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.
Kate Ceberano & Paul Grabowsky
Published in the Weekend Australian, May 18, 2019
Tryst brings together two Australian musical icons in a fertile collaboration, effectively combining the proven commercial appeal of singer Kate Ceberano with the keyboard mastery of a celebrated jazz musician Paul Grabowsky. Ceberano is not a complete jazz singer – she does not improvise, nor indulge in wordless vocals - but her considerable strengths are palpable here: a gorgeous voice, authoritative phrasing, and a feel for lyrics that renders them truthful. In Make You Feel My Love, she sings “I could hold you for a million years” so tenderly that one feels she means it. It’s significant that the latter is a big hit from the pop singer Adele. In a repertoire brimming with quality, Ceberano takes on some of the more esoteric songs that have emerged in popular music over recent years, including Wild Is The Wind (previously best-known for versions by Nina Simone and David Bowie); Leon Russell’s A Song For You; Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne; the Divinyls’ I Touch Myself; Bob Dylan’s Forever Young; and others. Great versions of such songs are already in the collective memory, and only a brave vocalist would take them on in such a highly exposed setting, backed only by solo piano. Still, with nowhere to hide, Ceberano brings the project off with considerable aplomb. The multi-talented Grabowsky is a tower of strength, his accompaniments incisive and sparse when required, and orchestral when passion in the music calls for a fuller sound. Blessed with the keyboard touch and melodic sensibility we associate with great jazz pianists such as Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, he provides introductions, interludes and improvisations, where he moves through the harmonic changes in masterly fashion. For the purist jazz fan, he provides the album’s chief interest. While not wishing to snap at the heels of two such distinguished artists, there is an aberration in the medley For Cilla, Ceberano’s tribute to Cilla Black. In Burt Bacharach’s This Girl’s In Love With You the chosen key is a little too high for Ceberano’s voice, and there are uncomfortable moments as she strains to hit the top notes of the melody. I am surprised that the producers (Mal Stanley and Grabowksy himself) did not rectify this admittedly minor oversight.
Australian Jazz Museum
Published in the Weekend Australian, May 25, 2019
This two-CD album features Australian swing & dance bands of the 1930s. It will delight those interested in the popular music of that decade, which was overwhelmingly jazz-influenced dance music. Despite the Great Depression, music venues proliferated in all capital cities, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney where most of these tracks were recorded. They feature several important figures in Australian jazz history. On five tracks Des Tooley shows why she was the first significant jazz singer Australia produced, even if she was not successful commercially, and ultimately died of chronic alcoholism. Barbara James, the most innovative jazz singer to use new microphone technology, sings a raunchy 1937 version of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing. The trumpeter/trombonist Frank Coughlan, now generally considered the father of Australian jazz, shows on several tracks what a splendid musician he was. As usual with AJM re-mastering, the sound is surprisingly good.
Live In New York
Kurt Elling & James Morrison
Published in the Weekend Australian, June 1, 2019
American singer Kurt Elling doesn’t listen to his own albums, so he may not be aware of how voluble he is in this impressive performance at New York’s Birdland jazz club. His whimsical patter, laced with irony, however, is instructive. Live in New York is an affectionate celebration of “those who have come before, who have made what we do possible”, to quote his exact words. The repertoire includes Goin’ to Chicago (for Jon Hendricks), the hilarious evergreen Benny’s From Heaven (for Eddie Jefferson), a sensational version of Save Your Love for Me (for Nancy Wilson) and, in many ways the highlight of the album, a double-barrelled tribute to Billy Eckstine with I was Telling Her About You and A Cottage for Sale. Note that all these celebrated figures are African American. In 1998 Adrian Jackson had the perspicacity to book an unknown Elling for the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Even then it was obvious that the singer was headed for great things. Good-looking and more hip than his predecessor, Mark Murphy, he already had the essential armoury of an outstanding jazz singer: the ability to swing, an elegant voice, a convincing scat singing style, stage presence, and he could sing a ballad. The pairing here with Australian trumpeter James Morrison works well because, in his playing, Morrison also essentially looks back — as far as Louis Armstrong, I detect, in his liking for a melodic vibrato and for shaking his long notes, as well as for the technical excitement of Dizzy Gillespie. Morrison and Elling are kindred spirits in their respect for the jazz tradition, which explains the empathy between them, and also their appeal to the wider audience. The excellent backing group includes the ubiquitous Perth saxophonist Troy Roberts, and the Americans Stu Mindeman (piano), Clark Sommers (bass) and Ulysses Owens Jr (drums). Live in New York has the immediacy of live performance, and Morrison’s well-known predilection to go for a little extra, to squeeze out some higher notes at the top of his range, is a boon for Elling. When he comes in after Morrison’s solos, Elling goes into overdrive, palpably inspired by the spirit in Morrison’s playing. Here are two nonchalant jazz stars, brimming with confidence and very much in top form.