Stephen Magnusson, Eugene Ball and Joe Talia made only one announcement on Tuesday at the Melbourne Recital centre — they played. There was no talk. Their instruments said all they wished to say.
And from the opening notes from Magnusson’s guitar, through Ball’s solemn trumpet and Talia’s filigree drum work, it was evident that we would feel this music rather than merely hear or observe it. There was a dreamy quality to their first offering and a sense of serenity to their second. Ball, who closed the first with a big note, which hung in the air full of all the expression and tonal depth of which he is capable, played more expansively in the second, venturing into a more melodic and yet wistful feel.
Things heated up slightly in the third offering (noted blogger Miriam Zolin identifies it as Lush Life) , Ball introducing the piece energetically and Talia indulging in some frenzied playing leading to some discord. In what developed into a battle between guitar and trumpet, surges in Ball’s sound were echoed gently by Magnusson. The understanding between all three musicians ruled out hesitation. They held our close attention to build attacks, before allowing Ball to smooth things over, with Magnusson’s guitar slipping in behind — behaving as a “perfect couple”.
The applause came, like the music, with feeling.
Charlie Haden’s Quartet West
As usual Charlie Haden was not backward in spruiking, complimenting the beautiful theatre (Melbourne Recital Centre) and “the best band in the world” — Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Larry Goldings on piano and Rodney Green on drums — while mentioning the collective Old and New Dreams (tenor saxophone player Dewey Redman , bassist Charlie Haden, trumpet player Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell with which he toured Australia in 1981-82. And Haden plugged the Quartet’s records.
They played Passport, Hello My Lovely, Child’s Song, First Song, Lonely Woman (recorded in 1958 with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins on The Shape of Jazz to Come) and one other piece — was it Segment? — before an encore. After the first three, some natives at the back became restless, shouting that they were unable to hear the bass. One patron seemed to puzzle Haden by adding, “We can’t hear the vocals.” But the objections made sense — what was the point of hearing Quartet West without hearing its famed bass player? The mix was rectified.
Watts started like a motor in Passport and Haden was so smooth and melodic — though not loud — in Hello My Lovely. Child’s Song showed plenty of virtuosity, but I wondered whether the quartet had the emotion of Magnusson/Ball/Talia in the first set. But a dreamy solo from Watts to open First Song, followed by great bass and piano solos, moved me to believe that this slow ballad could be expressing everybody in the audience’s finest moments in song. The couple in front leaned together as the notes of the saxophone drifted the melody across our heads, ending with what could have been the dance of a bird.
The emotion level remained high in Lonely Woman, with shimmering sax and some rapid-fire fingering from Haden, then fluidity with feeling from Watts. A Goldings solo was mesmerising, speaking to our hearts. Obviously virtuosity can deliver affect.
The final piece — possibly Segment — before the encore broke the mould of sequential soloing. There was dialogue, conversation, interaction along with swing and a driving rhythm. The encore, Body and Soul, began with Haden, Goldings and Green on stage, but Watts came in during the piece, perhaps to satisfy audience calls for the “sexy sax”.
Quartet West’s second appearance in Australia must have awakened some old dreams and sparked some new dreams.