jazz and improvised music

Reviews - Jazz Visions Summary
John Clare

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Following the remarkable opening night of Sima’s Jazz Visions Festival, which we have reviewed here, were a number of other quite special events which created the excitement and interest one hopes for in a real festival, rather than a collection of gigs. First was the Alister Spence Trio, with bassist Mike Majkowski replacing Lloyd Swanton, who was awaiting the birth, as it happens, of a baby girl. They played music from the trio’s two most recent CDs, Fit and Mercury, and this was quite magically enhanced by the projected images of Louis Curham, which caught both the living essence as well as the abstract qualities of their subjects: flowers, rocks, sometimes in extreme close up, and dimly recognizable wider scenes hovering on the edge of abstraction. They were both subtly suggestive and unobtrusive, seeming at times to be generated by the music.

Majkowski threw himself into the bass role with intense energy, virtuosity and invention, while somehow never dispelling the ambient qualities of the pieces from Fit.

This was followed by the Remco Keijzer Band, which rarely rose above pleasantry, for some reason. This was specially disappointing as I have been a strong advocate of Remco’s other Australian project, the Keijzer McGuinness Quintet, which would have made for an extremely interesting pairing with Spence and company.

A more felicitous pairing – though it did not seem to me as if it necessarily would be – was achieved on the third night in the bands of tenor saxophonists Zac Hurren (from Brisbane of course) and Dale Barlow. I have heard Hurren playing at the old 505 with drummer Evan Mannell, who was joined on this occasion by bassist Brendan Clarke. That this was an excellent, flexible and dynamic trio came as no surprise, with Hurren playing with intense drive and sonic and melodic beauty. Dale Barlow – with pianist Steve Barry, Bassist kevin hale and drummer John Pochee rose to the occasion. This was some of the most purposeful and compelling playing I have heard from barlow in recent times, and the rhythm section was stellar. Barry, though from the land of the wrong white crowd, is a young sensation. Pochee, after a period of indifferent health, was absolutely superb. As he was in a duet with Andrew Robson three nights later.

That duet was perhaps the best I have heard from this pairing of young and old master. When I say old, Pochee is the same age as I am, and that is certainly not young. This was followed by an enthralling performance by Elliott Dalgliesh’s Mute Canary project, mostly from Brisbane. The ensembles were full of mystery, exciting polyphonic near-chaos and beauty (sometimes strange, sometimes quite traditional). Sometimes they moved in waves of dark transparency. Specially intriguing were the voicings achieved by combining Sophie Watson’s flute, Skye McNicol’s violin (these were singularly beautiful young women I might add irrelevantly) and Jack Saunders’s cup-muted trumpet, sometimes joined by Dalgliesh’s alto saxophone. Exceptional Melbourne (ex Brisbane) trumpeter Pat Thiele had a roving commission to ad-lib over or into the ensemble (sometimes he played un-miked from behind them) as he saw fit. Guitarist Carl Dewhurst had a similar role, sometimes engaging effectively with the guitars Jack Richardson and Yusake Akai. Bassist Sam Pankhurst (Mr Pankhurst was my headmaster in the 1940s at Maroubra Bay as it happens, and boy has he aged since he took up the bass!) and drummer Chris Vale interacted and underpinned it all with great spirit and judgement. And of course Dalgliesh’s alto was magesterial.

Ostensibly this was a tribute to soprano saxophonist Steve lacy, but many other great jazz composers also figured. I can still hear this event.

Likewise Sandy Evans’s trio plus Sarangan Sriringathan (sitar/vocals) and Bobby Singh (tabla). This collaboration was one of the most successful I have heard. All acquitted themselves wonderfully (drummer Toby Hall and bassist Michael Galliazzi filling in astonishingly well for Brett Hirst), although I felt that Sandy’s soprano outshone her tenor saxophone. Tonally she restricted herself uncharacteristically on the latter instrument, though it was still superb playing. Sriringathan was a revelation on sitar and particularly so (because many of us had never heard anything like it) with his vocals. Sometimes his hands fluttered in parallel with the wending, running quarter tones of his vocals and sometimes one hand flourished skyward along with his voice. The Vampires followed, and playing with them was Melbourne trombonist Shanon Barnett. I looked for marks on her neck and warned her never to fall asleep with any of these vampires around. While the Vampires played brilliantly, they sounded if anything a little too tight, crisp and disciplined on this occasion, and Barnett’s playing was the highlight. Not that I would wish to discourage such superb ensemble playing. It is still one of my favourite bands.

The final night was played out in the Everest Theatre up above the much smaller Sky Lounge venue. This opened with Andrea Keller’s quartet plus guests Sandy Evans and trumpeter Phil Slater. Most of the material came from Keller’s brilliant recent album Galumphing ‘Round The Nation. Some of the pieces were played not long ago to arresting effect by Keller and Ten Part Invention. The quartet (Keller, piano, trumpeter Eugene Ball, tenor saxophonist Ian Whitehurst and drummer Joe Talia) began at the Everest Theatre and they were just as affecting despite much smaller forces in a much bigger venue. While there is angularity and introspection in this music, there is also a sweet melodiousness that is highly distinctive yet reminded me strangely of some of the songs I heard in my childhood, which spanned the period from the end of the swing era to the beginning of rock and roll. I wonder whether I would have have even felt the melodies in Keller’s very different music way back then when I was nine or ten. I like to think so.

Sandy Evans played beautifully (and Whitehurst’s singular approach made a fascinating contrast) and the appearance of Phil Slater, with his intent presence and commanding exclamations sent a thrill through the audience that was palpable. Ball was obviously impressed, but not over-awed. Don’t forget this great trumpet stylist. He is at the top of his form.

I strongly urge you to get Keller’s brilliant album on Jazzhead, and I will be talking soon about Way Out West’s The Effects Of Weather, also on Jazzhead. And drummer Paul Derricott’s band Big Sea’s album Arrow, on Jazzgroove, featuring many of my favourites: Dale Gorfinkel, Mike Mazjkowski, Hugh Barrett and Simon Ferenci. Likewise Warwick Alder’s first album, the triumphant Brendance on Rufus. Also The Casey Golden Trio’s Clarity (Scrampion Records), which is ABC Radio’s album of the week as I write, which is no surprise. Every now and then a piano trio album reaches out surprisingly (it is a very attractive form and this one is a delight).

Finally, the eight piece Mike Nock Project, with American tenor star George Garzonne. Mike’s writing for ensemble ranges from the serviceable to the distinctive, but everything worked brilliantly, due to the interaction and soloing of this remarkable array of talent: Nock himself in great pianistic form, Phil Slater, Matt Ottignon (whose flute and tenor playing impressed the young Sydney and Melbourne musicians who had not heard him for some time, if at all, Lucien McGuinness on trombone, Jeremy Rose, flute and alto saxophone, and the estimable Waples brothers on bass and drums. Garzonne played superbly in the Coltrane tradition, and revealed a delightful presence, a surprisingly modest American charm, when he introduced a composition of his own.

Leaving the hall, I heard one of a group of young men I’d never seen before remark, “Well, I really enjoyed that.” The others agreed. I think everyone felt pretty good about it. Small band jazz does not always works so well in a larger venue. Such occasions are very special. You feel you are hearing this special music with many who may not have paid much attention to it hitherto.