26 July 2007

What’s a House of Reps…

Here’s a riddle for you. What’s a House of Reps with four members, a young leader, endless down-to-earth go-ahead energy and hot air put to purpose. Why, it’s the HofR that played last night at Hippo’s. House of Reps is a great name for a band, especially for this collection of players. They are all based in Sydney (mmm, leadership material?), and three have major Canberra connections. HofR are Brendan Clarke (bass), Dale Barlow (tenor, soprano sax), Ben Hauptmann (guitar) and James Hauptmann (drums). Just like at the House on the Hill, there was a lot of blowing and huffing, but in this case, it was all in a good cause: an evening of hot and heavy rhythms, intense and sustained latin, bop and swing (and one lovely original ballad), and very capable and sometimes heavy soloing.

Dale Barlow is a renowned Australian saxist, having played overseas with top names, including Art Blakey’s famed Jazz Messengers. He set a high standard for the band, with a rounded, full tone and long, seemingly endless, fast passages, and extended, well formed solos. But he was just one of a group of busy players from the Sydney scene - no slouches, these. Ben backed with restrained, sometimes too quiet chordal work. But he loosened up with multi-octave arpeggiated runs and long, angular, cubiform solos, mostly using a distorted, sustained jazz-rock tone and occasional strange, effected tones. His brother, James, was massively energetic from the get-go. He was all driving rhythms, sticks flailing for frequent fills, and body moving in tandem with the music. This was infection and commitment at the individual level. Brendan seemed to be the leader, or at least he introduced the tunes. He was in the best form I’ve seen him. A clear, deep sound supporting fast walks and perfectly appropriate latins and fills, but he was a master on the solos. These were some of the most satisfying bass solos I’ve heard in some time. Ranging freely over the fingerboard, to the highest thumb positions, melodic, sustained patterns, accurately pitched, clear and audible, long and developed. Truly some excellent solos from Brendan on the night.

They played a mixture of originals and favourites. The opening Kenny Barron tune was followed by a lengthy version of Invitation. It’s a favourite of mine, and was interestingly juxtaposed with John Mackey’s Coltrane commemoration performance of the week before. There were also originals, including a rollicking hard bop piece by Dale and a truly satisfying ballad by Ben called Unity Hall. This was a big change from the rest of the night, mostly because it was of ballad format, but also because it was performed as a trio.

From left: James, Ben, Mike & Pam Hauptmann

The Canberra connection was strong. Brendan, Ben and James are all Canberra boys, and products of the Jazz school. Ben and James also have a sister, Zoe, who’s an excellent bassist and also based in Sydney. A talented family! So the night was one of family and friends, and the intimate atmosphere you experience when successful musos return to play in their home towns.

So, while many of us are waiting in expectation of changes in one House of Reps over coming months, I reckon this one doesn’t need any. I’m not so sure about the big House on the Hill.

PS. You can hear the other Hauptmann, Zoe, at the Gods on Tues 7 Aug. She’s playing with the Sylvia Mitchell Trio: Sylvia Mitchell (alto sax), Jess Green (guitar), Zoe Hauptmann (bass).

21 July 2007

Bloody cold night, hot jazz

Carl Morgan and Marc Hannaford each led trios for the latest White Eagle session. They shared a bassist and a jazz school. But otherwise these were very different outfits. Carl’s trio presented standard tunes with go-ahead bop playing. Marc was more the modern, compositional, creative end of jazz. But both gave us highly competent and interesting presentations.

Carl’s trio was Carl Morgan (guitar), Mark Sutton (drums) and Mike Majkowski (bass). This was a straight-ahead jazz outfit. There was at least one original by Carl, but otherwise the set was made up of renowned standards including Recordame, Coltrane’s Lazybird and Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile. Carl is well regarded at the jazz school and is developing into a masterful player. He uses a crisp, clear tone, perhaps with a little reverb, but otherwise uneffected. It allows lots of easily-understood scalar and arpeggiated runs and sometimes abstruse chordal backing (hints of Scofield, of course). And he also shows a more lyrical side at times. Mike capably held clear harmonic structures in walks and syncopated backings, and played several rhythmically strong solos. I particularly liked the fast and highly rhythmic solo passage to start Black Nile. Mark provided strong support or drums and some clearly stated solos. He was the oldest and presumably most experienced of this trio, and I feel it showed. The young guns like their fingers on the trigger; the wisdom of age is somewhat more restrained. Same as it ever was. And it’s great to see the tension. So, Carl’s trio gave us a very interesting, capable, straight-ahead performance.

Marc Hannaford’s was a very different trio. Partly because it was four piece for some time, when Miro joined in. But mostly because the music was so different. The band was Marc Hannaford (piano), Mike Majkowski (bass), Alex Masso (drums), sometimes with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet).

This was more modern, compositional, exploratory. I think the pieces were all compositions by Marc himself. I saw some charts, and they were pretty sparse, but they had underlying complex concepts, harmonies, ideas that were informing them. Apparently two tunes were based on rhythm changes, but throughout the night, I only heard one limited passage of perhaps 16 bars that was obviously these changes. And apparently Giant steps was hidden in there somewhere, but I never picked it up. (I wasn’t the only one to miss it). What I did hear was some interesting melodies with sometimes odd or broken times, obtuse bass lines, open and punctuated drums, ongoing fluidity and interactive changes of style including occasional free playing and some fabulous piano and trumpet soloing.

Marc introduced the tunes with titles like Beaver in the hallway (this was one where the title actually seemed to match the tune), Mustard cucumber (Mike’s favourite sandwich; sounds good; must try it), Dark pants, Fortunate incompetence, Cubist no. 7 (hidden rhythm changes; in retrospect, the cubist reference is apt). I loved listening to Marc’s piano solos. Fast, fluent passages broken in little snippets of a bar or two, or occasionally longer lines. Sometimes I heard modern classical; perhaps he has some classical training. Miro joined for several tunes. His playing was quite different, more bop-influenced. Again, great playing, and this despite being new to the charts. Both Mike and Alex formed a superbly effective component of all this. Alex was closely following the others’ playing. It was fairly soft volume- and touch-wise, but mobile. Mike changed style throughout, but his walks most interested me. His note choices capably obscured the underlying chords, to give that seemingly undefined tonal centre that makes for modern jazz.

Sadly, too few people attended. They missed some great performances. Also, the piano needs some work, or at least a tune. It was a pretty honky-tonk version of Marc Hannaford that we heard. But despite this, it was another great night at White Eagle.
  • Marc Hannaford's MySpace site
  • 20 July 2007

    Commemorating Coltrane

    It’s 40 years since Coltrane died on 17 July 1967. His career was short, but his influence is immeasurable. Enough so that one review of his classic album, A love supreme, states that it’s “almost impossible to imagine a world without A Love Supreme having been made”. That’s a big claim, but it’s a great album.

    John Mackey is a local tenor star and an ardent admirer of John Coltrane. That’s not unusual for a tenor player, but his performance in memory of Coltrane last night was truly unusual: powerful, true to form, and a blissful experience. It will rank for me as one of my memorable jazz nights. John was joined by Wayne Kelly (piano), Mark Sutton (drums), and a Sydney import for the night, Jonathon Zwartz (bass).

    Why so memorable? The tunes in the first half were fabulously played, but common enough: Some other blues, Invitation, Naima, Like Sonny and Giant steps. And the encore was that very common Coltrane standard, Impressions. The playing was always highly capable, always interesting, frequently stunning, and the players performed sympathetically. But what really stunned me was the beauty and extent and exuberance of the feature of the show: a performance of the classic Coltrane album, A love supreme. John introduced it as a celebration, not a replication. It’s an intense and immensely satisfying piece, and hugely challenging given its stature and the brilliance of the original players (Coltrane, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison). But John & co performed a stunning interpretation. I couldn’t imagine anyone avoiding goosebumps as that glorious melody from Resolution rang through the crowd. Or hold back the waves of chuckles and admiration as another immensely satisfying pentatonic solo rolls from the horn. Or indulge in the so-steady bass lines or the animated drumming or the rich chordal colours on piano.

    From the top, the night was hard bop, challenging harmonies, joyful twists and turns of immense musicality, sheets and slurries of notes and communicative, solid, sometimes sleazy, undercurrents from the rhythm section. It built from a moderate place, as did Giant steps itself, to a frenzy at the end of the first set. But the pinnacle was the album performance. A love supreme is made up of four parts: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, Psalm. It’s a rendition of Coltrane’s spiritual and meditative journey. It was a pinnacle for the night, and one major peak in the ranges of western music.

    The players all seemed inspired by the challenge. John was obviously respectful of his instrumental mentor. Variously fast and flowing, or thoughtful and restrained, or impassioned and clamorous. Mark was obviously in awe of Elvin. He played with a commitment, volume and mobility beyond what I’ve heard from him before. I loved Wayne’s chordal work above all, colouring and moving the harmony background for John’s solos. But then, his solos weren’t lazy, either. Jonathan played solid and fast, clearly and fluently, but impressed me particularly with individualistic solos. He’d lay back to take control of the scene at the start of a solo, then maintain and develop it and perhaps end with a sudden denouement. It was a fascinating approach. But the whole was greater the sum of the parts. This was a group effort on a huge challenge, and they pulled it off. John was somewhat thankful at the end – for Hippo’s ongoing support for jazz, and for an attentive audience. It was one of those nights.

    Thanks to John for leading this, and Wayne, Mark and Jonathan for taking on the challenge. Truly a performance to savour.

    16 July 2007

    A fedora is a hat

    A fedora is a soft felt hat as used through the mid-20th-century: narrow brim, creased crown, pinched in front, as in Bogart and film noir. Well dressed men wore them from the early 1900s to the ‘60s, but they faded after that. John Kennedy sometimes takes the blame because he didn’t wear one for his presidential inauguration. He actually wore a top hat and took it off for his inaugural speech, but nevertheless this is held as the marker for the end of the fedora’s prominence in American life. Not that men were actually so concerned. The English version is the trilby, as in the Avengers.

    In Canberra we have a particularly competent and busy commercial band called the Funky Fedoras. In their jazz incarnation, they are Angela Lount & the Fedoras. It was Angela and her crew that launched an album last night with an event at the Southern Cross Club. The band comprised Angela Lount (vocals), Wayne Kelly (piano), James Luke (bass), Mark Sutton (drums), Dan McLean (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Andrew Pogson (alto sax).

    According to the Canberra Times, this was to be a night of “classical jazz”, meaning the uberfamous, vocal standards. These were the tunes of Ella, Sarah, Errol, Fats: Misty, This can’t be love, Ain’t misbehavin’ and the like. There was also one original, a pleasant ballad penned by Angela and Wayne. My favourite song on the night was the bittersweet old tune Smile, which was apparently written by Charlie Chaplin for one of his films. (Was there no limit to Chaplin’s brilliance?) To end, there were some bluesy tunes, including a funky version of that sultry women’s number, Don’t touch me.

    The presentation was slick. Angela wore a long, slinky, glittering, black gown, and even changed her outfit for the second half of the set. The guys wore suits and multicoloured fedoras. The music was professional. The horn harmonies were mostly sharp as a tack. The arrangements were tight and impressive, in the show band ilk. The solos were brief and capable and in the requisite styles. Angela’s voice was dark and rich and sultry. So, popular jazz and classy entertainment.

    I liked the intimate atmosphere. It was noticibly a night for family and friends. Apparently, Angela is part of a large but close extended family. It showed. There was great joy and lots of familial welcomings in the audience. There was a voluble Tony McGee as host. There was even an appearance at one stage by Angela’s vocal coach, with the goss on Angela and her commitment to the craft of singing.

    This was professional, mainstream jazz as entertainment, and it was done well. Not performance on the edge (although these guys can play that too) but a friendly, pleasant, entertaining night for lovers of mainstream “classical” vocal jazz.
  • Funky Fedoras website
  • 11 July 2007

    Residential zone

    Long residencies are a special thing in music. They develop a particular mystique. They engender a family following (“like our living room”) but also a sibling-like interaction between the players. The gig at Trinity Bar in Dickson on Tuesday nights is one of these. Members have changed slightly over the years, but the core is still there, and the approach remains, along with the competency and interaction, and sheer intense groove of the session. This is a hidden gem of jazz in Canberra, and should not be missed.

    The band is Trident, or more correctly, Trident+1. Members are James Luke (bass), Lachlan Coventry (guitar), Chris Thwaite (drums) and Ben Marston (trumpet). Presumably Ben is the +1, although they’ve been “+1” both times I‘ve seen them recently. I wrote about the band when they played recently at White Eagle under Effects, anyone. Needless to say, they were playing with lots of processing and effects at that gig. James tells me they’ve recently dropped the effects, and it was a clean, clear performance at very moderate volume that they gave last night. But the playing was no less intense or capable. This was sharp, closely interactive groove based on well-disguised standards. Truly excellent playing, and perfect for the club venue.

    The first set comprised Nica’s dream, Nostalgia on Times Square, Stella by starlight and a blues that I didn’t recognise. As I said, it was well disguised. I’d listened for 10 minutes of perceptive solos against sharp funk and rock rhythms before there was a recognisable head or chord sequence on Nica's dream. Even when there was something recognisable, it was not expected: the bridge was a strangely timed unison bass/guitar part against the standard melody. And then it dissipated again, this time to reggae and another trumpet solo. The others tunes were just as unanticipated. James blew me out with a great Fender fretless jazz bass tone, a variety of tonalities, chords, thumbs, slap and fingerpicked funk. Pity about his amp which was breaking up occasionally. Lachlan played with a clarity and traditional tone from a semiacoustic. Chris had a minimal kit, and Ben was playing clean trumpet. But they all soloed excellently. Chris against some terrific band unison work on Nostalgia. James played some interesting cross timing, including half-note triplet chords against 4/4, and splendidly expressive lines. Both Lachlan and Ben soloed with panache, and moved into and out of tonality with ease.

    In all, a night of very capable laid back, varied and authentic grooves. Free entry, ubercool but comfortable surroundings and reasonably-priced drinks make this a must-do activity for a Tuesday night.

    Seth wishes Warwick a happy birthday

    Warwick, the renowned German manufacturer of electric basses, recently reached its 25th anniversary, and celebrated it with a string of events and workshops. The local ones were mostly in Melbourne, but we got a workshop here in Canberra with the American bassist/singer, Seth Horan. Seth didn’t really play jazz on the night. But he’d started on double bass, and still plays it, and showed awareness and love for it, and blew a few fusion solos on the night. Mostly, though, it was love-themed pop/funk tunes played by looped basses with his vocals over the top. It was good, capable playing: a great facility with slap, but also a little walking, tapping, fingerwork and fusion soloing. Most impressive. And there was the spiel for Warwick, which was interesting in itself: expensive tonewoods, raw or lacquered finishes, active/passive, pickup placement, setup, midrange punch. And, of course, the requisite jokes. Par for the course for bassists. It was a bit loud for my ears, especially when supplemented by a PA, but that’s the nature of these rooms. I won an embroidered Warwick t-shirt for asking plenty of questions (I had more). All round, good fun for bassists.
  • Warwick basses Australia
  • Hops and heads

    I caught David Rodriguez and his trio playing at the Belgian Beer tavern in Kingston. It’s a pleasant, relaxed venue on a Sunday afternoon. Windy outside; nice food and boutique beers inside. The drinkers and eaters were mostly oblivious to the music, as is common enough in bars, but the music itself is competent and well worth a listen. David was saying he tries to achieve this – interesting music for listeners, but not obtrusive if you’re just there for a chat. It’s a sensible way to get work. David (guitar) was playing this week with Hannah James (bass) and Sam Young (drums). They played gently on standards and latins. Nice, interactive playing. David leads on heads and solos. He’s got a lovely woody tone. I guess heavy strings, given how hard some bends seemed. Hannah played several satisfying solos which were craftily formed and true to the idiom. Sam took several solo passages, mostly swapping with David’s solos on eights or similar. I didn’t have the camera on me so no pics.

    04 July 2007

    Thank Gods for the fairer sex

    Sandy Evans’ gig got me thinking about women in jazz. I’m from a feminist era when differences were debunked. The fight was around equal pay for equal work, so the argument promoted parity. Yes, there was some awareness of difference, but the differences between sexes or cultures or social groups were seen as outweighed by individual differences. Dominant women and gentle men countered traditional stereotypes. Normal distributions overlapped to a degree that highlighted likeness where now we see difference. So I find it hard to ascribe differences beyond social conditioning. But still I’ve got a suspicion that women’s jazz is different, and the jazz of the trio led by Sandy Evans at the Gods last night was my latest subject of research.

    This was a band of intense concentration, frequent joy, authentic interactions and clear, melodic conceptions. It’s this feeling of story telling, of melodic honesty and a true improvisational closeness to the underlying tune, perhaps of a lack of male bravado, that seemed on display in this music. Sandy had been written up in that day’s Canberra Times, and was quoted on the differences between male and female student improvisors at the Sydney Con, so perhaps it was just on my mind.

    The band played in various styles - swing, rock, blues, calypso, jump jazz. The night was mostly originals, mainly composed by Sandy, I think, but there was also involvement by Brett. They played two standards: If I were a bell, and a rendition of that glorious gospel-drenched Ellington tune, Come Sunday. Any trio format is limited in options for sounds and solos, so the tunes were mostly heads by Sandy, perhaps unison with Brett, then sax and bass solos. There were several drum interludes. But the soloing was honest and true, and that’s not to say it didn’t display plenty of chops. It did, but it didn’t overwhelm the musicality.

    There was some gentle amusement that raised some chuckles. Sandy offered Miles albums for sale along with her own (surprisingly funny at the time). And again, when we expected her to comment on a title, she seemed to think twice and said instead “That’s all you need to know”. And there was a musical game called One for Harry which involved Toby controlling the tune by blowing a whistle. As I remember, one blast signalled the end of a passage in 2 bars, sometimes with a mighty flourish, and 2 blasts signalled the drum solo. Apparently his 7 year old son had taken the whistle days before, but he wasn’t available on the night, so Dad got the job. There was also some seriousness. Sandy spoke of a recent tour in the North and how aboriginal kids were going to school, and presented a much more positive image than we’re being fed during this election-aware, post-Tampa national emergency.

    Individually, their performances were a joy. Sandy plays authentic melodies on soprano and tenor saxes, and searching solos, in and out of tonality but not palpably so. She mentioned Joe Henderson as an inspiration. Brett plays with a heavy tone and in close relationship to Sandy; always expressive on that most clumsy of instruments. His were some great solos which were always true to form and tune. Toby could be busy or ecstatic, but again, always locked in expression with the others. These were three equal parts of a balanced mix.

    The Sandy Evans Trio comprises Sandy Evans (soprano & tenor saxes), Brett Hirst (bass), Toby Hall (drums). They gave us a night where the whole exceeded the sum of the parts. A true and honest expression of modern jazz in Australia.
  • Sandy Evans Trio website
  • 01 July 2007

    CJ's men in Sydney

    Thanks to Paul Sokk and Clement Kwok for their contributions from the Darling Harbour Jazz Festival. I can't show them all (they've sent lots) but here's a selection. I welcome commentary or pics for CJ: just email. Click on the pics to see in full size. Check the filename for the name of the band/muso and photographer. Follow the link below to CJ's full report on the Festival and more pics.
  • To the Harbour, Darling? (CJ's full report on DHJF 2007)