1 April 2010

ANUSM double header

Jazz was the style for the first evening of the ANU School of Music Premier Concert Series for 2010. The bands were the Mike Price Trio and Vertical, both led and largely composed of teachers at the Jazz School, and it was a diverse offering.

Mike played first. He leads a guitar trio in a mainstream-modern West Cost guitar style. It’s a blend of originals with a smattering of standards played in a diatonic and cool and fluent manner. There were some interesting themes. The set was bookended by Kenny Wheeler, starting with a tribute composed by Mike and ending with a KW tune that opened free and settled into a neat groove. The Gong was an unusual jazz workout that was heavily country-influenced, with Mike reminiscing on his home town Wollongong and the imposing local steel works of Port Kembla with strummed and picked chords against a rock drum beat. There was a beautiful ballad by Henry Mancini, Two for the road, that Mike advised was Mancini’s favourite composition. Also another ballad beauty, You don’t know what love is, played with an afro-latin groove and a pensive piece that was being called Newish in the absence of a final title. Mike’s playing was fluent and cool, sharp and unvarnished; Col’s was restrained with his minimal kit, but I especially noticed unusually extended passages of contrasting rhythms that held long tensions against the underlying groove; Eric is always primally smooth and flowing, but I was having some problems hearing him in this context. The hall was decked out with a nice looking PA (good on ANUSM), but work is ongoing to tune it to the Llewellyn acoustics that suit classical so well but seem problematic for amplified music. Eric’s sound over the PA improved during the night, but even if I couldn’t hear too well from the start, I could still feel his steady and confident grooves and subtle fills and improvisations. So, it was a cool and intelligent first set from Mike Price (guitar), Eric Ajaye (Bass) and Col Hoorweg (drums).

Eric led Vertical for the second set, and a very different set it was. Different in style from Mike’s trio, but also different from the expectations of the band and the program. Paul Dal Broi is Vertical’s normal pianist but he was unavailable due to sickness. Paul is a calm player who speaks with quiet but intense harmonic clarity and intelligence. On the night, he was replaced by Michael Azzopardi, who has played and recorded extensively with the rest of the group, so it was a different band, a somewhat different repertoire and a very different outing. Michael is rabidly and virtuosically explosive, and he showed his best this night. Vertical played a series of originals by all members. Eric’s Homeward opening the night with a drum solo using mallets that moved into a melody on soprano sax with piano fills and washes. Then a genuine post bop hard swinger, Monday night at BMH, composed by Niels. BMH is London’s Bar Music Hall where Niels performed during his London sojourn. This was exciting and everyone soloed, but Michael especially lifted the roof here. Then a ballad written by Michael, It’s in your eyes, starting with soprano sax against what I thought was a 14 beat rhythm (8-6) moving to 4/4. Then a bass solo intro into Realisations. Here I particularly noticed how effectively the band handled dynamics that rose and fell against the melody line, and the different sound of orchestral synthesiser washes against the otherwise acoustic sounds. Then Michael’s tune, Another year, with a rock rhythm, Eric’s From here to there to hear, with its long and tortuous boppy melody played on soprano sax against a fast walk. Then Niels’ ballad, Let me be, to end.

It was a wonderful modern-jazz set, not extreme in effect although harmonically interesting and sometimes virtuosic, varied in sounds and feels despite steady walks and grooves. You couldn’t help but notice Michael for the way his solos developed to explosive statements, through all manner of pianistic techniques: endlessly sustained lines, solos in octaves, contrasting left hand chords, easy harmonic alterations, the nerves to hold onto tensions. These were endless, excitable sprays of notes; a veritable emotional waterfall. Niels’ approach is more constrained but no less interesting or capable. He’d state melodies with the slightest of variation and solo phrases with ease and clarity, then readily drop into sustained double time lines that were articulated with precision and purpose. I noticed the slaps of pads in one quiet ballad passage. It’s an unconventional technique, but intimate and attractive, and I’m sure he must have been playing for it. I felt in many ways Chris defined the band’s sound on the night, with constantly changing colours and interpretive playing. These drums didn’t just set the groove or even state rhythmic contrasts, but rather coloured and echoed and mimicked the rest of the band: truly a constituent part of the dynamics. I felt it as a rock approach but with jazz chops and expertise. Eric was the elder of the tribe, underscoring and defining the grooves and harmonic flow, and making his own individual statements in solos. These were more intelligible than earlier in the night and mellifluous and flowing as always. A wonderfully original, capable and modern sounding outing for four mates with history. Vertical comprised Niels Rosendahl (soprano, tenor sax), Michael Azzopardi (piano, keyboard), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums).

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