Australian and Oceania based bands, Big Band, Post Millenium, Review, Small ensemble

Viata (Dilworth) + Zephyrix (McAll)

IMG_0434Viata: When the Eamon Dilworth album ‘Viata’ was delivered, I was just about to head off to a gig. As I pulled out, I fed the CD into the car sound system and was immediately captivated. Some albums grab you like that, cutting through the dross of everyday life and commanding your fullest attention. The next day, freed from distraction I played it again, and as I listened, the power of the music was evident; a private world where carefully layered soundscapes revealed themselves in an unhurried fashion.  I have heard Dilworth live and listened to his recordings, but this is ‘one out of the bag’. Over the years I have learned to expect great things from Australian improvisers and this certainly reinforces that well-earned reputation. ‘Arrow’ was a great album but ‘Viata’ is quite exceptional.

Arrow and Alluvium, were broader canvases – more eclectic; but these compositions are pastoral rather than urban landscapes. Revealed are breathtaking aural vistas of the kind you would expect from ECM artists; pristine spacious northern European landscapes. One of the tunes is titled ‘Eich’, a clear homage to Norway’s Matias Eich and it is beautifully realised, but as you work through the album the unmistakable dreamy warmth and gentle slurring of Tomasz Stanko is evident. Jon Hassel helped shape the direction of Scandinavian trumpeters and perhaps via the Nordics, Australian trumpet players also. These are not the only influences evident here and the vast Australian landscapes cannot be overlooked. In spite of its influences, the album stands strongly on its own merits. The quintet utilises the skills of notable Australian musicians; Alistair Spence (piano), Carl Morgan (guitar), Jonathan Zwartz (bass) and Paul Derricott (drums). With these heavyweights accompanying Dilworth, he couldn’t lose. This is an album I really enjoyed. If you listen carefully it is possible to hear a distant Bell beckoning.

IMG_0435Zephyrix: There is nothing that piques my interest more than receiving news of an impending Barney McAll project. His projects are seldom announced in conventional ways but they creep into your consciousness like portents. You see an image or hear a rumour and know that something is unfolding. A few months ago I noticed a mysterious image appearing below a McAll tweet. There was no explanation, just the word Zephyrix and an image of a man-bird. Because he paints on a vast canvas and because he is a master of subliminal, the image was the message; leaving you with the sense that something extraordinary was about to appear. This how McAll works his magic. By communicating on many levels at once. You always get great music, but embedded in that music and in the related media are archetypes. This album exemplifies his approach to creating art and it touches on his philosophy.

A few weeks after I spotted the image I received an email from Melbourne’s Monash University, inviting me to attend the launch of McAll’s Zephyrix album as a guest. The work was commissioned for the prestigious Monash Art Ensemble, a fifteen-piece Jazz orchestra. The work had six parts and was conducted by the well respected Paul Grabowsky. A few years earlier I had interviewed McAll during his Peggy Glanville-Hicks composers residency in Sydney. The work was composed at around that time.

Although unable to attend the launch I received a copy of the album and as I played it that familiar question arose. How can one artist have such a diverse body of work and yet achieve such excellence in everything that he creates?  The answer lies partly in McAll’s work ethic, but above all, it lies in the way he views life and the creative process. The integrity of his vision is never subordinated to the commercial imperatives which often grind artists down. In spite of that (or because of it), he has a large following and wins award after award (he just collected three further Bell Awards for ‘Hearing the Blood’).

As you listen to Zephyrix you enter a world of textural richness with surprises at every turn. Mythical and exotic creatures populate the imagination, only to disappear as another, takes its place. McAll’s work is always strongly allegorical and in this case, the allusions touch on the fundamental struggles of existence. Beginning with the Greek God Zephyr (God of the west wind ) and followed by the voices of Black Crow, White Swan, Peacock, Pelican, Zephyrix and Phoenix.  The odd creature out is the most interesting, one of McAll’s creations, the Zephyrix. This is a fusing of the Phoenix and Man – the man wearing business attire, the phoenix perhaps his better self.

As you listen to the album you detect the spirit of Stravinsky, but the touchstones go beyond orchestral Jazz or modern classical music. Even though the references to the past are there, this work sits comfortably among the best of forward-looking orchestral works. It is a journey well worth taking and I am eagerly awaiting McAll’s next project.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Review

Steve Barry trio @ CJC – Album Release Tour

Steve Barry

Steve Barry the Auckland born Jazz pianist left New Zealand a few years ago and with him he carried our highest expectations.  That can be a distraction to an emerging artist, but Steve possesses a faculty that overrides distractions.  He is one of the better pianists that I have heard and there is a back story to that.  His focus is unwavering to the point of obsession and he is an artist that won’t be  hurried.  We impatiently awaited his first album, the eponymously named ‘Steve Barry‘; always urging him to record.  He resisted all entreaties, practicing and refining while an innate sense of timing guided him.

He was right and we were wrong – now is the perfect time.  The album launch at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the album itself fulfilled every expectation.

This is an artist who puts the integrity of the music before any rapid career path.  This is the right time for the album release, placed as it is firmly within the ambit of work being done by Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, Kurt Rosenwinkel and other ground breaking younger artists.  This new sound is gaining ascendency and with adherents like Will Vinson, Lage Lund and Mike Moreno it will continue to do so (‘James Farm’ are perhaps the epitome).  This music is mainstream Jazz but it references sources as diverse as Lenny Tristano, Indie Rock and even Hip Hop.  The fractured and complex rhythms are juxtaposed with soaring fluid guitar lines.  Against that are the textures and layers of melody.   Only the best musicians can pull this material off and only the best composers can write such material.

While Steve is clearly influenced by this ‘new sound’ he is no slavish imitator.   He has found something that often alludes younger pianists; a recognisable and original voice.Tim Firth

One listen to this album explains everything about this artist and this incredible band.  All of the tunes on the new album are composed by Steve Barry and the compositions are sometimes dense and multi-layered.  This is a musical journey of the profoundest sort.  One that demands your fullest attention and perhaps a little knowledge of what is happening in the Jazz world.  The highest rewards in Jazz occur when we understand something of what is going on.   This is not background music for cocktail parties.  This is up to the minute real.

Jazz musicians tell me that the ones who succeed are those with an almost monomaniacal focus; Steve is such a musician.  He works harder than most as do the band members.   These guys have been playing together for a number of years and they respond to each others every nuance.   If you close your eyes when Tim Firth is playing, you blink them open just to make sure that Eric Harland hasn’t jumped into the drum chair.  His ability to chop up rhythms and channel trip-hop beats is nothing less than astonishing.  I have seen drummers watch him in open-mouthed amazement.  He can also launch a flurry of quiet brush work which is never-the-less as propulsive as a whispering rocket.

Alex Boneham is another stellar musician and he has long been a favourite with New Zealand bass players and Jazz fans.  He is the glue holding these often complex compositions in place and he does so with unwavering certainty.  As the charts unfold the musicians pull away from the known – taking different routes as they stretch against the boundaries.  In spite of the complexity and the risk taking, the implied centre always holds firm.   One musician said to me that he had never heard a band hold such a tight centre while reaching so far into the unknown.  Alex Boneham

The program was nicely balanced and to do this the band deviated from the album on occasion.   There were three lessor known standards performed on the night and the one that stood out was Wayne Shorter’s achingly beautiful ballad ‘Teru’ (from ‘Adams Apple’).   There were two Shorter tunes and that did not surprise me.  Shorter’s works are deceptively complex and they fitted tidily into the repertoire.   As nice as the Shorter was, Steve Barry’s own compositions are the most deserving of praise.   Many of us in Auckland are familiar with these as he has been refining them over several years.  Each time I hear a tune like ‘Parks’, Unconcious-lee (yes referencing Tristano) or ‘Clusters’, I find that the works have evolved.   This is what good Jazz is about.  A restless exploration into the heart of the music.

The highlight of the evening came at the beginning of the second set.   The trio launched into a spirited up-tempo number ‘Changes’ which segued into a long probing introduction.   The solo introduction was of a quality that we seldom hear – no one breathed as the piece unfolded delicately.  The new tune was ‘Vintage’ (also from the album).  At a point so delicately balanced that no one saw it coming we suddenly became aware of the pulse of brushes.  The moment was so perfectly executed  that a gentle gasp arose from the audience.  There were fleeting glances left and right as everyone acknowledged the moment they had witnessed.  The brushes played a solid 4/4 groove over the tune which is in 7/4.

An older woman next to me had tears of joy in her eye; “It was so wonderful that I dared not breathe” she said.  “I was his original piano teacher and as a pupil he was one in a thousand.  He worked harder than most and was relentlessly passionate about music”.  This confirmed the source of the magic, hard work endless commitment….and chops.

There is an additional member on the album who did not make the New Zealand leg of the release tour, Carl Morgan.   His work is also extraordinary and very much in the style of Lage Lund, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mike Moreno.  The album deserves to do well and if it’s distributed widely enough it will.   Don’t just take my word for it; buy a copy and judge for yourself.   Be quick because the copies will go fast.  This is a must for any Jazz Lovers stocking whether you’re from Oceania or further afield.     CD Art - Front Cover

WHAT: ‘Steve Barry’ Cd  Jazz Groove Records, http://www.stevebarrymusic.com

WHO: Steve Barry (piano), Alex Boneham (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Carl Morgan (Guitar 3,4,9)

WHERE: Launch tour at CJC (Creative Jazz Club)

WHEN: November 28-11-2012