Tag Archives: Duke Ellington



Shreveport Stomp

4 stars

ON July 12 last year three patrons left Bennetts Lane jazz club in Melbourne grumbling that they “didn’t pay to hear three drunk blokes wearing flannel … miss every third note”.

Yet that night these blokes, none of whom had touched a drop, began recording a live album that dips its lid to Monk, Parker, Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and Ornette Coleman while delivering superbly creative and uncompromising modern jazz.

The version of Brian Wilson’s Wonderful is exactly that. Allan Browne (drums) and Sam Anning (bass) give Marc Hannaford free rein and his piano takes us almost anywhere we could wish to go.

This music varies so much. It swings subtly and strongly. It pushes, nudges and shoves. It barrels along. It explores finesse and freneticism.

And it’s fun.

File between: Monk, Jelly Roll Morton

Download: Cheryl et al, Wonderful



at Chapel Off Chapel

Two sets, two eras. Allan Browne took us back in time with his favourite in jazz combinations, the trio. Then, with his quintet and his usual devilry, he showed us the beauty of an interlude in hell. Or was it a glimpse of heaven?

Margie Lou Dyer, Allan Browne, Jo Stevenson
Margie Lou Dyer, Allan Browne, Jo Stevenson

The audiences at Stonnington Jazz seem to be more advanced in years than those at, say, Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival or Melbourne International Jazz Festival, though I have no hard data on that. So the first set of traditionally flavoured classics from Jelly Roll Morton, George Lewis and Duke Ellington may have been the main attraction of the afternoon. I met my wife, Debra, at the Lord Napier jazz pub in Thornton Heath, south of London years ago, but that was much more brassy, bold and full-on than what we heard from Al Browne, his wife Margie Lou Dyer on piano and vocals, and Jo Stevenson on clarinet and bass saxophone. This was light, bright and full of fun, zest and whimsy.

Allan Browne and Margie Lou Dyer
Allan Browne and Margie Lou Dyer

As always, Browne’s drum work was relaxed and reflected his obvious sense of enjoyment in the occasion and the music. Dyer’s smoky vocals carried us into a dimly lit nightclub and Stevenson’s lyrical clarinet streamed notes as fluid as quicksilver. There was plenty of energy, but no bid to blast us away or smash and crash. This was a delightfully sensitive interpretation of the music that Browne first loved, played by musicians steeped in that tradition and with a long history of playing together.

The trio — Al Browne said it was his favourite form — began with Bogalosa Stomp (Sam Morgan), then played Morton’s Buddy Bolden’s Blues (Morton), High Society, Sidewalk Blues (Morton) and Mood Indigo, a Duke Ellington tribute to clarinetist Barney Bigard.

Browne on washboard
Browne on washboard

For Oriental Man (referred to in earlier days as “Ornamental Pan”, the pride of the dunny, Browne related), the drummer took up the washboard, emulating his hero Baby Dodds, and it was a hoot. Stevenson played soprano sax on Dyer’s commissioned calypso Bechet, which she said was related to “people who took their clothes off to fast music”.

Vintage clarinet: Jo Stevenson

Stevenson’s clarinet was shining in George Lewis‘s Burgundy St Blues, before Dyer delivered a suitably gravelly rendition of Gimme a Pig Foot (Bessie Smith).

Trio joins quintet
Trio joins quintet

And in augmented finale, quintet members Geoff Hughes (guitar), Phil Noy (alto sax), Eugene Ball (trumpet) and Nick Haywood (bass) joined the trio, with Stevenson switching to bass saxophone, for the fun-filled, exuberant Magpie Stomp (Browne).

Jo Stevenson digs deep
Jo Stevenson digs deep

After our trip to toe-tapping, swinging New orleans, it was time to go to hell.

Allan Browne Quintet

Allan Browne

The quintet played this suite in the order replicated on the album. There are eight compositions, four each by Eugene Ball and Geoff Hughes. The only possible criticism, IMHO, is that if this represents hell, or the torment of Arthur Rimbaud as he fled across Europe with lover Paul Verlaine, it is more benign than I had imagined. That’s not meant to be flippant — before hearing this music (on CD) I had expected passages that would be hard to take because they were drawn from images of a harrowing, horrifying inferno. Instead, though this is undeniably dark music — as Browne said, “It’s very dark. We like it dark.” — it is often beautiful, reflective or wistful in mood rather than being in any way difficult to enjoy.

Allan Browne Quintet

That said, the suite is superb and a worthy successor to The Drunken Boat, which is also based on the verse of Rimbaud. And I must now read Une Saison en Enfer, to explore how it has inspired Ball and Hughes, and the quintet. For reasons known only to themselves, a number of patrons felt compelled to walk out during this set. They may have had commitments, or they may not have liked this style of music. But it is a pity the seating design at Chapel Off Chapel does not allow for people to leave without walking down through the audience and across in front of the musicians. This was a piece of music that deserved to be experienced without interruption.

Phil Noy et al

In Nuit de l’enfer, Hughes’s solo guitar was great, but seemed too pleasant for an inferno. Song from the Highest Tower opened regally and included an exquisite solo by Phil Noy. And Browne’s use of what looked like long springs to produce a sharp, metallic sound from the cymbals was effective over Hughes’s guitar. Embers of Silk was appropriately serene, with Ball in splendidly resonant flight.

Eugene Ball et al

A real highlight for me was I Dance the Sabbath and Chorale, with some fine interplay between the trumpet and sax. If anything, Ball seemed more constrained in his trumpet attacks than on the recording. Sleepwalker saw Noy move to baritone sax. Hughes’s solo was great in this piece. A Life Too Light brought the set to a close.

Allan Browne Quintet

I’m not sure whether it was the crowd or the venue or both, or my fertile imagination, but I did not feel there was a real buzz of appreciation for this set, which I thought was exquisite, despite the absence of any gnashing of teeth. But this was an afternoon of music that ideally suited the 50-year career of an unassuming musician who has the ability to make his presence felt through the lightest, most tender of touches and the greatest of poetic passions. And Allan Browne never takes himself too seriously.

Browne reminded us a few times about his residency at Bennetts Lane on Mondays, and that on August 1 at Uptown Jazz Cafe in the afternoon there will be a launch of the album Une Season en Enfer. And on August 8 at Bennetts Lane at 2pm the Red Onions Jazz Band will hold an informal reunion to mark its 50th anniversary.



Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd: I’m going to sing my song anyway

A spiritual man is blowing his horn to try to save the world, Roger Mitchell discovers

CHASING Charles Lloyd is like grabbing at the tail of a cloud. You can barely grasp his idea before the alert 72-year-old saxophonist and flautist has floated away to a new insight.

“I’m a dreamer. I’m born into the world, but I don’t really fit into it,” Lloyd says by phone from his hilltop property in Montecito, California.

But the Memphis-born musician, who at age 10 used to play in a West Memphis roadhouse where Elvis Presley parked his ice truck and came in “to hear the real stuff”, rarely forgets to answer a question. He just gets sidetracked often on the way to an answer.

On the Friday after 9/11, Lloyd’s quartet opened a delayed Bluenote concert with Cuban Silvio Rodriguez’ song Rabo de Nube, the title track from Lloyd’s most recent album.

“The song translates as ‘I wish I could be the tail of a cloud and come down to wash away your tears’”, Lloyd recalls. “When we played that, people were teary, because it’s a very moving song.”

Lloyd, who is bringing his young quartet — pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer/percussionist Eric Harland — to Melbourne for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, is deeply committed to making the world a better place, and he feels its pain.

“After 9/11 I went home and I was hurting and I went quiet and all of a sudden these old spirituals started coming through me from my childhood,” Lloyd recalls. “I saw the second plane hit. I’m still damaged by that. I saw people jumping out of windows … So I went home and I started playing all these old spirituals … I called the musicians and we all went in the studio and started stirring up the soup.”

Lloyd takes a sidetrack: “Incidentally, when Duke Ellington heard me in ’66 in the south of France, and we’d made a big explosion with the band, he said, ‘That guy over there (pointing to me), if he keeps stirring the soup, one day he’s gonna have something.’”

The latest incarnation of that soup will be Lloyd’s album Mirror, due in September.

“It’s original pieces of mine and a couple of standards, but the flow and the depth of it is so moving and tender. Before 9/11 I made an album The Water Is Wide with Brad Mehldau and (Billy) Higgins and those guys and that was my effort to instil some tenderness in the world. Well, the world must still need more tenderness, because this album is balladic and has some curvature and movement, but I hope that it inspires.”

Lloyd inspires. He grew up “when giants (Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton) roamed the Earth”. Elvis, who “was trying to be a musician”, would come over to the house of Lloyd’s pianist mentor, Phineas Newborn, and “eat all their food”. Lloyd played the blues with Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker, Johnny Ace and B.B. King.

He spent time in the fast lane, hanging out and doing drugs with Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. He went to Timothy Leary’s mansion at Millbrook with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock.

But Lloyd says he was “lucky to have gotten out with my life”. He recalls being under the dining room table with Hendrix at the Grateful Dead’s house in Nevada. “This guy Owsley (Stanley) would give us a handful of tablets. I’d take two or three, but Jimi would take a whole handful, because he had that kind of constitution. He was moving through here really fast.”

Lloyd is, in his words, “an ecstatic”. “I like to be high. All that drug taking that you busted me for earlier, that was just cheap up and down hitches. It takes inhibition away, but at the same time it puts some kind of stress in your nervous system that takes a long time to work out.

“The thing about getting high with some externals is that you go up but then you’ve got to come down. But when you manufacture it inside, through your hard work, it’s a blessing. Tragic magic doesn’t work is all I’m trying to say.

“Instead of getting it from chemicals and such I checked out the Buddhist path — to go inside and annihilate all those desires and all that hunger for the unreal. Life is a school and we learn from our mistakes. You clean up the ruts in the road and you get out of here free. Now I just get on the magic carpet and come to you. I don’t even need to use fossil fuel.”

“I like Obama. I voted for him. And JFK. But I got short-changed both times. Politicians all make deals. World is like a dog’s curly tail, you straighten it and it will curl up again.

“I want to make a contribution and I would like to see us not defile the planet and not make it so that children coming later can’t live and breathe on it. But the lust and greed thing has gotten so strong that to put the genie back in the bottle …

“The song that I’m singing is the last night of the play and they may boo or applaud. But I’m going to sing my song anyway. It’s not like the politician, I get to sing a song of wakefulness to the planet and most folks don’t know what I’m about. That’s the interesting thing.”

Charles Lloyd New Quartet performs at Melbourne Recital Centre on May 4 at 7.30pm. Lloyd performs with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland as Sangam in Melbourne Town Hall on May 8 at 8pm.

A condensed version of this article was published in the Play section of the Sunday Herald Sun on May 2, 2010

Roger Mitchell will be covering the Melbourne International jazz Festival on ausjazz.net