21 January 2013

Continuing the latin dream

Barney McAll’s album, Mother of dreams and secrets, is one of my favourites so I jumped at the opportunity to see him at Bennett’s Lane. We’re in Melbourne and I’m rather overwhelmed with the jazz choice on offer, despite some clubs being closed for January. Phroenesis is in town soon; will they make Canberra? That’s the sort of realisation I’m having. But what of Barney and his alter-ego Feral Junior? Feral is Barney's new puppet mate, amusingly but somewhat ominously introducing the early sets. It worked; it drew attention and entertained; I liked it; most people listen with their eyes, so why not? But Barney’s talking was mainly through his fingers and also his compositions.

This was his Non-Compliance Trio, sometimes enhanced with alto. It’s a return to a simpler format for Barney: the piano trio as a classic jazz combination. Despite the efficient format, Barney’s concepts of structure and composition were obvious and remain attractive. Plenty of piano expositions, slow feels with down-South blues-infused sensibility, sustained heavily syncopated ostinatos on bass or piano left hand, contradictory and sparse melody from right hand or bass and alto or some other combination, perhaps long and tortuous unison lines breaking the parts. They don’t always sit together with ease, but they communicate a personality and artistic sense that’s not too far from the Yoruba/Cuba of his Mother album. The compositions were mostly his, but he also played Chick Corea’s lyrical Tones for Jones’ bones and a supremely beautiful, theatrical piano solo medley of the standards The party’s over and Why didn’t I choose you, and a somewhat simple song by Rhiannon called Only girl (in the world) which worked well enough but felt somewhat out-of-place. I like jazzers testing newer popular songs, but the simple blues scale melody was not up to the richness of the rest of the night, even if played well. I’ve read recently about the simpler harmonies of pop from the ‘50s onwards not supporting jazz complexity and this has to be one example.

The playing of Barney and the band made this a worthy night. Barney with his full-handed technique was satisfying and big and colourful and dug in and homely. He dropped into left hand chords and right hand sax-like lines at times, but it was this big conception (and his compositions) that defined it for me. There were piano intros and generous head nodding to lead the band. Danny Fischer was right on top of it all. Perhaps he’d played with Barney in NYC and knew the tunes or maybe he just had a great memory (one syncopated snare line that got subsequently taken up as written sax melody convinced me) but he was ready to sit on nothing, then swell and be all over the solos. Great listening. And his own solos were open and expressive of melody and the tune. Wonderful. Bassist Frank Di Sario was impressive as he ran with the fast bop and soloed neatly and read up amongst the thumb positions, but the music was obviously new to him and he was having to work hard. Similarly David Rex, who sat in on alto for around four tunes, read some devilish syncopations but also dropped out occasionally. Syncopation is hard reading. I heard him early on as flamboyantly, perhaps excessively, fast and furious, but then a tune later in the night had him slower and more settled and melodically inventive with an intriguing dissonant and rhythmic contrariness and on listening further to his sprees of notes I found structure and melody, so nice.

This was a concert of return to home and family and friends and trio format, with his own tunes and some ring-ins, but always with his distinct broad-brushed colour and insinuating latin awareness. Contemporary jazz is all over the place and I remain staunchly catholic in welcoming it all, but the colourful latin-tinged earthiness of Feral Junior’s mate remains close to my Spanish heart. Barney McAll (piano, puppet) led his Non-Compliance Trio with Frank Di Sario (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums). David Rex (alto) sat in for a few tunes.

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