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, 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

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians

P J Koopman quartet (with James Wylie)@ CJC

P J Koopman and Thomas Botting joined the ‘music drain’ exodus to Australia two years ago but Auckland still draws them back from time to time.  When they do return they are always booked at the CJC Jazz Club and this invariably draws old friends and new.   PJ Koopman is one of those guitarists who makes it look easy, but like all dedicated musicians he works extremely hard at his craft.  The CJC gig on the 3rd of October featured many of the fast flowing post bop tunes that PJ excels at, but there was something else in the mix.  His repertoire soon expanded to include some country tinged material of the sort Bill Frisell and Bruce Forman exemplify and while there were only two such numbers, it gave the evening a flavour that it would otherwise not have had.  This had the feel of an interesting project in the making.  

Thomas may not have put on any physical weight but he has certainly beefed up his compositional credentials .   After a week of listening to Americana just prior to returning to New Zealand, he has composed a tune, which I will now include as a You Tube clip.   This is a great composition and one which they executed well.   The tune called ‘Wylie Coyote’  had been written to honour alto saxophonist James Wylie, who joined the band for this one gig.   James is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Thessaloniki Greece and was due to return there within hours of the gig finishing.   James is well-known for his oblique takes on country tunes and so this title was appropriate on so many levels.   His out of left field rendition of Wichita Lineman is a perennial favourite.  

P J Koopman was exactly the right guitarist to tackle this tune and I’m certain Thomas had that firmly in mind when he composed it.  I had not heard PJ do this type of material before, but the fact that he did it so well is scarcely surprising.   He has open ears, good mentors, great chops and above all taste.   His Frisell like slurred chords portrayed the roots of the genre (and perhaps his other influences); but without sacrificing his originality.  The other country tune was the gorgeous ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and the first few chords took me back to a film I saw in the 70’s.  Antonioni’s movie Zubritzki Point was a portrayal of the youth counterculture and its soundtrack has outlived the popularity of the movie.  The soundtrack featured Pink Floyd (‘Heart Beat Pig Meat’ – who could forget the exploding food in slow motion), The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia solo (playing etherial improvised licks while the actors writhed in a strange love-making frenzy which stirred up lots of desert dust).  best of all was the version of Tennessee Waltz which twanged out sweetly while tumbleweeds blew past a silent desert bar.    This track conjured up all that happy madness again and this is the power of good music.  

The drummer on the gig was Andrew Keegan, who has recently moved up from Christchurch to Auckland .   Andrew is an invaluable asset to the Auckland scene.   ‘Wylie Coyote’ was in 4/4 time but the feel was different because of the way the beats were accented.   Andrew handled his traps like he had been playing with these cats for months.   Nice work all round.