Category Archives: WANGARATTA JAZZ 2011

WANGARATTA OPENS WARM & A LITTLE WACKY

Ausjazz blog catches the flavour of Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival on Friday, October 28, 2011

Linda Oh

Linda Oh

It was balmy, warm and threatening rain when festival artistic director Adrian Jackson welcomed patrons to the first gig of this festival, the Linda Oh Quartet. This group, with Sam Sadisgursky on tenor sax, Fabian Almazan on piano and Rhodes and Kendrick Scott on drums, played with zest, energy and interaction. Oh, who moved from Malaysia to Perth when she was two and now lives in New York, was a hit on her previous visit to Wangaratta, but her approach to the music then was cooler and less relaxed.

This quartet really works well, and the focus is less on Oh as a skilled young female bassist who has made it to New York (quite an achievement) and more on the creative work of the ensemble. The quartet included some tracks from its forthcoming album Initial Here, due out next year. They played The Ultimate Persona, Something’s Coming (West Side Story), Deeper Than Happy, Little House and No. 1 Hit.

On tenor sax: Sam Sadigursky

On tenor sax: Sam Sadigursky

There was a very enticing, warm feel to this ensemble. It was polished, with fluid transitions and no jagged edges, exhibiting a group dynamic without any hint that players were seeking the limelight. The band expertly explored a range of moods and emotions.

Kendrick Scott

On drum kit: Kendrick Scott

Kendrick Scott on drums was skilled and subtle, not resorting to any smash and bash. Sadigursky contributed some beautiful tenor sax passages and the combination of Almazan on Rhodes with Oh on electric bass guitar worked really well in Deeper Than Happy and Little House. Some who admire Oh’s upright bass skills may have preferred that she stay on that instrument throughout, but the change seemed to allow Almazan more prominence on the weatherbeaten Rhodes and that was no bad thing.

On keyboards: Fabian Almazan

On keyboards: Fabian Almazan

Next up, in the WPAC Hall, was pianist/composer Walter Lampe, an expatriate now living in Amsterdam, with Dale Barlow on sax and flute.

Walter Lampe

Walter Lampe

This was but a brief glimpse of this concert, hardly enough to justify any broad observations. Lampe was alone on stage when I entered, playing sumptious chords. When Barlow returned, he introduced their take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which he said would “take all sorts of liberties” with the original, though paying it great respect.

Dale Barlow

Dale Barlow

Barlow’s sax sound for this delightful deconstruction of the favourite tune was fat, air-filled and luscious as it drifted languidly over Lampe’s piano. Lampe dug out some strong, rumbling chords before some more delicate work in his solo. It was a beautifully laid-back interpretation (what else would you expect). Barlow took up the flute for the next tune. I had to leave, heading to
St Patrick’s Hall to catch James Muller Trio.

James Muller Trio at St Patrick's Hall

James Muller Trio at St Patrick's Hall

Again, this was a brief sojourn just to see what was afoot. Muller on guitar was with Alex Boneham (fresh from his engaging and compelling accompaniment of Geoff Page reading his poetry at the launch of extempore‘s volume of Page’s jazz poems entitled A Sudden Sentence in the Air) and Ben Vanderwal on drums. Apologies for that convoluted parenthesis.

These musicians are brimful of talent and this was, I imagine, a set with plenty to offer for fans of robust jazz with some rock influence thrown in. It is a treat to hear Muller in full flight, ably backed by Boneham and Vanderwal, but this was to be a treat for others. I had to catch Josh Roseman with the Australian Art Orchestra.

Josh Roseman

Quirky: Josh Roseman

This is where the “wacky” part of the heading of this post starts to make sense. The Australian Art Orchestra can always be expected to come up with something out of the ordinary, so this concert was always likely to be a little different, given Roseman’s taste for similarly thinking outside the square. He is one interesting cat, as they say in jazz milieu. And of course there was expatriate Barney McAll, brother of John McAll of Black Money fame, who is also “out there” in the nicest way.

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

So, who was there and what happened? Well, the laundry list of players was, for the AAO, Tim Wilson and Jamie Oehlers on saxophones, Eugene Ball and Paul Williamson on trumpets, Jordan Murray and James Greening on trombones, Geoff Hughes on guitar, Phillip Rex on double bass and “Mr Grabowsky” (as Roseman always addresses him, with obvious respect) on piano. For the Josh Roseman Unit, Barney McAll played Rhodes, clavinet (electrophonic keyboard instrument manufactured by Hohner, according to Wikipedia), laptop, piano, Chucky (a homemade musical instrument he describes as being “for textural enterprise and underwater landscapes as metaphor”) and maybe another device or two, Ted Poor was on drums and Peter Apfelbaum on drums, keyboards and saxophone.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky

What happened? Well, it is hard to describe, but quite amazing. At one point Roseman told the audience that he and Barney had been “ploughing a path through absurdity” for many years, though this was “the first time we have set foot together on a stage in his motherland/fatherland”. Roseman added (and this seems to sum up the night): “He is truly out of a tree and we are going to shake a tree”. And shake a tree they did.

Josh Roseman

On vocals: Josh Roseman

But how to describe the result is a challenge. I admit to having been quietly laughing inside on many occasions during the set, because there seemed to be so much absurdist humour built into the performance. Tungsten Mothra (an allusion to a fictional moth monster who is pitted against Godzilla in many Japanese movies) was “dedicated to a lady — a whole lot of them” and was intended (I think) to conjure up visions of cheer leaders. Unspeakable (these were all Roseman compositions), which included a solo by Apfelbaum on melodica, segued into The Execution Tune in an extraordinary multi-layered display, with histrionics, which I was sure featured a fantastic guitar solo by Hughes, but maybe it was produced on the clavinet.  It was hard to grasp exactly from whence the sounds originated. McAll pulled enough expressive faces to rival Jim Carrey, as well as leaping about behind his instruments to produce effects or overcome technical difficulties.

Bold as brass: Josh Roseman

Bold as brass: Josh Roseman

Manifest Density followed, before Invocation, a work commissioned by the SFJAZZ Collective. This was epic but episodic music, with the structure not that easy to uncover amidst the short interventions by many players and combinations thereof. Contributions were often brief and the overall effect often a busy marketplace of rhythms, textures, patterns and incursions.

The set closed with what Roseman described as the King Froopy All Stars theme song, a reference to his 11 or 12-piece big band. This was a sonic feast, with a rich, resonant solo from the bandleader, spiced with some effects. There was a strange, but appealing feel to this piece, with flamboyant piano and keyboards and some piercing “whistles” from Ball’s horn. The musicians were all serious concentration, but the music was laughing. McAll had some fun with effects, producing sounds reminiscent of bird calls. At the end the band went into hymn-like Salvation Army band mode, with Grabowsky really getting into it on piano.

Grabowsky and Oehlers

Hey, Paul, we could try that in Lost and Found tomorrow morning.

I have little doubt that this was challenging music even for these talented musicians, though often lots of fun to play. But it was also challenging for the listeners, because there was little to latch on to before the constantly changing and evolving music moved on. That’s no bad thing, especially in a festival where “really out there” music was not so prevalent in the program. But this fun night did not leave me feeling it was one of the AAO’s highlight performances or that I could walk out with the tag “memorable” embedded in my deteriorating memory bank. It was more music for the intellect than the soul.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: For those who made it this far and intend to return for more on this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, I intend posting one overview of Saturday’s concerts, and one of Sunday’s, rather than attempting to review individual performances. These will be posted in the next few days. Please re-visit the blog, because pictures will be added gradually as time permits.

WHO’S ON THE WAX WHEN YOU DROP THE NEEDLE

INTERVIEW

Josh Roseman

Serious sonics: Josh Roseman (in an image from Iowa Summer of the Arts)

Ausjazz blog talks with Josh Roseman

When trombonist Josh Roseman talks music, it’s not long before the word “sonic” crops up.

Born in Boston to a Jamaican mother and Jewish father, Roseman says he was “born to synthesize” because he came from such disparate backgrounds, so that “it became part of my intellectual and aesthetic make-up to intuit different cultural streams”.

He embraced his mother’s music, but it was “not the same as growing up in Jamaica listening to reggae, but more like a treasure hunt” with “the music having heightened significance because [at home] it was the only place I could hear it”.

Roseman’s father was an amateur musician who played in a barbershop quintet and a jazz big band, sharing with his son a deep enthusiasm for music and the arts.

There were other musical influences. Roseman’s cousin Ed, who lived in the family home in his early 20s, was “writing his first symphony, building violins, transcribing Scott Joplin rags for acoustic guitar and playing them”, while Uncle Vern on his mother’s side was a blues guitarist.

Roseman describes his father’s playing of the trombone as “a mercurial sonic gift”, but he was first interested in exploring the “electric bass voice”, Steve Swallow’s sound and what to do with that instrument after Jaco Pastorius.

“I think that inquiry also informs what I’m doing now on trombone, where I’m interested in things that are a little bit below the surface sonically and you might have to root around for,” Roseman says. “As a band leader I try to create space so that some of these hidden things can bubble to the surface.”

As a young musician he saw the trombone as “a rich platform for a lot of ideas that had not been explored much” and thought it sad that the instrument was viewed as not suited for virtuosic playing as the trumpet or reed instruments.

“To me that’s like saying you can’t play note clusters on the drums — it’s kind of irrelevant,” he says on Gmail’s web phone from New York.

Roseman’s love of the instrument is evident when he is asked whether the Josh Roseman Unit will be offering the Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival audience something a lot different from his music on Treats for the Nightwalker, which was released before his previous visit to Australia in 2005.

“We’ll be playing a few of the same tunes, but what I’m putting forward as a player has accumulated a lot more depth sonically, a lot more dimension these days. It’s come about that the trombone has become a significant place of refuge for me now, so it’s really a pleasure to travel and set something up that people might enjoy and share in.

Josh Roseman

Heading solo: Josh Roseman (picture supplied)

“What’s important to me is my own level of sonic involvement when I have an instrument in my hands,” Roseman says. “It’s something I feel very very fortunate to do, and the evolution has made things simpler, a lot more minimalistic and more fulfilling.

“I’ve always been interested in acoustic and electronic texture, but we’re experimenting a lot more with dynamics, and juxtaposing unusual dynamic conditions with rhythm. It’s the kind of thing that can only really come about with a high degree of trust.

“The critical element is who you really want to listen to. If you have an ensemble and everybody is demonstrating a sense of support and interest in what your colleagues are doing on the bandstand there’s the opportunity for rare events to unfold.”

Roseman’s music has been described as “heavy groove jazz meets house meets ska and industrial funk”, but he has no time for labels. In fact, he happily “rebrands the ensemble almost every gig” — recently the Unit became “Slide Twombly and the Seven Seeds” — because “it’s like taking a wine you are really interested in and, if you ship it in a different crate, somehow it really forces you to use your taste buds once you uncork it”.

But behind this Roseman refusal to let our musical taste buds go stale, or the sense of humour evident in his naming of the track Olsen Twins Subpoena on his New Constellations Live in Vienna album (a psychological exploration of Jamaican ska trombonist Don Drummond’s music), is an artist on a serious mission to play host to his audience.

As he describes it, “Anybody who has hosted a party and has been surrounded by friends and has wanted to play music as a DJ just to make people feel welcome or to make people unwind or encourage them to interact on a different level will understand it’s not really about labels. It’s about sound, it’s about songs, it’s about the expression of the people who are on the wax when you drop the needle.”

Roseman says the majority of his concerts in the past year have been with his big band or solo.

“The solo concerts are one of my favourite things to do. They are totally improvised. At some point I’ll be cultivating a codified body of work for trombone.”

He says that, at Wangaratta, “I’m sure we’ll do a little bit of it. It’s a nice thing to do.”

As the Unit (or whatever name pops up) Josh Roseman will play with Barney McAll on piano and keyboards, Peter Apfelbaum on keyboards and sax, and Ted Poor on drums.

With the Australian Art Orchestra he expects to have “carve out some interesting spaces” with Paul Grabowsky and have “a wholesome if mischievous time together”.

Wangaratta Jazz Festival this weekend is set for a sonically rich party.

ROGER MITCHELL

SPACED OUT BASSIST BOWS TO AN INVITATION: COME PLAY SOLO

AN INTERVIEW WITH BARRE PHILLIPS

Barre Phillips

Going it alone: Barre Phillips (Picture supplied)

To talk with Barre Phillips is to tap a deep mine with rich veins of jazz history.

“You probably like a story,” the exponent of solo bass begins with delight as he relates the tale of his brother Peter’s first “big hit” as a composer, The Survivors, which premiered at the first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958.

Written for symphony orchestra and a large percussion section, the piece called for three drummers. There were no rehearsals and when the drummers — Joe Morello, Max Roach and Art Blakey — got together Morello said “I’m almost blind” and “to play this I’d need a copy of the score in very big print to be able to see it”.

As Phillips tells it, and he was there at age 24 to play in the orchestra, “Art Blakey said ‘You’ve got to be kidding, there’s no way I can deal with this’. But Max Roach said ‘No problem. I’ll play all three parts’, and did. And so my brother ended up working quite a lot after that with Max — brass quintet, string quartet music.”

Phillips was at school when the instrument with which he would make the world’s first solo bass recording seemed to be chosen for him. In “a strong psychic experience which I can never explain” he had a vision of his name up in lights on a marquee as a bass player, so his hand shot up to select that instrument in the school orchestra. Years later, in 1978, he was in Milan when that vision materialised at a venue where he was on the bill.

His professional music career began late, after years of study culminating in a master’s degree in romance languages. He loved linguistics, semantics, poetry and philology, and was helped to delve into the dusty realms of Sanskrit and Aramaic by a Russian emigre teacher at the University of California Berkeley. At age 25, after “a real crisis”, Phillips chose to abandon his double life, stop his studies and continue life as a musician.

But his interest in language helped prepare him for a workshop he was asked to conduct much later in 1976, for a jazz festival, on what he would say about music. “I had a year to think about ‘what happens, what is this exchange, when we play music?’,” Phillips recalls.

He has been conducting workshops ever since. “There are lots of answers because there are lots of different purposes, but the one that really touches us most, in a nutshell, is sharing with another those parts of your life and being that you can’t describe with words. That’s as far as I’ve got so far. That’s the whole dangerous area of things that are spiritual — I say dangerous because nobody agrees on the vocabulary to use.”

Phillips met Ornette Coleman before he made his mark in New York, when Coleman came to meet Don Cherry and other members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, who were playing clubs in Los Angeles. But his pivotal encounter with the free jazz innovator came when Coleman sat in with Phillips’ band, which was playing six nights a week in Berkeley, and asked, ‘‘How come you’re playing this school music? Why don’t you play your own music?”

“The piano player and I agreed with him,” Phillips recalls. “We said, ‘You’re right, why are we playing this music? We had our own music to some extent. The other two guys said, ‘No, no no. That’s not on at all.’ And a week later the band was dead. It was all over. So I knew it was time to go to New York.”

At lot was happening in contemporary music and improvisation then in New York, so Phillips stayed from 1962 to 1967. But Europe drew him away gradually, initially with the George Russell Sextet, then three times with guitarist Attila Zoller, once with clarinet and sax player Jimmy Giuffre, and on two trips in a commercial jazz trio with pianist Peter Nero.

In 1967 he had friends take over his flat in New York for two months, but there was a lot of free jazz work in Germany and France and he found people “were asking me to play what I wanted to play and not as a professional bass player who can take care of the job, which was how I survived in New York”. So Europe became his home.

The idea of playing solo bass was not Phillips’ idea.

“American contemporary music composer Max Schubel was in London and wanted sound source to make tape music for Columbia University’s new electronic studios. He thought bass sounds would be great. He asked me would I record it and I did, and he said, ‘That is incredible, what you played’ and he had a small label, Opus One, and he said ‘I would like to put it out’. After much hesitation, I said, OK.”

The recording, Journal Violone, was the first solo bass album recorded. It has become a classic.

Then came Phillips’ chance at a movie role. After he had played a Sunday afternoon concert with avant garde saxophonist Marion Brown at the American Centre in Paris, two men introduced themselves. Alain Corneau, who loved free jazz, was assisting director Marcel Camus on a film, Un Ete Sauvage, and convinced him this was ideal for the soundtrack. Camus also persuaded Phillips, despite his lack of French, to play the role of a bass player in the film.

After that “it was silly to stay in New York”, so Phillips recalls, so he took up an invitation by theatre people to move into a huge flat in Paris. His time in London had been fruitful. He had worked with English jazz saxophone, bass clarinet and synthesizer player and composer John Surman, free-improvising saxophoist Evan Parker, avant garde guitarist Derek Bailey, drummer John Stevens and pianist/composer Mike Westbrook.

Barre Phillips

More impetus for his solo work came when Phillips was hired for three months rehearsing and then playing solo bass for a touring French theatre production. “The director wanted it to be very avant garde, and it was,” he recalls. “I’d never had something like that, to play my own thing and to work every day all day playing solo for three months … it was fantastic.

“The director told me, ‘You should play solo. I want to organise you a tour’. I couldn’t believe it. There were six concerts in real theatres with the real public. I wasn’t anywhere ready to do my thing, so I prepared a program — Bach, a bass sonata by my brother, and a piece for tape and bass by Charles Whittenberg, and, in the second half, my own stuff, some improvisations and some compositions. And that’s where it all started, with the outside world saying come and play solo.”
Phillips’ move into solo bass performances was, he insists, not his idea.

“I did make the decision at 25 years old — better to play music and starve to death, if that’s what it’s got to be, rather than live a false life. That was me deciding, but all the rest came to me. I didn’t have any ideas of wanting to be a great soloist. I just wanted to play. I didn’t even have enough experience at that point to realise that when you’re playing with people who have a lot more experience than you it’s so much more fun than when you’re not.”

The bassist says his work is about honesty and avoiding being too analytical.

“I did learn that to find out what your thing is as a composer or as a player, all the myriad ways there are to do your thing, you can’t be evaluating it at the same time saying ‘this is good, this is no good, this is mediocre’. You can’t. The work is about whether you are being truthful with your self. If it’s a playing thing, it’s, ‘Are you being honest with the playing thing?’, if it’s a composing thing it’s, ‘Is this what you really hear? Is this as close to it as you can get at this moment?’

“You can’t be saying, ‘This is really good, let’s go, let’s go, or this is really crap, let’s stop, let’s stop’. It’s not about that. But when the outside world says, ‘This is great, you should do this’, well then, OK, if it works, I’ll take that as a green light. I can accept that.”

Phillips believes the key to playing any music is to ensure “what you are hearing in your head, in your inner ear, corresponds with what is coming out of the instrument”.

“I had to learn that,” he recalls. “I was led to a wonderful teacher in New York and I stayed with him for three years — as it happened those were the last years of Frederich Zimmermann’s life. He brought me a lot to myself.”
Phillips says musicians need to hear the sound that naturally what comes out when they play and not allow any psychological problem to prevent that.

“Many people do not actually hear what they’re doing. When you can hear what you’re doing, your ego can intervene in a positive way with the making of music, and the influence of your environment and the people you’re working with, that can all function.
“But to be able to hear you can’t judge,” Phillips says. “You have to give up judgement and let the ear work, without you controlling it.

“To tune an instrument by ear you have to have faith in your ear, to let your ear work. You cannot control your ear. In the rest of our lives — with eating, with sex, with the use of the eyes and taking information from a painting, from reading poetry or words — we can let go and let the information come and be taken by the information. That is to me essential for a musician to be able to develop. And we don’t have anything about that in our music education.

The bass player recalls being a spaced out youth, and he is still in that zone.

“I had the ability as a kid to space out in the sound world, to lose perspective of where I am. You know, when kids are spaced out and we say, ‘Yoo hoo, where are you, you’ve gone somplace else’. I was like that with sound. The solo experience is to create a space in the acoustic space where we are together, I’m playing and you’re listening, where we can all get into this mode, which is a mood, or a psychological state where everything is happening through the ears. To me, there’s no more blah blah blah intellectual part. The nervous system is at rest. It’s just the hearing consciousness.”

Barre Phillips will play solo bass in the vaulted acoustic space of the Holy Trinity Cathedral on the Saturday and Sunday of Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival.

He will also play one concert with pianist Mike Nock, who he knew in New York.

They have had a chance to catch up and play together in Sydney, but Wangaratta’s reunion is one concert not to miss.

ROGER MITCHELL