Category Archives: CD REVIEWS

Reviews of Australian albums published in the Sunday Herald Sun liftout, Play

LIMINAL — JEX SAARELAHT TRIO

Liminal

CD REVIEW

4 stars

Jazzhead

Liminal opens with a closing. Saarelaht sums up Closing, written for a surgeon to whom he sent the piece, but from whom he never heard back, with the succinct subtitle “having dealt with a point infarct”. I had to look that up, but this piece feels more substantial than the eradication of “a small localised area of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply”.

Strength comes to mind. Its engrossing, compelling nature is fitting to open an album of Saarelaht originals that is often robust and — even in its understated parts — retains a certain directness and brawn. The composer regards it as a snapshot of the trio, formed 20 years earlier, in transition.

As in his 2010 quartet album Fiveways, with Niko Schauble on drums, Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Julien Wilson on sax, Saarelaht honours the departed. Five-nineteen is revisited for bassist Stuart Speed, Liminal is for drummer Peter Jones and Ivory Cutlery is for Scottish poet, comic author and songwriter Ivor Cutler. The album notes also mention Gil Askey, who died in April.

Liminal was also a live recording, this time at Bennetts Lane in October 2013 at the Esto-Cubist Jazz Festival and this time with Philip Rex on double bass joining Schauble and Saarelaht, the trio responsible for Fridays, Late.

This is a superb line-up. Rex’s inventive excellence is on display especially in the title track and alone in the opening of Five-nineteen, which develops swing powerful enough to qualify as a form of renewable energy. Trio members demonstrate empathy, yet preserve their independence, but the result is always cohesive.

Then Again, inspired by Andrea Keller‘s take on a Bela Bartok composition, allows Saarelaht room for expansive, yet intricate and light reflections. Splendidly laid back Ivory Cutlery again exhibits delicate finery on the keyboard followed by spacious, strong bass.

The final, and longest, track on an album that seems to end too soon, is Fiveways. It gathers intensity on a slow burn before exemplary stick work by Schauble that understandably draws applause, fades back and then gathers force again as this trio grabs and holds us in thrall until the end.

During a couple of long drives recently in remote Western Australia, Liminal was played repeatedly on the rental car stereo. It was sustaining and kept me from succumbing to sleep on the long, straight roads.

ROGER MITCHELL 

Jex Saarelaht

Jex Saarelaht at the Bennetts Lane launch of Liminal in July 2014

 

FAR FLUNG — ALISTER SPENCE TRIO

Tonight (6 June) at Merlyn Theatre in The Malthouse at 9pm, the Alister Spence Trio will perform in an Australian premiere with Dawn of Midi. It seems appropriate for Ausjazz to dust off an album review before we have the chance to hear the trio live:

Far Flung cover

(OVERDUE) CD REVIEW

Rufus Records

3.5 stars

Occasionally I like to ask a friend or family member to give an opinion on a track from a new album, often a track that I imagine may be a little challenging. The response is usually blunt, honest and immediate, whether positive or not: “Yes, I love that” or “No, turn it off”.

If the reaction is negative, I like to try another, radically different, track from the same album. Most often the response is, “Yes, that’s much better. You can leave that on.” When I point out that both tracks came from the same album, it comes as a surprise.

It can take a while to broaden our tastes, so there is often a lingering expectation that tracks on an album will be be fairly consistent in style and approach, so that we’ll know quickly whether we like what’s on offer. Some albums provide that, but many take us to a gamut of musical places, including some that assail our senses and strain our tolerances. Far Flung is one of those.

Far Flung (2012) is the fifth release from the Alister Spence Trio after Three Is A Circle (2000), Flux (2003), Mercury (2006) and fit (2009). The double CD provides 19 tracks described as an “interweaving of jazz compositions, open improvisations, and re-composed post-production pieces” featuring Alister Spence on piano/trio samples/music box, Lloyd Swanton on double bass and Toby Hall on drums/glockenspiel.

I’d recommend approaching this eclectic feast of sound via the sixth track on Disc One, Sleep Under Water, as opposed to via the opening textures of Tumbler or faster Flight Plan. Why? Because, like so many tracks on this album, it takes us on a journey that can serve to acclimatise us to the rich, submersive experience that awaits.

Track four, Felt, begins with vigorous piano chords and percussive chatter, ushers in contemplative tinklings before expansive and then emphatic piano, ending back at the chordal pattern.

That’s enough description to whet the appetite. I find that once we are stretched a little we become more flexible and open to new possibilities.

These days (as opposed to back in the day), it is easy to download individual tracks rather than whole albums, or to pick out the tracks we like using a playlist. But that may mean we don’t challenge ourselves quite so much, which is a pity.

Far Flung is a journey with many twists and turns, but it will reward the traveller prepared to savour new experiences.

ROGER MITCHELL

Alister Spence’s notes on Far Flung are available on his website.

Rufus Records

WINE, WOMEN AND SONG — IT’S A DREAM DROP

Martha Baartz

Martha Baartz with Baartzy’s Brew at Bennetts Lane in 2010.

CD REVIEW / MWIJF PREVIEW

Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival: Martha Baartz Quintet Dream Drops CD launch, Wednesday 11 December 2013, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 8.30pm

Alto saxophonist Martha Baartz was lost to the Melbourne jazz scene when she returned to northern New South Wales a while ago after 12 years down south, but she has visited for MWIJF gigs in 2010 and 2011.

Dream Drops cover

This year Baartz is launching her new album, Dream Drops, at the festival and drawing on a stellar line-up of Paul Williamson on tenor, Bob Sedergreen on piano, Greg Lyon on electric bass and Sonja Horbelt on drums.

Baartz has featured original compositions on her earlier sextet albums with guitarist Lliam FreemanSoutheast (2003, Move) included five Baartz pieces and 12 Salutations (2005, Newmarket) had six of her originals, including a favourite of mine, Jungle of Flies.

Stephen Grant‘s trumpet is not in the Dream Drops line-up for the recording and Jim Kelly replaces Freeman on guitar. The rest of the band consists of Stephen Russell on piano, David Sanders on drums and Lyon on electric bass.  Jack Thorncraft plays double bass on the final track, Johnny Green’s standard Body and Soul.

The relaxed, even languid feel of northern NSW seems to have permeated this album, which displays the fluidity and ease of Baartz’s sax work these days. She is obviously having fun and that comes through on this CD.

Dream Drops sandwiches four Baartz originals between two standards. A lively, lightly swinging version of Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train opens the album  and a live rendition of Johnny Green’s classic Body and Soul, recorded at the Brisbane Jazz Club, wraps it up. On a relatively short album (in other words, I’d have liked to hear more) this 10-minute standard is a highlight, with Baartz displaying great finesse and subtlety, as does Russell on piano. I found this interpretation a beautiful reminder of why we warm to standards.

Of the originals, Walking in the Moonlight is warmly melodic and the title track exemplifies the gentle interaction of Baartz and Kelly on sax and guitar. The First of July includes a great solo by Russell.

Dream Drops is music to infuse a sunny disposition into your day or night.

ROGER MITCHELL

Now here’s a preview of this year’s Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival. I’m going to miss some of these concerts due to night shifts at work, but there are plenty of treats in store for those able to be there.

2013 MWIJF GIGS AT BENNETTS LANE:

Sunday 8 December, 8.30pm — Double bill: Jodie Michael Trio and Audrey Boyle Quartet

Jodie Michael Trio

A graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2012 with a Bachelor of Music, (Performance), Jazz, Michael returned to New York this year for further study. Her trio of Michael on drums, Steve Barry on organ and Carl Morgan on guitar will endeavour to present a music that expresses the drummer’s “love for all styles of music, something that highlights the `broken’ quality of music; an adventure of sorts into music, breaking it up and putting it back together rhythmically and structurally, communicating what I had found in the process of exploration”.

Audrey Boyle

Audrey Boyle                                   (Image supplied)

Audrey Boyle Quartet

A Melbourne trumpet player, composer and improviser, Boyle graduated in 2012 from Monash University with Honours in Music Performance. She was the 2011 recipient of the James Morrison Jazz Prize as part of the Melbourne International Brass Festival. She has performed with Don Burrows, James Morrison, Tony Hicks, Adam Rapa, Kendrick Scott and Terence Blanchard. Her quartet will comprise this year’s National Jazz Awards winner Joseph O’Connor on piano, Marty Holoubek on bass and James McLean on drums.

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures Little Creatures

Tamara Murphy

Monday 9 December, 8.30pm — Browne, Keller and Murphy Trio

Allan Browne, Andrea Keller & Tamara Murphy formed their trio in 2003 for the MWIJF and continued intermittent performances on Monday nights. Now they have recorded their “tender tapestries” on an album that “seems to know the B-line to the beating heart of your ear”. Multi-award winning composer/pianist Andrea Keller joins talented and awarded bassist Tamara Murphy to “bring to the fore the feminine and the poetic side” of drummer Allan Browne as they collaborate to feature compositions from the trio’s debut album Carried By The Sun.

Sarah Holmes and Arlene Fletcher

Sarah Holmes and Arlene Fletcher                (Image supplied)

Tuesday 10 December, 8.30pm, Double bill — Arlene Fletcher Quintet and Sarah Holmes’ The Outfit

Arlene Fletcher Quintet: Arlene Fletcher is known as a bassist with The Furbelows, Sidney Creswick, STEM, SMES and Taktok. She will lead a line-up of Harry Cook piano, James Milic drums, Tom Sly trumpet and Tom Noonan saxophone to play originals and some cheeky arrangements influenced by Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen.

The Outfit: This Melbourne group plays tunes about coffee, knitting, tumbleweeds and a young man who looks like Jesus. It features compositions by bassist Sarah Holmes, and the talents of Daniel Brates/Adam Coad drums, Diego Villalta guitar, Rob Simone saxophone and Louise Goh vocals, playing swinging tunes and layered soundscapes. It’s music that will make you happy.

Martha Baartz

Martha Baartz

Wednesday 13 December, 8.30pm — Martha Baartz Quintet, CD launch

Alto saxophonist and composer Baartz has travelled and performed extensively including international festivals such as the world famous Glastonbury Festival and The Edinburgh Festival. She will launch her new album Dream Drops with Melbourne musicians , featuring Paul Williamson tenor saxophone, Bob Sedergreen piano, Greg Lyon electric bass and Sonja Horbelt drums. The band will play original tunes that range from delta blues and New Orleans funk to beautiful ballads and smooth swing.

Monique diMattina

Monique diMattina                                        (Image supplied)

Thursday 12 December, 8.30pm — Monique DiMattina and Guests

Singer/songwriter, Fulbright scholar, radio personality, boogie-woogie barrelhouse basher, composer of crystalline piano miniatures, bunjee jumper, marathon runner and mother of two, Monique diMattina is known for her song-in-an-hour antics on Melbourne 3RRR and ABC 774. DiMattina on piano and vocals will be joined by Kellie Santin saxophone, Doug de Vries acoustic guitar, Howard Cairns sousaphone and bass to perform material from her latest release Nola’s Ark recorded in New Orleans.

Lisa Young

Lisa Young                                         (Image supplied)

Friday 13 December, 8.30pm — Lisa Young Quartet

A creative rhythmic vocal stylist and improviser who incorporates Indian and African elements, Young has been a long-time student of maestro Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani in Chennai. Specialising in South Indian vocal percussion, Young has performed with vocal group Coco’s Lunch and her quartet. In a rare Melbourne performance, she will play with her award-winning quartet featuring Ben Robertson bass, Hugh Stuckey guitar and Danny Farrugia drums to performing the song cycle The Eternal Pulse and other favourites.

Saturday 14 December, 8.30pm — Creative Vocal Series

Curated by vocalist/composer Gian Slater this series of concerts celebrates the abundance of distinctive, innovative vocalists in Melbourne’s jazz and contemporary music scene in Melbourne. For the MWIJF the series features vocalists Clio Renner, Helen Catanchin and Hailey Cramer presenting original music with their ensembles.

Clio Renner: A recent VCA graduate, Renner fuses pop song form with improvisational elements to deliver a musical tapestry woven with Folk sensibilities and Art Song poetics. Renner (voice, piano) will be joined by Steve Hornby on bass and James McLean on drums to explore the relationship between piano and voice as lead instrument and accompaniment.

Helen Catanchin: While completing a Master of Arts (Music Performance) at Monash University, Catanchin focused on wordless singing. She created 10 new works created explore the aesthetic, expressive and abstractive potential of a range of wordless vocal sounds, juxtaposed against the limits on lyrics. Catanchin’s MWIJF performance will feature this new music and earlier works. Catanchin will be joined by Ben Edgar guitar, Luke Howard piano, Philip Rex double bass and James McLean drums. This intensely personal music has been described as “melodic and reflective, lush, tender and at times raw”.

Hailey Cramer: Reputed to be one of the most interesting artists in Melbourne’s burgeoning electronic-infused soul scene, Cramer featured on the hit collaboration The Festival Song’ with rapper Pez and has performed with Michael Franti, 360, Mark Levine, Paul Grabowsky and Blue King Brown. She released her debut self-titled EP last year at the Toff. Working alongside producer Dan West, Hailey has sculpted a remarkable sonic landscape that draws on her musical past while revealing her eclectic musical inspirations and aspirations. Cramer’s vocals will be accompanied by Justin Marshall percussion and bits, Dan West beats and bits, with backing vocals by Zoe Kalenderidis and Joanna Lavell.

Gian Slater

Gian Slater

Sunday 15 December 2013, 8.30pm — Festival Sextet
Each year MWIJF seeks to form a sextet of leading female musicians to perform and promote original material and pieces by other female artists. Past members have included Sandy Evans, Nadje Noordhuis, Felicity Provan, Anita Hustas, Shannon Barnett, Tamara Murphy and Fiona Burnett.

This year the sextet comprises Gian Slater voice, Savannah Blount saxophone, Andrea Keller piano, Fran Swinn guitar, Arlene Fletcher bass and Sonja Horbelt drums.