8 September 2012

One woman’s songs

I asked Matilda Abraham about her songwriting after the gig. The words and concerns impressed but didn’t surprise me. Matilda’s a mature woman and her interests are those of a mature woman. But I was impressed by the rich complexity of the music. She told me she plays some piano and some guitar chords, and songs start with melody and sometimes with chords. I thought maybe I heard the source in a few bits of her wordless singing or improvisations. They were not scatting in an Ella-sense. The Jazz School commonly used voices (I find I’m already writing in the past tense about the Jazz School) as instruments in larger ensembles, singing with the horns, usually trumpets as I remember. This must impart a sense of instrumental jazz melody and harmonic awareness and I think it this I heard here. It’s melody that’s interesting in phrasing and in intervals. It’s a powerful mix when you include the strength of ideas that words impart. The words weren’t always so easy to catch. Martin was about idealism in relationships. Reubens was inspired by renowned guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and was interesting for its intimacy and also for Carl’s guitar which sounded markedly different from earlier tunes on the night: more legato but also more insistent and impatient. There were quite a few other originals: Enough; Entropy, in slow ¾; Breath of warm air; Are you on my side; Keeping up; another in 7/4, interestingly split as 5-2. She sang a few covers, too: Monk’s Reflections, with words she wrote about love and distance; a duo with Carl called Cloud flies (“Do you sit in your office cubicle / Thinking about how life is beautiful”) which ably cut a line at office work; Beyoncé (“You are my temporary high / Sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare / I don’t want to wake from you”); Bjork’s Virus (“Like a virus / Patient hunter / I’m waiting for you / Hunting for you”). These were interesting songs performed in Matilda’s style and voice, which I heard as a firm soprano, high and delicate at times, then dropping to a sure-footed middle register, not flashy but ably dealing both with complex intervallic compositions and sharing a message.

Matilda had a nice little band, too. I know Carl well and he was exciting and lifting as expected. His tone is often chopped but he also played legato for some tunes, more driven and sustained. Either way, his solos lines and structural development are thrilling as he swings from low to high registers in a blink, and I guess it’s pentatonics that give him those essential guitar lines. It’s here I noticed drummer James lifting in busyness and intensity. He’s richly embroidered and assertive on the skins anyway, but the accented snare became snappier and the rolling fills tighter in response to Carl’s solos. Pianist Henry had a different manner. I found his playing obtuse, unexpected, adventurous, cerebral rather than combustible, as he invented responses that flowed one to another and yet departed easily and distantly from the tune. This was more dramatic, rolling, mutating full-handed chords than single note playing, but playing the orchestra is the piano’s forte. Tom was the essential bassist: clear, Velvet toned; carefully selected and formed notes; precise time; ears.

The gig could have done with a decent mix (vocals and PA make much more demand on the mix) but the playing and the writing were both very satisfying and the band’s presence was easy but serious. It’s a pleasure to watch players move through the Jazz School and return as mature performers, and this was one such gig. Too bad there won’t be many more. Matilda Abraham (vocals) led a quintet with Carl Morgan (guitar), Henry Sutherland (piano), Thomas Botting (bass) and James Waples (drums).

No comments: