13 December 2014


I was sitting pretty much dumbfounded listening to John Mackey and watching his fingers skate over tenor keys. Quite astounding. To see it from two metres away, and hear it with that immediate acoustic clarity, is awe-inspiring. My mind wondered to that small-town concern, "world class". I don't like to use this term, but I pondered it anyway and decided: "world class" probably means quality to play with the big names and wc players pop up everywhere. The issue in outposts is that there are limited numbers of them, so limited community. Places like NYC or Berlin attract players and the community develops. To some degree, our Jazz School did that. It attracted keen and developing players and provided a string of established masters as mentors / teachers. We have yet to see the medium term outcome of changes at the ANU. It was a decimation, but I wish them well for recovery.

But getting back to the gig, it wasn't just John who had my attention. I particularly watched Aidan and Tate. Aidan was back from Berlin and I was enamoured by his ever-responsive rhythms. Tate has just finished studies but was a force of extended sequences and easy keyboard knowledge and often playful stylistics. Greg was mammoth in quick guitar lines as always, perhaps more flightly than usual. Lachlan introduces a different presence with the Bass VI. It's remarkable as a melodic take but he's also got a firm touch with sustained ostinatos that works a treat. On the night, and seemingly with little preparation for the band, John introduced a new mode that he's studying a ANU. John can expound further in his thesis, but in short it's built with pentatonics around the lydian mode (if I got it right). He calls it the Talvian mode. All mysterious and intriguing. The band played a few improvs on this tonality over a Bb pedal. Otherwise, the night was a string of stunning takes on standards: a simple blues in Db, All the things, Sophisticated lady, Footprints, Miss Jones, Tenor madness, Freedom jazz dance. These are standard blowing tunes and common at John's gigs. Just a blow outing from some of our wc players. Informal, intimate, friendly, essentially testing and exploratory and a blast. Our best musos would not be out of place at Smalls, but with small numbers, the band would be pretty repetitive after the first night or two.

John Mackey (tenor) led a quintet with Greg Stott (guitar), Tate Sheridan (piano), Lachlan Coventry (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) at Smith's Alternative.

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