24 November 2014

Nick's nonet

I've been musing over why I like nonets or octets. When treated as an ensemble, these are little big bands, so why these rather than the larger formats? I've decided it's because the writing becomes so clear, the lines so crisp and the solo spots so integrated and unjarring. We were hearing each voice anyway, so when some just drop out for a different texture or a solo, there's less change, less loss, more continuity. I was not certain I could attend Nick Combe's Nonet concert at Street 3 but at the last minute, I could, and it was a thing of great pleasure. Nick is soon off to Melbourne (we've lost many recent graduates to Melbourne with smaller numbers to replace them) and he gathered his cohorts together for a recording of his charted works. We've been hearing Nick's charts over the years and this is a culmination album, using his frequent offsiders. It was a strong band and one that has a collective history even if it's somewhat spread to the winds these days. We were in the generous Street 3 space, the musicians all laid out on carpet and studio-miced, some seats and cushions for an intimate audience. The recording was just 7 tracks, but there's lots of work in these, in terms of composition and arrangements and elaborations. And interestingly, Nick has a story for each. These are not just abstract compositions, but they speak of loves and losses, buses and places and health and happiness. These are Nick's encounters or experiences so the tapestry of changes and repeats speak of real emotions. This feels real. Nicely played, too. These were solos for the studio, careful, not overextended, nicely detailed and developed.

The gig started with Love is a job from Hell. It's a work in 3 parts, starting with a slow bluesy feel in 6 with dissonance and some nifty baritone sax fills and a driving guitar solos and the tenor providing embellishments that paralleled the earlier bari lines and finishing with solo piano. Then Moira, a light 2-feel with a piano trio and brushes and swelling with horns and some lovely solos on trumpet and tenor. Then Once is enough, inspired by a TS Elliot fragment and featuring a melody that's fascinatingly spelt out on different instruments, over brushes in a count of 16, then into guitar/piano and a lush horn fill and slowly swung piano trio and what I heard as an islander melody. Then Centrelink Blues referring to queues and free money. Nick has a nice story here. Medium-up blues with spaces for solos and a beautifully unhurried and thoughtful trumpet solo. I was loving both trumpeters despite vastly different approaches. Then Shoosh, everything will be alright that tells of Nick as helpful ear with slow 4 and lovely horn swells. Then Louis' precious woman, dedicated to Louis Nowra, a complex number that speeds eventually to cacophony then instrument drop outs into solos and rim shots. And a final Lemon and honey, a quickish reggae that Nick had on his mind when sick in bed. I was struck with the understated but supremely self-assured trombone here. Then thanks and chatter. It was all more rich than I can recount here. This was a musical pleasure, but also a recording and I can only look forward to the release. Nick's developed some complex and satisfying charts and this is one memory that can be confirmed soon enough on release, probably early 2015. Buy it!

Nicholas Combe (baritone sax, composer, arranger) led his nonet in a live recording at Street 3. The band comprised Nick with Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Alex Raupach (trumpet), Tom Fell (tenor, alto sax), Valdis Thomann (trombone), Matt Lustri (guitar), Damien Slingsby (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

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