Piano Jazz, Review

Barney McAll – ‘Hearing the Blood’

a0201921582_16Just before the Aria winning Mooroolbark album was released I travelled to Australia and interviewed Barney McAll. He had not long returned from New York to take up his year-long Glanville Hicks Residency and at some point during the morning, he played me a few pieces he was working on. Some of that material has ended up on ‘Hearing the blood’. Listening to McAll developing a tune is not something that you forget. His preternatural fluency leaves images hanging in the air, where they linger long afterwards. As he worked through ideas, each one appeared as if fully formed and I wondered; how can these phrases possibly be improved on? The finished album answers that question. The act of creation is never fixed in time. A good composition opens up possibilities and lives on in the minds of those who receive it. The virtuous triangle of creator, music and listener.

Everything McAll does is eagerly anticipated and this album is no exception. The palette is broader than anything he has done before and unlike its predecessors, it is mostly an Australian affair. Albums like this are often referred to as a journey and while that can be an accurate descriptor, the term is hopelessly clichéd. Hearing the blood is more than that, it is a vast and interesting landscape. A place evoking fleeting memories and above all hope; the raw energy of life and landscape distilled. It is also a commentary on the human condition, honest but never judgemental, stories in chiaroscuro. At times the flow of tunes is interrupted by something surprisingly different, but the atypically juxtaposed tracks never detract from the overall impact. 0011413817_10Hearing the Blood is also littered with coded messages. The landscape it portrays while ancient to modern is somehow eternally present. Where musical genres or subgenres are referenced, they are just as casually brushed aside; the exploration of ideas being more important than barriers. The listeners are invited to step outside of their comfort zone and some will baulk at that.  Jazz listeners are all too inclined to swaddle themselves in the familiar and in doing so they can lose connection with the now. In a year when dialogue has been debased beyond recognition by a petulant child President, we need other forms of communication. Hearing The Blood is a refreshing place to start in our re-evaluation of the world. For those who have the ears to hear they will find a subtle humour and a joy pervading every corner; as with Mooroolbark, the trickster lurks at every turn.

It is hard to single out just one track for posting so I will embed two sound clips. The first clip is ‘Nock Code’ (a tribute to the admired Jazz pianist Mike Nock).  The tune begins with the opening bars Nock’s composition ‘The Sybiline Fragrance’. Many will recognise the tune as it featured on Nock’s ‘Hear & Know’ album (and other earlier albums). In McAll’s hands, the homage is perfection. He does what he did in ‘The Mother of Dreams and Secrets’ and in his trio rendering of ‘Why did I Choose You’. He slows everything down and from out of the altered space, emerges an essence that drips through the consciousness like honey. As the tune unfolds he makes other references including his earlier recorded self. When the body of the tune is given to Morgan on guitar it soars wonderfully. The second sound clip is ‘Sorrow Horse’; a tune which showcases his skilful arranging. There is an ABC film Clip of ‘Dog Face Now’ which is hard to find. That track is an altogether wilder ride; at times more of a conduction, complete with flashcards, worth hunting for.

From the earlier Mooroolbark album are bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Hamish Stuart on drums. Also on this album are Mike Rivett on tenor saxophone, Carl Morgan guitar, Adrian Sherriff trombone and Scott MCConnache alto saxophone – Daniel Merriweather vocals on ‘Love is the Blood’, ‘That Which Provides’, Jade Talbot vocals on ‘Sorrow Horse’ with McAll – on the outro of ‘Love is the Blood’ is Ben Vanderwal on drums, Jenn Gavito is on Flute in ‘Nock Code’ and on ‘Echoless Shore’ are: Gian Slater, Ben Monder, Maeve Gilchrist and the Invenio Singers: Miriam Crelin, Louisa Rankin, Allra Wilson and Edward Farlie. On Piano, Keyboards, vocals and Chucky – Barney McAll (most of the compositions and arrangements are his).

McAll is a significant creative force on the planet. When his name comes up among musicians he is spoken of in reverential tones. The album liner notes by Kurt Rosenwinkel reinforce this point nicely. Another New York musician who had worked with him put it this way. “With Barney McAll you get creativity and musicianship of the highest order, but there is something profound behind that.  He somehow rises above the workaday aspects of the industry, all of the scuffling, and he lives his life as a creative artist should. He and the people around him value the creative spirit beyond all else and that is exceedingly rare”. IMG_0069

To buy the album or to hear a few streamed clips, go to McAll’s Exracelestialarts Bandcamp site.  It is also available on iTunes and Spotify. I urge everyone to sign up for Bandcamp and order CD’s or downloads directly. On that platform, the artists have better control of the revenue stream. I saw him again a few weeks ago and he was preparing for an album release at Birds Basement on the 8th December. You really should get yourselves there Melbourne people. Magic is in short supply this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Australia & Pacific gigs, Review

The Foundry 616 Sydney – 2nd Anniversary

Vince 072Sydney means two things to me; family and music. I get there as often as I can. One sultry night about two years ago I was listening to Mike Nock playing the blues (as only Mike can). It was a catchy new tune titled ‘Start up Blues’. I collared him during the break and asked him about it. “I composed it for the Foundry opening” he said. “Do you know about the Foundry 616”?  I didn’t and so he filled in the details. He spoke warmly of it so I determined to visit the next time I was in Sydney.

The Foundry 616 is located in Ultimo on a stretch of Harris road, almost lost between a maze of under and over-passes. It is (or was) the newest addition to Sydney’s Jazz scene. The difficulty in locating it is amply rewarded the minute you step inside. It is spacious, it serves tasty food and the acoustics are surprising good for such a large uneven space. It is also a friendly place, tolerant of visiting Kiwi photographers and reviewers like me. I always feel welcomed.Foundry 616 (2)During my first visit I caught the amazing New York based guitarist Mike Moreno. Attending a gig featuring Moreno had long been on my bucket list and I was not disappointed. He was happy to allow non-flash photography and I had a seat at the front table; perfect. For his Australian tour he employed two gifted local musicians: Ben Vanderwal drums and Alex Boneham bass (both familiar to New Zealand audiences). I have many recordings featuring Moreno, but what really struck me was that his best on recordings, is exactly how he sounds in person. Given the sound control in modern recording studios and given the expanse and quirky shape of the room, this is surprising.Foundry 616 I was later to experience the same clarity at other Foundry 616 gigs. The venue sound technician and the sound system get a big tick. Sound quality matters and especially with artists of this quality. To my thinking Moreno is the most lyrical of modern guitarists. Clean flowing lines, fresh ideas and an astonishing clarity of tone. As moves through the pieces, often at breakneck speed, and even when glissing, his fluidity is unbroken. There is a hint of mournfulness to his tone which is most attractive. I hear many gifted Jazz guitarists, but to date this gig remains the highlight. His set list traversed recent albums as he played a mix of lesser known standards and originals; ‘I have a dream’ (Hancock) being the standout. While his demeanour is quiet, perhaps even a little serious, his playing denotes unalloyed joy and exuberance.Vince 081My second visit was to see premier Australian Jazz vocalist Vince Jones. I have a deep liking for male Jazz singers but sadly there are not that many to choose from these days. Our younger selves do not sound like our older selves and in Vince Jones this sits extremely well. His is a lived in voice, full of rich life experience. An honest voice and above all a true Jazz voice. He can make you smile and cry in turns and his lyrics are like no one else’s. If you listen carefully the realisation comes; Jones is jazz protest singer. He is closer in sentiment to Gil Scott Heron or perhaps Billy Bragg and Bob Dylan than to any torch-song crooner. His recordings while marvellous don’t prepare you for the experience of hearing him in person. He has a compelling stage presence, exuding the vulnerability that Chet radiated. Unlike Chet he also exudes real human warmth and empathy.Foundry 616 (4)As he tells personal stories about his grandparents, his budgerigars, women deserving of respect, his environmental concerns, you feel deeply connected. When he shakes his fist at the ‘big end of town’, calls for kindness towards refugees and gives voice to your innermost feelings, you shake your fist along with him. Since that visit I have transcribed some of his lyrics. I would now add gifted poet to the list of his accomplishments. Jones writes most of his own material (often in collaboration with his accompanists like Matt McMahon or Sam Keevers). Both were present that night as was an old friend, bass player Brett Hirst; James Hauptmann was on drums. Fine musicians and great company. Earlier in the day I caught up with Barney McAll and interviewed him regarding his stunning Mooroolbark album. He was to premier that at the Foundry in a few weeks. I was sorely tempted to delay my departure, but work called me back to New Zealand. McAll was once an accompanist to Jones as well.Foundry 616 (10)My third and most recent visit naturally brought me back to the Foundry. A pianist/singer Rodric White was on the bill. White was unknown to me, but again I enjoyed the gig. He opened with a few tributes and it surprised me to hear him announce a Keith Jarrett number. Even more so when he played an extract from the Koln Concert. That took guts and he did it well. Later he played some of his own compositions, plus Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and several Sting numbers. He was disarmingly dismissive of his vocal abilities but he sang well. Stylistically he is close to the classic Jazz singers. Accompanying him was Hugh Fraser (bass), Steve Ley (drums) with guests Paul Cutlan (tenor & soprano saxophones) and Jenny Marie Lang (guitar & vocals). Paul Cutlan was the only name I knew, a well-respected session saxophonist. During the second half White called for pianist Chris Cody to come to the bandstand.Foundry 616 (3)  I first met Cody in New Zealand and we are now friends. I have a deep respect for him as an artist and as a human being. This rounded out the evening nicely. Cody an internationally recognised artist, is back in Sydney for a while. There is something about his approach and his innate sense of pulse that sets him apart. He understands the importance of leaving space between notes; easily moving inside and out during a solo. He oozes Paris cool. With Cody on piano and White on keys the enjoyment was complete.Foundry 616 (8)There are any number of excellent improvising musicians in Australia and New Zealand and we are lucky that they are so accessible. There are also thousands of people who love improvised music, but here’s the rub. The enthusiasts don’t always make the effort to attend gigs. The consequences of taking the local Jazz scene for granted are too dreadful to contemplate. If we support local Jazz we need to commit. In spite of the many world-class musicians in Australasia the music is more precarious than we think. Running clubs like the ‘Foundry 616’, the ‘505’ or the ‘CJC (Creative Jazz Club)’ is high risk and if the clubs struggle, so does the music. It is quite possible that I’m a fanatic, but I’ve attended more than 250 Jazz gigs in the last four years. If you read this, it’s because you love this music with all its variability. Value what you have people and make a point of supporting your local Jazz clubs and gigs. Some amazing musicians depend on you.

Where: The Foundry 616, Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music, Post Millenium, USA and Beyond

‘The Grid’ land @ CJC

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There are some musicians who arrive on earth fully formed, having journeyed from distant planets.  Sun Ra was one of those.  There is yet another category of musicians who are not aliens, but who clearly hitch a ride with aliens from time to time.  The Grid is one of the latter, as there is no other explanation for their mix of in your face humour, outrageous musicality and otherworldliness.   They have been to Auckland before when I reviewed them for this blog (read ‘The Grid off the Grid’).  This is their second coming and it has long been anticipated by local musicians, metal jazz fans, mental Jazz fans and those who enjoy amazingly improbable improvised music.  People of all ages attended, as the censorship restrictions had obviously been overlooked.

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Reinforcing the view that ‘The Grid’ had been beamed in from a spaceship, was a light show that eerily played across them as they performed.   The gig was not in the usual basement spot, as we had been booted upstairs for the night by the building owners.  Being upstairs means psychedelic light show and being upstairs means playing to people at barely visible tables rather than to people sprawling on leather couches or sitting cross legged on the floor.  Some musicians are less comfortable in this space, but The Grid appeared to thrive on it.  As ever changing patterns played on the walls above them, or descended to spotlight their instruments, they worked with it.   This gave the gig an oddly surreal atmosphere, as isolated instruments or disembodied heads floated strangely in the air.

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The set list was replete with new tunes, all introduced by Ben Vanderwal as he joked his way from number to number.  This was proper Antipodean humour; highly irreverent, at times dry and always delivered with a pinch of intellect.  At one point a dissertation on Kylie Minogue’s lyrics occurred (she should be so lucky), at another a series of imponderable questions were left hanging in the air.  “What if god were one of us?  What if U2 were from Brazil?   Before we could grasp the enormity of these questions, the band had launched into an astonishingly good version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ (U2) based upon that premise.  The ideas may have appeared random, but they actually supported an interesting narrative that runs through all of their gigs.   These guys are very good musicians and it is not hard to fathom why alien beings would want to abet them on their journey.  IMG_1112 - Version 2 (1)

I have included a video clip of a composition by Dane Alderson titled ‘Hitch’.   The tune was written to honour iconoclast Christopher Hitchens at the time of his passing.  Sometime during the second set the guitar amp blew up and after a bit of head scratching it was mysteriously re-routed.  A casual observer might think that it was appropriate that a band delivered to us by mysterious forces should disappear in shower of coloured lights and sparks.   I am confident that someone will find a way to beam them back soon.  We like them here in Aotearoa.  IMG_1113 - Version 2

The Grid is: Ben Vanderwal (drums), Dane Alderson (electric 5 string bass, pedals), Tim Jago (guitars and pedals).  Perth/USA

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, Post Millenium, USA and Beyond

‘The Grid’ off the grid at the CJC

Tim Jago
Tim Jago

This band shakes all conceptions in the known musical universe and they do it by pillaging pieces of reality and cunningly re-assembling them into new and abstract forms. They are as brilliant as they are disarming. Getting under your skin with outrageous banter and constantly evolving story lines. Perhaps this is the future, laughing back at us, as we live in our bubbles of musical complacency?

It’s a little hard to define ‘The Grid’ by using existing musical terminology, so I will do so by drawing upon disparate references. If you were to add a pinch of Marc Ribot, Dvorak, R2D2, Kraftwork, Radiohead, Andre 3000, Willie Nelson and John Zorn into a crucible, you might create something approximating this band. In spite of the bands modernity, they have embarked upon a musical odyssey of classical proportions. Like Odysseus they’re building strange narratives as they navigate Siren’s and Cyclopes. Ever drifting into uncharted waters.

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The first number up was ‘Commodore 64’ from their first album. Since its inception this story has evolved into a saga (see video clip). The setting is somewhere in the future at a time when humans are replaced by robotic machines. The cyber children of these evolving machines have become bored with life and in order to alleviate that boredom they start copying human pop culture. A hipster culture develops and the young male machines start attending nightclubs in order to pick up cool hipster machine chicks. The goal is locating their ideal, a female robot dressed as a ‘Commodore 64’. I don’t think that Phillip K Dick could have bettered that storyline and the music is machine referencing, freaked out cyber nostalgia.

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Some other outrageous story-lines were as follows: Ben Vanderwal; “Don’t you just hate it when people make pretentious statements like – If Bach were alive today he would be an improviser” or “If Charlie Parker were alive today he would be in a ‘metal’ band“. He proceeded to say how distasteful and silly this sort statement was and then with a straight face announced his next tune as Dvorak’s third Symphony, the scherzo movement. Pausing before launching into their digitally enhanced heavy-metal tinged phantasy he added, “Of course if Dvorak were alive today he would be playing in this band”. Another tune intro was; “I am proud to relate that UNESCO has just voted this the tune most likely to bring about world peace”. They also told us that they would be playing a number from Ellington’s occult period ‘Satan’s doll’. It took a minute to sink in but when we heard the opening chords of Satin Doll we fell about laughing.

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There is much more to this band than outrageous humour, there is also outrageous music. They can slip between Willie Nelson and thrash-punk hardcore in ways that defy logic and in spite of the yawning stylistic chasms it all makes perfect sense at the time. It is later when the enormity of what you have just witnessed sinks in and you find yourself sitting in a confused state on the edge of your bed that you mutter WTF.

There is electronic wizardry aplenty at their disposal but that is not what stays with you. It is their musicality, their ability to connect and their cleverness. This band really can play and they impart strangely apposite history lessons as they go. The music can also turn on a dime, moving from the outer reaches of sanity to a gentle jazz ballad played over clever loops. I am absolutely certain that this sub genre of guitar trio will soon become more mainstream. Marc Ribot (Ceramic Dog) and Australia’s Song FWAA tread similar paths.

This is intelligent music and it requires mastery of the instruments plus mastery of a bewildering array of pedals, rattly things and clips. Making drums imitate machines or making guitars imitate an angel or a banshee is not a job for amateurs. All three band members are highly regarded on the world scene where they have gathered a multitude of accolades, awards and scholarships. Individually they have accompanied the cream of American artists such as Terrance Blanchard, Chris Potter, Chic Corea, Victor Wooten, Joe Lovano and others.

The Grid is primarily known as a Perth Band, but the USA could also claim them. In reality the band members now live in three cities and two countries. Ben Vanderwal (drums) is originally from Perth and so is Dane Alderson (electric bass) but Tim Jago (guitar) is from the USA where he lives and works at present. He has recently been working on a doctorate and teaching in Miami. Ben Vanderwal (who told the stories at the CJC) regularly plays with top US musicians and our own Frank Gibson Jr is credited as being his original teacher. Dane Alderson is the son of a jazz drummer and the winner of various prestigious awards. He plays an Aryel 5 string bass and like Tim Jago conjures up a world of wonderful sounds. My final comment on The Grid is; I hope that they comeback….soon.

Both of these clips are from earlier gigs – the stories and the instruments have evolved since then. The music is great as always.

Where: The CJC Creative Jazz Club 12th June 2013

What: The Grid

Who: Tim Jago, Ben Vanderwal, Dane Alderson