JAZZ ALBUM REVIEWS IN THE AUSTRALIAN
In September, 2017 Eric Myers commenced reviewing jazz albums in the Review supplement of The Weekend Australian. All reviews in this folder are written by Myers.
Five° Below Live
Published in the Weekend Australian, August 4, 2018
This is a thought-provoking glimpse into the musical mind of Andrea Keller, a most innovative Australian jazz pianist/composer. With an impressive catalogue of recorded works already, and a swag of awards, she compels attention. Whenever she plays the piano something magical happens, as shown in her work as a sideperson, supporting other composers. This new work is frankly experimental. Six of her compositions are performed by five rhythm section players: herself on piano, Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Sam Anning (double bass), Mick Meagher (electric bass) and James McLean (drums). It is also a brave venture, recorded live in the Melbourne jazz club Jazzlab, just one take. In a short review one cannot do justice to the eclectic music emanating from such a fertile imagination, so I confine myself to the album’s most arresting aspect: Keller’s use of doom metal, a genre rarely heard in jazz. Keller is going one further than American jazz musicians who are increasingly incorporating pop styles such as hip-hop. Using effects on electric bass Mick Meagher articulates long drones and industrial ignitions, determining the tone of some compositions. In Grand Forfeit, an apocalyptic heavy metal solo from guitarist Magnusson underlines the sense of impending doom created by Meagher. Underneath Magnusson’s solo Keller provides an angular rhythmic figure with alternating bars of 4/4 and 9/8. In this way, a jazz sensibility maximises the potential of a simpler genre. Five° Below Live is full of such interesting innovations. There are places where the music is dormant, and one wonders whether this is minimalism not quite working, or whether the stillness in the music has a higher purpose. But there is much to discover on this fascinating, mysterious album.
Today Will Be Another Day
James Macaulay and the Happy Hoppy Orchestra
Published in the Weekend Australian, August 11, 2018
James Macaulay is the sort of highly talented musician who comes along once in a generation. A mellifluous trombonist, he is completely at home in most jazz styles whether they be traditional, mainstream, modern or the so-called avant-garde. Today Will Be Another Day dips into the last two idioms, but many listeners will hear this as primarily an album of free jazz. This is not to say that members of an eight-piece ensemble arrive at the studio, and on the down beat, play whatever comes into their heads. Macaulay provides either notated themes, or head arrangements, or directions, producing ensemble passages that are on the dissonant side, but they generally merge into iconoclastic statements by individual musicians, or collective improvisation. In this setting players such as Scott McConnachie (alto saxophone) and Ben Harrison (trumpet), in tearaway mood, excel. Harrison is the first young Australian trumpeter I’ve heard who appears to be standing on the shoulders of the celebrated Scott Tinkler. This album was recorded in Tokyo in 2016, its release made possible by Macaulay’s winning the National Jazz Award at the Wangaratta Festival in 2017. The players include some Australians touring with Macaulay’s punk trad band The Lagerphones, two expatriate Australians who live in Japan - pianist Aaron Choulai and drummer Joe Talia - plus a handful of Japanese musicians. An unusual innovation is featuring on three tracks the bass koto, played by Miyama McQueen-Tokita. Seven compositions are Macaulay’s plus Prednisolone, written by the late Allan Browne. Choulai’s piano work is especially beautiful throughout, and three Melbourne singers Lisa Salvo, Hannah Cameron and James Gilligan perform a lovely vocal work Spring Chorale which ends the album in a pensive mood.
Fish of Milk
Published in the Weekend Australian, August 18, 2018
The Necks include three brilliant Australian jazz musicians, but are sometimes seen as anti-jazz, because they reject what jazz has long promoted: the virtuosic statement from the macho improviser. Instead Chris Abrahams (keyboards), Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Tony Buck (drums, percussion, guitar) continue their formula for success: a distillation of two once-unfashionable idioms, free improvisation and minimalism. Other outstanding Australian jazz musicians over the last 30 years produced great music, but no-one was listening. The Necks meanwhile went on to develop a world-wide cult audience. A distinguished writer has described them in the New York Times as “the greatest trio on earth”. Body continues their fascinating experiments with sound texture. I hear four movements in a one-hour work. Movement one is dominated by simple, repetitive tremolo figures on piano from Abrahams against an eight-feel cymbal figure with a variable but soft back-beat by Buck, and sparse accompaniment by Swanton. After a placid movement two, which ends about half-way through the work, the third begins with the explosive re-entry of Buck’s eight-feel cymbal figure, this time with a vigorous back-beat. The trio becomes a rock rhythm section. A high-energy solo statement might have been inserted here but instead, back in the sound-mix, there is an ambiguous but still convincing overdubbed sheet of sound from guitar. An unchanging, but driving rhythm continues for 15 minutes. Movement four is restful and relaxing, with sonorous bass notes in the piano, gentle cymbal figures, gongs, bells, and subtle explosions – the sort of ambient jazz this trio has made famous. In their 20th album the Necks’ strengths are amply demonstrated: avoidance of cacophony; restraint; and the indispensable empathy resulting from 30 years of playing together.