7 June 2014
The very fringe of squaredom
In recent days, Father Fintan Monaghan said "I suppose we can't really judge the past from our point of view, from our lens". Given he was explaining away the discarding of 796 babies in a cesspitt, and in the pretty recent past, it's an unfortunate and morally erroneous statement*. So I've been wondering about The Fringe of Squaredom. It's the name of the band that played at Smiths this week. It's also a colourful description in Time magazine of the album performed by that band. The album is Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley from 1961. Certainly Happy talk, that jaunty song from the musical South Pacific could be labelled square. I don't feel that about Never will I marry, though. It's got nicely contorted changes and it's a favourite of mine. Perhaps this mix of pleasurable and pretty deep swing is out-of-place after 50s cool and as 60s free is gathering pace and Coltrane is being spiritual and Miles is venturing further afield. History is fascinating and ever open for interpretation, and what an image that is: the fringe of squaredom.
The band was led by Rachael Thoms and Tom Fell as Nancy and Cannonball. Tom is tenor rather than Cannonball's alto, but close enough. The rest of the band was local notoriety. Rachael is just superbly in control of her voice and such a pleasure. I just melt as she holds a note then releases a swelling vibrato. She's a joyous and infectious presence and the technical facility just makes the cake. It's my first jazz hearing for Alec, recently imported bass teacher at the ANU Music School. To my ear, he loves a heavy beat and hard-blown swing and plays it with a firm pizzicato and strong sound. That may be just for this album; I've seen him playing much more experimental bass and viola da gamba, too. Brendan Magee was new to me. He's apparently brought his trombone out from storage only recently. He did a nicely tight job in section work and took quietly spoken solos. Tom was up front, playing the part of a swinging Cannonball with verve but an evident seriousness. Nice. Wayne was a natural. Every solo speaking with authority and inevitability and playing through a range of styles. The solo on Happy talk was pure McCoy Tyner so hardly square. Same with Mark; enough said that he's a master with his roiling grooves and brilliant snaps. What a great and pleasurable night. If this is square, bring it on.
The Fringe of Squaredom are Rachael Thoms (vocals), Tom Fell (tenor), Brendan Magee (trombone), Wayne Kelly (piano), Alec Hunter (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).
*As for history, I wonder that anyone can grow more conservative with age. It seems to me that if you stay informed, maintain your ethics and don't go to sleep, you can only grow more radical, and for me that's to the left, not the right as is common and too noisy these days: maturing as a process of removing blinkers. If you haven't heard of the mass grave of 796 babies at a Catholic Irish nuns' mothers and babies home, read this and despair.