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.
Midnight Till Dawn
Four and a half stars
Published in the Weekend Australian March 17, 2018
This album is a spirited after hours jam session, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. The Morrison quartet was on the road, recording with the BBC during the day, and playing live gigs at night. The only opportunity to record was after midnight, when the studio was quiet - hence the album title. Appearing here are three brilliant young musicians: James’s sons William Morrison, 22, on guitar, and Harry Morrison, 20, on double bass, as well as Patrick Danao, 22, on drums. I doubt that James, 55, has had a more swinging rhythm section in his career. Both the sons of the father play with confidence and precision, and are beautifully recorded. The same is true of Danao’s work. Despite their relative youth, they are already consummate professionals. The sons are also composers, like their famous Dad, and indeed the five original Morrison compositions provide the album’s chief interest. The other five tracks are standards. The arrangements are shared among all members of the quartet, so this band appears to be a democracy despite the eminence of its leader. James’s fans will know what to expect from his brilliant command of various brass instruments. Somewhat revelatory here, however, is his impressive work on the piano. In energetic solos which betray the influences of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson, James shows that his piano playing is now at a level of excellence that many specialist pianists might envy. Evan a corny old tune like Chopsticks, in the hands of Morrison, can be transformed into a pianistic tour de force. Same with James’s use of the tenor sax. With a sound out of Stan Getz, Morrison’s famous melodic sensibility - along with his extraordinary multi-instrumentalism – is as striking as ever.
The Andy Sugg Group
Three and a half stars
Published in the Weekend Australian March 24, 2018
With the recent death of the great Errol Buddle, one wonders which saxophonist will inherit the mantle of so-called “boss tenor in Australian jazz”. Sydney’s Dale Barlow, and slightly younger players such as Perth’s Jamie Oehlers and Melbourne’s Julien Wilson have been blitzing the field with such mastery for so long that it’s easy to overlook a long-time stalwart such as Melbourne’s Andy Sugg. In his new album Tenorness, Sugg gives the tenor a comprehensive workout and, even without the fleet-footed brilliance of the above-mentioned players, his considerable artistry is strongly displayed here. Sugg presents eight of his own compositions, most of them recorded in New York with Australian expatriates Sean Wayland (keyboards) and Matt Clohesy (bass), plus American drummer Mark Whitfield Jnr. Three tracks were recorded in Melbourne, one of them featuring Sugg’s old colleague Andy Vance on piano plus Ben Robertson (double bass) and Kieran Rafferty (drums). The other two tracks feature Sugg playing solo, or accompanied by drummer Danny Fischer. The NY sessions are sprawling and dynamic, featuring high energy solos from Wayland, and an assertive, virtuosic drummer in Whitfield. Clohesy mostly uses electric bass, so the sound here is primarily that of jazz-rock fusion. Sugg’s compositions are usually in eight-feel, underlining the marginalisation of the swing feel which is so characteristic of contemporary jazz. On repeated listenings I warmed to the essential qualities in Sugg’s music: his earnestness, humility and depth of feeling. There comes a time when every tenorist has to cease coasting, then open out, and do a little preaching. When these opportunities arrive, Sugg extends himself, and really makes the instrument sing. Here is a highly talented saxophonist with something important to say.
Struggle With Glory
Harry James Angus
Published in The Weekend Australian March 31, 2018
As a teenager in the mid-noughties, my daughter was enamoured with pop group The Cat Empire. She and her friends would dance, party, and lose themselves in an infectious music that reflected pop, jazz, Latin, ska and other influences. The members of the Empire were apparently jazz-oriented in their youth but, wishing to reach a larger and younger audience, they devised a style of music that won them an immense following, not only within Australia but in many countries around the world. Their longtime co-frontman Harry James Angus now presents nine of his compositions on his new solo album Struggle With Glory. These songs are highly melodic, with catchy hooks, redolent of the pop sensibility that underlies The Cat Empire’s success. Angus’s lyrics, inspired by classic tales from Greek mythology, are fascinating: endlessly ambiguous, poetic, often ironic if not tongue-in-cheek, but suggesting an undercurrent of deep spiritualism. Angus became interested in Greek myths while reading about them to his five-year-old son. One has to respect a songwriter whose favourite book is The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantakis, who was famous also for his writings on Nietzsche and Buddha. The jazz content on Struggle With Glory is minimal, with brief solos by members of a sextet, including trombonist/vibraphonist Donald Stewart, pianist Gideon Preiss, guitarist Lachlan Mitchell, saxophonist Darcy McNulty, and Angus himself on trumpet. These solos, excellent in their own right, are usually too far back in the sound mix to be completely effective. The brief instrumental sections have the rollicking ambience of traditional jazz but, given the strong vocal chorus of Loretta Miller, Tracey Miller and Simon Mavin - plus others singing background vocals - the overall flavour of the album is that of gospel music. Much of it is stirring indeed, with Angus impressive in the preacher man role. One great song, The Light Of The Moon, could have been written only by an exceptionally talented composer, and any lyricist who uses the word ‘iridesciate’ has my vote. In his songs about Greek gods Angus touches on common themes of human misery: life as a struggle, the loss of love, the fickleness of fate, the destruction of home and family, and so on. But these are encased in such a joyous context – reminiscent of a revival meeting – that it is relentlessly uplifting. Some may think that Angus is off on a frolic, in producing rather old-fashioned music that’s somewhat removed from the highly successful pop fare with which he has long been associated. However, it is equally possible that, given promotional clout, he will enlarge his fan base, and create a new audience for a style of music of which many of his young fans may be unaware. I reluctantly deduct half a star for the lack of presence in the sound of the instrumental solos, where the mix is relatively muddy.