29 March 2012

Calm amongst frenzy

It was a big guitar night in Canberra, and I guess most guitarists were at the Satriani/Vai/Lukather gig. I love screaming guitars but I didn’t think my ears could take the onslaught or my mind the endless rock repetition, but I didn’t miss out on the guitar front with Song Fwaa. They were playing to a much smaller audience at the Loft, but I dare say the level of musical intellect could have been higher. This is not your standard jazz. My ear was first taken by David Reaston on an electric classical, (nylon-strung) guitar, a slab with wings and presumably a piezo pickup. It had an unusual amplified sound, a woody tone with lots of attack, made more unusual with various effects including an otherwordly Moog. He played with pick or with classical technique and a few times with e-bass style, but I was most taken by the rich chording, the concurrent bass and treble lines interspersed with chords, the ascending exercise-like arpeggios with extensions over the full neck (not easy!), and some oddly inventive ostinato lines that took a bass role. This was not jazzy, although structured often like jazz and with improvisation, but more classical in sensibility and instrumentation. I was later informed that he’d studied jazz then classical guitar and composition and it didn’t surprise at all. This was great technique and a very different sensibility and some very complex and intricate compositions.

I was also watching Jamie Cameron on drums. This is a bass-less band, and I noticed again the prominence of the thuddy kick drum at the bottom end. But also the open eyes that Jamie had for the others, and the way he followed and spoke in unison with both David and Martin Kay on alto sax, sometimes to state some contorted melody, sometimes to slap in unison, sometimes launching into a solo against a band ostinato (on the final tune - some things never change), sometimes just deliciously feeding off a solo. Lovely drumming that spoke the tunes rather than laying out a groove, and drumming of considerable dynamic range of loud slapped toms or open spaces.

It was only at the end that I moved my attention to Martin on alto. He’d introduced the tunes with a literate angular wit that had us all chuckling. (I never saw the Fantastic Terrific Munkle, one of his earlier projects, but I’d heard the CD and I’d enjoyed their humour and iconoclasm immensely). His alto was again not jazz-trained. The lines were often scalar snippets moved modally or through keys, fast and accurately formed with skilled technique, coloured with breaths and key slaps and the like. His training, too, was classical and it was evident in his conception and performance.

How else did the band show classical training? Intricate compositions and good reading and references to Ligeti and Cage. A series of tunes were called Tacit studies. They were highly truncated snippets of melody that the band read and played in unison - stunning for long silences and intense, rapid-fire fills. Ligeti made an appearance with his goat. There were a series of extended epic settings of tragic, heroic animal stories: Ligeti’s goat taken into space by Haile Salassie and returned to Earth; the happy song of recovered polar bear (until he was shot); the seven times cloned animal interpreted as loops. There were two covers, too, one of Scott Joplin’s Maple leaf rag and another of Tina Turner’s What’s love got to do with it, but the interpretations were very well coloured and disguised. John Cage made his appearance in Cage the Gaoler that responded to conservative reaction to Cage’s music. Whether these were all stories on the night or not, I don’t know, but this was ironic and fun as well as being musically challenging and inventive. I liked it, I wondered on it, I revelled in the technical skills, but I could well imagine it to be too demanding for some who might not return for a second set.

Song Fwaa (=Sangue froid, Fr. Cold blooded) comprise Martin Kay (alto sax), David Reaston (guitar) and Jamie Cameron (drums). They played at the Loft.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 1 comment:

    Ollie Miller said...

    Nice review, thanks Eric!