Good Music always says something interesting; it’s a form of communication where a musical statement begins a process and a listener responds. With any innovative musical form, we need to bring something of ourselves to the equation. The more open our ears the better the experience. Gifted improvisers of all cultures understand these fundamentals and because of this they mostly tell old stories in new ways. Rarely and bravely, musicians hit us with stories not yet fixed in the popular imagination. Steve Barry and his collaborators have a foot in both camps. While this is adventurous material, it is also approachable to anyone with open ears. What we heard at the CJC was innovative but the archetypes of all music were located deep in the compositional structure. A careful listening revealed trace elements from composers like Stravinsky or Bley and perhaps even of indigenous music.
The first piece they opened with was titled ‘Grind’ – a composition inspired by Sydney traffic (much as Tristano utilised every street sound that floated through his NY window). The piece began as journeys do with determined momentum – a degree of clarity followed by a more frenetic stop-start feel as the piece progressed – then reflection. It appealed to me greatly and twelve minutes in, I knew that I was hearing something similar to the approach used by Bley/Guiffre/Swallow in ‘Freefall’. There are moments in musical history when profound change is signalled and that album was one of them. The critics of the time hated it of course but modern Jazz audiences have caught up. The new Barry album ‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ will not be regarded as controversial but as vital and forward-looking. Back then clubs took fright and closed their doors but no club owner worth their salt would miss booking this group.
Barry is an interesting pianist and composer and this project may be his best to date. At the CJC he was confronted with a basic upright piano, but he somehow transformed it into a new instrument entirely. Many in the audience were fascinated and approached him afterwards to enquire how he achieved this slight of hand. Clever miking and a constant repetitive damping of the soft pedal was evident, but I suspect that his rapid-fire staccatissimo touch contributed as much to the effect. I know that Barry has also explored Bartok and the classical modernists and this may hold some clues as well. Whether by happenstance or contrivance, the overall effect was enormously pleasing. There were set patterns and themes, but these altered, developed, as fresh ideas arose from them.
I was delighted to finally catch up with Dave Goodman (PhD), having heard him last at the 505 in Sydney (along with Mike Nock, Rog Manins, James Muller and Cameron Undy). Goodman is an enormously versatile drummer and a popular educator. His role here is varied, but often that of ‘colourist’. Rolling his sticks over the drum heads, or providing contrast with irregular taps on the snare or a muted ride cymbal – and entering these interesting conversations as an equal. The other trio member was Jeremy Rose on reeds (his horns, the alto saxophone and bass clarinet). He was just superb and every bold sound or whispered breath added new dimensions. It is seldom that we hear a bass clarinet and to hear one in a trio setting of this kind is even rarer. The clarinets woodiness and rich harmonics added texture, the alto, a hawk awaiting its moment then swooping purposefully. In spite of the varying tempos and moods, the album imparts a delicacy from start to finish. Live, they got the best out of the acoustics and venue piano. What a perfect sound palette Barry has chosen for this project and whether live or recorded, how satisfying the realisation.
The album ‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ is available from stevebarrymusic.bandcamp.com or from retail and online sources (I recommend Bandcamp). The album features Max Alduca on bass. The live gig took place at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – February 21, 2018.
Guitarist Peter Koopman has long been established on the Australian Jazz scene. He returns once or twice a year and when he does he brings interesting projects with him. This tour was no exception; with new compositions, some refocused standards, and a re-jigged trio lineup he hit the mark. Some musicians reach a permanent plateau, and then make only incremental advances from there on. To date, Koopman has been on a steady upwards trajectory; and with little sign of slowing. It’s noticeable in the detail, but also in the overall impression. He is matter of fact on the bandstand, there’s even a hint of diffidence about him, but this only reinforces the impression that he is all about the music. From the first few notes, band and audience are subsumed in the performance. One of the subtleties that I noticed between visits is in his tone. It is cleaner but broader, conveying more information, allowing listeners to hear nuance and micro changes in modulation. And on some numbers gentle harmonics, rising off the upper end of a rapid run. His newer compositions also enhanced the project; nicely paced, making room for the whole trio and very appealing to the ear. I was not alone in observing this trajectory. One of our best New Zealand guitarists was later heard to mutter, only half-jokingly, “Damn, I’m off home to burn my guitar”. Australia has a number of excellent guitarists and some are equal to the best in the world. The challenges and opportunities of working in such an environment, have obviously suited Koopman. Judas Boogie, Meth Blue, Dog Annoyance, and Hypochondria were Koopman’s tunes. The band also played a sizzling version of ‘Airegin’ (Sonny Rollins). ‘Airegin’ (Nigeria spelled backward) is a relentlessly upbeat tune and often tackled by guitarists – at least those brave enough. Another Rollins tune was ‘Paradox’. The others ranged from the familiar ‘The best things in life are free’ (De Silva), and ‘The things we did last summer’ (Styne/Cahn) – to the less familiar – ‘The big push’ (by Shorter from his little known ‘Soothsayer’ album) and ‘Montara’ by Bobby Hutcherson (from his amazing latin album of the same name). Why we do not hear more Hutcherson is quite beyond me (thanks for this one PJK).
Max Alduca was on upright bass and he came with Koopman last time he visited. He has also been active on the avant-garde circuit with NZ musicians. A thoughtful melodic player, leaving space where appropriate and always where he should be during a tune; an active and equal trio member. Tim Gelden was new to the CJC audience, instantly catching our attention, adding excitement with his crisp tasteful stick work; during moments of interplay with Koopman and Alduca, heart-stopping action.
Peter Koopman Trio: Koopman (Guitar, compositions), Max Alduca (upright bass), Tim Gelden (drums), performed at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 12th April 20117.
When I started attending the CJC, I heard Peter Koopman quite often. He was always impressive, but never a showy guitarist. His approach matched his quiet demeanor, an easy-going manner obscuring a real determination to excel at his craft. Before long he moved to Sydney and although the local Jazz scene laments this musicians rite of passage, we also know it is the right thing. At best, these offshore journeys produce the Mike Nocks and the Matt Penmans, and we all benefit from that.
It is harder to track the progress of a musician once domiciled in another country, but news of Koopman’s milestones often reach us. Since he moved to Sydney in 2011 he has worked with a variety of bands; his own, and sometimes as a sideman. He has also placed himself in interestingly diverse musical situations and the learnings arising from these interactions are evident in his current compositions and playing.We have seen him back in New Zealand a few times during the last five years, but this is his first visit leading a guitar trio. As anticipated, we experienced a more mature Koopman, his guitar work showcasing well-honed skills. Australia is a merciless testing ground for improvising musicians and especially so for guitarists. Working in the same scene as Carl Dewhurst or James Muller, and holding your own, the proof of the pudding. In 2014 Koopman was placed 3rd in the Australian National Jazz Awards, which are held at Wangaratta each year. These awards are fiercely contested and that is no small accomplishment. The Inner Westies Trio for the New Zealand trip was Peter Koopman (guitar), Max Alduca (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums). The guitarist and Bass player from West Sydney, the drummer from West Auckland. Alduca is a compelling bass player, and a drawcard on his own. He often includes a touch of tasteful arco bass in his performance. I last saw him when he toured with the ‘Antipodeans’, an innovative young ensemble, populated with musicians from three countries. Alduca made a hit then and reinforced our positive view of him this night. He has a number of gigs about Auckland aside from the CJC gig. A player bursting with originality and with a notable way of engaging with audiences. Nice to see him back and especially in this company.
In spite of his age, Stephen Thomas has long been established among New Zealand’s premier drummers. He is often a first call for visiting improvising artists. Although primarily a Jazz drummer he is as comfortable in avant-garde settings as in large rock auditoriums. This unit worked well for Koopman and his interesting compositions and new takes on old standards all sounded fresh. Koopman originals dominated the gig, often intensely melodic, modern sounding and at times with real edge. Among the standards, and the final tune was Joe Henderson’s ‘Isotope’; a warm rendering, with enough fire to melt the coldest night. Below is an original Koopman composition.
Peter Koopmans Inner Westies: Peter J Koopman (guitar), Max Alduca (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 6th July 2016.
The Antipodes project is an innovative one; well conceived and excellent in its realisation. It is a young group but you wouldn’t think so to listen to them. Musical maturity is generally equated with time served on the bandstand, but if the right musicians come together, surprising synergies can occur; artists collectively punching above their weight. Antipodes hits the mark on a number of levels. Firstly the writing is superb. The musicianship is also great but for me it is the communication of a shared vision that lifts them above the ordinary. Given that three members of the band are new to project, that is surprising. At the epicentre of this group are the core members: Jake Baxendale, Luke Sweeting and Callum Allardice. The original lineup featured respected Australian trumpeter Ken Allars. Allars is at present on tour somewhere in a distant corner of the globe – replacing him is Simon Ferenci. It might be supposed that the absence of Allars changed the dynamic, but Ferenci fitted in as if he’d always been there – a trumpet player I had not heard before, but one I will be happy to hear anytime in future. Also new are the bass player Max Alduca and drummer Harry Day. Like Fereci both terrific players and in synch with the over-arching vibe. Without the cushioning bass work and often edgy drum fills the band would be less interesting. Their contributions were on the mark. I have long admired Baxendale’s alto playing, featuring as altoist in some of the best New Zealand line-ups (The Jac, Richter City Rebels, Wellington Mingus Ensemble, JB3 etc). Baxendale pulled off some blinding solos in this gig and I have posted a clip which demonstrates his mastery and inherent lyricism. He is a player with depth. I am also glad that Luke Sweeting was touring with the Antipodes again. Sweeting is the sort of pianist who captivates in numerous ways and his solo bravura on a good number can leave audiences open-mouthed. Perhaps more than anyone else in the ensemble he brings out that trademark Aussie-European aesthetic. The first time I heard Antipodes I identified Ken Allars as being the link to a particular Scandinavian sound; his command of extended technique, but moreover his low volume ambient groove-tone. Now I am revising that view as Sweeting has exactly encapsulated that sound, while doing it in a uniquely Australian way. The other central figure is guitarist Allardice. Often sitting quietly in the mix as his warm comping lifts the others without ever crowding them out. Then out of nowhere, unexpectedly, those heart stopping solos, souring and as fluid as silk in the breeze. Allardice is a fine composer, as are Sweeting and Baxendale. There are shades of meaning to the word ‘Antipodes’. It comes from the Greek ‘to set ones foot upon an opposite place’. If you live in London then the Antipodes Islands of New Zealand are the opposite land mass. For Southern Europe and North Africa it is in Australia. The reverse also applies. Given the musical linkages and especially given the geographical linkages the band is perfectly named (conceived by Australasians living in Germany). This project revives on a regular basis and on current form it stands every chance of becoming an institution. I certainly hope so. Antipodes: Jake Baxendale (alto), Luke Sweeting (piano), Callum Allardice (guitar), Simon Ferenci (trumpet), Max Alduca (bass), Harry Day (drums).
At the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, Auckland 30th September 2015