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.
Christian McBride Big Band
Published in The Weekend Australian, November 25, 2017
The American Christian McBride, 45, is one of the great bassists in jazz, with a stellar record of achievement. An educator, broadcaster, social activist and artistic director of the famous Newport Jazz Festival, as well as a leading performer, it’s surprising he has time for a 17-piece band featuring his arrangements and some compositions. This group’s first album The Good Feeling won a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance in 2011. Bringin’ It is the belated follow-up. Although the band includes the odd white musician, this is essentially a black band with a great feel, a reminder that jazz, at its core, is still the classical music of African Americans. The musicians in the rhythm section - McBride, Xavier Davis (piano) and Quincy Phillips (drums) – are a splendid engine room for the ensemble. All the horn players are professional and competent, but the most convincing player is McBride himself, in the modest solo space he’s given. Most of the band members came through ubiquitous US jazz education courses, with masters degrees and doctorates galore, and some teach at prestigious jazz schools such as Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music. Individual websites list their pedigrees as young musicians recording previously with many of the great names of the past, now gone. Such musicians are the household names of tomorrow. McBride’s arrangements are standard big band fare, played beautifully. This is a happy band, and there’s nothing here to frighten the horses. As is usual for albums of this type coming out of New York, there’s something for everyone. Two tracks, including an unusual version of the standard Mr Bojangles, feature McBride’s wife, the lovely Canadian singer Melissa Walker.
Chick Corea The Musician
Published in The Weekend Australian December 9, 2017
In 2011 New York’s Blue Note jazz club celebrated pianist Chick Corea’s 70th birthday, devoting a month to performances by him in the company of 27 musicians he had worked with during the past half-century. 48 shows were presented, featuring ten different bands. The result is a three-CD package containing over four hours of music and, as part of the Deluxe Edition, a companion film of 96 minutes entitled The Musician. A cavalcade of great players, in many ways the royalty of American jazz, perform in the selected vignettes. Some of them include the guitarists John McLaughlin and Frank Gambale; the bassists Gary Peacock, Stanley Clarke and John Patitucci; the drummers Brian Blade, Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette; the saxophonists Kenny Garrett, Gary Bartz and Eric Marienthal. Corea appears in duos with vocalist Bobby McFerrin, vibist Gary Burton (plus the Harlem String Quartet), and pianists Herbie Hancock and Marcus Roberts. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis sits in for an elegant blues while Roberts is on stage, and trumpeter Wallace Roney takes on the role of Miles Davis in a quintet which reunites a number of Davis alumni from the past. There may not be a God, but there was a Miles Davis. His spirit pervades the film, and Corea even takes a stroll down to where Davis lived in New York and reminisces outside the legendary trumpeter’s old apartment. The quintet plays the Davis compositions Freddie Freeloader and All Blues (cameos in the film, but not on the CDs). “I felt really that Miles was looking down and smiling”, says Roney. Mostly the CDs feature two compositions from each aggregation. Those who believe that the greatest jazz is played in small intimate clubs will be gratified that the musicians stretch out and allow their imaginations to fly. The standard If I Were a Bell, played by the Davis alumni, takes 22 minutes. One of the greatest tunes from the Return To Forever repertoire, Light As a Feather, is given a solid workout for 14 minutes. Naturally the music on the CDs is important, but the documentary film which ranges forward to 2015 is riveting. I can’t imagine a genuine jazz fan wanting to do without it. Wonderful insights are afforded into the personalities of those musicians - primarily Americans who cut their teeth in New York - who have produced jazz at the highest level for half a century: their subversive humour, their sometimes inarticulate speech, and significantly their warm love and respect for each other. Corea himself is beautifully eloquent. Retaining a childlike curiosity about the eclectic forms of music he has explored, even in his 70s he is still learning from others, particularly young musicians. The stunning brilliance of his keyboard work shines luminously throughout. The Spanish vocalist Concha Buika who performs with Corea in the sextet Flamenco Heart says it all: “Chick is not just a musician. He’s music”.
Australian National Jazz Orchestra
Published in The Weekend Australian December 9, 2017
The brainchild of Sydney saxophonist David Theak, the ANJO is the most formidable assemblage of interstate jazz musicians since the Australian Jazz Orchestra of 1988. 20-pieces strong, it performs here a repertoire of original works for big band by the outstanding Melbourne composer/arranger Nick Mulder. Child’s Play was recorded live at the Sydney Conservatorium International Jazz Festival in June 2017. Despite limited rehearsal time, such a distinguished aggregation could not fail to produce a highly impressive debut album. The horn solos are dominated by trumpeter Mat Jodrell (WA) and tenor saxophonist Roger Manins. The latter, active in Australian jazz for many years but from New Zealand, is the “international guest”. While there is some merit in concentrating on two brilliant musicians, the greatest big bands of the past have always featured a wide variety of unique solo voices within the band – think no further than Duke Ellington. With this in mind, it’s regrettable that this performance does not unleash the available firepower in the ANJO’s saxophone section. Julien Wilson (Vic), whom some regard as the country’s leading tenor saxophonist, does not get a solo. What might he have played in juxtaposition with Manins in this context? One can only wonder. Similarly Carl Mackey (WA), could have provided what the album lacks: an alto saxophone solo. Still, this is a minor quibble in view of the album’s overall excellence, and accomplished solos by players such as guitarist James Muller and pianist Hugh Barrett. The one non-original tune, Ellington’s Prelude To a Kiss, is played beautifully by the veteran trombonist Dave Panichi. This is an exciting project for Australian jazz. Hopefully it will kick on and make every post a winner.