11 August 2012

Old and young guns, pt.2

Bernie led his standard quartet and what bliss! I felt transported to another era and place by this concert. But the actual place, Street One, suited the band brilliantly. I don’t usually like jazz under a proscenium arch, but The Street was strangely intimate with its sagging cabaret-like backdrop and the band up front on stage with gentle colour washes.

I heard Bernie’s sax as slithering and seductive and unobtrusively articulated, undemonstrative and perhaps wary but nimble and open to experience. It’s been likened to Australian bush and I felt it as birdsong, nimble and seductive as that is. Warwick is anything but the same, but I was in Heaven when he entered with harmonies over melodies. This was the closest, most articulate, most familial harmonies I could imagine. But his soloing was anything but like Bernie’s. Warwick was all even eights or shreds of sixteenths, running chords with even volume and intensity but with phrasing that toyed with the bars running below. One trumpeter said after that he’s the best, meaning he’s the best jazz player, for this is classical, cerebral jazz: just melody improvised over chords with immense harmonic and technical skills and tightly controlled tone. Fabulous. What of the rhythm section? Andrew is renowned for his swing and, to my ears, it’s a swing of an era. I heard it as ‘40s: snappy, choppy and coarse-grained, authentic to style and displaying the influences of the pre-bop. Brendan was just supremely comfortable. Again, lots of bop-like swing, vivid soloing up the neck and a nicely balanced tone but with an upper-mid edge (he’s switched from gut to Obligatos and loves them, partly for bowability). I’ll particularly mention one spot where was playing an obligato (in Db I think) and dropped the volume from strong to the lightest but with a constant intensity. Now that’s control! The tunes were Bernie’s recognisable repertoire, some of which have become standards for Australia jazzers. First were The breeze and I, the Spirit song. Then a blues and Sweet and lovely, a ballad, Finally, Paul Desmond’s Wendy. I was just a little surprised to hear “Paul Desmond is “one of my all-time favourite saxophone players” but I probably shouldn’t be. Just 5 tunes? Maybe I missed one, but these were long takes with extended solos. I’d been hanging out for this gig. I’ve heard Bernie before but this was the most convincing. Perhaps it was the quiet room and quiet and attentive audience to hear the detail. The room, the night, suited this band and they are classics. Great gig.

Bernie McGann (alto) led his quartet with Warwick Alder (trumpet), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Andrew Dickeson (drums).

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
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