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.
Published in The Weekend Australian October 14, 2017
On the evidence of this CD, Gregg Arthur is the finest male jazz singer Australia has produced since Vince Jones. His style is cool and unhurried, he’s blessed with a great voice, and it can’t hurt that he’s tall, dark and very handsome. Also, he’s written an impressive saloon song Last Call, reminiscent of the Sinatra classic One For My Baby. With so much going for this talented artist, where to now? Basically he inhabits Michael Bublé territory, but the doyen of Australian jazz critics John Clare has given him the thumbs up, recently declaring, “Gregg Arthur is certainly a jazz singer”. With this CD Arthur ticks many boxes. His version of Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere shows an ability to handle the big ballad, an essential requirement for cabaret performance. His smooth readings of the standards Killing Me Softly, The Lady in Red and I’m In The Mood For Love are faultless. With one foot in MOR, does he have the additional depth that would enable him to succeed in the less lucrative, more difficult, but more rewarding, jazz idiom, where the American Kurt Elling now reigns supreme? Certainly Arthur’s version of the famous James Moody composition Moody’s Mood For Love indicates a risk-taking spirit. Arthur is brave enough to attempt this difficult song in the face of formidable forces that have been deployed to make this work a classic of black American music. Arthur takes it at a relatively bright clip, and without a female vocalist to answer him. Still, his abbreviated version is a convincing one. Gregg Arthur has a contagious and winning air of nonchalance. If he has stage presence, the sky’s the limit.
Another Journey: Music for Symphony and Jazz Orchestras
Published in The Weekend Australian October 21, 2017
One can see why a jazz composer, normally restricted to trumpets, trombones and saxophones would welcome the opportunity to exploit the additional colours provided by the symphony orchestra: French horns, bassoons, the oboe, strings. The Sydney jazz musician and composer Judy Bailey, has ploughed into this magic garden with relish over several years. The result is a hugely enjoyable double-CD album which includes three works for jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra (each with three movements) and three works for large jazz ensemble (known as the Big Band). It feels like the culmination of a life’s work. Bailey’s writing is Ellingtonian, but not in the sense of copying Duke Ellington. Like him, she has found combinations of instruments in her ensemble writing that produce extraordinarily rich sounds, which always lift the listener’s spirit. Note the contrast between conventional jazz writing and sounds that are rarely available in jazz. The use of strings in the “Afro-American” third movement of the signature work Another Journey is a good example. Here, an exuberant and percussive jazz theme is successfully juxtaposed on several occasions with thoughtful interludes played by the strings. It is a pity that it has not been possible for various impressive soloists on the two CDs to be identified. But their improvisations are invariably at professional standard, and I hear no evidence that any of the ensemble musicians, apparently from student ranks, are struggling with Bailey’s sometimes complex writing. Judy Bailey is a strong, fearless composer whose music has always had an unusual robustness. Like her contemporary the late John Sangster, she exemplifies the generation of self-taught jazz musicians who emerged in Sydney in the 1960s, and have spent a lifetime refining and articulating their idea of musical beauty.
Water Pushes Sand
Australian Art Orchestra
Published in The Weekend Australian October 28, 2017
This exuberant album from the Australian Art Orchestra brings together five master musicians from the province of Sichuan, described as the “Texas of China”, and five Australian improvisers, performing a suite of 11 compositions by pianist/composer Erik Griswold. Griswold and his wife the percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson have been interacting with Sichuan musicians for 20 years. The resultant depth of understanding shows in the music. The suite explores sounds of traditional Chinese music, played on bamboo flutes, Chinese violin, the suona (Chinese trumpet), the gu zheng (Chinese zither), and various percussion instruments. Also Griswold uses environmental sounds one might hear in the streets of the capital Chengdu, and makes abundant use of what is described as “the ear-splitting cacophony of gongs and cymbals”. The composition Joy at the Sunrise which opens and closes the suite, is a traditional mountain folk-song sung by Zheng Sheng Li. Bandung Chant is a spirited communist work song. Clouds In White is based on a rhythm used in Sichuan opera. Griswold uses these as points of departure, and devises inspiring orchestrations, giving vent to a compelling musical vision which blurs the distinctions between Chinese music and Western improvisation. The integration of the two cultural forms is a roaring success. The principle Australian soloists throughout are the AAO’s artistic director Peter Knight (trumpet), Timothy O’Dwyer (saxophones) and Griswold himself (piano). Their contributions are always conditioned by the prevailing soundscape. Orthodox jazz licks are avoided, and I hear joyful and respectful interaction with the Chinese musicians. Griswold’s project is helping to keep alive aspects of traditional Chinese culture which are apparently in danger of being lost through the onslaught of capitalism in that country. It’s a delicious irony.