04 October 2009

Fellow visitor

Just one night in Kuala Lumpur, but a lucky night to catch an international tour of note. Tim Garland and the Lighthouse Trio were playing at the Alexis Bistro Ampang. Tim Garland is a noted reed player and composer out of England, with awards to his name, sessions with Chick Corea, classical and jazz composition commissions including one by Corea to rearrange the Crystal Silence album for Corea and Gary Burton to play with the Sydney Symphony in 2007. Several of these arrangements have since been released on the new crystal Silence album. The Lighthouse Trio is currently on a tour to promote a new album, and will be visiting Australia in late October (Canberra doesn’t get a visit). So Tim and the band have renown and local connections.

This was something out of the ordinary, although jazz is often out of the ordinary these days. Worldly, with Middle Eastern and Spanish and South American influences, and a diverse range of percussion and reed sounds. Classical, through presumed classical training of the pianist and Tim himself. Some sense of swing, but more rhythmic, driving, even heavy. This was a trio, but not of a common mix: there was no bass other than that supplied by deep drums and piano, and no standard drum kit. The reeds were standard enough, but highly proficient, throughout the range, toying with tonalities and frequently moving through bass clarinet to tenor and soprano: diverse sounds and proficient execution. The piano was busy and rich and extensive. I thought of early 20th century classical, like Ravel, and expect he’s trained in these styles. There were times when I heard left hand accompaniment and extensively dissonant right hand soloing, but generally the hands were more as one, less defined in roles, freely playing the low registers in the absence of a bassist and enjoying cross-rhythms against the drums. The drums were not so much timekeepers as a lithe wash of colour overlaying the heavier and defining statements of the other two players. Light tones, with unusual drums and often played with the hands. One unusual drum, the Hang drum, formed the basis of one composition. It was played with hands, was pitched, and had that delightfully joyous tone of the steel drum mixed with a heavy core thud. Another composition was a melody by Tim layered over a ten-beat Middle Eastern cycle, so this percussion did have influence on the writing of the band. The tunes were mostly originals, often with rapid, melodically pure lines that were reminiscent of Corea. The solo passages sat over extended repeats, but would drop into unison lines, or sit excitingly with crossing rhythms and patterns. There was one with an ever ascending 8-bar sequence. Another was a tango with its militant march and brooding secrets and suggestions of danger. There was also a standard, Blue and Green from the Kind of Blue album, but extensively reworked. There were rippling piano chords and gentle but obvious sax delays.

This was not demanding like free, not jolly like trad or lively like swing, but it was a challenging set and it demonstrated the broad purview of jazz today, covering a spectrum from classical formality and technique to worldly vibes and tonalities. I heard this as great playing from a original compositional voice. Tim Garland (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet) led the Lighthouse Trio with Gwilym Simcock (piano) and Asaf Sirkis {drums, percussion, bass Udu, Hang drum, etc).

The night had started somewhat earlier when Megan and I had pre-dinner drinks. It was a decent KL hotel, so it’s not surprising to find music at this time. This was piano bar music, with film themes and gentle pop from the standards era onwards. Some favourites of mine (should I admit it?) like Moon river and Shadow of your smile, and some ever-present others like Desperado, Michelle, Georgia and even Love me tender. It’s soft stuff, but it was nicely played by Ahmad Saifuddih. Ahmad is a guitarist but he also gigs on piano in this gentle, background style. There are plenty of tritone substitutions and chromatic movements and flourishes and flowing arpeggios and segues. Nice stuff, and very pleasant for a chat and a drink. But one piece still has us pondering: was it really a blend of I still call Australia home and Fools rush in? Ahmad Saifuddih played a piano bar set at the Grand Millenium Hotel.

  • Tim Garland's website
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