28 June 2011

Young artists having hormones

It’s no new discovery, but young blokes doing radical art have active hormones. It was obvious in the drawings that Megan and I perused at the new exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawing at the Art Gallery of NSW over the weekend.

They also have a good degree of overt seriousness in intent and invention (again, no surprise) and just occasionally a bit of humour. I laughed out aloud at a preparatory sketch for a stained glass window picturing the Assumption (Jesus taken to Heaven, for we of our post-Christian era). It was shaped like a rocket with two feet dangling at the top and a few apostles chatting below. And another religious scene had Noah diligently designing, model ark in his lap and compass in hand and young male acolyte peering over his shoulder, but with three very pretty girls peering in at the scene. Thus is the world view of youth and so it should be. And they were youthful! There were a series of portraits that showed them aged 17+ with wispy beards although their associates, author/artist John Ruskin and Arts and Craftsman William Morris, seemed to be older given their decent growths. There were a few Australian connections, too. One of the group had gone off to Australia and they had made these portraits for him. Edward Pugin (the architect and interior designer of the English Houses of Parliament) was an associate. He’d spent 5 years in Tasmania and architected at least one church there. And I have a personal connection. I studied with the great-granddaughter (?) of John William Waterhouse at Adelaide University. JWW was an artist of attractive historical/mythological scenes whom I’d known from his Circe in the Art Gallery in Adelaide. He also has two huge paintings on permanent display the Art Gallery of NSW. Why Pre-Raphaelite? They were a radical art movement, rejecting standard approaches and training of the London art establishment of Joshua Reynolds and the English Royal Academy of Art, seeking to return to a mediaeval beauty dating before Raphael (thus pre-Raphaelites) and the Mannerists who followed him. Their art depicted lots of flowing robes, mediaeval imagery and mythological scenes, but their damsels were fiery red haired English beauties that they were very much in touch with. I should mention some names.

The original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood comprised seven people: Hunt, Millais, 2xRossetti, Collinson, Stephens and Woolner, the sculptor who went to Australia. There were many followers or associates including Burne-Jones, Cowper, JW Waterhouse, Ruskin, William Morris and the artist and frequent model Elizabeth Siddal. It’s a long way from our hyper-rationalist era although our Goths are romantic if lacking in colour and our hippies had a parallel but less intellectual romanticism in the ‘60s. The Pre-Raphaelites present a madly attractive but un-Realist view of the world: young and innocent, obsessed by death but untouched by it, vivid, sensual, colourful and well-draped.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons and the providers of these public domain images

26 June 2011

Back to the fray

It’s been a few weeks since Jason Moran - a few weeks of contemplation rather than attending jazz. But I was invited to In Full Swing's 20th anniversary concert, and it was a gentle reintroduction but a joyful one. IFS are a local big band and they were celebrating their 20th anniversary. As musical director Nathan Sciberras noted, it’s still a baby next to Spectrum BB (was it 75 years?) but still impressive and they will be around for their 21st year of maturity next year. We were all invited. And “all” was the right term. This was a full house in a big room at the Southern Cross Club and it was sold out and 80 people were turned away. I could see why. There was real enjoyment in the audience. The tunes were renowned popular numbers from various decades, the dancers were the local swingers, the band was having a ball and the room was swinging. Being swing, these guys (here I include the guy-ettes with apologies to Simone de Beauvoir) played old numbers, but they ranged over 50 years and Nathan even mentioned more recent Matchbox 20, and the older numbers sometimes got the treatment. So what did they play? A St James Infirmary that was funked up and some Basie and Benny Goodman and Zoot suit riot - all swing and homebase for the K-Motion and Jumptown dancers. I liked the Motown tunes and they were true to style and arrangement, eg, Ain’t no mountain high enough although Superstition is not a favourite of mine. There were a series of cubed tunes: Quando quando quando, Perhaps perhaps perhaps and Benny Goodman’s Swing swing swing. There were some sleazy oldies that I squirm at but ya have to live with, like Danke Schoen (still going around my head) and You’re just too good to be true and Tom Jones and there was audience involvement with Minnie the Moocher. My favourites were Bacharach’s I say a little prayer with its odd timings and L-O-V-E (Love is for the way you look at me) which is corny but I love it. There were others too, but you get the picture. The band was swinging and the solos were short and shared, as is the way with BBs. I especially noted George Cora on drums and a sweet clarinet solos from visitor Tom Manley. The singers were commendable: Lauren Black, a friend of CJ, was in fine form with a voice that rang big and clear and was perfect for the role. A new one on me was male singer Tom Johnson. His first tune was a Tom Jones number and I was surprised by its authenticity. Then some decent belting out of Sinatra and Dean Martin and more left me with some admiration. This is all amateur work, but it was a comfortable and confident front line. The rhythm section was steady and swinging; the horns were nicely timed, too. There may have been too many encores but the band was having a great time and the audience was in perfect concordance. IFS are turning 21 next year but let’s face it, who wants to grow up when you’re having such fun? [Excuse the camera. My normal one needs repairs.]

20 June 2011

Caught in passing (DHJF-8)

There were several acts that I just caught for a few tunes and here they are, in jazz historical order. Firstly the older, New Orleans era bands, then into swing, modern swing and verging into world.

Tuba Skinny were authentic creole from New Orleans. Attractive music, attractive players and not a smirk amongst them. In fact, fewer smiles than your everyday New Orleans funeral march. Perhaps it was a big opportunity lost to tour the world, play Sydney, and have it rained out. Whatever, this was cool early blues and jazz if alienating. TS are Todd Winfield Newton Burdick III (tuba), Kiowa Wells (guitar, vocals), Erika Lewis (vocals), Barnabus Jones (trombone), Robin Rapuzzi (washboard), Shaye Cohn (trumpet).

Geoff Bull’s Olympia Jazz band was genuine trad and featured a visiting New Orleanean with a joyful presence. Tunes were oldies but goodies like All of me and I ain’t got nobody. Topsy Chapman was the visitor with Geoff Bull (trumpet) but I didn’t get any other names.

John Morrison’s Swing City performed with a range of singers. I caught a reappearance of Topsy Chapman and Frank Bennett and missed a string of others.

Marty Mooney played with a fairly early swing-cum-bop feel. I remember Perdido and blues but they also performed Twisted, which I know best from Joni Mitchell but which dates back to a Wardell Grey solo that was vocalised by Annie Ross. Congrats especially to Matt McMahon and Ben Waples for some excellent solos. Marty Mooney (tenor) played with Matt McMahon (piano), Ben Waples (bass) and Dave Hibbard (drums).

Craig Scott presented a classic post-bop set that swung hard with great playing by bass and all round. Craig Scott (bass) played with Warwick Alder (trumpet), Paul Cutlan (sax), Tim Fisher (piano) and I missed the drummer’s name.

George Golla is of the same era as Craig Scott and they played together with John Morrison for a trio set. Good playing and truly a blast from the ‘80s past for me. George Golla (guitar) with Craig Scott (bass) and John Morrison (drums).

Guy Strazz(ullo) was last but not least. I’d been waiting to catch him for some time. This band was just thrown together at short notice (30-mins rehearsal that morning) so the worldly originals were limited and they played a few standards. I remember the originals as gentle, flowing, latin numbers that suited the wet weather but would excel for cocktails with offended girlfriends [joke alert]. Nicely understated and lyrical. Guy Strazzullo (guitar) performed with Aaron Flowers (guitar), Cameron Undy (bass) and Andy Stewart (drums).

19 June 2011

Crossing over (DHJF-7)

Jazz players don’t make their cash with swing these days: they have to play all sorts. And there are some great melodies in pop and great grooves in funk, so it can be great fun.

Eon Beats are a big acid jazz cum R&B cum funk outfit playing 16th-note syncopation with trance-like regularity, great solos from traditional instruments, but also choppy guitars and synth patches and spunky vocals. How can you not like funk? This is 70s US black pop tradition writ large. Rick Robinson leads the band. I’ve heard them once before as a funky outfit, and first in a very interesting bass-less incarnation with sax, drums, keys and turntables. And of course, RR led D.I.G. which was such a popular funky outfit around the ‘90s. Too loud, even in the open, but what a groove! Eon Beats were Rick Robertson (sax), Evelyn Duprai (vocals), Lily Dior (vocals), Ian Mussington (drums), Gerard Masters (keyboards), Alex Hewetson (bass), Phil Slater (trumpet), also guitar, trombone and percussion.

Gerard Masters also appeared in his pop-jazz-rock incarnation. It’s a standard rock lineup (keys/vocals, guitar, electric bass, drums; tenor sax sat in later). It’s strange to see jazz pianist as front line singer but the pop is better for it. This was jazz in rock guise, rock with a jazz complexion, Triple-J material. Gerard Masters (vocals, keys), Jonathan Zwartz (bass) and guitar and drums and Rick Robinson (tenor) sat in.

Acca Daiquiris were advertised as a loungish outfit. I’m doing a similar thing with Cognac Lounge so I was interested. This was more rock sounding and less trancy than us, given bass guitar and some pretty insistent playing, but the jazz piano was still there. Tunes were also more rock than funk (Long way to the top, Cocaine and White wedding). Entertaining. AD are Nick Norton (vocals, percussion), Tim Bruer (keys), Geoff Rosenberg (bass) and Antero Ceschin (drums).

James Valentine Quartet played more in the jazz tradition, so I hesitate to list it here, but he was playing a modern rock-pop repertoire. This was pretty easy going jazz, despite some powerful songs: Tom Waits, Throw your arms around me, silverchair’s Tomorrow, Midnight Oil’s Power and the passion. This was the lounge approach of taming the vicious beast. I didn’t catch his offsiders’ names.

Finally, I caught Shivon Coelho (vocals) and Joel Jenkins (piano) performing for an open mic competition. Their song was impressively original with a Joni Mitchell-style levity and a light high voice. Nice one.

The family according to James (DHJF-6)

No jazz scene around Australia is so large that you don’t see common faces. Perhaps the most common face on the Sydney jazz scene is James Greening, although that may just be my Canberra-centric view (he visits Canberra to teach at ANUSM). Phil Slater, Jonathon Zwartz, Matt McMahon and others popped up several times during the DHJF. It’s like a family round here.

Ten Part Invention was the very first band I caught over the weekend. They’ve been around for decades and I’d only heard them in their first years. They are a largish ensemble committed to playing Australian music. Their repertoire on the day was mostly by Sandy Evans and Miroslav Bukovsky, both members of the band. I was particularly enamoured by a chart from Roger Frampton called Three mothers which was a richly orchestrated blend of early bop and heavy syncopated hits. John Pochée and a few others of this era always mention Roger Frampton; he’s obviously held in considerable awe. I always love a jazz orchestra and this one is inventive and mature. Great playing and much enjoyed. Ten Part Invention are John Pochée (drums), Steve Arie (bass), Paul McNamara (piano), Paul Cutlan (baritone sax), Andrew Robson (alto sax), Matthew Ottignon (tenor sax), Sandy Evans (tenor sax, flute), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), James Greening (trombone, pocket trumpet), Warwick Alder (trumpet).

The catholics are always a joy to hear with engrossing grooves and rich percussion and comfortable solos. This time they had to laugh off a suddenly disappearing audience that ran for cover when the rain set in and left them playing to a Darling Harbour wall of cafes and eateries well in the distance (the Floating stage was not my favourite – too distant). I was interested to hear a Barney McAll tune and also a 9/8 from Sandy Evans called Floating on an emerald green sea, and Doin’ the Darwin walk with an infectious, dancy, trancy bass groove and a solo of soprano sax and pocket trumpet. Always a pleasure. The catholics were Sandy Evans (saxes), James Greening (trombone, pocket trumpet), John Peace (guitar), Gary Daley (accordion), Lloyd Swanton (bass), Toby Hall (drums), Fabian Hevia (percussion).

Wanderlust are another favourite world-jazz fusion ensemble with those incredibly popular and infectious grooves and simple but satisfying melodies. I don’t see how anyone can sit inert to tunes like Samba nova, and there’s humour around too, as in the title Year of the pig that Miro was jokingly apologetic for. Wanderlust are Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), James Greening (trombone), Alister Spence (piano), Jeremy Sawkins (guitar), Zoe Hauptman (bass) and Fabian Hevia (drums).

Jonathon Zwartz presented his ensemble early on Sunday, and such a pleasure it was, starting with mystical, watery tones of his CD the Sea, and progressing through a funky Curtis Mayfield tribute with sweet harmonies reminiscent of New Orleans. Jonathon’s writing is spare in melody with bass-aware grooves. This was quite a highlight, and the rain held off for a decent and appreciative audience. The Jonathan Zwartz Ensemble comprises JZ (bass), Matt McMahon (piano), Hamish Stewart (drums), Fabian Hevia (percussion), Phil Slater (trumpet), Richard Maegraith (tenor), James Greening (trombone) and Jonathan’s daughter, Martha Zwartz (vocals), premiered with pretty pop tune.

Vince Jones didn’t use James but I think of him in the same circles, so I’ll report him here. Vince is touching and always purposeful. His passions are on his shoulder and I admire him for it, although I dare say some might not. This is touching, careful, understated music with lyrics that mean something and are anything but post-modern irony. He described them as grafitti for the soul and I can only concur. Songs about the cost of housing (Can’t afford to live, can’t afford to die) or family tragedies out of WW1 (Rainbow cake). This is touching and empathetic in more than just a musical sense. Beautiful songs with a reason. Vince Jones (vocals, trumpet) played with Matt McMahon (piano), Aaron Flower (guitar), Ben Waples (bass) and Simon Barker (drums).

I say potato (DHJF-5)

Misinterprotato is actually pronounced as in potato, not as in tomato, and it’s not what I’d guessed. But far more interesting was the great music they made when they combined with Topology as Healthy. I found this the most exciting music I heard at Darling Harbour because it was so unexpected and so new to my ears.

Misinterprotato are a jazz piano trio. I heard them early on Saturday and was a bit non-plussed. Perhaps I should say bad-plussed, because that’s a clear influence on their music. This was rhythmic, original music with plenty of energy and intriguing titles like Sick, or Death of reality television (which they renamed as Shut up!). Very modern sounding, heavy, rock influenced, with solid, often funky grooves and an adventurous piano. I liked it lots. Misinterprotato are Sean Foran (piano), Sam Vincent (bass) and John Parker (drums).

But it was the jazz/classical fusion of Healthy that truly thrilled me. These were new sounds, still groove based, jazz-like, but with classical tones and conceptions. Healthy is the combination of Topology and Misinterprotato, both out of Brisbane. Topology derives from the classical tradition – they’ve played chamber music and bassist Robert told me he’d had several years in the Sydney Symphony – but they are obviously adventurous. Where does the jazz end and the classical start? Who knows; mixing is the nature of thing these days. This is a fusion of great beauty and considerable profundity. Soprano sax that’s delicate and pining with piano accompaniment. The bowed strings, classical percussion, even busy percussion on the double bass. I didn’t notice how the keys worked together, or the basses, but the strings were obvious and lovely. Interestingly, they even played a tune for Canberra: Round roads. Robert’s father had designed roads in the early days of Canberra and he spent some years here as a kid. An odd coincidence. But the music was a wonder: two bands, two traditions, in vibrant and inventive assembly. Topology are Christa Powell (violin), John Babbage (sax), Bernard Hoey (viola), Therese Milanovic (piano), Robert Davidson (double bass).

18 June 2011

Out & about (DHJF-4)

Just some pics from Sydney and the Darling Harbour Jazz & Blues Festival. The first pic is of Raymond Borzelli, jazz dancer and popular favourite at the festival.

Where it’s at (DHJF-3)

It’s days later and I’m still mulling over Jason Moran’s concert at the Basement but I need to put this in context. And that context is Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis and the Dan Tepfer Trio and the broader context of the Darling Harbour JF.

Firstly, Dan Tepfer. He wasn’t playing at the DHJF, but he did come over to Australia to play at the Melbourne JF with Lee Konitz. LK got sick and that concert was cancelled. Cameron Undy and 505 were lucky enough to get an offer for the trio to play and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. These guys are obviously guns on the NY jazz scene, given their biographies, but none of my mates knew of them. The gig was something I loved but didn’t feel I particularly understood (more on this later). The piano was moody, impressionistic, lots of overhand technique, like a solo piano concert with embellishments by the accompanying bass and drums. This was patina, colours that flowed, solos that merged one instrument to another, a combined constant of improv, even medleys that paralleled this group style. Lots of delays and anticipations, so the one of the bar was seldom defined, and truncations and punctuations. Some singing, some minimalist bass, but also some devastating bass lines. And drums that were rudiment-rich on snare, and explosive in solos. Introverted, inward-looking concepts and playing, at both the individual and group levels. The tunes were originals but they also played Body & soul, Lee Konitz’s Subconsciously, a lovely Francophile Jacque Brel tune and Giant steps at moderate speed in 5/4. In the break, I came across Carl Dewhurst and mentioned my enjoyment but also that it left me bamboozled. I thought his answer was wise: “Just soak it up”. Dan Tepfer (piano) led a trio with Joe Sanders (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums).

Secondly, AlasNoAxis. They had played at 505 the previous week but I didn’t see them and I know them only from some YouTube videos. But I chatted with Matt McMahon who told me of their workshop at the Conservatorium. He spoke of a long time playing together, close interactions, discarding of styles and expectations, chops that are way understated, solos that are pure melody rather than individual technique. All interesting and again a path in jazz at the moment. Interesting, new, inventive, but still leaving me somewhat at a loss.

Lastly, Jason Moran. I heard the trio at the Basement on the last night of this DHJF weekend. The last show: read ultimate! I was stunned, speechless; a block clicked into place. We can intellectually know music but of course we have preferences and loves and this is beyond quality. This had what I love: explosive energy, complex rhythms and strong grooves, knowledge of and connection to our jazz history, styles that merge in and out – stride, free, punk, funk – subtly, unexpectedly, but purposefully. Great skills, of course, but that’s just taken for granted. This is the expanse of 100 years of jazz blended, or to use that new term, mashed, into a homogenous, rich, varied whole. Interestingly, the history was overt with Jason playing a snippet or a loop of a historical figure to start. I didn’t recognise them all, but they included Billie Holliday, Fats Waller, Albert King, Mississippi Fred McDowell and perhaps Prince or funk. There was a glorious ballad against swelling and decaying synth tones in stereo [I'm now told it's a loop of Hendrix guitar, EP 20 Jun 2011] ; there were some live piano preparations, by hand or using a cowbell; there was unison bass/vocals later in the night; there were difficult and implied times and tempos that changed; there was just sheer exhilarating, ecstatic release. Overwhelming skills that saw stride decay into free with a slide of fingers over the keyboard, all the band thrown in together, correct, mostly precise, occasionally a bit rough, but I’m sure some roughness is in no way discouraged. Roughness is nothing where purpose is involved. There was mention of Jackie Byard as his teacher. And, I thought, pride in jazz’s black and blues history. This was magnificent and I remain in awe of the performance. Jason Moran and the Bandwagon are Jason Moran (piano), Tarus Mateen (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums).

So what have I understood? Something I’ve known but had demonstrated intensely over this fortuitous weekend. I can admire the introverted, classical-influenced styles of Euro jazz and its ilk, I can love a beautiful melody and perfected performance, but my great love is energy and syncopation and release in rhythm but also in melody/harmony, because dissonance is just the pitched version of syncopation. Thanks Jason Moran and his mates for this clarity. Overwhelming.