25 February 2007

Blog entries skew whiff

It's a long story, but I had to reinput images on most of my blog posts. The result is that old posts are now displaying first on the CJ home page. I'll try to fix this, but if I'm not successful, just look at the Blog directly (follow the link on CJ's left hand column) to see recent posts. It'll all come back into synch over the next ten posts even if I can't fix it immediately. Apologies to Daniel who's my most recent review. I'll do my best, but sometimes it's a battle with the technology.

24 February 2007

With soul @ The Soul

I caught Daniel Hunter’s trio at the Soul Bar on Friday night. It was the end of the week, wind down time for local office workers, time for a few beers, time to liven up for the weekend. This was the background, and I thought Daniel and co did the job wonderfully. The trio was Daniel Hunter (guitar), Bill Williams (bass) and Kay Chinnery (drums) and Max Williams (tenor sax) sat in from the second set.

The first set was a series of standards played gently and capably at low volumes to match the early evening spot. The tunes were well known and eternal favourites like There will never be another you, Someday my prince will come, Footprints, and the like. The second set was much different: funky, bar-lively, louder and clearly upping the excitement level in the venue. I didn’t recognise many tunes here. There was a rocky, very changed version of All blues, and the others may have just been grooves. All were interesting. They sat in the groove well, the players interacted well, and the tunes moved and developed as they should.

Daniel’s jazz education to honours level clearly showed. He plays a restrained style, accurately and with care. His melodies are crisp, and his tone simple and unaffected. But he easily and frequently ventures into harmonic substitutions with a clarity and purpose that confirms the fit of the excursion. And he equally easily dropped into funky mode with wah and such effects that so make that style. It was professional and satisfying, and often intellectually captivating. Bill played great, fat walking and syncopated lines behind the standards set, and plenty of capable solos. His playing is always convincing: sometimes simple, sometimes more difficult, but always appropriate. During the funky set, he easily dropped into the syncopated rhythms, and, as often as not, was the one to set up the tune with a funky solo bass line. Kay played solidly, and underscored this complexity with simple but correct and solid drums lines, and played several solos or interludes of his own. Max is Bill’s brother. I guess he’s a younger brother, but he played with considerable ability. (The Williamses are obviously a capable musical family). When Max arrived, the music changed (this was the start of the funky set). The sax provided another lead line, and Daniel was freed to join the rhythm section at times. To be expected, the excitement level rose along with the volume and the sound got a little more muddy. But all this is as it should be, and the joint was humming as I left.

It’s refreshing to have such good quality music available as background in the bars in own. Let’s see more of it. Keep music live. Great stuff, and thanks to Daniel.

23 February 2007

In from Melbourne, off to Moruya

Leigh Barker and his quintet played at Hippos last Wednesday to launch their CD. It was a strongly local affair. The band is from Melbourne, but 3 of 5 are from Canberra and studied music here. Even the title of the CD was a giveaway: “Off to Moruya” was an obvious reference to our local and intimate jazz festival down the coast. The band is John Felstead (soprano, alto sax), Eamon McNelis (trumpet), Al McGrath (drums), Matt Boden (piano, accordion) and Leigh Barker (bass). FYI, the locals are John, Al and Leigh.

It was an interesting set. I was initially taken aback with a pretty old-style sounding jazz tune to start the night, Ellington’s "The mooch", and I wondered if this was to be outside my normal (modern) expectations. But any competent and serious artform knows and respects its history, and this was evident as I listened some more. This was a modern interpretation. It displayed considerable fidelity to the original, but the solos were often in a more modern vein, with dissonances not necessarily heard in the original versions. So, to me it was interesting and an eye-opener to other approaches to jazz.

This was music with a laid-back nature, thoughtful and considered. It was frequently composed and complex, but then opening to more individualist solo passages. I noticed a distinct change in the band’s sound when Matt moved between accordion and piano. The piano segments were richer with more complex harmonies and more modern solos. The accordion offered a more folky accompaniment, and while soloing was harmonically simpler and more dense with chords rather than single note runs. To me, John played the most harmonically challenging solos on the night (which saxes are apt to do anyway). I enjoyed following one particularly clear-cut solo which moved through scalar lines, diminished arpeggios, patterns, some nice licks, 4ths and the like: neat and cleanly structured. Al played some really impressive, clear, fast, diatonic bop-style solos, but also went out often enough. Leigh and Al supported with a rhythmic underlay which harked back to pre-modern styles, often playing a cut-time beat (2 beats to a 4/4 bar) on drums, and a matching two-feel bass line within a 4-to-the-bar walk. Occasional concurrent solos by the horn front line just confirmed the underlying pre-modern style of much of the music.

I enjoyed the Ellington starter and it seemed very appropriate, but otherwise the music was original. There was a suite written for the Merimbula Jazz Festival in two parts with a lovely discordant melody by multiple instruments to start the second part. There were ballads and funny titles. We were advised that “Attie’s exit” related to “Ray’s dilemma”, but we are none the wiser than that.

Nice stuff all around. So it seems Canberra is providing players of note for both the Melbourne and Sydney jazz scenes.

  • 15 February 2007

    A little piece of Africa

    There’s an obscure album from the 1970s which is one of the first that I ever bought, and perhaps for that reason, one of my all-time favourites. The record (they were records then) was “Love from the sun”* by Norman Connors. It’s from the “Back to Africa” era, when black jazzers took to wearing coloured African skullcaps, appended African names (eg Mwandishi Herbie Hancock) and supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The concert last night by Mosaic, with a visiting master percussionist, Bandika Ngao of Kenya, reminded me of this era. Actually, the association is blunt: Kenya is 90% Christian and there are masses of musical styles throughout Africa. But the complex African drum rhythms, the centrality of vocals, and the sheer joy of both Mosaic and Love from the sun justify some association.

    Mosaic was touring to release their new CD, and in Canberra for several performances for the Multicultural Festival. They are another excellent band out of Sydney’s Jazzgroove stable. Judy Campbell (vocals, some African instruments) convenes the band, and writes much of the music with Mark Ginsburg (tenor, soprano saxes, vocals, African drums). Other members on the night were Justine Bradley (vocals), Michael Carr (a visiting pianist from Austria), Brendan Clarke (bass), Jamie Cameron (drums), James Muller (guitar) and Bandika Ngao (percussion, vocals).

    Mark Ginsburg opened the night with a quartet set (Mark, Michael, Brendan, Jamie). These were mostly originals by Mark. This was an earthy, rather than flashy set, and its authenticity was to set the scene for the rest of the night. There was good, strong swing, solid and honest, quality but not flashy soloing, some less common times, some nice unison accents by the whole band.

    The whole band arrived for the next, blissful two sets. There was authentic African chant from Bandika, complex African rhythms from Bandika often supplemented by several other drummers, beautiful soaring voices, sometimes unison, sometimes three-part harmonies, great but never overstated solos all round. It was a marked change from the individualist approach of choruses and solos we usually hear at jazz clubs. I love that, of course, but this was communal, with complex rhythms growing out of multiple drum parts and rich vocals arising from simple but joyous melodies and equally happy and optimistic lyrics. The band was smiling, the vocalists glowing and Bandika beaming. These solos were integral to the music, so perhaps it’s not appropriate to highlight them, but I have to mention James Muller’s expert contributions which were frustratingly short, Bandika’s solos for his expertise and for the opportunity for those present to hear authentic, rich, African drumming, and a lovely solo by Brendan with his slightly edgy but rounded sound, accurate intonation and perfect suitability to the style. I found it a night of bliss. To end, they travelled out of Africa with a variation on a Jewish new year tune which you are unlikely to hear in your local synagogue, and then a final Brazillian-style tune called Meeting point. This was ecstatic and danceable, reminding me of Flora Purim and Airto. A fitting end to a joyous event.

    From left, Michelle, Sebastian, Eric, Martha

    Strangely, the audience seemed to be different at Hippo, perhaps due to the involvement with the Multicultural Festival. I include a pic of some people I met. Interestingly, two of them are jazz bassists: Eric, visiting from the Netherlands, and Sebastian, who had studied with George Urbasek and Eric Ajaye. Small world.

    *“Love from the sun” is my little known treasure from Oct 1973. To get an idea of the quality, look at the performers: Norman Connors, DeeDee Bridgewater, Eddie Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Buster Williams, Carlos Garnett, Bill Summers, Gary Bartz, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Kenneth Nash, Hubert Laws, Nathan Rubin, Terry Adams. Norman Connors seems to have moved into R&B, but the Net suggests his early ‘70s works are worthy jazz albums. This one's a goodie.

  • Listen to Judy Campbell's Mosaic on MySpace
  • 12 February 2007

    Jazz a la Turc or a lust to wander?

    The Multicultural Festival gave us a free afternoon of two very different forms of jazz, from Turkey and Australia. It was interesting to hear Turkish jazz. It wasn’t on my personal horizon, but Turkey is an intriguing country, and jazz is an international art form, so I was looking forward to it. And I always look forward to the world-jazz style of Wanderlust.

    The Onder Focan Group is a quartet of very capable mainstream cum modern musicians out of Istanbul. According to the brochures, OFG have “developed the project of Standard A La Turc. Their purpose is not just the synthesis of jazz and traditional Turkish music but rather to play and interpret the popular tunes of our country in accordance with our understanding as jazz musicians regardless of the source (pop, folk, Arabesque) of the tunes”.

    OFG are Onder Focan (guitar), Senova Ulker (trumpet/flugelhorn), Erdal Akyol (bass) and Ediz Hafizoglo (drums). They were a competent lot. I especially liked Senova’s solos, considered and clear, and often exploring alternative harmonies, but Onder played good, fast, tonal solos, and both Erdal and Ediz accompanied well and provided capable solos of their own.

    I had expected more unusual sounding Middle-Eastern scales and rhythms, but Turkey has always been a crossover point between East and West, so perhaps I am showing my ignorance of the local popular and folk musical forms. There were relaxed rhythms and gentle melodies, some latin-inspired liveliness, and at least one tune from Azerbaijan provided some Middle-Eastern sounds. We were all amused by some of the titles of the tunes they reinterpreted. Onder introduced the tunes with Turkish titles, then proceeded to translate them to considerable mirth. One theme covered wood burning in a guy’s fireplace. Maybe this is symbolic, but it gave everyone a good laugh on the day.

    If you can’t travel, then you can at least lust for it. So it was appropriate that Sydney’s Wanderlust played the next set. But Wanderlust was without its leader for the day. Apparently Miro was satisfying a wanderlust of his own, and was in Czechoslovakia. But jazz musicians being as well trained and capable as they are, they presented a fabulously capable, infectious, intelligent, well-received show, just sounding a bit different with a guitar/trombone frontline, no trumpet solos, and the amiable James Greening as leader for the day. This band is always so right, so infectious with its gentle rolling beats and world-wise melodies. It’s the right thing for a joyous, lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s a walk in the park, but with huge skills drawing us along.

    On the day, Wanderlust was James Greening (trombone/pocket trumpet), Jeremy Sawkins (guitar), Alister Spence (Rhodes piano), Zoe Hauptmann (bass) and Fabian Hevia (drums). James presented his usual master trombone solos, and entertained with amusing interludes (those present will remember with great mirth “one button out, but compared to the rest of life…”). Alister was an intellectual treat with incredibly exploratory harmonic treatments over that trademark Rhodes sound. Zoe is an ever-reliable rhythmic foundation, and I was stunned when even her solo which exuded rhythm at such a fundamental level. Fabian was blissful with solid rhythms and intensely rich cross rhythms speaking of Brazil, or more likely his native Chile. Jeremy was new to me. He played mostly in a staccato, biting, disjointed style, but then there was a layered solo passage of synthetic sounds and loops at one stage, and some big, distorted chordal work at another time that was so contradictory to the rest of the tune, but so apt.

    They played originals by several of the members, including a few by Miro: titles like Year of the pig and Mumbo gumbo. I recognised Dakar (a “dark and mysterous” piece in 9/4), and of course they finished with their hit, Bronte Café. It sounded strange with a frontline of guitar and trombone, and I thought it missed some rhythm guitar (the guitar taking the melody role on the day), but it went down a treat and finished on a high.

    Great concert. Thanks to the Multicultural Festival, the Tradies Club, and the players.

  • Focan jazz | Onder Focan
  • Wanderlust's website
  • 10 February 2007

    The team that brings you White Eagle

    Jazz at the White Eagle is turning into a major event. For those who don’t know, it’s a monthly performance and jam session run by several students from the ANU Jazz School. The driving forces are Ed Rodrigues, Hannah James and Phill Jenkins. Respectively, they play drums, bass and bass, so just goes to prove that the rhythm section is the driving force in jazz.

    From left, Ed, Hannah and Phill

    This is not music for the faint-hearted, but if you like to hear what musos choose to play for themselves or for other musos, this is it. The performance side regularly features musicians out of Sydney or Melbourne or top local bands, sometimes with staff from the Jazz School. The Sydney contingent is frequently out of the Jazzgroove cooperative. Many of the players from out-of-town have Canberra connections, being originally from Canberra and/or having studied at the local Jazz School. Following the featured bands, there’s usually a jam session with local students or graduates.

    The event is held at the White Eagle (Polish) Club opposite the O’Connor shops (otherwise the venue for the long-running folk equivalent, Merry Muse). It’s a comfortable venue, with cheap grog and Polish beers available, and uncommon but authentic Polish food. There’s plenty of time between bands for a chat, plenty of seating and Euro-café-style tables and easy parking, so it’s a comfortable and easy-going event.

    In addition, most of the sessions are recorded by Chris Deacon with the help of Neal Gowen, both from our local ArtSound FM 92.7, so you’re likely to hear snippets on radio after the event.

    Thanks to Ed, Hannah and Phill for their great work.

    Just $12 for a great night with drinks at club prices. BTW, there’s a link to White Eagle’s MySpace site at the top right hand of the CJ Home page for future reference.
  • White eagle's MySpace site
  • Carl D & Aunty Richard visit

    There was a wonderful twin performance (do musos call this a twin-set?) Thursday night to open the White Eagle series for 2007. Aunty Richard and Carl Dewhurst visited from Sydney. As you’d expect from the genealogical naming, these are family: three out of the six players were from Canberra and studied at the local Jazz School.

    Aunty Richard started with a highly syncopated groove set. AR is Joel Woolf (tenor sax), Ben Rogers (electric bass) and Tim Firth (drums). It was a great, open sound, especially as a sax trio without a chordal instrument, although Ben played so many chords and harmonics on a beautifully crisp, clear sounding Musicman 5-string bass that perhaps I shouldn’t say this. There were plenty of solos and a really effective interaction between players. Some tunes, if not all, were originals. Sometimes they were fairly simple grooves enhanced with immense dynamics and rich playing, but there were lots of complex time signatures, and changing times in different sections of the pieces. My reading of one (Temptations?) was that it comprised a ballad-like melody moving to an 8/8 passage, then to rock beats, and returning to the slow passage, with a drum solo in 10/8. But there was considerable variation. One tune started with a post bop intro, then into a meditative section, then a hard swing tenor solo with syncopated bass and drums. The set ended with Leaf blower. It was a Joel original. He described it as an outcry of anger and resentment over issues like David Hicks, Iraq War and the like, but brought to a head by a neighbour’s leaf blower one Sunday morning (many of us will both understand and concur). It comprised a heavy, angry rock rhythm surrounding passages which were both brooding and threatening. Nice one. I think this one is one their MySpace site.

    A great, inventive, modern start to the night, and a performance in one of the most interesting branches of today’s jazz. BTW, Ben is the Canberra connection, studying at the local jazz school to 2005.

    Carl Dewhurst’s Trio was obviously from another side of the family, because it was massively different in sound and conception, although it too was fabulously well played. Where Aunty Richard reminded me of M-Base and Buckshot LeFonque, CDT reminded me mostly of Cream, although in a jazz vein. It was intense, beefy, muscular, loaded with bell-like guitar solos, very responsive drumming, and a fat, woody, busy bass line.

    CDT comprises Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Cameron Undy (bass) and Evan Mannell (drums). In this context, Carl played fast and out. To me, it was a Mahavishnu-like sound and approach. Mostly the tunes were in this style, too: fluid, fast, intense, insistent, earthy, dynamic but not dramatically so. Again, these were largely originals, and with plenty of odd twists. Stutter shuffle was an obvious shuffle beat, but with very unobvious rests inserted as well as a few bars of simple swing. I tried to count the time signature. It was something around 13/8, but it wasn’t that. And on top of that, they managed a fabulous hard swing. Quirky and a huge challenge. Similarly with Pepe le Pieu, which was an equally quirky blues number. And (London) Geezer, dedicated to Cockney culture, which was a rock tune, with endlessly rising chords and a plucked rhythm pattern on the guitar. But just to confirm they do quirky, Carl brought out a Beatle-esque piece called Granite, which really did sound like it could have been from of the White Album era, and followed a little later with a version of Georgia. These two tunes displayed wonderfully controlled melodies along with rich chordal and octave soloing in Georgia.

    These are masters at work, and we caught them on their days off from the grind of commercial music making.

    So, after Carl and Aunty’s visit, what is there to say other than “Haven’t we got a talented family?”

  • Aunty Richard's MySpace site
  • Carl Dewhurst's website
  • 08 February 2007

    Euro guitars at Hippo

    The Quartet of Peter O’Mara and Barbara Jungfer played Hippo’s last night. Peter is an Australian, now resident in Europe, and showing the experience of performing on 50 CDs. Barbara is German, and renowned as one of the top female guitarists in Europe. So it was a night of and for the guitarists. Hippo’s was right when they announced this as a night of contemporary jazz with blues and groove elements. I particularly heard the blues lines, especially early in the night. But by the second set, the band was warming to more challenging and discordant flourishes, the guitars were out front with dirty and distorted sounds (after more ringing and clear sounds in the first set), and the Melbourne rhythm section pairing of Sam Anning and Ben Vanderwal was displaying its experience with funkier, more insistent beats for the guitars to blaze over.

    There were solos all round throughout the night. Peter could be bluesy, but mostly he played fast and often discordant lines, with lots of extended patterns, and often with that viscous feel of indefinite pitch that’s a Scofield trademark. Barbara generally had a cleaner sound, although she dirtied up from the second set, too. Her lines could be bluesy too, but then she would move to hammer-on flourishes and what seemed to be almost free jazz styles at times. Sam played plenty of interesting, beautifully rounded and sweet-sounding solos. He was obviously enjoying himself, and got some glances from Barbara, when he managed some fast unison lines with Peter on difficult head later in the night. Ben is a favourite drummer of mine, with correct but always challenging cross rhythms, sometimes using every knockable item within reach. On the night, his solos were kit-based, but lucidly clear in intention and precisely played and never predictable. Lovely.

    Szusza with a Peter O’Mara CD

    They played a variety of tunes. There were several blues with interesting changes and some standards, although the II-Vs were pretty well hidden by this outfit. I recognised a fast Footprints, Summertime in 5/4, and what I thought was How deep is the ocean, and there was a very catholics-like blues and another blues by Scofield or at least in that style (apparently Peter has studied with Scofield). Otherwise, I guess the tunes were originals, in a blues-infected, backbeat-rich style with plenty of room for solos.

    It was a nice return to Hippo’s for the new year. Hippo jazz gigs are on every Wednesday at 9pm, and they are always worth the visit. I don’t always list them here but there’s a link at the top right of the CJ home page.

  • Peter O'Mara's website