playing that stated the tune with elemental clarity. His sound was pretty soft, but listening back to a recording, it’s neat and present and thumpy with those Velvet strings. Mark Sutton is a popular choice for visiting jazz performers given his national experience and respect. There’s a seriousness to his playing, a busy-ness and responsiveness that’s demanding, and also a conception that ranges from early drum styles, so you can hear band music and marching rudiments interspersed with modern. So all round, it was masterly control that we heard.

They played 10 tunes with plenty of time for play and more than a few choruses for each solo. There were a few originals by Dale in a classic post-bop tradition. There were several well known standards done with power and ballads with subtlety: Chelsea Bridge, Willow weep for me, a sprinting Rhythm changes, Tad Dameron’s lovely On a misty night, Round midnight, Out of nowhere, a rollicking end on (Once I had a) Secret love. And there was one that seemed oddly different but nonetheless very satisfying, a dreamy tune that started with droning guitar and wailing tenor and sounding of the Scottish Highlands, and that moved into a Wanderlust-style groove.

It’s always great to hear such capable musicians doing flat-out post-bop styles: generous swing, hard blowing solos, memorable tunes. It’s what jazz is all about, at least for the boppers and their descendents. Dale Barlow (tenor, flute, alto flute) led a quartet with Ben Hauptmann (guitar), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

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