08 December 2006

Jess & Niels

Last night’s White Eagle was a night of maturity in several ways. In the musical sense, it was a homecoming for two wayfarers and ex-Jazz School students, and both presented mature, developed music. In the performance sense, it was a big night at the White Eagle, with perhaps 150 people in attendance at the last show of 2006.

The crowd celebrated the end of a great first year for the White Eagle sessions. Earlier this year, several jazz students took on the task of presenting themselves and developing their own venue. Like Jazzgroove in Sydney, they’ve taken control of their own art through a cooperative venture. It gives Canberra a venue for performances by its own peripatetic offspring jazzers, and gives the current crew of developing musos a venue to perform, meet and jam. And the big turnout included the families of some of the visiting players as well as lovers of the art. So congrats to Ed, Phill and Hannah for the White Eagle success.

The first players of the night were the Niels Rosendahl Quartet. Niels has just arrived back after a year travelling in Europe and SE Asia, and further studying his tenor sax. He instantly impressed me with a new calmness and sureness in his presence; with clear and purposeful improvisations; with understated but nonetheless fast and complex lines; with clear and impassioned articulation. What he played was necessary, not just impressive. Niels had recommended a book to me the previous night, “Zen guitar”, as a good read, so it was no surprise that exuded a zen-like bearing on the night. He’s obviously developed immensely after time in SE Asia and Europe, mostly in Edinburgh. From the rubato start of “God bless ye merry gentlemen”, to another rubato section on the final tune, “Silent night”, the selections were apt and the performance was convincing. Otherwise the band played various original tunes by Neils and Michael A.

From left, Niels, Michael, Ed and Bill

The band was an impressive unit: Michael Azzopardi (piano), Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Bill Williams (bass) accompanied Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax). Michael played with incredible energy and commitment as always; Ed was connected and interpretive; Bill was a rock with strong walks, and intriguing solos with a hard, clear tone. Ed told me afterwards that he felt all was inevitable and correct while playing with Neils. It showed. Niels finished the night by inviting John Mackey up for a minor blues, so it all ended with the local tenor masters at play. Niels continues to improve and impress; watch him.

The Jess Green Septet was totally another proposition. Jess composes and leads a band with a broad, inclusive, world style. There were infectious rhythms borrowed from all over the place (rockabilly, blues, garage bands and reggae were in there, and she has a connection with, and influence from, Ghana). There were varied time signatures (7/4, 5/4, lots of triple times, 3/4 or 6/4, as well as the old standard, 4/4). There were varied harmonies and counterpoint in the 4-part horn section. So this was orchestrated music, of a modern, global style, with jazz leanings, and plenty of improvisation. What got me about the improvisations was the appropriateness of the solos to the musical context. As well as actively leading the band, Jess plays guitar. She did several wonderful, understated solos with soft picking and a bell-like tone on her Telecaster Thinline (the semi-acoustic model with humbucker pickups), as well as holding lots of rhythms with riffs or even simple chordal work. All the horns played solos, as did drums and bass. In one spot, there was an unusual combination of trumpet soloing against drums, then becoming more standard as the bass joined the action. Zoe Hauptmann is a great bassist, and I loved her immensely fitting solos on two tunes. Her match with the rhythm and groove and horn-based harmonies, and the spaces she left for the horn parts, were immaculate. I was taken by her great, solid tone, too. She works the strings hard, and the resulting sound is solid and dirty and endlessly reliable. I also particularly liked the varied harmonies from the horn section. The writing was good, and the players combined beautifully. And Chris T, sitting in for the night of drums, did a great job. So this was another mature offering; this time of original, contemporary, world-style music.

Jess Green with her Dad and brother

The Jess Green Septet were: Jess Green (guitar, composer, leader), Matt Keegan (tenor sax), Dan Junor (alto sax), John Hibbard (trombone), Simon Ferenci (trumpet), Zoe Hauptmann (bass), Chris Thwaite (drums, replacing Evan Mannell).

It looks like there’s no White Eagle session in January, but expect a return in February.

  • Jess Green's new CD, "Singing fish"
  • Niels Rosendahl's MySpace site
  • 07 December 2006

    Bernie McGann plays Hippo

    Bernie McGann is a legend of Australian modern jazz, and his performance at Hippo’s was confirmation, if confirmation was needed. Bernie is now aged 69. His experience and history was evident in the honesty of his playing, and in the individuality of his style. His style is very much his own. He gets a mention in Stuart Nicholson’s excellent recent book on modern jazz, Is Jazz Dead?: (Or Has It Moved to a New Address), in a discussion of styles of music being different in different countries. He was given as an example of an Australian sound in jazz, that he was dry like the Australian bush (or something similar)**. I mentioned this to Bernie, and also to a few other musos on the night, and they could see the fit. Bernie seemed to take it as inevitable, given he is Australian. Others commented how unique his sound and style are. One sax player described his playing as like his voice: beyond thought of chord and structures; always responding to the other musicians; intimate and immediate like singing.

    His alto has a sinuous quality: twisting, fluid. He plays with seemingly indeterminate pitch and time, moving phrases over the beat structure, and bending notes at will. There are lots of long, multi-octave scales and arpeggios at different levels of dissonance and different substitutions. There were simple lines, perhaps repeated with changing discordance. Always with loose rhythm and pitch which makes everything a personal and intense statement, and always honest. He’d be playful, toying with the underlying structures, but there was always a connection to the underlying tune, and always an intense, ongoing rhythm. After the gig, he mentioned that he’d be happy to see people up dancing. It was a confirmation of the centrality of swing to his jazz; there was always this intense beat amongst all this exploration.

    Bernie was accompanied by Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums), Graham Monger (guitar) and Dirk Zeylmans (tenor sax). They all played well and were thoughtful in how they responded to Bernie. I expect his unique style makes for a demanding outing for his band. I’ve written on them all here; this report is one for Bernie.

    The tunes were bop and standards: My little suede shoes, Scrapple from the apple, Body and soul, Tenor madness, Night and day, and the like. There was no chat with the audience. Despite plenty of informed listeners, it was a noisy, chatty environment, so perhaps it didn’t lend itself to stage patter. Just two sets of intense jazz interpretation with a long, intense history behind it. Great stuff.

  • Bernie McGann at Wikipedia
  • Geoff Page's biography of Bernie McGann

    ** "His sound reminds me very much of the Australian landscape. Dry and brittle and almost Coocoboro-like [sic. I guess the transcriber meant "Kookaburra-like". ed.] about the way he plays ... if Jan Garbarek is a fjord man, Bernie is the opposite of that, he is dry, witty". Paul Grabowski on Bernie McGann in Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address / Stuart Nicholson. NY : Routledge, 2005, p.188.
  • 01 December 2006

    John Mackey CD launch

    John Mackey launched his new CD the other night with a fabulous night of impassioned, Coltranesque exuberance at Hippo’s. John, of course, is the sax teacher at the Jazz School and a product of Perth. He recorded his CD in Melbourne with some excellent sidemen, and John’s brother Carl, who also plays a mean tenor. The launch at Hippo’s only shared 2 players with the CD (John and Eric Ajaye), but it was a spirited band and they played several of the tunes from the CD.

    The band on the night comprised John Mackey (tenor sax), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Carl Morgan (guitar), Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). It’s amongst the crème of the local jazz scene and I’ve written on all these players over the months here at CJ. John is out front, with plenty of original blowing tunes, and hugely passionate and intelligent solos, with a massive 60s-Coltrane-influence. Miroslav provides harmony trumpet lines and great bop solos, and several excellent originals. Carl Morgan is all the rage at the moment, as a young (1st year) guitarist at the Jazz School who’s blowing with great confidence and competence and genuinely interesting, unfaked lines. He’s obviously a talent to watch. Eric Ajaye is, of course, our much-admired bassist with years of experience in the US with the big names. After looking at the liner notes of John’s CD, I realise John has plenty of names to drop to match Eric’s (Nat Adderley, Richie Cole, Dionne Warwick, Roy Hargrove, Toshiko Akiyoski and others vs. Bernie Maupin, Sonny Stitt, Gary Bartz, Victor Feldman, etc) but that’s another story. Michael Azzopardi is the master of frantic, dissonant soloing, and challenging, similarly altered and substituted accompaniment. And Chris Thwaite is the strong drummer in the corner, always with a strong and intimate connection with the others.

    The tunes included plenty of John’s originals, largely from the CD (Contemplation, Pressure cooker, See what happens, It’s the only thing to do, etc), a solo sax interpretation of Ellington’s “In a sentimental mood”, one of my favourite latin tunes, “Invitation”, and several of Miroslav’s excellent compositions (Delicatessen, For Woody, and that theme from Radio National’s Country Hour and an ever-popular tune for Wunderlust, the infectious Bronte Café).

    John’s bands do not make for a light and easy evening. He always plays with a barrage of notes, and screaming, passionate intensity, and there’s volume to match. But it was a thrill to hear this band, and every player was obviously enjoying the challenge immensely. From what Eric said about the recording session, it was similarly demanding. So take any chance you get to hear John and one of his outfits, and get a copy of his CD. Take it easy; it’s not one for the faint-hearted. But if you can handle the intensity, you’re in for a treat.

  • John Mackey at MySpace