29 September 2006

Mike Nock returns

Mike Nock returned triumphantly to Canberra. This time with grand piano, no sticking keys, new trio, and great venue with quality sound. He’s famous as our NZ-Australian with a long US history behind him (notably Art Blakey and Fourth Way) and for his strong support to young modern jazz players, especially in Sydney.

He didn’t disappoint. He was personable between tunes, and challenging and intelligent while playing. He writhes on the piano stool, and taps one or both feet, but what sound comes out! It was not the perfect smooth rendition: like so many top players, inventiveness and passion take the place of mere correctness as the measure of the performance. His approaches to soloing vary richly. As I was listening to one solo, I noticed the right and left hands mimicking each other with lines in different octaves, then a standard right hand solo against left hand chordal work, then melody in the right hand with fabulous discordant left hand harmonies. All this accompanied a soloistic freedom that moved over the harmonic and bar and chorus structure, and a fluidity with notes playing anywhere ahead or behind the beat, but always with authenticity and conviction. In the hands of someone like Mike Nock, you remember just how powerful the piano is as an instrument.

And his support were no slouches either. Mike Majkowski (double bass) is an upcoming star just 2 years out of the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz School. He supported effectively, led often enough, provided one of the compositions, and soloed with real maturity. And he had a great sound, and a lovely right hand technique. He also smiled a lot and kept good contact with Mike Nock. He was obviously having a good time. James Waples (drums) easily matched and supported the others. To me he seemed more cool, and he showed his mettle with subtle backing, controlled sounds and several solos, especially one lengthy standout solo at the end of the night.

The repertoire covered standards to originals to totally improvised on the spot (it’s a daring crew, this). It included Ellington’s “I let a song go out of my heart”, Bernie McGann’s “Spirit song”, Mike Nock’s “Blues for…”, the standard “Get out of town”, Mike Majkowski’s fluid original “Rising & falling”, Mike Nock’s mashup “So what, it’s summertime”, Green Dolphin Street, and Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”.

Henk van Leeuwen, Mike Nock, Chris Deacon (from left)

So a great night of excellent playing. There was a small but happy audience of ~90 people – high art always struggles against pop but moreso in this celebrity age. Thanks to Henk van Leeuwen for his work in promoting and touring quality music like this. And to Chris Deacon of ArtSound who recorded this concert. Keep an ear out for the replay on air sometime in the next month or so.

  • Henk's Australia Northern Europe Liaisons site
  • 22 September 2006

    Mothership lands in Canberra

    “10 Part Invention … we’re better. There are only 10 of them.”
    It was obviously a jest from David Theak: brimming with pride in his band, but also respect (and a touch of competitive spirit) for the other ensemble. The band was enjoying itself, and it was evident. The 17 (yes, 17!) members of JazzGroove’s Mothership Orchestra were on tour, occasionally smiling, but mostly concentrating on the charts, and playing exciting music with the visiting German pianist. How could they not be having a great time? And the feeling in the audience was mutual.

    A big ensemble like this is a rare experience. They are expensive to bring together, and demand complex charts, and presumably a good deal of rehearsal. Mothership’s tour is promoting their CD, “The Mothership plays the music of Mike Nock”. On the night, Mothership played some tunes from that CD, several by Florian Ross (the visiting German pianist and composer who was playing with Mothership) and a few others by members of the band. To represent the mainstream, there was even a rendition of Autumn Leaves (arranged as Autumn Things) which, I thought, was evidence of the nature and the quality of the performance. The head was obvious enough although slightly twisted, but the harmonically adventurous solo by Florian Ross was abstruse, while the chordal structure just hung in there due to some adventurous, but still evident bass from Brendan Clarke: quality stuff. There’s tons you can say about this night. An enthusiastic, but not large, audience; interesting and engaging charts; rich moving harmonies; melodic lines bouncing around between sections; rich and varying tonal palettes; strong rhythms backing some great solos. The power of a big ensemble like this is something different from the best small jazz combo. It’s loud, complex, mobile, rich; it’s another experience although still jazz, and too rare.

    Of course, there are always solos in jazz, and no disappointments here. For me, some standouts were Florian Ross with harmonically rich solos that only a pianist can do, and a crossover classical-music approach in several spots which identified him to me as a European jazz player. At one stage, there was a unique string of solos in a straight blues tune where four consecutive trombone solos (!) were followed by a fabulously melodic, fluent and expressive bass solo by Brendan Clarke. There were several solos by David Theak on alto or soprano sax that I particularly enjoyed and some guitar solos by James Muller that just brought the house down. The last developed from fast and interesting, through sweeps and whole tones and Scofield, to free and passionate, and ultimately to a dead stop; truly overwhelming. A guitar-playing mate from the Jazz School said to me that he’s the best guitarist in Australia. I could believe it on this performance. But everyone played his part well, and perhaps it’s unfair to single some out.

    I give thanks that we have these dedicated musicians to commit to art like this and funding agencies (in this case, the Australia Council for the Arts) to support them, so we are not totally reduced to the lowest common denominator pap of the music marketplace*. Australia boasts three significant large creative jazz ensembles that I can think of – Ten Part Invention, Australian Art Orchestra and Mothership Orchestra. Don’t miss any one of them if you get the chance. Mothership are still on tour for a week or so, playing at the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium on 29 Sept, and Sydney's Seymour Centre on 30 Sept. Catch them if you can.

    Click on image to enlarge

    On the night, The Mothership were: Florian Ross (Germany; piano, composer, arranger), David Theak (lead alto & soprano sax, clarinet), Murray Jackson (alto & soprano sax, clarinet), Roger Manins (NZ; tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Scott Langley (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Nick Bowd (baritone sax, bass clarinet), James Muller (guitar), Evan Mannell (drums), Brendan Clarke (contrabass), Simon Ferenci (trumpet, flugelhorn), Darryl Carthew (lead trumpet), Tim Crow (co-lead trumpet, flugelhorn), Mat Jodrell (WA; guest trumpet), Jeremy Borthwick (lead trombone), Lucian McGuiness (trombone), Danny Carmichael (trombone), Colin Burrow (bass trombone)

  • Mothership Orchestra website

  • * For more on jazz in free markets, “Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address” by Stuart Nicholson (available from the Canberra Public Library Service)

    17 September 2006

    Wagga Jazz Festival

    I got to the Wagga Jazz Festival last weekend (this year it was Fri 8 – Sun 10 September). First thoughts? The venues are fairly spread out, so there’s a bit of walking, but there was a free courtesy bus running between venues. There were 8 stages, in 5 main venues. The equipment was very good: big JBL PAs that were great, but total overkill; upright pianos being constantly retuned; bass amps like SWR, Ampeg, Hartke and Yamaha and good drums kits.

    The festival had a lot of traditional, or old-style jazz formats (perhaps more so this year?), so it didn’t have quite the appeal to the CJ modern-jazz crowd. But I enjoyed a few bands.

    From left, Geoff Woods (bass), Jeff Bartram (piano), Graham Morris (drums)

    The mainstream cum modern Jeff Bartram Trio from Melbourne played the first set I heard that interested me, so they came somewhat as a relief. JBT is Jeff Bartram (piano), Graham Morris (drums) and Geoff Woods (bass). Jeff plays a modern style and does it well, and is well accompanied by the others. My impression was that the bassist was new to the band, but he did a perfectly good job. JB provides an amusing, commentary as he jumps up and down from the piano between tunes. They played standards: Stella…, Daydream (Ellington/Strayhorn), Old folks, Whisper not, Lush life and the like. Nice tunes, with a steady backing, and a piano moving pretty freely over the bar structure, with a fair degree of interesting dissonance. Nice stuff. I caught JBT the next day as the Rising Sun Quartet with Ron Anderson (sax, flute). RSQ were also interesting and capable. A real surprise came when Ron Anderson took over the piano as the Ron Anderson Trio and led a perfectly capable piano trio set; impressive.

    The other find was Michael McQuaid’s Red Hot Rhythm Makers. MM’sRHRM is a Melbourne nonet playing the big band music of the 1920s/30s. And what a band! These were authentic renditions of Ellington and other bands of the period: wispy, glissando vocals with slight US accents; accurate but relaxed readings of complex charts; plenty of solos moving around between instruments; lots of instrumental colour played by talented multi-instrumentalists. Great stuff. There’s a big Canberra connection here, too. Mike McQuaid is a Canberra boy (someone said Phillip College), and Sandra Talty (drums/vocals) is also from Canberra. More generally, the band is obviously well trained, presumably all products of tertiary training. MM’sRHRM are Michael McQuaid (trumpet, sax, clarinet), Simon Holman (trumpet), Cassandra Liston (trombone), Jason Downers (sax, clarinet), Joel Dullard (sax, clarinet), Lauren Van Der Werff (sax, clarinet), Liam O’Connell (banjo, guitar), Richard Mander (double bass, tuba), Sandra Talty (drums, vocals).

    I’m currently reading “Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address” by Stuart Nicholson. In short, it argues that jazz has become a museum piece in the US, and that the Marsalis phenomenon (young lions playing dead styles; an essentially conservative approach to jazz and the production of a classical jazz canon) has considerable responsibility for it (along with commercial interests and jazz education). I’m not taking sides, but I can confirm it is deeply researched, and he has some incredibly damning quotes from people of the highest stature in jazz, so it’s worth consideration. So, I was thinking about this while I listened to McQuaid’s band and the whole Wagga Festival. And my concerns grew when I heard some trad-type making denigrating comments about modern styles over the PA at one venue. This is not unknown at other jazz festivals, and, at the very least, it’s bad manners.

    Otherwise, I liked a small group of school-aged kids called Blind Pilot. They were a little out of place playing an alt-rock set rather than a jazz one. But they had good vocals, at least one interesting original tune, and not a grey hair amongst them. Worth watching with more experience. I also caught the last tune of the Australian Army Band Kapooka. Professional, entertaining and slick as always. Otherwise, it was trad, or sitting over a beer in one venue or another.

    I played latin/funk with Sandias at Wagga. Sandias were Oliver Hague (sax), Margaret Hancocks (flute), Liam Wilson (piano), Mike Smith (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). At its best, Sandias plays some tasteful melodies with the front line (the sax and flute can sound really sweet together) on top of interesting grooves, thanks especially to Liam's reliable cross-rhythms. On the day, we weren't playing our best, especially for the second set, but, hey, there's always Moruya.

    As for Wagga, my motel was cheap, the architecture was very interesting and some of the local night-owls were openly abusive and threatening. Admittedly, Wagga’s not the only place you experience this, but it happened separately to both me and another of my party, and it was not pleasant, and it left a bad taste. So, I enjoyed it well enough, but I was not ecstatic.

  • Wagga Festival website
  • 15 September 2006

    Jess Green wins award

    Jessica Green has won the Jann Rutherford Memorial Award for 2006. The award assists the professional development of an outstanding young female jazz musicians.

    Jess was born and raised in Canberra, and completed a Bachelor of Music (Jazz Studies) majoring in guitar at the Canberra School of Music, ANU. She graduated with first class honours and received the Director’s Prize.

    Congrats from Canberra Jazz.

  • Announcement at Jazz Australia
  • 12 September 2006

    Bernie McGann - guest review

    Text by Gilles Rohan

    Bernie McGann played at Geoff Page’s “Jazz in Concert at the Gods” on 2 May 2006.

    Since I first saw Bernie McGann at “Morgan’s Feedwell” in Glebe, Sydney, over 20 years ago, he has mellowed yet retained the inventiveness and thoughtfulness that has made him stand out in the Australian and global jazz scenes. In those days the “freer” exuberance of a certain lineage was evident. Bernie would exhibit a musical vitality that would leave the average heavy wotsit rock band for dead despite the obvious aggro of unbridled decibels. I’ve seen him play a number of times since then and have never been disappointed.

    On this night, as on others, in the intimate surroundings of the “Gods”, one had a very 50s to 60s ‘jazz club’ experience, without the smoke; I’m not referring to the preponderant age sample present – we get to see some more youthful types at the gigs – not just the musos!

    Bernie, as usual, worked well with the other members of the band. There was Warwick Alder on trumpet, Lloyd Swanton on bass and the young Alex Masso on drums, replacing John Pochée who was unable to make it on the night.

    Bernie manages to craft velvet to gutsy sounds that meld with the other players’ contributions in a frequently retiring manner. No shove it in your face arrogance here. He can still teach a few the value of vibrant yet unassuming performances. Sure, the years have softened the sharpest edges of his phrases, yet there are enough examples of the current variety to make it all very worthwhile.

    Between the sets I had a brief chat with Bernie. I purchased a couple of his recent offerings: ‘Blues for Pablo too’ and ‘Live at Side on’– what can I say? Excellent.

    He still seems very much “driven” by his music, and, when I asked him if he saw himself playing for some time yet, he answered along the lines of “what else is there?” Good question.

    Thanks to Gilles Rohan for this review. It's the first guest review for CJ. We welcome others. I can't attend everything, so get in touch if you can help. Probably the easiest way to add your input is to email a Letter to the editor. See the CJ's Letters page for instructions.

  • Pic from this concert
  • 03 September 2006

    Colours of young Canberra women composers (CD review)

    A CD is more a challenge than a live gig. It’s a statement. It doesn’t disappear into the ether like a gig, so you need to produce a worthy work, and be proud enough to promote it. So hearing one impressive track on ArtSound when this CD was the feature of the week raised my interest, and then getting an email from Sally Greenaway to promote it was doubly interesting.

    Take it in colour is satisfying for several other reasons. Firstly, it highlights the work of women in jazz; in this case, four young but very accomplished women. Secondly, these are not just women performers blowing a set of standards, but four composers with a range of styles (most important). Thirdly, it’s a diverse mixture of formats – big band, large ensemble, various smaller combos, with and without vocals, and solo percussion. And fourthly, perhaps as an aside, it’s a product of the CSM’s recording studio. So I found this album fascinating in its diversity and accomplishment but also just plain entertaining.

    Jenna Cave opens the set with big band and large ensemble pieces. Jenna is an alto sax player, majors in composition, and is a member of the CSM Recording Ensemble. She offers three tunes with richly orchestrated arrangements with surprising maturity. The first, Cardinal Lemoine, recalls Jenna’s time in Paris. The second, Journey, is a complex, more composed piece, with four parts of distinctly different rhythms and feels, including fast modal and 6/4 swing. Jenna also reappears later on the CD with a song, Through the sky, where the voice part is strangely horn-like. The large intervals are ably handled by Madeline Hawke, and the balance (including the voice being occasionally lost in large horn sections) confirms the impression of an instrumental part.

    Sally Greenaway follows Jenna’s opening with three tunes. Sally is a piano player, and the one player I knew of before this CD. Sally’s is a quite different set: it’s more restrained, matching the nature of her solo playing. She starts with Sequira, a piano trio (piano, bass and percussion) with an Egyptian theme. I heard Asian, at least in the keyboard sound, but the harmony sounded more Middle-Eastern. Percussion rather than drum kit gives the tune a different flavour. A big band tune, E11eventy, follows. Again I heard echoes of Bill Evans’ Sketches of Spain (I’d heard it earlier in Jenna’s Journey). This is a fairly simple tune with parallel harmonies, but it has an unforced nature that is wonderfully self-evident. I liked it. Sally’s third tune, Lymph node, is another complex piece, this one dedicated to her father.

    Fionna Tamin offered another change: she writes and sings two songs, Coffee song and I’d live better in my dreams, and performs them in a standard small combo format. These are in a popular style, but they are engaging. The first mulls over a lost, but imperfect, love while sitting with a coffee. The second tells of a series of dreams she had in her home of Jakarta. They reminded me of US West Coast styles, especially Michael Franks. Guitar-based, light but entertaining and interesting.

    Phoebe Juskevics finishes off the set. Firstly with a tune with a disconcerting title, Beautiful hate. It’s a trio improvisation with piano, bass and percussion in two parts. Interestingly, her second offering, Freedom, is a percussion solo at the end of the CD: a great and unexpected twist to round off the session. Sadly, Phoebe was overseas so she’s missing from the cover pic.

    If you’ve got the feeling that this is a good outing for lots of the students (given plenty of solos and big band arrangements), you’re right. Twenty-four players appear on the CD, and the names I know are virtually all students. I was impressed by the quality of the ensemble playing. I felt a few solos lacked confidence in the studio environment (it’s a hard call to turn on your improvisation on call in that environment), but the band playing was really good – the rhythms were solid and tight, and the harmonies were well pitched. Congratulations are definitely due here to both students and their teachers. I’ll single out Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Neils Rosendahl (saxes) for their solos – these really are players of note, and the quality of their solos is no surprise. I also liked Sally Greenaway’s solos, which are expressive and introspective, and Ben Roger’s bass playing and especially his lovely jazz bass tone.

    So, Take it in colour is a very satisfying CD and a most impressive effort for these four women (and their colleagues), doubly so given it's their first outing.

  • Take it in colour website