24 March 2011

A world in a raindrop

So I was thinking while listening to the detailed but totally unconventional music being played by Jim Denley and Mike Majkowski. They performed as BLIP during their East Cost tour stopoff at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop for a small group of intense listeners. You have to be an intense listener for this music, to pick up those details in the raindrop. It’s something we forget – that there are sounds everywhere, sounds we can wring from anything. This music makes you remember. The techniques are totally unconventional, of course, so it amuses me that they use conventional instruments to do it. But the intent and the seriousness is there, and the beauty is also evident if you open your mind and ears to the detail. What’s the sound of a balloon path from mouthpiece to alto? Or drums sticks on bass strings, or vibrator in alto bell, or clappers damping bass strings? Or the more earthy and unmediated, like mouth clicks and pops or a stick swishing through the air? It’s that elemental and basic: quite beautiful but otherwise unnoticed. Like windchimes, it’s music of the environment. I’m wondering if that makes it a signature music for our age. It’s certainly not sophisticated (in the original meaning) or urban or I might even say civilised, despite the lovely tarnished alto and the dark, mysterious, rich-sounding bass. There’s technique there. I could see it in Mike’s strong and precise bass hands which he did use for occasional thumb position playing, and heard it as he warmed up on free jazz (for once more traditional and less challenging than the music they played). But abandon the conventional, all ye who enter here. I said to Jim afterwards that I had no idea what they were doing. He (perhaps jokingly) said he felt the same. It’s a world of its own, this art sound, and worthy and fascinating in its own way.

Locals Andrew Fedorovich and Luke Penders had opened the night with their takes on this style. Andrew played an alto in a mostly conventional way (with lips and no preparation) but the sounds were multiphonics and tonguings and slapping keys and solid, unexpected low notes with airy tones clouding above. This was quiet and pensive, sometimes jagged and gentle so it was occasionally interrupted by the noises of the outside street. Luke performed a piece of electronica with laptop, reference monitors and the like and, what amused me, a synthesizer in a Nintendo (!), the Korg DS-10. Funnily enough, this was the most harmonically structured piece of the night (who would’a thunk it?), with repetition of harsh heavy metallic sounds and a signature truncated rising tone mixed with clicks and pops and random noises. The cosmic background made electronic art.

Not a night to invite Megan! Jim Denley (alto sax, baritone flute, wooden flute, balloons, etc) and Mike Majkowski (bass, bells, whistles, drumsticks, etc) performed as BLIP. Andrew Fedorovich (alto sax) and Luke Penders (electronics) performed as a warmup.

This is CJBlog post no. 600.

21 March 2011


It was under threatening rainclouds that Megan and I caught Vertical and DeeJay Gosper at Lanyon. I’ve written about both here, so no need to write extensively.

Vertical doesn’t perform too often but it’s a pleasure when I catch them. Their music is inventive, both in Paul’s arrangements of classic pop tunes and original tunes by Eric and Niels. It gives the players a more challenging framework than the stock standards and you can sense the band’s response. Eric stunned with some fluent solos (nothing new!). I especially noticed one on Niels’ tune, Monday night at BMH, a straight-ahead post-bop reminiscing on London’s Bar Music Hall, with diminished double stops and a Stanley Clarkish pizz descending slide that ended with a few delicious articulated notes low on A- and E-strings. Niels always impresses me with a gentle lyricism that breaks into easy dissonance and speed. Paul explores and moves harmonies with ease, but I noticed it more in his comping this day. I also noticed how easily Chris and Eric moved underlying grooves throughout the two sets, holding steady then regularly changing for development or variation, all so clear and uncluttered and so well shared throughout the band. There were rearrangements of One hand, one heart from West Side Story (it’s such a beautiful song but does anyone else play it?), Beatles’ Blackbird, and of course Raindrops keep falling on my head, and a few originals including Eric’s pensive Homeward and Niels’ Monday night at BMH. This is a band of seriousness and easy competence that always rewards an attentive ear.

DeeJay arrived soon after with her crafted blues and light jazz. This is a different approach. Still careful and precise but a bit less mobile and embedded in an earthier blues tradition. The tunes were standards from both blues and jazz repertoires with a mix of originals that DeeJay has penned. Bass was covered by busy Mike’s left hand. Guitarist Damien Neil was new to me with well articulated country-cross soloing that added a tinkling air over the more earthy blues harp and vocals and piano/drums. I was also most impressed by the clarity of sound. This was outdoors so free of mushy reverb. The voice was louder but unusually free of colouration. I think the PA was HK Elements with a Soundcraft mixer. It was just a small bin and the thinnest stack of tweeters that stood about 5 feet high, but amazingly effective technology.

Vertical are Eric Ajaye (bass), Niels Rosendahl (soprano, tenor sax), Paul Dal Broi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). DeeJay Gosper (vocals) led a band with Mike Dooley (piano), Damien Neil (guitar) and Michael Stratford (drums).

20 March 2011


Shoeb Ahmad and his digital processing was the common feature at a challenging concert I attended yesterday. Spartak played the first set with two numbers. Austin Buckett presented a work originally written for a string quartet as the second.

This was a larger, 5-piece Spartak. I’ve written here of Spartak as a duo. The essence of drums/percussion and processed instrumental sounds was still there, but this was bigger and more exploratory. The first tune was indicative of the approach and structure. Evan started by setting percussion rhythms. Tim introduced a simple melodic line on trumpet, repeating with some small variations. Andrew played mostly harmony notes. He once inserted a snippet of modern jazz (lovely) but returned to simpler harmony notes, which are a better base for Schoeb’s digital manipulations. These digital sounds formed an intense and all-encompassing background for snippets of notes and varied percussion until Tim restated his simple melody and the tune ended. Guitarist Morgan was also there with few notes but extended effects. I couldn’t identify his part, although Shoeb was obviously clear on his space. It’s music that has its own logic and art and it demands intense contemplation. I find it rewarding although the passers-by at the Street seemed a bit non-plussed. I found the clarity and strength of the trumpet was perfect to cut through the environmental noiseworks and also as a base for these manipulations. I also noticed the tunes grew and fell away (obvious enough) and interestingly it was the human sounds that made growth and the digital sounds that accompanied the decay. Not sure I can read any more into this than that the digital followed the instruments, but maybe it’s a comment on our human progress? Growth as a search for harmony, tonality, melody, structure; digital as mechanical, intervened, under human control but not human. The second piece first had me amused with shades of scifi: R2D2 and, more profoundly, Forbidden Planet. Again, the trumpet set intervals and the alto found harmonies, and the electronics bent and repeated these sounds and fed them back amongst a clatter of rhythm. These are not easy sounds, but they are satisfying.

The second set was Austin Buckett leading a performance of his piece, Stuttershine. It was originally written for a string quartet but performed here by piano, cello, viola and violin with digital manipulations. It started sparse, with rubato notes passed between piano and strings and built to end with a constant arpeggio-like single-note passage on piano that seemed to restate the sparse melodic movements of the first part. Over this was again the digital processing of strings by Shoeb. I really enjoyed the un-manufactured sounds of acoustic stringed instruments as well as the ringing acoustic piano tones. The digital reformulations seemed a bit intrusive to me although the concept of a reworked environment was good. Perhaps this was just a little too loud or edgy for the gentle stings. I found it satisfying work of composition and of performance, somewhat related to Spartak, perhaps as the distant more-upright cousin?

How great is it that we have such music here? Congratulations and thanks from CJ. BTW, my title, Kaoss, makes reference Shoeb’s principal interface for these digital manipulations, Korg’s Kaoss Pad dynamic effect processor. Shoeb was using the mini-KP with laptop and numerous other digital dongles. Spartak was Evan Dorrian (drums), Shoeb Ahmad (digital manipulations), Tim Bowyer (trumpet), Andrew Fedorovich (alto sax), Morgan McKellar (guitar, delay). Austin Buckett (piano, composer) led a quintet comprising James Larsen (cello), Xina Hawkins (viola), Elyane de Fontenay (violin) and Shoeb Ahmad (digital manipulations) playing his piece, Stuttershine.

19 March 2011

We are (increasingly) one

Thanks to Nathalie's Myspace site for the lovely pic. It's so enchanting I had to borrow it. Eric

World music seems to be globalising like everything else. Globalisation’s great when it means we can travel more easily and buy online and eat various foods and we don’t have to worry about travellers’ cheques. It’s not so good when it gives us GFCs or local business bankruptcies and mega-corporations. So there’s good with bad and it’s inevitable as we move to a global society. I just hope it’s managed well and for all. There’s good and bad for culture, too. Modernist art was much influenced by “primitive” (read non-Western) art a century ago, and it goes the other way so Anglo-American pop influences “world” music. Again, not all for the bad, but it removes some of the surprise value.

So I was thinking when I heard Nathalie Natiembé yesterday at the Street Theatre. She was here with her band to perform at the WOMAdelaide Festival and we were lucky enough for the Street to bring her over for our Canberra birthday celebrations. I really liked her reggae and funk and other grooves but they were not particularly new to my ears. That’s what I mean: even lots of “world” music (I use quotes because it’s only “world” from our Western POV) is not particularly different from other popular musics these days, but neither is it all the same. There were some less common instruments (kalabash and djembe) amongst the Nords and Rolands and EVs and Ampegs and Godins and the wonderful MeyerSound PA (UPQ-1P?). Nathalie sang in French and Creole, so the languages are not our too-internationalised English. She sang about her formative experiences and cultural background relevant to her Le Reunion island origins: slavery and women and family. Some of this is shared, some not. I did notice an African love of movement. She flailed her arms and called up the dancers. It was a mature crowd, but she got a floor of women and a few men up. I also noticed the styles of her band, thinking how they differ from jazz, although perhaps less from other popular music styles. The keys were more effects and rolling arpeggios than the left hand chords and right hand solos of jazz. I was stunned to hear authentic distorted guitar accompaniment at one stage, obviously from keys. The bass was all ostinato grooves and sometimes quite choppy in style. I liked it, including the rough-edged tone of the Godin fretless semi-acoustic bass guitar. The drums seemed to be heavy on toms and light on cymbals which spoke of African drums to me. It was a lively and interesting concert that took me away from jazz but not so very far from the music on the radio that I felt out of place or at sea. Proof, or at least evidence, of my thesis on globalisation.

Nathalie Natiémbé (vocals, kalabash, djembe) sang with her band comprising Yann Costa (keyboards, melodica), Boris Kulenovic (bass) and Germain Samba (drums).

Taking me back

I discovered jazz through ABC’s Music to Midnight. I think Ian Neal was then presenter. Dizzy was a favourite but I also remember the swinging, mainstream organ trio sound of Jimmy Smith. Darren Heinrich’s trio gig last night at the Loft was just like that.

There aren’t too many organ players of this style in today’s jazz. Someone asked Darren after the gig and he only gave about 5 or 6 names across Melbourne and Sydney. There may be others, but suffice there are fewer organists than guitarists. The sound is deliciously mainstream rather than challengingly modern. It’s heavy on chords and swing, and although the solos go dissonant they still adhere to the moving harmonic structure pretty closely. It’s a delightful, joyful style that had me tapping my feet on the 2-4 and revelling in the velvet sound of the Hammond/Leslie. It was fascinating to watch Darren working away, and he was busy with two manuals, the foot keys, the volume pedal and Leslie control. There are so many unique sounds here. The foot pedals are seriously deep. They are also percussive and virtually pitchfree when played as short notes, and Darren sometimes used them to accentuate walking bass lines by the left hand. I also noticed a delicious bounciness to quickly played runs that mimicked the slow opening and closing of valves on a mechanical pipe organ. Then there are the tricks you can do with volume pedal, growing notes then stopping then suddenly by lifting fingers off keys. Pianos can’t do that sort of dynamics. Then an odd technique that he showed us after the gig: playing like block chords, but essentially just playing strong octaves with whatever other notes are under the hands. It seems the notes are undefined enough to allow some chord faking. (This may be secret organists’ business). Suffice to say, I loved the sound, and Darren played wonderfully aptly, with blocky chords and walking bass and funky grooves and Monk whimsy and calls/responses and floating ballads and even the period sound of theatre organs. Steve and Ross fitted the part nicely too. Ross with hard swinging drums from the start, plenty of swapped fours and at least one solo against an ostinato. The hard swing is one aspect of this mainstream style. I didn’t notice a lot of group dynamics until later in the night, but then organs are essentially a sustained sound so this is in character. But I loved the steady time sense. Despite lively solos and excitable grooves, the tempo was never rushed. This was a big factor in keeping that open and relaxed feel. Steve ran the chords with a woody, choppy, unsustained guitar tone. He played a good bit of dissonance and you could always follow the underlying chords but there were some long, fast and extravagant lines too.

It was all so relaxed and entertaining. But that theatre organ? That truly is time travel. Darren Heinrich (organ) was the time lord leading his jazz organ trio with Steve Brien (guitar) and Ross Ferraro (drums).

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 14 March 2011


    The first week of this year’s Lanyon Music Festival was rockabilly heaven. Two bands singing harmonies with slap double basses and pedal steels. They were both local bands: The Wedded Bliss and The Fuelers. OK, so they were in a similar vein, but these are different bands. Wedded Bliss had lovely male harmonies that just sang so sweetly. Some originals with perhaps a bit of seriousness thrown in, playing the “holy trinity of music - blues, country & jazz” with Hank Williams country-clean guitar solos. I didn’t know the band and was enjoying both harmonies and that lithe pedal steel sound from inside the homestead at startup. Then I walked out to find Lachlan Coventry on pedal steel and chanky guitar. Lovely! The vocal harmonies were spot on. Blair has a good front line voice and Matt provides high notes while chopping away at the bass and Lachlan the low notes. “If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time / We’ll go honkytonking”. So lonely I could cry. Wedded Bliss are Randall Blair (guitar, leader, vocals), Matt Nightingale (bass, vocals) and Lachlan Coventry (guitar, pedal steel, vocals).

    I had great memories of the Fuelers when I saw them playing for that sadly unsuccessful Rock & Blues Festival at EPIC several years ago. (Aside: The Canberra Blues’n’Rock festival was held on Canberra Day long weekend, 15-17 March, 2003. It was an incredible line-up. Sadly there were more volunteers than paid customers and more performers than volunteers and more watts than performers. Names included: Chain, Renee Geyer, Kevin Borich, Ray Beadle & the Vipers, Black Sorrows, Screaming Jets, Geoff Achison, Diesel, Bondi Cigars, Spectrum, Chris Wilson, Phil Manning, Vika & Linda, Ross Wilson and lots more. Wow!) These guys are seriously a show! Great patter, lively music, ongoing themes, great interaction with the audience. Not so pure in harmonies or solos, but fabulous entertainment, like “The white slave trade amongst musicians … it’s not dead yet” or the song about Bigman Power Tools, no safety catches … or the love song to the notchy 6-speed transmission of his beloved Mac 1964 Thermodyne Model D. These guys play dieselbilly and do it sharp as. Great slap bassist, too. Talk about living the life - they even turned up in a '60s Valiant. I imagine this was a family friendly outing, so be prepared for an adult version if you catch them when the sun’s down. The Fuelers are Blindboy Murray (guitars, vocals), Caltex Star (double bass, harmonica, vocals) and Thingamy Bob (drums, vocals) and Lachlan Coventry sat in for a few tunes on pedal steel.

    Lanyon is a working property on the edge of Canberra with a historical homestead from the days when Canberra really was a sheep station. Here are a few pics to prove it.


    Some shows are disappointing or annoying or even enraging. You have an idea of a performer, perhaps vague. You hadn’t thought him so amusing at the time, but he had a cult following so you watched him and he’s in your memory. So you go to see his retrospective. What do you find? Self-absorption. OK … to some degree unavoidable in a retrospective. Then the lame laughter from too-obvious witticisms. And the self-pity. He’s not exactly unknown or unsuccessful. His colleagues were famous names like ... and ... He’d performed at the Opera House. He’d sold 250,000 copes of a trivial tune and been no.1 on the Aussie hit parade for, what, 25 weeks? His musical was the first (only?) Australian one taken to the US by an American impresario. (Oh, deary me, just another casual self-aggrandisement). He’d even won a bloody Logie. Then to top it off as he’s leaving he sings “Don’t talk about me in the morning / Don’t talk about me when I’m gone”. What?!?!? He’s indulged himself for a couple of hours with inane chatter and tunes about himself and his so-tragic family and his characters that were too obvious rip-offs from that family that he’d turned into golden logies and we’d bloody-well paid for the privilege. [Identification not appropriate, but publication does something to relieve my annoyance]

    In or out or mine or yours

    I had a few minutes to spare so visited the National Gallery to see the new outdoor sculpture (Within without by James Turrell) and the refurbished entrance. My thoughts on the Turrell work? I don’t like it. Firstly, it’s incongruously and insensitively out of place in dry Australia. Its entrance is all water and expanses of lawn that reek of wetter climes. Our Parliament House is similarly insensitive, embedded as it is in a lawnswept overlay that’s meant to represent the grassy hill that was removed for the construction. (But they did wonderfully with the reds and greens in the chambers). Secondly, I have a problem with artists claiming beauty from nature. In the Turrell piece, you navigate more water spaces and enter a central egg-shaped construction that is internally bland with white and grey and a few tiles and a little marble in the centre and an opening to the sky like Rome’s Pantheon. We’re obviously meant to contemplate our return to the egg and the beauty of … nature. Yeah, nature's lovely. It’s sublime. But what’s Turrell done other than to claim it? It’s perfect art for an era that individualises the commons to convert it to personal gain. On the other hand, I have to say how neat was that circular opening. It really did seem precise and without an edge and it did internalise the sky. Congratulations to the builder. Thirdly, it must have cost a motza, what with all that perfectly level construction required for those water features. So it was with some surprise that I found water all over the floor of the first internal space. Maybe it’s leaking or more likely it’s just someone splashing water. Now that’s more apt for our Australian gallery: some kid splashing water.

    The other reason for my visit was to see the new entrance. I liked it. It’s boxy and functional. It’s got a big space for functions and another for the shop. It’s got modern toilets although surprisingly not waterless urinals (I wondered if this is a theme with the Turrell work). I walked through the Aboriginal galleries. I liked the spaces well enough and especially enjoyed the additional works that could now be displayed. Interestingly, it disperses its spaces like the neighbouring National Portrait Gallery, with larger rooms and little rooms off to the side. It’s nothing like the original gallery that you got lost in, with fabulous spaces and unexpected vistas. This ’60s brutalism is commonly derided, but I like it. It’s plastic and formed and expressive of space and intriguing to visit. I also visited a diminutive space for a changing photography collection. The lighting was too low for me and it was a restricted and uninviting space. I remember the Gallery in the ‘80s with its extensive photography display and good lighting (where the Asian exhibits are now displayed). I miss the Ansell Adams and the rest, although I was fascinated by the Asian collections and liked the current photography well enough. These places change, and so they should. The new extension may be architecturally disappointing, but it does its job well enough and I guess it’s reasonably cost-effective. So be it. We are richer these days, but our horizons are more restricted.

    The last point to note is that the NGA now prevents photography. I’m disappointed by this, because I like to visit with my camera, but I understand. There’s copyright. It’s a legal argument and I fully respect copyright on CJ but I don’t think it’s a strong argument. I can’t imagine a few pics are really going to steal value from a work on display in a gallery. In fact, it will probably do the artist a load of good for tourists and others to be showing pics of their works. The real issue is the damage to fragile colours and pigments from flash. It seems most people don’t know how to control their cameras; they don’t understand when and where they should use flash; they don’t know how to turn flash off; they don’t know the damage they do. And they all carry cameras in their mobiles and these cameras have flashes that will automatically work where light is low. I think I’ve come to accept that photography is banned in many galleries although I still wish I could snap a few incident light pics for CJ.

    12 March 2011

    Sitting in

    Just a few pics. Gossips had a great little gig last night with Mark Body sitting in on drums when Brenton was not available. I’ve played with Mark before, but the rest of the band hadn’t met him before last night. Mike joked that “it’s one of those gigs where you finish the night and ask again what’s the drummer’s name”. Mark played easily and steadily on a range of tunes that he’d played or not played or not heard. Drummers can do that more easily than most, but he did well to handle some extra 2/4 bars in one tune that could turn the beat. And several decent solos, too. This gig had another sit-in, this time from the floor. I hadn’t met Perrin Lionis before. He’s a pianist who’s currently at the jazz school. We chatted at the gig and Perrin took the piano stool for three tunes (Beautiful love, Ladybird and All blues). He’s a current student so has that seriousness of artistic intent and immersion that comes from playing and studying full time. Great stuff, much enjoyed. Thanks to both Mark and Perrin. Excuse the fuzzy pics – I only had my mobile.

    07 March 2011

    One for Eric

    I’d thank Jack DeJohnette and his band for the dedication but One for Eric was for Eric Dolphy. So be it and it’s justly deserved by ED, but it was also the best tune of the night. A complex mix of unison head, 7/4 and other times, hard dynamics and expansive improv that had our Concert Crew (Brenton, Asanka and I) rocking in our seats with joy. Fabulous. We all said at the end that we wished they’d just played like that all night.

    It was a strange performance. Jack and band performed the music that Miles had written as a soundtrack to a documentary on Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight (boxing) champion of the world. This was music of the Bitches Brew era (the Jack Johnson album was dated 1970, shortly after BB) the time when Miles infuriated the staid jazz community with electric instruments and rock beats. I found the form and composition much easier to follow live than from the recorded album and more entertaining. I was also glad that the band didn’t slavishly follow the original. This was an interpretation rather than a clone. The guitar was more modern and smoother than McLaughlin’s harsh edgy blues tone, and the trumpet was fuller, more rounded sounding than Miles. Jack himself was a revelation. He had a wonderfully solid tone, presumably both from kit and technique. Brenton noted lots of rudiments: rolls, paradiddles, etc, and sharp dynamics and unexpected hits. It was a wonderfully varied style, maintaining constant grooves but always moving feels and accents and emphases and colours within them. And he had such a steady, observant, almost steely presence with only the touch of an occasional smile. It surprised that he was so easy and personable when conversing with the audience after this professionally concentrated performance. Most impressive.

    The others were not names I knew, but they did a great job. Guitarist David Fiuczynski struck me first with his double neck guitar: a seven string and what looked like a 12-string fretless (?). Some nice comping chords and steaming fast sustained lines on both necks, and lots of slides on the 12-string. I also noticed a particularly good ear that bounced accurate lines back and forth with both sax and trumpet. The idea of a fretless guitar had me flummoxed, but reflections did seem to show a very smooth fingerboard surface although with lines, and he was playing with lots of slides. Sax Jason Yarde was a whiz on soprano if a bit less exciting on baritone. He also played what seemed to be a small keyboard, but annoyingly fiddled with pedals at his feet for extended periods. Maybe he was he having some technical problems, but the soprano extravagances were delightful. It’s always difficult to take the Miles role on trumpet, but Byron Wallen did the job comfortably. He copied some necessary melodies and some pensive lines but with a much bigger, more rounded sound, as well as playing flute and keys. And I loved bassist Jerome Harris. He had such a reclusive presence sitting behind a music stand and with a clumsy-looking technique on both right and left hands, but the lines sounded good, the tone was a soft, un-intrusive jazz bass sound to die for, he played gentle slap and free and swing and solos as required and seemed such a lovely guy. In fact, the whole band just seemed perfectly capable and relaxed despite banks of TV screens and extensive charts that they were playing to and so unpretentious and grateful to an appreciative audience. I would have liked to meet them.

    But I do wonder what the concert could have been without the film. The film was a distraction from the music, and although the story was historically interesting, neither film nor central character was very congenial to me. JJ’s need for speed and white women and life that’s “only worth living if you have the best” is understandable as a black response to overt racism of Ku Klux Klan intensity, but it’s not an attractive image to our comfortable, white, post-‘60s world. It was only in the scenes of a friendly boxing match of 69-year old Jack with an older sparing mate that I felt some attraction to the man. But that’s that. The main issue was that I found it hard to concentrate on the music, and I wasn’t the only one. The final tune, One for Eric, was a revelation and wonderfully received. I just wished the concert had all been like that. So my response to “One for Eric” was “Come back Jack”. I want to hear more.

    Jack DeJohnette (drums) led a quintet comprising Jason Yarde (baritone, soprano saxes, keyboards), Byron Wallen (trumpet, flute, keyboards), David Fiuczynski (guitar) and Jerome Harris (Fender bass). They performed Miles Davis’ soundtrack to a documentary film about Jack Johnson at the Opera Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

    03 March 2011

    Sea breezes

    The Sea is Jonathan Zwartz’s recent album. It was also the first tune when Jonathan Zwartz presented his sextet at the Gods. I’d been awaiting this concert. Jonathon is a wonderful bassist who has impressed whenever I’ve seen him; playing a strong and muscular bass with John Mackey at Jazz Uncovered 2010 and an insightful and tender one with Tina Harrod sometime earlier. His performance of The Sea got great reviews at Wangaratta, so this gig was anticipated. The Sea was the first tune. Mystical and minimal with (German) bowed double bass setting a gentle ostinato background and the horns blowing and squealing and seagull wheeling up front. I looked around and people were mesmerised. So was I. Somewhat to my surprise it didn’t stay this way, despite John Shand’s mentions of minimalism. There were just six other tunes over the two sets but they were generously long. Several were slow with plaintive melodies, but there were also grooves that were rich and steady (one reminded me of Herbie’s Headhunters) and a finale that channelled Mingus with an intensity and ornery-ness that was the closest I’ve come to the great man. There was minimalism but more than that there was solidity and presence and sheer capability that oozed from a mature group of musicians at the top of their craft. The way a groove would sit for a few seconds, busy with lots happening but also supremely relaxed, before the simplest of lines stated a theme for a solo. This is what masters do and this was masterful. James Greening entered his solo that way, and I was thinking of him. Simple statements that became clear solos, developing and moving, all structured with visually lyrical thought, and being James, with humour and quirkiness and audience contact. Phil Slater was different in style: a formal presence but with rabid speed flying over structures with virtuosity and density and a pitch that was slippery and precarious, colouring the tune with consonance and dissonance alike. Richard Maegraith was initially the considered search: a few full tones seeking perfect notes to follow, slow and intent, especially on the bass clarinet. But at other times, often on tenor, he was most harmonically challenging, breaking into dissonant sheets of notes. Matt McMahon was clear concentration, his Rhodes piano fitting perfectly in this sound, calmly concentrated, defining and enriching grooves when comping and, in solos, wildly moving themes and bars and harmonies with uncluttered but incongruous lines. He’s a unique voice, intensely demanding but quizzically satisfying. As the night wore on, I was closer to Hamish Stewart and noting his easy and flowing but busy style. His grooves were to die for, relaxed but full and interesting. Lovely. And Jonathan. He was leader and composer of most tunes: soulful tunes with grooves that were settled, strong and rich. There were some smiles later in the night, but plenty of strained concentration and Mingus-like supportive yelps and grunts. He played two strong solos, but the night was really moody grooves, richly embellished but reliably steady. The quieter tunes were The Sea, a tone picture with wailing gulls and sea breezes, and two slow but melodic pieces: Epic and the touching Icelandic which told of the experience of a stroke. Icelandic was memorable for some delicious timing and gentle hits that sat in time so correctly. Curtis was an obvious dedication to soul-singer Curtis Mayfield and highlighted one stylistic influence. Science experiment was a blowing tune with Headhunters grooves. The Mingus tune was Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, a boisterous blues that finished off the night. Jonathon invited local student Matt Handel to sit in on alto for this one. A great and memorable concert. Jonathan Zwartz (bass) led a sextet with James Greening (trombone), Richard Maegraith (bass clarinet, tenor sax), Phil Slater (trumpet), Matt McMahon (Rhodes) and Hamish Stuart (drums). Matt Handel (alto sax) sat in for the last tune.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart