Tag Archives: Alister Spence Trio

TURNING UNKNOWNS INTO KNOWNS

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

REFLECTION:

Three concerts at The Malthouse on Friday 6 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

7pm: Django Bates Beloved with Monash Art Ensemble celebrate Charlie Parker

It was going to be an evening of new experiences — I was familiar with only two of the four ensembles and had heard only one musical performance in the Merlyn Theatre at The Malthouse. It is a similar format to Chapel Off Chapel, but much wider, so that it is a much longer walk to move from one side of the elevated seating to the other to gain a different perspective for photographs. The sound seemed excellent, but the lighting lacked direction, so that by the final concert it was almost lights out as far as the action on stage was concerned.

I don’t believe that the music of Charlie Parker can be easy to play, and the opening concert confirmed this. Django Bates, at the piano and keyboard, was joined by Peter Eldh on double bass and Peter Bruun on drum kit, with Bates taking a conducting role either from the piano with gestures or by walking over to the Monash Art Ensemble, which included students and seasoned players.

If anything this outing was a demonstration to me that, first, I did not know Parker’s music well enough to make any assessment of how Bates had departed from the original Parker arrangements, and, second, it was complex music that called for skill and attention to detail by the musicians.

I particularly enjoyed Bates’ We Are Not Lost We Are Simply Finding Our Way (that’s how I felt), which featured Scott Tinkler on trumpet. I loved the interplay between bass and piano, as well as some deep, growling notes and mingling of sounds from the ensemble in Star Eyes. The orchestra seemed to have excellent control of dynamics in Confirmation, flaring up suddenly in what became a hard-driving piece. The Study of Touch was full of interest, with ensemble solos from Tony Hicks on flute, Rob Burke on soprano sax and a young sax player who may have struggled a little at higher registers. My Little Suede Shoes showcased some deft work by the trio before Bates conducted the ensemble in.

Audience reaction is often a useful guide, not necessarily to the musicianship, but to how well the music succeeds in being engaging. In this concert I felt as if the appreciation was muted, with the ABC’s Gerry Koster having to suggest that with extra clapping “we may get an encore”.

But I was inspired to seek out more of Bates’ work and to get to know Parker much better.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Django Bates, Peter Brunn and Peter Eldh with members of Monash Art Ensemble.

9pm: Alister Spence Trio

This was the trio with which I was acquainted, but the outing was another clear demonstration that hearing a group live will always have far more impact than hearing them on an album.

As soon as the early distraction of taking some photographs in the allocated time and the parsimonious and nasty red light was over, I was immediately engrossed in this set, which was music I felt could be touched or felt as a physical sensation. Propulsion is often a key factor for me, and Spence‘s trio — Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and percussion — had it in spades. Brave Ghost featured some lovely, deep, resonant bass and delivered intensity plus. With excellent dynamics from Hall and some hot piano by Spence, this was going places. The piece was a ripper.

We heard Seventh Song, Threading the Maze and “a quick version” of Sleeping Under Water, each demonstrating this group’s ability to gain and hold our attention, building and releasing tension as changes occurred. This was a riveting set by a focused, energetic and engrossing trio. And I believe they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

11.30pm: Dawn of Midi

Sometimes we need spoiler alerts. I often think that if I read a film review before seeing it, it is impossible to wipe out the memory of a single remark that may skew how I will view the movie. In the case of this outing by Dawn of Midi, I happened to read a brief comment by someone who had been at the previous night’s performance. In summary, this person thought Dawn of Midi’s set was similar to a performance by The Necks, but less interesting.

I could not erase that idea as I listened to Amino Belyamani on piano, Askaash Israni on double bass and Qasim Naqri on percussion. The set seemed very controlled and to be all about incremental change. A lot of alterations were made to the rhythmic patterns, but the changes were gradual and required concentration to pick up.

In a strange twist, a conversation after the performance altered my view. Curious about what those familiar with Dawn of Midi had thought, I asked some fans of the group. The explained that this was not improvised at all, as is The Necks’ music, but totally scripted — and in detail, down to the last note, so to speak. They assured me that the set as played live was very close to the album Dysnomia and that I should get it and listen before passing judgement.

So I dutifully obtained the album and have played it a few times while writing these “review-style” pieces. I find that my view has changed. Whereas on the night I did not think there was enough to keep me interested and hanging out for more, I can appreciate now that there is a compelling element to this incrementally changing landscape.

So tonight I learned about little-known unknowns (Parker) and even lesser-known unknowns (Dawn of Midi), but learnt more about unknowns I would like to become better-knowns.

ROGER MITCHELL

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

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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

SLIP OUT OF THOSE COMFORT ZONES

PREVIEW PART 2: Melbourne International Jazz Festival, May 30 to June 8, 2014

An earlier post mentioned some of the gigs that will attract the big crowds at this year’s festival, which artistic director Michael Tortoni has described it as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

Before mentioning some concerts that are a little less mainstream, it’s important to highlight the successor to a major hit of last year’s festival, which is sure to again fill Melbourne Town Hall with dancers having the time of their lives.

Swing Noir

774’s Swing Noir will be a hoot                            (Image supplied)

This year, 774’s Swing Noir concert will offer gypsy swing and hot club jazz as Swing Patrol dancers provide the inspiration and help with classic steps of the Charleston, and two bands — Ultrafox and Swingville — delve into the world of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. The festival invites the energetic to “slip on your dancing shoes, dress to kill and join us at the dawn of European jazz”. And for fans of ABC radio’s 774, the host will be Hilary Harper, who will apparently be “dazzlingly bohemian” on the night.

STRETCH YOURSELVES

It’s been said many times before, but festivals are one way to tempt music lovers to dip their toes into unfamiliar waters. Sometimes this means “jazz” becomes less of a perceived obstacle; sometimes devotees of jazz try moving outside their comfort zones.

And speaking of breaking boundaries, one significant change of this year’s MIJF is Jazz Out West, which for the first time will bring some musical events to Melbourne’s west. That’s especially exciting for Ausjazz, because there are many musicians living in this part of the city, but live music is not as prolific and does not attract the crowds of suburbs such as Northcote — yet.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

The big drawcard will undoubtedly be cross-cultural sextet Peter Knight’s Way Out West at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Many will know the albums released by an earlier incarnation of this award-winning ensemble, but this outing will air new compositions written since Sydney’s koto virtuoso Satsuki Odamura and Lucas Michailidis on guitar came onboard.

Led by Peter Knight, their fascinating new project features the seamlessly combining Asian instrumentation and approaches with irresistible influenced grooves and jazz-inflected melodies. Others in this top line-up include Knight on trumpet and laptop, Howard Cairns on bass and button accordion, Paul Williamson on saxophones, Ray Pereira on percussion and Rajiv Jayaweera (rejoining the group from New York) on drums. I can’t wait to hear the new material and let’s hope there’s room for a few Westies to fit into a packed venue.

Other western offerings include Horns of Leroy — a funky brass band — at the Reverence Hotel, Hey Frankie at The Dancing Dog, Afro Beat — with an Ethiopian meal — at African Town Café Bar, and Soundwalk, in which Aboriginal elder Uncle Larry and others will lead a walking and listening tour of the streets, waterways and secret spaces of Footscray.

At last year’s MIJF crowds of younger fans crammed in to catch Snarky Puppy, and Tortoni expects similar enthusiasm for bassist Derrick Hodge and vocalist Chris Turner, who perform at The Forum.

In this “festival exclusive” billed as “exciting, cutting edge stuff on the razor’s edge of new generation jazz”, Hodge — who performed with The Robert Glasper Experiment in 2012 — and Turner — who many will recall from ERIMAJ last year — will be joined by Federico Pena and Michael Aaberg on keys, Paul Bender on bass and Mark Colenburg on drums. The combination of Hodge with Turner could take this concert in many directions.

In four gigs at Bennetts Lane, the man dubbed “probably the most dangerous drummer alive” — Chris Dave — will defy all attempts at categorisation, bringing elements of R&B, funk, rock, jazz, hip-hop and electronica via his band The Drumhedz. Expect hypnotic beats.

Serious fans of music that ventures into exciting territory must mark their digital diaries for a Malthouse double bill from Australia — Alister Spence Trio — and the USA — Dawn of Midi. Spence’s trio is well known here and accurately described as “endlessly surprising”. Brooklyn trio Dawn of Midi — Amino Belyamani piano, Aakassh Israni double bass and Qasim Naqri percussion — has been lauded for the album Dysnomia. Expect the unexpected from both trios in a concert not to be missed.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi

Also at the Malthouse, significant figures in Australian jazz — John Hoffman, Graeme Lyall, Tony Gould, Ben Robertson and Tony Floyd — get together for the first time in 20 years to form The Hunters and Pointers. Joined by award-winning vocalist Kristin Berardi, they will celebrate the release of a collection of unheard live recordings that originally featured Christine Sullivan on vocals.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson

Another Malthouse double bill will be a musical treat. In one set, the winner of this year’s Don Banks Music Award and member of the Jazz Bell Awards hall of fame, Mike Nock, will join his former student, drummer Laurence Pike. In the other one set, saxophonist Julien Wilson — who was a star of the 2013 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival — will again visit the quartet format with New York-based pianist Barney McAll, Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Melbourne drummer Allan Browne. This double bill will not disappoint.

The Monash Art Ensemble, led by Paul Grabowsky, never disappoints, so seat belts may need to be fastened when this exciting ensemble of students and seasoned players teams with British jazz maverick, pianist and composer Django Bates and his piano trio, Belovèd. Together they will explore the music of Charlie Parker as well as Bates’ compositions.

As mentioned in the earlier preview post, Charles Lloyd’s The Greek Project clashes with an exciting world premiere of PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission winner Tilman Robinson’s The Agony of Knowledge at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. Robinson has demonstrated his facility for composition, so his musical exploration of the Icelandic epic poem Volsungasaga promises to be a festival highlight. The work will draw on Norse legends that have influenced music and literature for centuries, as exemplified in Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Sydney musicians at Deakin Edge, Fed Square will explore jazz and film in The Wires Project, a collaborative multi-media work in which vocalist Briana Cowlishaw, Gavin Ahearn on piano, Peter Koopman on guitar and Nic Cecire on drums improvise a musical response to a video by Aymeric De Meautis based on photographs by Singapore’s Chia Ming Chien. The bonus is that this experience is free.

Ausjazz had hoped to preview the intimate club sessions at MIJF 2014, which are the meat and potatoes of this festival and my favourites. Time has ruled that out, so stay tuned for further festival posts and reviews.

ROGER MITCHELL