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.
What She Sees
Silke Eberhard and Sandy Evans
Published in the Weekend Australian, August 25, 2018
On this experimental album two highly skilled saxophonists – Germany’s Silke Eberhard and Australia’s Sandy Evans – play together without the normal restraints that operate in orthodox jazz. Those restraints might include a chord structure, a steady pulse, written melodies and so on, but when present they of course limit the jazz musician’s freedom to play whatever she wishes. It’s not surprising that innovative musicians attempt to push the boundaries and open up new vistas and possibilities. The result is free improvisation, and there is no better example of this rather old genre – it dates back to the American innovator Lennie Tristano in 1949 – than What She Sees, a pleasant but confronting album. Eberhard plays alto saxophone, while Evans plays tenor and soprano saxophones, toys, suling and flax. Fifteen short duets are essentially snatches of musical experience. I hear exotic and unexpected sounds rather than jazz as we normally understand it. Perhaps the best inroad into such music is to ask the artists what they are trying to achieve, and I am indebted to Sandy Evans for providing the terminology that has helped me to better understand the music. She and Eberhard are exploring saxophone techniques, timbral manipulation, intervallic development, microtonality, swing, adventure, consonance, dissonance, chance, experimentalism, history and surrealism. So there it is. Undoubtedly this is serious fun for the musicians, but some listeners may find it hard going. Without the music being filtered through the familiar signposts I’ve mentioned, the potential for success in this genre is limited. Still, as with all art music, discriminating listeners will make an effort to come to it, and find their own way into the music. Given open-minded listening, this is entirely possible.
The Song Is You
Andrew Dickeson Quartet
Published in the Weekend Australian, September 8, 2018
This outstanding album is so unassuming and unpretentious, and so supportive of the essential verities in jazz, that it warms the heart. Four supremely relaxed Australian musicians Andrew Dickeson (drums), Nick Hempton (alto & tenor saxophones), Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and Ashley Turner (double bass) allow the music to effortlessly roll out of them. The nine tracks are mostly American standards, by composers such as Thelonious Monk and Cedar Walton, plus one from the Australian Bernie McGann (his classic Spirit Song) and a spontaneous blues, played off the cuff, which works like a dream. An unusual arrangement of Jerome Kern’s The Song Is You, brilliantly played, is a highlight. It’s hard to imagine a saxophonist with a better sound than Hempton. As an improviser he resists the exhibitionistic tendency to rush in with the obligatory flurry of notes. His measured and impeccably logical solos are a reminder of the virtue of understatement. Still he can move seamlessly into overdrive when required. In many places I hear the magisterial authority of Dexter Gordon. Not only are Dewhurst’s solos splendid, but his playing here is a superb exhibition of ‘comping’ – the underrated art of accompanying other soloists. He is a significant part of a faultless, steaming rhythm section. Dickeson has arranged an unusual recording process: direct to tape without the mediation of a mixing desk, and no post-production. Initially I was puzzled at the album’s small sound until I realized that I needed simply to turn up the volume, whence the air was filled with glorious sound, beautifully balanced. The four players celebrate the music with such commitment that, even without being consciously innovative, the music sounds completely modern and contemporary.
The Red Onion Jazz Band 1962-1967
The Red Onion Jazz Band
Australian Jazz Museum
Published in the Weekend Australian, September 22, 2018
This enthralling double album documents the early career of Melbourne’s famous Red Onion Jazz Band until their departure for England and Europe in 1967. Two-and-a-half hours of music - 48 tracks, in chronological order, expertly remastered by Ken Simpson-Bull - show clearly why the band had such impact during the 1960s traditional jazz revival. Basically self-taught musicians and mostly teenagers when they first recorded together, they were initially rough around the edges instrumentally. From the beginning, however, they played hot music with the infectious raw spirit of youth, and won extraordinary popularity. Often irreverent and tongue-in-cheek, they were highly entertaining. Their 1962 version of It’s the Loveliest Night of the Year, sung by Gerry Humphries, has a Tiny Tim-like absurdity. Still they were clever, brilliant musicians, learning all the time, their major assets being the explosive cornet playing of Brett Iggulden, and the drumming of Allan Browne, who provided the rhythm section with a great feel, based on African American drummers such as Baby Dodds and Sonny Greer. By using the tuba, instead of string bass, they were able, more than most other such groups, to capture the authentic flavour of the early jazz they were reviving. The Red Onions were surprisingly versatile too, exploring a number of related streams in early jazz, not only the collective spirit of New Orleans jazz, but also the artistry of Louis Armstrong, the first pre-eminent soloist to emerge in jazz. Armstrong’s spirit imbues Iggulden’s playing. The Red Onions also covered Duke Ellington’s early works, their versions becoming increasingly sophisticated over the years, as in their 1967 version of the Ellington/Bubber Miley classic East St Louis Toodleoo. By then the Red Onions were a highly polished outfit.