REVIEW: Stonnington Jazz 2012
John McAll’s Black Money/Barney McAll’s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project, Chapel Off Chapel, May 23, 2012
The brothers McAll performing together in the one venue was always going to be something special — it had never happened before — and it proved to be a real highlight of this year’s festival. The elder brother, John, is in Australia these days and the younger, Barney, in New York.
The first set was also a CD launch for pianist, bandleader and composer John McAll‘s second Black Money album, Alter Ego, featuring David Rex on alto sax, Adam Simmons on tenor and contra alto clarinet, Jordan Murray on trombone, Sam Bates on drums and Phillip Rex on bass. With Simmons abroad, Julien Wilson stepped in on tenor at Chapel Off Chapel, but there was no one to fill in on the lower-range clarinet, which was a pity.
John McAll’s eponymous first album Black Money. recorded in New Jersey in 2007 and released in 2009 with a different line-up, has long been a favourite of mine. The darkish allusions, black humour and perceptive inspirations behind John’s compositions are there again on Alter Ego.
The band began with I Love Black and I Hate Love, which confirmed that John’s compositions are always full of interest, followed by the robust, vigorous Standing Room, with great solos from McAll, Rex, Murray and Wilson.
The solemn, even melancholy Mirrors followed, with Murray showing why the trombone is so easy to love and McAll’s piano expressive and fluid.
Boogie Dragon, off the first album, came next, followed by ’40s movie-inspired Assassin, which saw McAll right into it and Wilson catching just the right flavour for a desert song. I could almost see “El Aurens” riding past on his camel.
Before Juggernaut, which intriguingly refers to the weight of all the responsibilities and troubles we all carry in life, John McAll appeared to take a call on his mobile. Scripted or not, it was in tune with the occasionally irreverent tone of the whole gig with the McAll brothers. The piano solo in Juggernaut was really swinging.
The set closed with Refugee, with top solos from Rex and Bates. The piece really built in intensity and had a spiky, staccato feel at times, as well some sweeping piano vistas. My only regret was that Black Money did not play Glitter and Dust from the first album, but the set demonstrated that this band, coupled with the elder McAll’s compositions, is — to repeat a cliche — on the money.
For Barney McAll‘s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project, the line-up was Barney on keyboards, Ben Hauptmann on guitar, Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums and Javier Fredes on percussion. According to Wikipedia, Guajira is “country music” in Cuban Spanish, and has a mixture of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms, but I’m not sure how well that applies to this outing.
The set began with Barney paying tribute to Mooroolbark (for producing such musical luminaries as Doug de Vries, Rob Barnard and Len Barnard) and dad Jack McAll, before telling a tale about his elder sibling painting rocks gold. Then the band delivered the strongly accented beat of Non Compliance, with Barney making his presence felt with some emphatic piano passages.
Then followed the compelling, rhythmically driven pieces Untitled and Transform, the latter with Barney playing piano and keyboard. There was heaps of swing and groove in this, with a beautiful fade.
Summer Lawn had Phil Rex deliver a potent solo. Piano was, with bass, the driving force in a sustained exploration of patterns with variations. Perhaps it went on a little long, but I found it mesmeric and felt that it was best described as “power meditation”. There was momentum and involvement here that I could not help but contrast with what I had felt was lacking to some degree in Barney’s performance of Graft at Wangaratta Jazz in 2011.
The final piece for this band, though not the set, was a superb debut of Feb, which was written for this gig. This piece canvassed a range of moods, with the piano opening with reflection and becoming expansive before some hot percussion from Fredes and drama in some “crash & bash” on the piano. I loved the changing colours of the piano in this — towards the end Barney produced a haunting feel with notes floating and short, high runs that had great beauty.
In the final piece for the night, Insight, it all came together — well, the bands did. The brothers McAll sat at piano (John) and keyboard (Barney), while the remaining four from Black Money joined Barney’s band onstage.
It did not take long for the sibling rivalry to surface. Hamming it up awards could have been handed out to the brothers as Barney grabbed John and hauled him off the piano. Of course the elder brother returned on keyboard and the two put their heads together to cap off this extraordinary collaboration with their bands.
The brothers McAll gig was a hoot, but also had plenty of great musicianship to go with the fun and games.