Tag Archives: Bill Frisell

Jazz steps lively into future


Robert Glasper
Doesn’t hold back: Robert Glasper

Roger Mitchell speaks to producer of the documentary Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, which will be screened on May 2, at 4pm at ACMI, Fed Square, Melbourne.

WOULD Charlie Parker turn in his grave? Probably not. The language is a bit strong, but Bird would surely have heard worse in his day.

Pianist Robert Glasper is talking about jazz and he doesn’t hold back: “Charlie Parker wouldn’t want some motherf—– playing the same sh– he was playing. He’d say, ‘Why are you playing this sh–? I already played that.’ ”

In Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, a 93-minute documentary which has its Australian premiere next Sunday as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Glasper succinctly puts the case for musicians to move on from the past.

As avant-garde jazz pianist Matthew Shipp puts it more gently in the film, “You can’t seek the living among the dead.”

Producer John W. Comerford and co-directors Michael Rivoira, Lars Larson and Peter J. Vogt recorded 130 hours of interviews with more than 75 jazz musicians and 30 hours of super 16mm filmed performance over seven years for Icons Among Us in venues across the US and Europe.

The result is a riveting feature film and a longer, four-part series that is being rolled out worldwide.

When Icons premiered last year at New York’s Lincoln Center, home of the Wynton Marsalis’s “Young Lions” group of neo-traditionalist post-boppers — who see future jazz sounding a lot like its past — it was criticised for not taking a stance.

Comerford disagrees: “Our strategy was to listen as deeply as possible to each of the musicians interviewed. And in making the film we have learned that the essential element to furthering jazz development is to create dialogue, and in that friction is where the energy and the life of it resides.

“The film speaks very clearly, particularly through (trumpeter/composer) Terence Blanchard, who has the last word. He says that we’ve moved on and changed and we’re never, ever going back.

“Pete Vogt is in China right now with the film and apparently the Chinese are apparently bonkers over jazz. What happens with Chinese artists and jazz, given thousands of years of traditional Chinese music, I can’t wait to hear what comes out of that country in the next five years. It may even influence artists from New Orleans.”

The producer also takes issue with jazz writer Paul de Barros, who argues on camera that the problem of jazz today is that it does not connect with modern culture in the way that Parker or John Coltrane did with black freedom or jazz in the 1950s did with immigration and the civil rights movement in America.

De Barros says, “We do not understand the connection between (guitarist) Bill Frisell and the society.”

Comerford says one of the film’s counterpoints is that while De Barros is talking, Frisell is improvising on Bob Dylan’s Masters of War.

“I was in the room when we filmed that cut and that was during a time of intense conflict in Iraq. Frisell was commenting and expressing emotion artistically. The feeling in the room was just extraordinary. People were just locked in.”

Icons Among Us screens as part of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image “Future Traditions: Jazz on Film” program.

Details available from Melbourne International Jazz Festival
or Australian Centre for the Moving Image

An abridged version of this article was published in the Sunday Herald Sun Play liftout on Sunday, April 25.

Lynnville — Leigh Barker Quintet

CD cover to come

ON its third album, recorded live in June last year at Bennett’s Lane, the quintet reflects the whole jazz tradition, with bassist bandleader Leigh Barker drawing on blues, country and gospel influences in his four compositions.
It’s honest, unpretentious music played with obvious joy and a commitment to good old fashioned swing.
Beethoven Blues and Lynnville hark back to 2005’s Off to Moruya (rereleased in 2007). Barker’s tribute to country guitarist Bill Friselle is laid back, but there’s grit in drummer Alastair McGrath-Kerr’s Guts of Steel. John Felstead’s Hoergarden Blues gives Eamon McNelis a chance to shine, but trumpet and sax are at their best on the title track.
Quintet became quartet for the recent CD launch, with McNelis (trumpet) in Europe with the Hoodangers, Julian Banks replacing John Felstead on saxophones and pianist/accordion player, Matt Boden, travelling from his Paris home to Paris Cat.

DOWNLOAD: Lynnville
FILE BETWEEN: The Andrea Keller Quintet, Cam McAllister Quintet


Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Day 6

Frisell — Music inspired or written by Bill Frisell

Phil Bywater made a point after the first set at Uptown Jazz Cafe that the Fringe Festival had come up with the idea of having a Bill Frisell tribute before the Melbourne International Jazz Festival decided to invite him to Melbourne. When the Fringe organisers heard he was coming, the invited him to stay over for the Fringe gig, but he had other commitments. But it didn’t matter, because in the audience we decided Bill was with us in spirit.

Frank Di Sario and Luke Howard

A few years back I used to catch Frank Di Sario in a trio with Peter Knight on trumpet and Lucas Michailidis on guitar, and at one gig they added a cellist, at the Charles Street Bar in Seddon (it’s now a restaurant — popular, but not hosting live music). They were playing some pretty out there totally improvised and unrehearsed stuff that was just intense and wonderful.

Luke Howard

That’s not really relevant, except that Howard and Di Sario did rehearse three times for this set, which consisted of three pieces and was also wonderful. The feel of the set recalled the Andrea Keller/Geoff Hughes gig at Cafe 303 on the Monday (see Fringe, Day 4 in this blog). The instrumentation was different — though the Roland at Uptown Jazz Cafe did lean towards the fuzzy, thick sound of Keller’s Nord — but that didn’t prevent there being a similarity. Like Keller and Hughes, Di Sario and Howard produced music that was totally engrossing — introspective music in which it was easy to become totally absorbed.

Di Sario

They played Frisell’s Small Hands, from the Second Sight album by Bass Desires (a quartet of Frisell, with John Scofield also on guitar, Peter Erskine on drums and bassist Marc Johnson as band leader), and Probability Cloud, from the 2008 History, Mystery album Frisell released with an octet. Small Hands was in good hands with Di Sario and Howard, who created a dreamy surrealism helped by the soft, pink and blue lighting. Probability Cloud called for some faster, more complex bass, and quicker keyboard. Howard achieved some nice puddling in the mud of slightly dissonant chords before that signature of Frisell’s — the slowly repeating and developing motif — carried the piece to its conclusion. It was superb stuff.

Di Sario

Di Sario announced the final piece as a standard not often heard —My Old Flame, which I learned later was composed by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston and sung by Mae West in the film Belle of the Nineties. We heard “yeah” a few times as both players were getting into the groove and feeding off their enthusiasm in each other’s efforts. I think we could all have listened to more from these two.

Jacqueline Gawler with Fran Swinn and Tamara Murphy

Jacqueline Gawler

Instead of Fall 10X being on next, we were treated to vocals by composer, lyricist and percussionist Jacqueline Gawler, also appears with vocal quintet Coco’s Lunch, Stoneflower and the Jacqueline Gawler Band, accompanied by bassist Tamara Murphy and guitarist Fran Swinn, who is a member of the JGB.

Murphy and Swinn

I had to leave before the set was over, but heard the first three numbers — Frisell’s Strange Meeting, from the albums Live and This Land, another Frisell tune the name of which I did not catch, and a quirky Gawler original she said had its genesis on a flight to Canada while testing how long she could continue writing under the influence of sleeping pills. Apparently the writing began to tilt up the page until the song emerged: When passengers write poetry and flight attendants sing.


I might as well own up to finding it difficult to write about vocals, or at least more difficult than about instrumental music. Gawler used her voice as more than merely a vehicle for words and was able to float her notes to form a rich texture over, within and around the bass and guitar. Under the influence of sleeping pills, she appeared to become sultry and possibly keen to wrap her arms around passing passsengers or singing attendants in full flight.

Murphy and Swinn

The guitar and bass — at times bowed — worked really effectively, creating a wonderful fluidity with the voice.

The spirit of Bill Frisell seemed to be hovering close to the bar as I stole away into the night.

Some more pictures from the gig:


Gawler, Murphy, Swinn