Tag Archives: James Macaulay

TRADITIONAL LOVE’S LABOURS NOT LOST

Denis Ball, Eugene Ball and Howard Cairns

Denis Ball, Eugene Ball and Howard Cairns at Chapel Off Chapel

REVIEW: The Sugarfoot Ramblers / Denis Ball-Eugene Ball Sextet, Chapel Off Chapel, Sunday 18 May, 2pm for Stonnington Jazz

The Sugarfoot Ramblers played at Wangaratta last year in a festival that offered quite a lot of so-called classic jazz. I missed that gig, by graduates or current students of the jazz course at Monash University who shared a fondness for New Orleans Jazz led by Jason Downes — described by artistic director Adrian Jackson as “an elder statesman”. 

The Sugarfoot Ramblers

The Sugarfoot Ramblers

The Ramblers set, with Downes (clarinet), Travis Woods (trumpet), James Macaulay (trombone), Brett Thompson (banjo), Marty Holoubek (bass) and Daniel Berry (drums), was quite different from what followed.

These young musicians served up foot-stomping New Orleans jazz that was fast and fun. The opening Panama set the tone with trombone, clarinet and banjo solos in a piece that grew faster as it progressed.

Brett Thompson and Jason Downes

Brett Thompson and Jason Downes

In The Sugarfoot Stomp Downes delivered a bright, exuberant solo that was a taste of many to come in the set, while Woods’ horn was plaintive despite the upbeat tempo. The band members had fun with James Macaulay’s vocals in Linger Awhile, and I loved Downes’ solo in this as well as the way Macaulay’s ‘bone — as is often the case with this instrument — seemed to make suggestions or hints at notes.

Daniel Berry

Daniel Berry

Berry treated us to some washboard in Just A Little While, with the ‘bone and clarinet conversing. Weary Blues, which was a highlight for the wistful, floating horn notes and a swinging, fast clarinet solo, was introduced as being from “the best album of all time” — festival patron Allan Browne‘s album Out of Nowhere.

Jason Downes

Jason Downes in The Sugarfoot Ramblers

Downes excelled again in Egyptian Fantasy, as did Macaulay, and in Fidgety Feet there was a whole lot happening, but gently, before breakouts by banjo and clarinet and a frenetic finish. Jelly Roll Morton’s Georgia Swing rounded off a thoroughly engaging set full of youthful energy. Toes were tapping throughout.

Ball, Ball and Cairns

Ball, Ball and Cairns

The second set brought a time shift forward to the forties or later and mainstream jazz.  A focus was on this opportunity to hear respected traditional jazz exponent Denis Ball (clarinet) play with son Eugene Ball (trumpet) and learn where some of the younger Ball’s fluidity may have had its roots. They were  joined  by John Scurry (guitar), Howard Cairns (bass), Allan Browne (drums) and — with impeccable timing — Steve Grant (piano).

Howard Cairns

Howard Cairns

This set has a much gentler feel throughout, a change of mood and pace that seemed to give out a vibe to the audience of sit back, relax and be nurtured by this music. There were soft edges, a sense of lightness and subtle nuances to be valued.

There were lovely moments, such as when Denis Ball suggested John Scurry “I’ll listen to your first couple of notes” to decide on the key he was using. It was a testament to the flexibility of jazz musicians.

Ball, Ball and Scurry

Ball, Ball and Scurry

Billie Holiday’s Willow Weep for Me  was my highlight in the set, with solos from Cairns and Scurry, plus the clarinet and horn together absolutely luminous.

Reflecting on these classic jazz sets, I thought how good it was to see how at home Eugene Ball and the Sugarfoot crew with traditional jazz. The love of this music, and the skills needed to play it, are not being lost.

It was also great to see Al Browne had escaped from his recent time with Alfred.

ROGER MITCHELL

IMAGE GALLERY

The Sugarfoot Ramblers

Stonnington Jazz 

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THE STING IN THE TAILFIN

Shapeshifters

Taking shape or taking off? Paul Grabowsky conducts Shapeshifter

GIG REVIEW: Shapeshifter, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Take two groups of musicians, add Paul Grabowsky and stir. The result is bound to be interesting.

In this case, Grabowsky as Musical Director has gathered six students from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and teamed them with seven members of the renowned Australian Art Orchestra to form Shapeshifter — “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st Century musicians”.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) O’Connor, Mamrot, Rex, Klas and Beck

In the first set, the ensemble played Variations (2001), based on a melody from the Suite du’n Goût Étranger (Suite in a Foreign Style) by 17th Century viola-da-gamba virtuoso Marin Marais. As Grabowsky explained, the piece puts the melody through a series of costume changes, each paying homage to composers past and present: Ennio Morricone, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, J.S. Bach and Olivier Messiaen.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and Davidson

Described in publicity material as “a kind of chamber concerto showing off the virtuosity of the players”, Variations would probably send a shock wave or two through any audience used to classical chamber music. Opening with pre-recorded music over which trumpeter Eugene Ball introduced squeals, whistles, growls and farts, the piece was often frenetic and often displayed dissonance or even discordancy.

Shapeshifters

Onslaughts: Philip Rex

Philip Rex on bass, with and without bow, helped mightily in the onslaughts, assisted by the superb Dave Beck on drums and percussionist Shanie Klas beating a small tin as if her life depended on its bell-like sound. A dirge of saxes was overlaid by upper register horns from Scott Tinkler and Ball.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and O’Connor

Joe O’Connor (keyboards) delivered some fierce runs, the notes well dug into the ivories. Brendan Toohey on bass clarinet added to the chatter of saxes in some bursts of AHBL (all hell breaking loose). James Macaulay‘s trombone worked well with Beck’s ‘plosive’ attacks and Dan Mamrot on guitar added significantly to what was a rich repertoire of timbres.

Variations was amazing, though I am sure I did not catch anything like all of its allusions of homage to composers. I would have to say it left me more marvelling than moved, but there was more to come from Shapeshifter after the break.

Shapeshifters

Horny: Tony Hicks solos with Shapeshifter

The second set opened with Tall Tales, a three-movement suite Grabowsky wrote in honour of filmmaker Fred Schepisi on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The first movement, Ngukurr Mon Amour, is based on the structure of manikay, the traditional song cycle form of the Yolngu peoples of Arnhem Land. The second, …and a bier for young Arnie is informed by the music of the young Arnold Schoenberg, and includes a miniature alto saxophone concerto. The third movement is entitled Wacky, Zany, Madcap.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter at work

This piece quickly had me convinced it would be the standout of the night. From the first movement, which opened with Welsh’s violin acting as a drone to Rex’s vigorous bass, it was compelling, energy-filled and intense. To me, this was a better showcase for the ensemble than Variations, especially as epitomised in the work of Tinkler, Tony Hicks on tenor sax over the rhythms of Rex and Beck, Lachlan Davidson‘s alto saxophone when fired up, Macaulay’s classy ‘bone, which had Grabowsky clapping, and in some brass salvos fired as if by instruments of war.

Shapeshifters

Zestful: Paul Grabowsky

Grabowsky as conductor was lively, active, perky, vibrant, vital, zestful, not to mention eager, zealous and spirited. His hands darted into the air as he urged the players onwards and upwards to new heights, demonstrating the drive that will no doubt propel Shapeshifter as it develops and explores new material.

Shapeshifters

Serious business: Scott Tinkler

Unexpectedly, it was the closing composition, Grabowsky’s Tailfin, which left the strongest impression in this outing. This was a new arrangement of a piece composed in 1992 and released on the albums Viva Viva (1993) and Tales of Time and Space (2004). I was struck by the different feel of the piece in the hands of Shapeshifter — compared to the Time and Space version it was more weighty, with more depth and guts.

Beck led us into it with a long introduction effectively using brushes over the slow thump of the bass drum. When Tinkler got to the serious business of the key solo he drew applause and a call from Grabowsky to “play that again”.

Shapeshifters

Another place: Welsh and Tinkler

The other horns painted a slow, solemn picture behind Tinkler, before Welsh’s violin took us to another, primal place in tandem with Mamrot on guitar. O’Connor on piano released the tension, making way for Toohey to usher in some twists and turns against the backdrop of Rex, O’Connor and Beck.

This rendition of Tailfin was still spinning in my head long after I left the venue in a mad dash for the train. It remains the standout for me in an outing that showed Shapeshifter to be no mere will o’ the wisp.

ROGER MITCHELL

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: Rex and Beck

Shapeshifter players: Paul Grabowsky, Musical Director

Australian Art Orchestra musicians: Dave Beck drums; Lachlan Davidson alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Tony Hicks tenor saxophone; Philip Rex double bass; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Eugene Ball trumpet; Lizzy Welsh violin.

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music students: James Macaulay trombone; Paul Cornelius saxophone; Brendan Toohey clarinet &amp bass clarinet; Shanie Klas percussion; Dan Mamrot guitar; Joe O’Connor keys.

Shapeshifters

Leading man: Grabowsky as musical director