09 March 2017


Chris said it was like listening to a band in a studio and it was. Jonathan Zwartz had brought his sextet to Canberra to play for Geoff Page's series at the Gods and the music was so relaxed and easy but virtuosic, distilled, crystal clear but inventive, exploratory. All the lines just seemed so perfect, so apt, but never trite; perfectly expected after they were played, but wildly inventively conceived before they were played. And with surging rhythms that were busy but settled, malleable but sturdy. Jonathan himself was all over the bass, smiling at the intensity, firmly in the pocket, never losing the essence of the groove, but moving through and around it with wonderful playfulness. Along with long-term drummer offsider, Hamish, rock solid times (he preceded several tunes with a few clave clacks on a metronome to settle the time), intriguing grooves and ready for the non-standard, like one tune played fully with hands not sticks, or one with not a kick amongst it, and the apt changes under solos. Matt was all studied Rhodes intrigue, ringing chords, neat fills and unpretentious solos. And the solos of Ben and the two horns, Michael and Phil, stunned me first up with thei r similarly light, lithe phrasing and varying attacks, in Ben's case, toying with picking and hammer-ons and the like. They played on somewhat that way, immensely discursive and investigative. I was floored by one trumpet solo from Phil, all melody and long, long phrases and chromatics then realised there was more, and under such control, a trumpet that merged imperceptively with tenor, could blat, but would so easily whisper. Not easy on that instrument. And the feel were all so defined, just right. That's also why I thought of the studio, where seasoned players can spell a tune with unrelenting clarity. And also, like a studio, they were playing without rehearsal. When Jonathan was giving instructions before one tune, they joked this was their rehearsal. And the tunes were diverse. They'd started with Seahorse, in triple time, with spritely melody. Then Milton, in honour of Milton Nascimento. Then a ballad called Billy. Then Scando, with a delicious Birth of the Cool-like walk. Then Soul sing, after a Donny Hathaway song. Jonathan commented that times are hard for musos, so "it's like a political statement just to get up and play". But they were enjoying it. Jonathan had a wide smile on his face at their superbly satisfying sounds. Then a second set, starting with a jungle bop and finishing with a pair, one openly beautiful, introduced as "like a hymn", and a bouncy tune to end. It's not often I've heard such precision and distillation of late or perhaps ever. A stunningly impressive outing. Need I say I was in awe.

Jonathan Zwartz (bass) led his sextet comprising Michael Avgenicos (tenor), Phil Slater (trumpet), Ben Hauptmann (guitar), Matt McMahon (Rhodes) and Hamish Stuart (drums) at the Gods.

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