30 January 2019

Messages from jazz history

We all know of Art Blakey for his longstanding Jazz Messengers as a training ground for so many jazz musicians of note and of the great post-bop tunes that the band played. I hadn't realised quite how much this was a cooperative venture, but it seems obvious when you consider that so many members penned tunes. And it was no surprise to hear of AB with the bop crew and especially Monk. But what did surprise me was to hear of his playing with the swing big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. Perhaps we shouldn't be. Bop-era names played in swing bands while bop was still a developing revolution. Sothe extent of AB's history was a revelation, from the '40s through to that long post-bop ascendancy that only ended in the late '80s. So it was a great pleasure to hear Andrew Dickeson take on the Messengers mantle for a performance at the ANU PopUp for Geoff Page. There were tunes we know and love and some lesser knowns. We all love the insinuating melodies of Ugetsu, Along came Betty, Nica's dream, One by one, Ceora (by stars in their own right: Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan). I was less taken but still exhilarated by the quickies (both ~340bpm): Bu's delight and The beehive. I enjoy the speed but the melodies suffer as solos become screed rather than passages. The band was great: sharp, accurate, neat and with great solos all round. They were mostly fairly senior, although with a young gun on piano, as was AB's way. I enjoyed Andrew's chats and snippets of history, like how his wife disliked hearing Along came Betty, written for a prior girlfriend, until the royalties started coming in. Or the talk of Nica (Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter), she of jazz patronage and Rothschild fortune. I also enjoyed our own Wayne Kelly coming to the stage to feature on Now's the time. He has recorded with Andrew. He did a great job, but they all did, not least the young gun. I noticed plenty of knowing smiles around this stage during the night. The two horns were beautifully intoned, authentic in their counterpoint on heads and both soloed with discretion but lovely phrasing. Piano was young and more expansive and mighty in speed through his longer solos. Bass sounded great, took some nice solos, held walks at ~340 (not relaxing!) and spelt some lovely lines. Andrew himself was reasonably discrete, although had a fair share of solos and they were incredibly neat and always a blast. He told a story that AB had complained of young drummers who thought drumming was all too simple. His style was of steady swing regularity but could be intense with hits and noisy responses. I never caught Art Blakey so this was as close as I am going to get and it was great. Hugely satisfying and very strong swing and some memorable jazz hits.

Andrew Dickeson (drums) led a quintet comprising Al Davey (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andrew Robertson (tenor), Matt Harris (piano) and Ashley Turner(bass). Wayne Kelly (piano) sat in for one tune. They played the music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the ANU PopUp for Geoff Page.

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