23 March 2014

Meditation in groove

In many ways, this was unexpected, but in others it was not. Alec Hunter is the new bassist at the Music School with a background in both classical and jazz and a musicology PhD to boot. The band was presented in a formal layout: seven players spread around an inverted U open to the audience. Individually lit with strong overhead lights for a contrasty view. Two drummers and marimba/vibes. The grand Steinway next to mikes for seated trumpet and saxes. And two basses, or rather a double bass and a violone, lying on its back, in front of several laptops. Also, a screen above it all, a dark room, mics and recording gear. This was a seriously prepared event. Then I read the program: "short open works", "improvised (or not)", "set melodic cells to free improvisation", "order ... decided ... during the performance". And more: "simultaneously projected video", "audio and video ... tow independent creative events occupying the same space and time". And even: "the doors ... will remain open ... audience members are encouraged to come and go as they please". Interesting. Some of the recorded voice accompanying the video spoke to similar conventions, of art and dance and music. No-one much moved or applauded or made noise during each set, but we are a arts-respecting crew. So what did we hear? There were passages at top and bottom that grooved like jazz-rock era Miles. There were times of quiet and meditation, with double-bowed violone and more. There was authentic jazz improvisation from Charles on vibes and deeply rhythmic improv from Tate on piano. There were two drummers, sharing leads, finding openings for percussion. There were Miro and John, two masters thrilling with some deeply responsive interplay and swapped segments and some great tones with a digital harmoniser. And Alec, leading with hand gestures and raised fingers, meditatively seated on the ground with violone or holding jazz-infused riffs or spelling melodic themes on double bass. I liked his sharp edged tone that was balanced, often note for note, with softer rejoinders, with what sounded to my ears as the most precise intonation. It's jazz and modern classical but also performance art and video. Not rare these days, and shouldn't really be unexpected, but a change from Bird on the one hand or Bach on the other (although we all love them both). Refreshing and pensive.

Alec Hunter and Friends played in the Band Room at the ANU School of Music. Alec Hunter (bass, violone, electronics) led his friends Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), John Mackey (saxes), Tate Sheridan (piano), Charles Martin (marimba, vibes), Jamal Salem (drums, percussion) and Jonathan Warren (drums, percussion). Lauren Hunter (video) created the projections.

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