REVIEW: Joseph O’Connor Trio / McDougall-Noy-Murphy, Chapel Off Chapel, Thursday 22 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz
As Sun Ra may have put it, space is the place, and both sets at the Chapel had plenty of that highly prized attribute in improvised music — space. OK, so in space no one can hear you scream, but when you listen to music that is open and airy, there may be room to dream.
It was evident throughout the Joseph O’Connor trio’s set. There was an acceptance of space in Sotto Vocce in the way the three instruments — O’Connor on piano, Marty Holoubek on bass and James McLean on drums — acted cooperatively yet independently, intervening and then withdrawing as the piece developed. McLean’s sparse work on the drum kit had plenty of it.
In the standard Solitude, Holoubek’s bass was open, airy, relaxed and unhurried, with room to move. And the ballad Fractured Symmetry had notes splaying and spilling everywhere, with fragments, short runs and again that welcome space.
Originally from Brisbane, pianist Joseph O’Connor is completing a PhD course at Monash University. He won first prize in the National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta Jazz last year.
This outing demonstrated his delicacy of touch, expression (in Paul Bley’s Carla), his ability to enter a piece so lightly and convey just the right feel (in Ellington’s Solitude) and his gentle swing (in Noy’s Lady Lachs Schinken). Possibly it may have been good for O’Connor also to play some pieces allowing stronger, more emphatic work at the keys, with greater drive and dynamic variation. In other words, a taste of O’Connor let off the leash and a little more out there would have been nice. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of that in concerts to come.
That said, this was definitely a set of therapeutic or healing music that was good for the soul. It confirmed that the judges at Wangaratta chose well from a highly talented group of finalists in the National Jazz Awards.
And speaking of therapeutic music with plenty of space, the second set delivered more of both.
One of the greats (and great guys) of Australian jazz, Stonnington Jazz patron and drummer-bandleader Allan Browne, was unable to make this gig for health reasons. We wish him a quick return to the stage. Rory McDougall, who plays with Aaron Choulai, Sam Zerna and The Putbacks, stepped in.
According to bassist Tamara Murphy, pianist Andrea Keller had been in the line-up, but was away touring, so saxophonist Phil Noy stepped in. This trio began and ended the set with Bernie McGann — the recently departed saxophonist’s Brownsville to start and Murphy’s moving tribute Bernie to close. McDougall’s solo in this was assured and he engaged in some nice exchanges with Noy, who opened with a solo full of subtleties. Murphy’s playing is always interesting in the best sense — imaginative and never predictable.
In a beautifully controlled solo in The Opposite of Afar, Noy reached some distinctive high notes that I find it hard to describe, but they a had a special quality, being penetrating yet not at all forced.
Murphy’s solo in this seemed considered, deliberate and crafted with a lot of care — I’m not sure whether that will mean anything because I appreciate that much of what musicians perform ought to fit that description. But in this case that aspect seemed particularly evident.
During The Two Bears (Noy) I reflected that Noy was delivering a soft, yet full sound on reeds that was often floating as if on a cushion of air. There were no squawks and no sharp edges. His solo in Stablemates (Benny Golson) had just the right amount of swing. Great piece. Hoo Hoo, a ballad Noy wrote in Tasmania, had some more of those intriguing higher notes plus a tiny vibrato, and Murphy produced a slow solo with enough space to let the light of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem lyric get in.
Maybe the Allan Browne vibe hung around for this concert despite his absence because this trio worked really well. McDougall’s brief solo in Staples (Noy) was great, and during the closing Bernie I was musing on the way in which the timbres of all three instruments were on out there to be enjoyed.
Space is indeed the place and there was plenty in the Chapel on this occasion.