21 April 2012


I’ve been thinking of long nights and cold and aurorae recently, so it’s fortuitous that Johan and Casey Moir visited Canberra. Casey trained here at the Jazz School but graduated the year that CJ started, so this is her first appearance here. She’s since studied further in Götenburg, Sweden, and married her bassist husband Johan. It’s unusual music to my ears, but that says more about popular music in the English language than about this music. With the huge popularity and artistic integrity of Bjork, we have experienced some of this volcanic energy and diverse humour and dark introversion and stern vocal tones of these regions. Casey spoke with an Australian twang but sang with the distinct phonemes of the north. She told me she keeps her tongue forward, but that must be just the first step to these vowel tones and the skew of vocal but non-verbal tones. She also said she merges words into vocal sounds, and I‘d noticed that. Her improv was rich and explosive, running high to low in arpeggiated runs, merging with nonsense tones of clicks and pops and squeals and groans, low slow notes or rapid semiquaver tonguing. It’s not like anything I’d heard live. I toyed with this as scat for the new century. Certainly, it had scat’s virtuosity and musicality, but this had a richer tonal palette and was closer to underlying words. I revelled in it as stunning technique and expression. Casey also said she values words and would never discard them for tone alone. I understand: that is the meaning of song and I’ve talked of that here. Thinking back, I realise she also improvised on meaning, as she warped words, choosing some, repeating others, so the meanings mashed directly into emotions. Her original encore, Talking walls, was an example as she repeated and wrapped fears of identity “Who am I / Who are you / Who are we / Who am I / Who” into tonal and vocal improv. These words also point to Scandinavian darkness and its cultural effects. Casey is Australian, from sunny, outdoors, beachy climes and this is our international image, but I believe this song was written in Sweden. Johan volunteered there’s a lot of depression in Sweden. Maybe it’s hidden here – we are certainly hearing more about it these days – but I could believe it’s a thing of the dark.

But singing was only part of the show. Johan did a great job as accompanist. He mainly played bass and this was essentially acoustic, although he once looped a longish bass accompaniment through PA to support himself on trumpet and voice. Nice bass, too. Not showy, but a strong, earthy tone, simple chordal statements with subtle variations that sat nicely in groove and a few understated but lovely melodic solos. I noted how nicely the rhythms sat despite the unusual duo format. That’s important and they did it well. Luke Sweeting also sat in for two tunes and the sound got bigger and richer. I enjoyed the bigger format for its tonal richness and more expressive interactions, even if I’d loved the duo for its purity and daring. One other thing I noticed was the emotional honesty and daring of it all. They had started the gig with Ornette Coleman’s Lonely woman, and it was powerful and soul-baring. Then songs with titles like Crushing and Emptiness. Wins of gold and Love song and I love you, you love me were more cheery themes, but they were still intense. Time to sleep was a lullaby so was somewhat relenting. Kenny Wheeler’s Kind folk suggested happier thoughts, even if still voiced with unrelenting intensity.

I enjoyed the night and honoured the music, but it’s not one for a beachside Jazz Festival stage. This is intense and mercurial, richly tonal and heavily improvised. Don’t book them for your wedding but do hear them if you can. Casey Moir (vocals, percussion, kazoo, glockenspiel) performed with Johan Moir (bass, trumpet, vocals) and Luke Sweeting (piano) sat in for a few tunes.

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