08 January 2007

Jazz Rocks

I recently caught some of the Canberra contingent in Sydney at a daytime performance at The Rocks. Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and Brendan Clarke (bass), both products of the Canberra Jazz School, were playing with Bernie McGann (alto sax) and Susan Gai Dowling (vocals). It was a freebie performance in Rocks Square, presumably for the Festival of Sydney. It was easy-going music for the tourist masses (including me) on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but there was plenty of talent on show and it was always interesting.

Carl was playing with a lovely semi-acoustic tone. These were clear unadorned solos with chordal sequences, long controlled and sometimes geometric or patterned lines, and occasional lapses into dissonance. It was masterly playing, and it was recognised by the audience. Bernie was always his expressive self, with never an unnecessary note. Above all, I find his playing honest, at times simple and melodic, and at other times contorted and challenging, but always true and investigatory. I guess this comes with such maturity. Brendan laid down as solid a rhythm as you could have dreamt of, and soloed freely and intently. This was a band without a drummer, but the beat was so, so strong. Brendan, sometimes assisted by Bernie tapping on his horn, was always rock solid. No hesitation here. Susan Gai Dowling was new to me, although I’ve heard her on CD. She had a strong voice, occasionally overpowering the others through the PA, but great control, clear and emotionally appropriate renditions (as befits a Sunday afternoon, of course), some very nice reworkings of melodies, and an easy stage patter.

They played a repertoire of swing and latin, eg, Just in time, Lover man, Yesterdays, Serenata, Cottontail. The format was also pretty standard: vocals, solos for each instrument then vocals to end. But it was well played, relaxed and precise, and probing at times. It was a relaxing but classy afternoon interlude.

To end, there’s an amusing story. It was spitting lightly when Susan GD announced the band, so she introduced them as “The Rainmakers”, saying it always rained when they played in the Rocks. Within a few hours it was pouring in Sydney city, so maybe this band does good for the parched environment as well as the soul and the intellect.