Tag Archives: Ben Hendry

AMBROSIA — JACQUELINE GAWLER

CD REVIEW

Ambrosia

3 stars (out of 5)

Label: Independent

Known for her singer/songwriter work with Coco’s Lunch, as well as other collaborations in The Jacqueline Gawler Band, Stoneflower and Picturebox Orchestra, Gawler goes it alone here in an album of mostly her own compositions.

Not straying too far from her usual fare of pop infused with jazz and world music influences — in particular from West Africa and Brazil — Gawler nevertheless comes up with some inventive and agile approaches to her songs, as well as captivating lyrics.

The most intriguing composition is the rapid-fire Varkala, sung so quickly it is almost mandatory to have the lyrics handy at first listening. The deft pacing as Gawler takes us through “ocean blue clean sheet sand feet blue sky blue eyes voice floats men gloat fishing boat bloated goat …” is full of playful energy and the expressive words conjure split-second images that stay in the mind.

This song, as well as the rhythmically strong and vocally adventurous Sahara nights, demonstrate Gawler’s talent as a song writer of intelligence, with sense of poetry and a love of language. Another lyrically appealing composition is When passengers write poetry and flight attendants sing, in which the band cranks up a little.

Gawler, who aside from vocals contributes on piano, Nord electro 73, kalimba, music box, Tibetan prayer chimes, shakere, bells and shaker, is joined by Fran Swinn (guitars, loops), Christopher Hale (acoustic bass guitar, electric bass, lap steel guitar, mandolin, pandeiro, surdo and agogo) and Ben Hendry (drums, percussion).

Guests include Eugene Ball on trumpet, Ben Gillespie on trombone and voice, Anthony Schultz on piano accordion, Simone Lang on cajon and Tamara Murphy on bass — it’s a veritable party.

Perhaps some tracks are over orchestrated and a little fussier than they need be (that may be the pop influence), which makes the Chris Cornell composition Black Hole Sun especially appealing because its simplicity stands out.

It would be nice to hear Gawler dig a little deeper vocally at times and let her voice shine through with less accompaniment, but this album has a light but intrepid feel that recalls Megan Washington in her pre-pop incarnation.

ROGER MITCHELL

Advertisements

EVERY DOG — FRAN SWINN TRIO

CD REVIEW

Fran Swinn guitar, Tamara Murphy double bass, Ben Hendry drums

Every Dog

3 stars

GUITARIST Fran Swinn knows about agility and fine balance, having composed for circus aerialist Rocky Stone at this year’s APRA Commission Concert for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.

Every Dog is less risky, but delivers indie rock-influenced jazz with poise and skill. Ably backed by Tamara Murphy (double bass) and Ben Hendry (drums), each of whom contributes an original piece, Swinn is deft, subtle and often elegantly simple, not being given to unnecessary flourish.

She tugs at and stretches the familiar melody of Paul Simon’s Cecilia, and in six of her compositions leaves plenty of space for strong, contained playing by Murphy and Hendry.

Yet the listener is always drawn to the guitar notes, whether lurking quietly on the side, picking out a simple melody or indulging in an occasional foray into the gravelly or guttural.

File between: James Muller, Toby Wren

Download: Für Oigen, 800 Shades of Grey

ROGER MITCHELL

This review also published in the Play liftout of Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun on August 21, 2011.

THREE TURKS & A WASP / FRAN SWINN QUARTET & ROCKIE STONE: INFORM

Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival’s APRA Composer Commission Concert at BMW Edge, Friday May 6, 2011

Andrew Walker

Jazzhead's Andrew Walker introduces the gig.

Commission concerts are always a highlight of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, but by their nature they involve taking risks. Whether it is Ren Walters carefully placing a group of musicians in the Iwaki Auditorium and giving them minimal guidelines in a work that could go anywhere, or Gian Slater bringing 13 singers to BMW Edge in a work for voices designed to explore the notion of communication between and without words, the works commissioned are always going to venture into new territory. And it is worth keeping in mind that the winner of the commission has been chosen from among proposals that may have been more daring, or may have been less risky, but perhaps more likely to come into being with or without the help of APRA and the MJFF.

Fran Swinn‘s project, “inform” was a huge ask in a practical sense, calling for rehearsals in a much different space, last-minute rigging and a run-through in the relatively unknown conditions at BMW Edge, and all the safety precautions required for an acrobat / aerialist.

But to warm up the crowd, Andrew Walker introduced “three turks and a wasp” for a lively set. The crowd was smallish, but building.

First set: Allan Browne drums, Phil Noy alto sax, Steve Grant cornet, Sam Pankhurst bass

Al Browne's "three turks and a wasp"

Al Browne's "three turks and a wasp"

I’m not too sure where the “turks” and “wasp” originated, except that bassist Ben Robertson, guitarist Geoff Hughes and drummer Allan Browne used to play in the famous Melbourne restaurant Mietta’s in the 1990s. Apparently they were often known as “Two turks and a Wasp”. Why? I’m sure someone can enlighten me. Meanwhile this new incarnation got stuck straight in with I’m Not Much But I’m All I Think About, followed by the melodic bush epic The Magpie Stomp (Al Browne insisted the band members had studied Magpie language at the VCA). An improvisation on Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo followed and the set closed with a track I didn’t catch, but there was a great exchange between drums and bass towards the end. It was a lively, bright opening in what seemed sound-wise to be a lively, bright auditorium, though Steve Grant said there were some odd currents floating around which were a little hard to predict.

Phil Noy and Al Browne

Phil Noy and Al Browne

Second set: “Inform” by Fran Swinn, featuring Rockie Stone, with Fran Swinn guitar, Tamara Murphy bass, Ben Hendry drums, Eugene Ball trumpet

Rockie Stone and Fran Swinn Quartet

Rockie Stone and Fran Swinn Quartet

Now for the main event in the “big top”. We were on the edge of our seats. And what I was wondering, between distracting interludes in which I worried about why I could not seem to get even the band members in focus, was whether we would see a circus act accompanied by music or music accompanied by circus acrobatics. I must say that the task of taking pictures claimed enough of my attention to rule out proper judgement, but nevertheless I was from the beginning struck by the coherence of what we saw and heard.

I’ll let the pictures tell their story, leaving out many that were completely out of focus. But I felt tension and fluidity in the music, though I would say that the edgy aspect was most apparent to me. Rockie Stone performed amazing feats, but I’m fairly certain we could have seen similar skills on display at Circus Oz.

What I found enthralling about Rockie’s performance was the sense of poise and smoothness of transition. Movements were deliberate and careful, unhurried and definitely part of a continuum. I felt there was as much interest in the way that Rockie placed chairs or bottles; in the way she moved a row of chairs and the way she moved through chairs as there was in the more daring deeds. In other words, though the feats of exquisite balance and rope work were worthy of our admiration and applause, there was a clear commitment to this being much more than a collection of virtuosic actions.

Three chairs meeting Rockie Stone

Three chairs meeting Rockie Stone

Rockie Stone leads a meeting of chairs

Rockie Stone leads a meeting of chairs

Rockie Stone well balanced in her chairing

Rockie Stone well balanced in her chairing

For me, the music and the spectacle were inseparable. As for what deeper meanings or emotions could be drawn for this congruence, it is hard to say. To read what Fran Swinn had in mind, read Alice Body’s interview commissioned by extempore.

I think probably this was an experience in which music and actions fused into a continuum in which the audience could become totally engrossed, totally focused, without any need to seek interpretations, but simply to marvel at the human body in motion.

Inversion therapy  — Rockie Stone

Inversion therapy — Rockie Stone

Eugene Ball observes Rockie Stone in the chair

Eugene Ball observes Rockie Stone in the chair.

There were moments of stricture, of enclosure and of escape. But there seemed always to be a smooth progression from restriction to freedom.

Rockie Stone emerges from the chair

Rockie Stone leaves the chair

Rockie Stone in a hands-on chairing role.

Rockie Stone in a hands-on chairing role.

I found the walking on bottles one of the most elegant and potentially catastrophic of Stone’s feats, not because there was the prospect of falling from a great height (though that may have been a possibility), but because at every step there was a tiny test that had to be passed. In the event, Stone did appear to lose balance once or twice, but simply resumed her bottle-top walk. Apparently she was finding the reflections of herself in the glass walls disconcerting, but we did not know that then. There was gentle humour when Ben Hendry walked behind her, knocking over the bottles, leaving only one, which Stone casually nudged aside with her foot.

Rockie Stone walks on wine (bottles).

Rockie Stone walks on wine (bottles).

Rockie Stone sets up a few bottles.

Rockie Stone sets up a few bottles.

Stone seemed studious in the placement of the four bottles on which she would mount her monument to meetings — the tower of chairs. I thought momentarily of meeting-lovers everywhere, especially those who aspire to be in the chair.

Rockie Stone on the edge of her chair

Rockie Stone on the edge of her chair.

The high point of Rockie's chairing.

The high point of Rockie's chairing.

Time to vacate the chairs.

Time to vacate the chairs.

Of course I was changing lenses when Hendry took one of the bottles away, but there was no change to the stability of Stone. She descended, with care, and took to the rope.

How did I get roped into this?

How did I get roped into this?

Hanging around for a little longer.

Hanging around for a little longer.

All that needs to be said now that this commissioned work has been exposed to an audience is that it must be performed again — preferably before a larger crowd, but one that will give it the attention it was given on this occasion. Full marks to Fran Swinn, Rockie Stone and the quartet, and also to those who took a risk with this concert. Commission accomplished.

Commission accomplished.

Commission accomplished.

ROGER MITCHELL