27 October 2011

Turossing it (Moruya 2011/1)

Moruya is an annual opportunity to catch up on the Jazz School, at least if you hang out at the Air Raid Tavern. The larger ensembles are mostly there. The faculty is always represented somehow. This year it was Vince Jones and Matt Thompson as leaders. Luke appeared with some prominent students as the ANU All Stars and also with his Sextet. As usual, I kept a particular eye open for the bassists. There were also the trad and mainstream communities and the festival of voice and the jazz gospel service and the St Louis-style march. The march is fun, especially if you can walk with your instrument. I’ve only seen it once and, as I remember, the tunes were A closer walk with me and When the saints go marching in. The walk is hardly the stuff of the modern or avant garde or even of the Air Raid Tavern, which is the modern jazz centre and the hangout of the Jazz School. We appeared this year as Sax & the Citizens with Mike, Richard and guest Henry Rasmussen. A nice innovation this year was a few open sessions for jams (called Blackboard Band sessions, but the jams just happened, no blackboards required). I got to play in one and another was settling in for the night when I left the Air Raid on Saturday. I saw about 20 bands over the weekend, and won’t report them all. So, what featured for me?

Vince Jones led a quartet with Matt McMahon, Eric Ajaye and Mark Sutton. This was a concert style in a new concert venue, so it’s different from the normal intimate Moruya experience. This was gentle, politically committed and nicely flowing, as Vince’s concert are. I like the way he merges tunes and maintains an atmosphere. And I like the way he’s committed to more than just the music. It’s refreshing. I’m not so spiritually inclined but politically I enjoy the snouty right wing consternation after his concerts. No harm done there. Musically, I especially remember a beautifully detailed head that was richly improvised: detailed like scat but with words and soft and unintrusive. What is it about trumpet that produces singers like this? Vince Jones (vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn) led a quartet with Matt McMahon (keyboards), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

I can talk of the Luke Sweeting Sextet and the ANU All Stars (terrible name!) in one paragraph. They were a blast and perhaps my favourite music of the weekend. The All Stars were led by Reuben, with Luke Sweeting, Max Williams, Rohan Dasika and Aidan Lowe. They played music of Reuben and Luke and some interesting non-originals by the likes of Tomas Stanko. Luke’s Sextet added Matt Handel and played charts by Luke. Perhaps the Stars were more mesmeric and restrained, although I remember a march-like piece, while Luke’s tunes were more harmony-flavoured, charted vehicles, but both had involved and committed solos against great grooves and were truly impressive outings. The ANU All Stars was led by Reuben Lewis (trumpet) with Luke Sweeting (keys), Max Williams (tenor), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums). The Luke Sweeting Sextet added Matt Handel (alto, tenor).

Crossing over with Luke and the All Stars in style and membership was Alex Raupach. He’s another band leader with original compositions in a modern style of less frequent chord changes and satisfying, floating melody. I place somewhere near the All Stars, but without the ventures into mesmeric minimalism. Alex Raupach (trumpet) led a quintet with Matt Handel (alto, tenor), Andy Butler (piano), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Aidan Low (drums).

I’ll highlight just a few individual players although they weren’t the only ones that stood out for me. Firstly, Aidan Lowe for his hard work. He’s a wonderfully strong player and on many first call lists. On Saturday he played eight sets straight and was still playing with interest and energy in the last set, but reasonably turned down the jam afterwards. Another is bassist Rohan Dasika. I’d only heard Rohan at one jam session before where he played a steady and repetitive Footprints. He’s ready and able to maintain an unchanging groove (he’s also studying in the classical school and if you’ve seen some orchestral bass scores, you’ll understand that repetition is common there, too) but he could also lay down and improvise on strong grooves and solo with bow or pizz. I was taken aback when he played the final few bars of Donna Lee in unison with horns at bop speed. He did the same on another tune with German bow. As you’d expect from a classical cat his intonation and chops were just right, but his grooves and walks were also good. I should mention Reuben Lewis, too, for Moruya and several gigs I’ve heard him at recently. His playing these days is wonderfully sophisticated, fully-toned, vibrant and appropriate in some very different contexts. A pleasure.

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