5 September 2012


It’s been great to hear Luke Sweeting in a variety of outings in recent weeks. Last night it was his Sextet playing at the Gods. I’d heard the Canberra version of his sextet when they were warming up to recording Luke’s charts early this year. Most of that band has since gone to the winds: Berlin, NYC, Melbourne. Luke, himself, now shares time in Sydney and he collected a mostly Sydney band to play this gig. The charts were all from Luke’s pen, other than one from prior-trumpeter Reuben Lewis. There was plenty of space for solos, but the charts felt orchestrated for a larger ensemble, with their movements and variations and changing mixes and tonalities. I could imagine a big band insinuating its fills during solos, or a jazz orchestra playing the moving melodic passages, although the generous space for solos was more like a smaller band. I also felt the feel was quite reined in, at least at the start of tunes, although this was music of big and steady crescendos. Luke presented one tune called Introverts and another called Melancholy and perhaps this was music like this: strongly spoken but not immediately insistent; certainly not blustery. Luke’s Rhodes started the whole concert off, and its sound fits this image. Rhodes are a strange mix of crystalline tinkle and soft underbelly with occasional cracked goblets. The bass and drums entered, but almost unnoticed. Then the horns with swelling, hopeful three-part harmonies into a 12/8 groove. Then solos ending with horns arising underneath, strangely morbid over the end of the drum solo, then back to rising hope. That was the first tune. It was interesting writing. What of other tunes? Avant shard had fractured melodies that were played differently every time, with various instruments playing alone and later a cacophony of all in. Millions of kilometres was a road song with steady sixteenths on drums over 4/4. Chinchilla had mysterious horns and slow plaintive tones and sat at one time with Rhodes chords swelling from no attack and later whale-song trombone. Introverts was appropriately slow and pensive. Loftiness was complex orchestration dedicated to the venue rather than the concept. There were several others.

What I found most revealing on the night, though, was the horns up front. Their solos seemed so different in style one from the other and their ensemble work, composed by Luke, circumscribed the feel and musical questioning on the night. They played harmony of course, sometimes moving fairly freely, voices leading or following like in dance, other times playing more standard harmonies, even bluesy fills, in three-parts or dropping into occasional collective improvisation. They were also quite different solo voices. I always find Matt’s alto is honest and intelligently searching with nicely developed lines and structural growth. This time, I noticed a new and very clever twist, where he’d muddle together notes at one end of a line and recover with a dissonant passage. I wish I understood fingering of the sax and the trumpet, for it seems obvious to me that it affects the lines played by soloists. The sax seems more expansive, more open to morphing harmonies, certainly more honey- or snakey-toned. The trumpet is sharp and proud, assertive and emphatic, and usually more scalar and tonal. I’ve heard personalities interpreted by instruments (trumpeters are the outgoing ones) but I don’t buy into that. I think we usually just take up the instruments we fall into, through a school band or the lessons Mum organises or the available spots in the local rock group. But the playing is certainly different, in the case of trumpet, from the comfortable lines that fall out of three valves. The trombone is different again. It’s brass, but it’s sultry and sinuous like the sax (and luxuriates in it) as well as being deep and rich. When nicely voiced, the combined tone is something to wallow in: a sharp trumpet on top, a smooth sax middle and the clear depth of trom. Lovely. So it was this night, firmed up nicely by with James’ billowing bottom end. This was a gig for the front line. I noted Brendan on bass and Finn on drums, and they each did several nice solos, but they were very much the capable support in this context. The horns and Rhodes had this gig in my ears.

So, it was Luke again with some of the same tunes but this time made more complex and enriched by a three part front line. Nice gig. Luke Sweeting (Rhodes) led his sextet at the Gods with Matt Handel (alto sax), Simon Ferenci (trumpet), James Greening (trombone), Brendan Clark (bass) and Finn Ryan (drums).

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