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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Australian and Oceania based bands, Post Millenium, Review

Dave Jackson ‘ Cosmontology Live’ Review

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I am a keen follower of ‘Tiny Hearts’ and if you explore the tributaries flowing from that creative enterprise you will arrive at this album. ‘Cosmontology’ is an incarnation (minus Eamon Dilworth).  Dave Jackson is the leader of this project and joining him are three of Australia’s finest improvising musicians.  This is Jackson’s second album under the title of ‘Cosmontology’, the last being in 2012.  I have not asked the meaning of the album title, but the related term Cosmology is the science of unravelling the beginnings of the universe.  At the centre of that work is the Big Bang Theory.  If we transcribe that theory into musical terms we begin to divine the ethos of this album.  This music feels incredibly bold to me, at times raw but always full of life, promise and excitement.  The sub atomic particles and vibrations that exist at the centre of the musical universe have coalesced here.

Jackson is an established alto saxophonist who like the other band members works in the Sydney area.  His approach while guided by an innate sense of musicality is somehow bolder than many of his alto playing contemporaries. There is a confidence that radiates from his every phrase, a sense that he is forging ahead without the need to look over his shoulder. He carries the history of Jazz in the DNA of his sound, but is always forward-looking.

This sense momentum is evident from the first listening.  The title track ‘Cosmontology’ begins with an almost meditative intro by Barry who plays Rhodes throughout the album.  In the first few bars the chords shift subtly, teasing us with possibilities.  This nicely sets the mood up for what comes next, an unerring journey into the heart of a compelling composition.  Bass and drums follow and as they weave in and around the chords a visceral power is evident as the groove develops.  When Jackson comes in there is no equivocation.  An overwhelming clarity of purpose has everyone moving in unison.

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Steve Barry is a gifted acoustic pianist and he is well recorded as such.  To hear him on a Rhodes is a treat.  On this album Barry often takes the measured approach, providing the necessary counter weight to the wilder explorations.  This frees Jackson, Botting and Derricott to work in a freer space, it is the springboard they need.  A steadying hand guiding the explorers as they surge forwards.  In Barry’s playing there is the feeling that you are on ‘Voyager’; experiencing unimaginable colours as you cut through the silence of space.

Tom Botting’s bass work quickly took my attention here.  I rate him as a bass player but I have seldom heard him recorded so well.  He has found an album where he can really shine and he makes the best of the opportunity.  His strong lines and immaculate sense of time serve to unleash Derricott who rains down shimmering flurries of beats as he moves and shapes the sound.  His contributions add depth, colour and heart stopping excitement.  As a unit they are immaculate.

Some people might not like the use of pedals with a horn, but they need to catch up.  Improvised music has never stood still, often appropriating new sounds, striking out in new directions.  The Scandinavian trumpeters fatten up their sound by electronic means as do American trumpeters like Cuong Vu.  The history of Jazz is full of examples of changed and amplified sound.  Without those experiments no Charlie Christian or Jimmy Smith.  What is the difference between utilising extended technique acoustically and adding the use of pedals to delay or chorus?  The only questions that should arise are; has this been done well, does the music have integrity?  In this case I say a resounding yes.

 

Who: Dave Jackson (alto saxophone, electronics), Steve Barry (Rhodes), Tom Botting (acoustic bass), Paul Derricott (drums)

What:  ‘Cosmontology Live’ – www.davejacksonmusic.com/

 

Australia & Pacific gigs, Australian and Oceania based bands, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Review

Tiny Hearts ‘Alluvium’ Review

Tiny Hearts

Some acts appear to arrive out of no-where.  All of the rehearsing and scuffling hidden from the common gaze.  Others invite you in at ground level, letting you see the raw material as it evolves, letting you see the promise, beckoning from the future.  Letting you see the influences, the base metal.  For a pop act the former makes sense, for improvised music it makes no sense at all.  Improvised music should move at will, explore awkward corners and morph into new shapes as it feeds off the life around it.  Standing still is death.

Last time this band was in town the name ‘Tiny Hearts’ had not yet surfaced.  They were the ‘Dilworths’ then, but the music was just as beguiling.  One of the things that I quickly learned was the strength of the bands influences, powerful tributaries feeding a common cause.  I was momentarily tempted to view the group as a discrete entity, a single project, but now I’m not so sure.  The more that I learn about them, the more I see the individual strengths of the musicians, where they’ve come from and where they’re headed.  Each of them have excelled in former projects but there is more.  Together they exude an organic quality, growing, evolving in unison.  Expressing the moment.  IMG_2404 - Version 2

I was familiar with a few of the tunes, the ones played during the ‘Dilworths’ tour.   I had also kept in touch with the musicians and seen clips as they developed their program along the way.  These are great compositions, but the performances lift them to another level.  All of the pieces have the individual musicians stamp imprinted on them.  This is in keeping with the ‘Tiny Hearts’ ethos.  A Steve Barry tune is unmistakably his, A Dilworth or Jackson tune likewise.  While most of the tunes were written with ‘Tiny Hearts’ in mind, they often referenced earlier projects or perhaps give a nod to future offshoots.   The ink was hardly dry on Tom Botting’s atmospheric Balclutha chart when he visited with the ‘Dilworths’ last time.  ‘Big Sea Reprise’ takes up the baton from Paul Derricott’s amazing Big Sea (Arrow) album.   I loved that album and asked Derricott about it when I caught their act last week.  He told me that he had liked the album as first, but then developed some doubts.  It lay fallow for a few years, then Paul revived it.  He is now pleased with it.   IMG_2370 - Version 2

Dilworth is the fronts person for the group, his friendliness and confidence making him and obvious choice.  Musically, all speak equally.  The composition of the band is part Australian and part Kiwi if you count their countries of origin.  In reality they’re best described as Australians.  Musicians like Barry and Botting could never be confined to our small Islands.  Dilworth, Derricott and Jackson are Sydney musicians with solid reputations.  If you are growing curious then here is my challenge.  Purchase a copy of ‘Alluvium’.  If you already possess it then order copies of: ‘Big Sea’ by Derricott, ‘Steve Barry’ the eponymous titled award-winning album by Barry, ‘Caravana Sun’ by Dilworth,  ‘Cosmontology’ by Jackson.   I have just ordered the latter to complete my set.   I also spoke to the band about future projects and there are plenty in store.  A Paul Derricott, a Steve Barry and a Dave Jackson album are in the wind.    IMG_2373 - Version 2

I missed their CJC gig as I was in Australia, but I caught them at the Auckland Jazz and Blues Club.   Reading the venue perfectly, they devoted much of the night to the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook.  This was not done begrudgingly as they revelled in the chance to play sets dominated by these timeless standards.  As the night progressed we whooped and clapped as numbers like ‘It don’t mean a thing’ brought the joy among us.  Embarking upon a night of unprepared swing era tunes would catch a lessor band on the hop.  For these guys it came naturally.

If you get the feeling that these musicians are in the middle of a massive and self-perpetuating project then you would be right.  For those who haven’t worked it out, the title says it all.  Alluvium comes from the Latin ‘to wash against’.  Loose base metals tumbling together in a stream.  That sounds about right.  I can’t wait to see them again in any of their incarnations.  They really are extraordinary.

 

Tiny Hearst rear

Who: Tiny Hearts – ‘Alluvium’  Eamon Dilworth (trumpet), Steve Barry (piano), Dave Jackson (saxophone), Tom Botting (bass), Paul Derricott (drums).

 

http://www.davejacksonmusic.com/     –      stevebarrymusic.bandcamp.com/

www.eamondilworth.com/     –    paulderricott.com/

 

Australia & Pacific gigs, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop

The Dilworths@CJC Winter International Series

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When the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) posted information about their Winter International Series, the first group up was the ‘Dilworths’.   I quickly scanned the information and zeroed in on the two Kiwi band members.  Not just because they are Kiwi’s but because they are superb musicians and well known to me.  The Dilworths current Pianist Steve Barry is an expat Aucklander, as is bass player Tom Botting.   Both had established solid reputations for themselves before leaving this city and both have since built new ones in Sydney.  On that basis alone locals knew that this was the sort of gig that you brave a rainy night for.   Steve Barry in particular has strong audience pulling power in Auckland and many are aware that he has just won the prestigious Bell Award.

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Sydney-sider Eamon Dilworth was relatively unknown to me prior to the Dilworths tour, but it is not a name that I will forget in a hurry.  His band is something else.  Eamon plays a formidable trumpet and he has long been recognised as a musician with much of interest to communicate.  He is a Bell award nominee and the recipient of various scholarships which have led to him traveling overseas and studying in Italy.  He has performed in Romania, Austria, Italy and England and his compositions reflect some of the influences that he has soaked up on those journeys.  While we have some terrific trumpeters around New Zealand we can not match the breadth and depth of the Australians.  Having a trumpeter of this calibre visiting is a rare treat.

Leaders need to exert a strong sense of influence but at the same time they need to know when to stand back and let things happen organically.  The Dilworths appear to have the settings just right.  The camaraderie and the consequent collective output is what works so well for them.  This is at least the second line up for the band and the mix is perfect.  The observant will have noticed how carefully these guys listen to each other, tossing challenges and giving support in equal measure.   What is also evident is how much fun they are having.  There is nothing more off-putting than being confronted by a grim-faced group of musicians whose only purpose is convincing you just how seriously they take their music.  This band was fun, lively and extraordinary.  We all felt that we had witnessed a great show and more importantly been part of one.   This is the essence of good performance and of good Live Jazz

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Everyone in the band contributed at least one tune to the gig and the set list was fluid.   The band would play a few numbers and then quickly confer on what to play next.  They had a grab bag of compositions to draw upon and although a random selection process was applied, the set lists formed a surprisingly cohesive whole.  Thomas Botting’s ‘Balclutha’ was just great with Tom and Steve working a groove to the marrow while Dave Jackson (alto sax), Paul Derricott (drums) and Eamon Dilworth (trumpet) created delicious mayhem.  Tom has a following in New Zealand and deservedly so.  IMG_7391 - Version 2

Steve Barry’s pianistic and compositional skills are greatly admired in New Zealand and anyone who has purchased his album ‘Steve Barry‘ (Jazzgroove) will understand why.  Last Wednesday we saw yet another facet to his playing.  Not as leader or accompanist but as ‘A’-grade ensemble member.  As with all of this line up he added maximum value without overcrowding his band mates.  Paul Derricott also contributed a great composition and his album ‘Big Sea-Arrow’ (Jazzgroove) is really worth purchasing.  I have hardly had it off my Hi Fi since picking up a copy.  These are all bands to track down and see again and again.  Altoist Dave Jackson is a great soloist, with a lyricism that sets him apart.  There is also something compelling about his tone production (quite like John Surmon’s alto sound).  He and Eamon often crouch on the floor when others are soloing.  I like this as it signals the ebb and flow of performance; as if choreographed.  I love musicians who move and dance and these guys executed their dance moves perfectly.

The influences were many and varied and while you could hear flashes of Eick, Stanko, Douglas and many others, the band still sounded very Australasian.  I have come to value this local sound and I miss it when I travel.   There is an honesty that comes from living so far from the so-called mainstream Jazz world.  Jazz is now finding a universal voice and New Zealand and Australia are feeding into that just as the Europeans have done for some years.  Good music has no borders.  While comparisons are often redundant I do have one to make.  It came to me while I was listening to the Dilworths EP.  They have captured a vibe very close to that of the 65 Miles Quintet.  In short they had a controlled looseness that can only arise when a band intuitively knows exactly where they need to be minute by minute.   ‘If I were a Bell’ was the one standard of the night, with the melody barely expressed before they were paring it back to the bone.  Using the changes as occasional touchstones, working with space, colour and texture as if they were commodities not to be squandered.    IMG_7445 - Version 2

Most of the tunes were fast paced but we did have one or two ballads to round them out.  The last set finished with a tune by Eamon.   The musicians put their instruments aside and chanted and we were instantly mesmerised.  While it had some of the feel of an ancient Peyote chant it was subtler than Jim Peppers Witchi-Tai-To.   We loved it and many of us are still talking about it a week later.  The perfect out chorus to a perfect evening.

What: The Dilworths (Australia)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Winter International Series – 1885 building basement, Auckland, New Zealand.  Wed 22nd June 2013

Purchase Details: Jazzgroove records