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.
The Gravity Project
The Gravity Project
Published in the Weekend Australian, November 24, 2018
This strange album emanates from Melburnians Paul Grabowsky (piano) and Rob Burke (saxophones, alto clarinet). Other musicians include Narin Dasika (trumpet), Sam Anning (bass), two Australians living in Japan Aaron Choulai (SP 404R) and Joe Talia (drums & electronics), two Japanese musicians Kuniko Obina (koto) and Masaki Nakamura (shakuhachi), and two rappers Daichi Yamamoto and Kojoe. Recorded in Tokyo, the album combines Western jazz - particularly its free improvisation strand - with two traditional Japanese instruments, against a background of subtle electronic sounds and a very free jazz rhythm section. Overall the music is highly agreeable. Its most controversial aspect is the presence of the two rappers on three tracks. I’m told by hip-hop enthusiasts that the treatment of rap here is perverse. It’s possible that this is an exercise in deconstruction by musicians who are intent on pushing jazz into unexplored territory, and redefining conventional sounds. Rap is now heard everywhere as muzak. Is it not an overblown musical genre, ripe for deconstruction? For much of the album the koto and shakuhachi players are quiet, if not diffident, alongside master improvisers like Grabowsky and Burke. Obina and Nakamura come to the fore, however, in the last two of six tracks. Vinegar, the sole composition by Burke (all others are by Grabowsky) includes some inspired interaction between Burke’s tenor saxophone and Obina’s koto, before Anning lays down a lovely bass figure in three, enabling the ensemble to float, and the listener to drift into musical beauty. In Grabowsky’s well-known composition Psalm, Nakamura’s strong, haunting shakuhachi solo enables the album to finish on a note of considerable triumph. This is the most innovative and daring album I have heard for some time.
The Komeda Project
Andrea Keller & Miroslav Bukovsky
Published in the Weekend Australian, December 1, 2018
The late Polish jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda was primarily known for the music he composed for the films of Roman Polanski, including Rosemary’s Baby. On this album Komeda’s interesting compositions are re-imagined by two contemporary Australian jazz musicians of Czech heritage, pianist Andrea Keller and trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky. The brainchild of Polish-born enthusiast Peter Rechniewski, now owner of the Sydney jazz club Foundry 616, this worthwhile project has had a positive effect in the national jazz community. Keller secured the funding, which provided indispensable work for an all-star octet, and enabled this music to be performed at prestigious jazz festivals in Melbourne and Sydney in 2014. ABC broadcaster Gerry Koster facilitated the recording of the music. An all-star ensemble includes three horns, rhythm section, and iconoclastic violinist Erkki Veltheim. In a full-blooded romp through Komeda’s music, eight brilliant musicians showcase their individual talents as improvisers. A prime example is the trombonist James Greening, whose playing epitomises Sydney’s expansiveness and generosity of spirit. The tearaway saxophonist Andrew Robson is exciting throughout on alto or baritone. He, Greening and Bukovsky are of course highly credentialed members of the great band Ten Part Invention. Ben Hauptmann (guitar & mandolin) completely literate as an orthodox jazz guitarist, shows that, when required, he can throw the switch to high energy rock, and make the guitar sing. Jonathan Zwartz (double bass) and Evan Mannell (drums) anchor an outstanding rhythm section which includes the ubiquitous Andrea Keller. Keller’s eclectic arrangement of Knife In The Water, from Polanski’s feature film debut, is one of the album’s many highlights and, in Bukovsky’s arrangement of Svantetic, she shows that, as a soloist, she can be relied upon to produce something distinctively original. Highly recommended.
Ellen Kirkwood + Sirens Big Band
Published in the Weekend Australian, December 15, 2018
Once upon a time, there was a director of jazz studies at the Sydney Conservatorium who, it is alleged, said that women could not play jazz, because they lacked… well… certain physical attributes. Now sadly deceased, that misogynist gentleman would probably turn in his grave if he could hear the music on [A]part, a 56-minute suite of symphonic proportions by composer/trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood. The powerful 17-piece Sirens Big Band consists almost entirely of Sydney female musicians, augmented by a handful of men. Kirkwood presents four works, running to 56 minutes. Their subject matter includes the internet; the refugee crisis; climate change; and reflections on the present. Whatever the inspiration, this is a major accomplishment for big band jazz in this country. The writing is superb, an enthralling, entertaining exploration of old and new sounds. Importantly, Kirkwood has struck gold with three guest soloists. Pianist Andrea Keller is a wondrous presence throughout. In the second track, On The Refugee Crisis, the band drops out and Keller provides an extraordinary three-minute free improvisation. This unexpected tour de force pinned my ears back. Later, in the same piece, a second guest Sandy Evans plays such a gut wrenching soprano saxophone solo that I felt she was unleashing her inner Coltrane. These two incredible solos may well be regarded in the future as milestones in the history of Australian jazz, similar to Charlie Munro’s ground-breaking first solo on his 1967 album Eastern Horizons. The wordless vocals of third guest Gian Slater, either articulating written lines, or executing her own improvisations, give the album throughout a beautiful, ethereal quality which underlies the great appeal of the album. Ellen Kirkwood has brought off a splendid achievement.