There are a number of factors that make music special to a listener and for most it is the familiar that attracts them. Improvised music is a different beast and the most valued quality is what Jazz essayist Whitney Balliet termed “the sound of surprise”. When Jazz listeners are fully engaged it is seldom the melody line or a familiar riff that holds their attention. While melody, chord voicings or an ostinato groove bring us to the moment, it is the promise of the new that creates a state of joyous anticipation. So it was with the ‘Antipodean 6tet’ and the rewards were immediately evident. Mike Nock told me recently that some of the young Australian bands are on a par with the best of what’s on offer in America. A statement like that from a person of Mike’s undisputed authority causes you to take notice. Some of the members of this group were among those mentioned by him.
The idea for the ‘Antipodean 6tet’ was conceived in Berlin when Jake Baxendale, Aiden Lowe and Luke Sweeting decided to create a vehicle for their music. By the time of the Australasian tour they had added Ken Allars, James Haezelwood Dale and Callum Allardice.
Those of us who pay close attention to Australian and New Zealand Jazz knew that we were in for something out of the ordinary. A heightened sense of anticipation followed the tour announcement. Earlier this year Rattle records released JAC’s ‘NERVE’ album. The album featured Wellington musicians Jake Baxendale (alto, compositions) and Callum Allardice (guitar, compositions). Many saw Jake as he toured with JAC during the launch tour and enjoyed his alto playing. Callum Allardice was in Germany at the time of the launch, but his compositions and arrangements were also appreciated. These two musicians form the New Zealand contingent of ‘The Antipodean 6tet’.
Luke Sweeting is an Australian pianist who conveys more with his light touch than many do by playing percussively. His playing is thoughtful, airy and interesting. He has previously composed for sextets and is obviously central to the bands well crafted ensemble sound. Sweeting, Aiden Lowe (drums), James Heazelwood Dale (bass) and Ken Allars (trumpet) are well established on the Australian scene with the former two having toured Europe extensively. They have all attracted positive attention around Australia. All have worked as leaders, but melded into an ensemble the instruments speak in a unified authoritative voice.
A Sydney bass player contacted me a few weeks ago saying that I would be mad to miss this innovative band. He was right in his estimation of their impact, as they appear to bring something fresh and exciting to the scene. A northern European aesthetic with an authentic Australasian feel.
To best illustrate the above I must focus on Ken Allars. I have been aware of Allars for some years but it was probably his compelling trumpet work on Mike Nock’s critically acclaimed 2011 album, ‘Here and Know’ that first grabbed my attention. I received a review copy shortly after the 2011 release and was immediately struck by his use of dynamics and strong improvisational abilities. Later I saw him in the horn-line of the JMO (Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra) when it toured Auckland with Darcey James Argue. Now seeing him with ‘The Antipodean 6tet’ my positive first impression is reconfirmed. On the opening number we saw his use of extended technique. Not so much the usual growls or smears, but a skilful deployment of flutter tonguing and airstream effects. The whistles, breathy explorations and pops augmented the contributions of Jake Baxendale who wove in quiet upper register ostinato responses (like Evan Parker in the opening few bars of ‘The Lady and the Sea’ – Kenny Wheeler). So controlled was the sound production that at times Allars sounded like he was playing a flute. When he did blast out a phrase it was doubly effective as it contrasted with the softer moments.
I have seen bands who lower the volume for a ballad or a thoughtful meditative piece, but never quite like this. They skilfully utilised the pianissimo and piano and diminuendo to impart an infinite array of subtleties and within that space communicated a world of information. Earlier I mentioned the European aesthetic and perhaps I refer more specifically to the Norwegian ECM sound. I detected a strong influence of this future-facing aspect of modern Jazz in Allars playing. Later I asked him whether he had listened much to the modern Norwegian trumpeters. Yes he had checked them out in person. We then discussed people like Arve Hendriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Mathias Eick and others. While Molvaer and Eick often use electronics and loops there were no such effects used by Allars.
This band is purely acoustic and the impressive range of sounds and effects at their disposal will have pedal manufacturers smiting their brows in frustration. Because of the sound balance, the imaginative drum work and the punchy bass lines are as strong in the mix as the other instruments.
They are due to record shortly and I look forward to that. I urge anyone who can to catch this tour or subsequent outings. I guarantee that you will not regret it.
What: ‘The Antipodean Sextet’ Luke Sweeting (piano), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Ken Allars (trumpet), James Heazelwood Dale (bass), Aiden Lowe (drums), – in New Zealand – Callum Allardice (guitar).
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885 building, Auckland. 26th March 2014