13 December 2012

A thesis in dots?

I was interested to hear that Steve Barry is reading for his doctorate in music. His thesis concerns classical music and improvisation. It’s not a common association although I’ve written of it several times here recently. I was chatting to Alex in the break and he was talking of classical bassists and hand shapes and fingerboard technique. Jazz, and perhaps all creative music, is a magpie art (“Good artists borrow, great artists steal", supposedly Picasso) so I shouldn’t be surprised. So what of Steve’s take?

Someone mentioned classical influences but I felt this was clearly out of a jazz tradition. I thought of Brad Mehldau with his truncated lines and current sensibility but I heard just a spot of Chick Corea’s harmonic sense and unison melodies and perhaps some longer Keith Jarrett lines. Steve’s compositions were strong on chords, there were latin and rock rhythms, there were unexpected fillips of time or missing beats. I also felt his playing defined left and right hand roles of chords and melody, although there was an easy modal freedom in that melody and the lines easily played around the underlying bar structures. Classic contemporary jazz, not bop styled and seldom swung. I was interested in how a changing chordal structure is relegated to feel almost unchanging, but I expect this is the end result of 50+ years of modal jazz. And I was intrigued by the very busy but unharried playing of the whole band. There were lots of ideas, lots of commitment and un-affected variation here, but it felt settled with like long crescendos and occasional change. And long tunes, up to 30 minutes.

I’ve heard all these guys in Canberra in recent days and it’s been a pleasure. Steve with Jess Pollard; Alex with Mark Lockett; Tim with Liam Budge. How different can these outings be? Alex was again clear in thought, adventurous in intent and accurate in technique. I marvel at his big well-intoned interval jumps. I found his sound a bit podgier on this night, perhaps a bigger low-mid, but what expansive inventiveness and entrenched groove in these solos! Quite stunning. Tim excited me, again with an ease of presence, but with perfectly accurate and sharply rendered fills and embellishments and rudiments. Steve led with his own compositions and the lyrical freedom I mentioned above. I liked that they played a single, long set, ~90 minutes: more involving, more relaxed for after-gig chatter, and shorter for a workday evening. I reckon that’s something jazz could learn from rock showbiz: play long and hard, don’t rest too soon. There’s a lot of understated change here: piano to bass solo to drums against ostinato and the rest, but malleable and undemonstrative although clearly planned. The tunes were originals, and Wayne Shorter’s Taru. One was entitled Parks and dedicated to pianist Aaron Parks. Changes was a love song from a distance. Vintage was a right hand melody with syncopated left hand chords and contrapuntal bass. Listening to the CD as I write, it seems strong and forceful. On the night, I heard it as more internal, busy and outspoken but complex, conversational and inner directed. Whatever, it was complex and satisfying and virtuosic. How I like it. Great stuff. Steve Barry (piano) led a trio with Alex Boneham (bass) and Tim Firth (drums) at the Loft’s last gig for the year.

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