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.
Barney McAll (TQX)
Extra Celestial Arts
Published in The Weekend Australian, January 12, 2019
If I had heard Global Intimacy blindfolded, I would have considered it a highly impressive album of rap and pop music, full of brilliant compositions and strong, relevant social messages. Musically it is superior to much of the vacuous pop music that is everywhere today. The mysterious collective TQX is the brainchild of one of Australia’s most distinctive and talented jazz musicians, Barney McAll. We are dealing here not with jazz itself, but with the vision of a jazz artist who is utilising pop and commercial genres to reflect on today’s world, a world dominated by the internet. Among the many social messages on the album is the argument that musicians, like other artists, need today’s advanced technologies. Such facilities as Google, YouTube, and Facebook have been a positive force in enabling musicians to network with each other, and develop their audiences. At the same time, however, there is a downside. “We are disturbed by the control that technology exerts on our lives, and social media’s power to reduce people to nothing more than cash cows,” says TQX. Global Intimacy is a running commentary on this conundrum. The album has 17 tracks, most of which are between three and four minutes in length. McAll has collaborated with many co-composers and artists over five years, recording in London, Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, Melbourne, Munich and Borneo. Two tracks not composed by McAll are Text Forgiveness (traditional) and Pay No Attention, (by American guitarist Ben Monder, who provides a rap lyric). The American rap artist Kool A. D. appears on three tracks, along with other American rappers Pete Miser, Malik Work and Cormega, plus the Australian rapper Gabriel Winterfield. American singers on various tracks, some of whom rap as well as sing, include Sirah, Genevieve Artadi, Shayna Steele, and Josh Mease. Australian singers include Daniel Merriweather, Sia Furler, Gian Slater, Belle Bandgard and Greta Gertler. Slater’s Melbourne vocal group Invenio Singers appears on two tracks. I am no expert on hip-hop, but I can hear that the rap lyrics presented are appropriately ironic, ambiguous and subversive. The key to this work however is the preponderance of lovely pop songs which comprise more than half the album. They feature beautiful melody lines, highly intelligent lyrics, and the rich vocal harmonies characteristic of the best pop music, put together with considerable mastery. The most attractive of them, Facebook Killed The Arts, could have been written by John Lennon. The best jazz musicians will often experiment with related forms of music such as pop or rock and, in the process, create music more interesting than in the original forms. In this way, they can expand their core audience (think Herbie Hancock in the past, Kamasi Washington today). McAll is in that tradition. If ever he were to have a hit single, and make a lot of money, it would be with an album such as this.
Published in The Weekend Australian, January 26, 2019
This is the first recording by the Australian pianist Casey Golden with his London-based quartet. His previous albums have been with his Australian-based trio The Outliers, or with his uncle, the excellent guitarist Tony Barnard, who also lives in the UK. Atlas features Danish bassist Henrik Jensen, and two British musicians Alex Munk (guitar), and Will Glaser (drums). All are excellent musicians but Golden is the dominant force, in an album that includes nine of his original compositions. Atlas epitomises modern jazz as conceived by the generation of musicians who grew up in the 1990s and the noughties, and are now aged in their late 20s or early 30s. They have a natural affinity with the 8-feel rhythms of rock music that have been in the air all their lives. While the swing-feel is not totally absent here, this music has to be classified as jazz/rock fusion, a somewhat inadequate term to describe Golden, who demonstrates an unusually wide range of musical attributes. For me his lyricism, as in Atlas, High-Up Piano Intro, Christmas Carol and Everybody Else, is the most endearing aspect of the album. Still, his playing is not merely delicate and sensitive. A brilliant improviser with a highly developed melodic sensibility no matter what the time-feel, he can change up to high energy and dazzling technique when necessary, as in The Good Fight, which builds to an exciting climax. I detect that, under the surface of his compositions, there is a large substructure of thought and feeling inspiring him. Importantly Golden succeeds in giving each composition a particular mood and character, and he provides plenty of space for his sidemen to express themselves freely.
The First Proxy
Published in The Weekend Australian, February 2, 2019
In November 2017 I was in the audience at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival when Melbourne trombonist James Macaulay took out the influential National Jazz Awards competition. The cosmopolitan trumpeter Niran Dasika (born in Canada, raised in Melbourne, ex-Tokyo and now in Perth), was runner-up. They were two of the most interesting musicians I’d heard in years. Both appear on The First Proxy, recorded in Tokyo, confirming their outstanding artistry. This is jazz pared back to basics: two front-line instruments only, atop two rhythm players, Australian bassist Marty Holoubek and Japanese drummer Shun Ishiwaka. Without a chordal instrument such as piano or guitar, the improvisers are not hampered by a harmonic structure that might have restricted their melodic flow, and the resultant freedom works well. There’s something infectious about the way in which both Macaulay and Dasika compensate for the hole in the rhythm section sound by contributing lines against each other’s solos, often moving into spirited collective improvisation. There’s a fertile, free spirit in the air, with all four players reacting creatively to the playing of the others, whether it be sensitive accompaniment or, in some instances, mayhem. The 11 original compositions on the album are shared equally by the three Australians. The written melodies are biting, and pleasantly dissonant. Some of the crazy titles, such as Fear of Telephone (Dasika), New Waltz Instead of Breakfast (Macaulay) and Sunset of Dissolution (Holoubek), suggest the relaxed and whimsical spirit in which this music comes together. Had I heard this quartet 20 years ago I may have been sceptical of the rhythm section’s approach on some tracks. I concede that, over time, rhythmic feels in jazz have evolved considerably, with drummers now able to contribute to the musical conversation on equal terms, rather than simply keep time. Also, the influence of free jazz, felt most keenly by many younger players, now means that some of our best musicians, even when playing relatively structured music, wish their music to sound free. That’s how they hear the music these days. Recently I spoke to Wynton Marsalis, the most famous jazz musician in the world today, and also one of the most opinionated. Describing the swing-feel as “the definitive rhythm of jazz” he said it was like the United States Constitution, not open to negotiation. “A fundamental is not a popularity contest,” he declared. This presupposes that jazz musicians lock together tightly to successfully negotiate a mutual agenda. The musicians on The First Proxy are engaged in a much more sprawling and spontaneous negotiation than Marsalis might have envisaged, but it is nonetheless based on a similar empathy. The current approaches are no bad thing, as jazz continues its inevitable evolution away from the verities of the past. The name of the quartet, by the way, derives from the musicians’ favourite yakitori bar in Ekoda (west Tokyo) Hishakaku, where they had dinner between sessions.