Andrea Keller’s Transients I (Australia)
Gary Bartz Quartet (USA/Australia)
Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Melbourne Recital Centre, Friday 3 June 2016 7.30pm
As Gary Bartz tells it, John Coltrane knew about him before he knew about Coltrane.
Coltrane was working with R&B singer and saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson for two weeks in Baltimore and, when their second week was cancelled, they came to a jazz session at which Bartz, then 14, was playing alto. Always in awe of Coltrane, Bartz gradually came to know the great musician. So it’s understandable that in 2000 he recorded some tracks as a tribute. These were much later incorporated into the album Coltrane Rules: Tao of a Music Warrior, which featured among others Australia’s Barney McAll on piano and James King on bass.
Bartz has performed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and many more noted players. His musical roots go deep — as one Australian musician told me before this gig, Gary Bartz is not trying to be the real deal, he is the real deal.
Appreciation of any concert we attend is conditioned by our personal baggage. I had attended the funeral of a close friend and former colleague that afternoon and couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be soothed or have the pain blasted into oblivion.
After explaining that the quartet of himself on alto and soprano sax, McAll, King and Kassa Overall on drums would play the set without a break, Bartz launched into a vocal mantra “sadness leave this place”. That suited me.
But somewhere in my baggage was an expectation of straight ahead jazz, hard bop. Instead, this set was mellifluous and flowing, as befits the smooth dude leading the quartet. When a duck sails effortlessly across a pond, we know there’s a lot of action happening underneath the surface. Well, that’s how I felt about this music — there were undoubtedly subtleties and connections that I was missing. One musician later told me there were Coltrane key changes, but no recognisable Coltrane tunes. Another marvelled at how Bartz tapped into deeply embedded musical traditions. Another loved the freedom of this quartet as its members picked up cues and went with them.
At one point Bartz sang a few lines of poetry from Langston Hughes in I’ve Known Rivers from his 1973 album I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies. And he ended the set with some vocals from The Song of Loving-Kindness off 1996 album The Blues Chronicles. In between we heard McAll in his element, notes cascading from the keyboard with his usual energy and flair, and Overall indulging in some longish solos that at times may have displayed more energy than variety. But the set had plenty of variety, slow and wistful passages giving way to powerful rhythms and some gentle swing to go with summer lightness as Bartz played soprano.
McAll’s flourish called to mind blues pianist Andy Cowan, King eventually delivered a compelling solo over Overall’s brushes, but the predominant feel from Bartz was easygoing, his sax soaring and drifting. There were no sharp edges and nothing was too abrasive.
Gary Bartz, on this occasion, I thought, was about “sending down God’s love”.
In January this year pianist and composer Andrea Keller launched her Transients trios inspired by the philosophy and legacy of her loved and respected mentor Allan Browne. The aim was to strive for “human connection and meaningful dialogue” in the music.
In Transients I, which opened the MRC concert, Keller was joined by Julien Wilson on tenor sax (and bass clarinet) and Chris Hale on bass guitar.
Fittingly, the trio opened with Browne’s composition Cyclosporin.
This was a compelling, but all too short set, delivering music that constantly evolved within each of four pieces. We were treated to serenity, accumulating power, the crystalline purity and fine filagree of piano notes, sharp reed interjections and each trio member taking separate journeys that crossed paths and retained individuality as well as cohesion.
All of Keller’s Transients are worth hearing and will be playing when this festival is over.
A gallery of images from this concert are shown below.