Tag Archives: Jason Moran


Faceless Dullard


Marc Hannaford piano, Scott Tinkler trumpet, Simon Barker drums

4 stars

Jason Moran said of Marc Hannaford‘s album Sarcophile that, “It’s rewarding music that deserves all of the attention the music demands.” The key word in that sentence, for me, is “demands”. It could mean that the music grabs hold of our attention and insists on being heard or that the music must be listened to with attention (and that may require some effort) if it is to be fully appreciated. Moran may have had both meanings in mind.

Faceless Dullard is roughly 48 minutes of unscripted improvisation by three of Australia’s most exciting and inventive musicians. It ranks with Lost and Found (an eponymous album of extended improvisation by Paul Grabowsky, Jamie Oehlers and Dave Beck) as an example of music filled with the vitality of creation on the run. In two hour-long performances at Wangaratta, Lost and Found (the trio) grabbed the attention of the audience and held it effortlessly. Faceless Dullard, I think, requires more effort from the listener, yet is equally rewarding.

There are many elements that emerge as significant in making this long improvisation compelling. As the piece evolves, the players’ contributions vary and the nature of their interactions changes. Tension ebbs and flows.

Hannaford’s opening notes are brief, spare and well spaced. Scott Tinkler‘s horn encapsulates purity, his soaring notes giving continuity in contrast to the fragmentation and restless exchanges provided by Hannaford and Simon Barker. Tinkler climbs to higher registers, then delves deep. Hannaford offers single notes and chords, creating expectation in the spaces. Fiery statements from Tinkler are answered by piano and drums.

Contrast is often a key element. Tinkler’s notes hang in the air; Hannaford adds occasional, quiet notes. Evolution is another feature. The piece grows busier, Barker and Hannaford building the activity and energy levels behind the stillness and purity in horn notes. Tinkler is the thread to follow, the fluidity and continuity amid the others’ energetic bustle. When the horn stops momentarily, the level of tension and activity is suddenly evident.

Hannaford and Barker build a sustained, bristling environment that is full of energy. Not to be outdone, Tinkler indulges in the fast arpeggio chatter for which he is well known, echoing the piano’s dance with the drums. Then Hannaford is suddenly dancing alone, stepping in many directions with discrete notes and short runs. It’s intricate, unpredictable and exciting.

Another key element is the quality and variability of Tinkler’s horn notes, from complex and tortuous, rapid-fire delivery to incandescent purity or slow declarations, from high wheezing to guttural and gravelly celebrations of timbre. There are also patterns that act like melodies, becoming familiar as they are revisited.

About 27 minutes in a long, rasping note from Tinkler fades slowly before a significant change. This would be an ideal point at which anyone challenged by this album could begin acclimatisation. It is also evidence of the freedom Hannaford is given by the other members of this trio, who feel no need to intrude on this brief solo piano interlude of spare, spacious beauty. So much is conveyed here with so few notes.

Soon Tinkler does intervene with superb high-register notes that are long, restrained and exquisite. Intervals are crucial as Hannaford plays with how individual notes relate, some knocking into each other as if to highlight their fragility. Tinkler takes his horn even higher, with a hint of vibrato and heaps of air. For roughly six minutes, before the piece evolves into a more robust celebration of timbres, the horn and piano duo is entrancing.

Barker re-enters the fray with subtlety. Before long the familiar arpeggio chatter is back, with Tinkler then delivering a sprinkling of light, upper-register notes, then sharp attacks like flares or sparks and more graph-like variations. Trumpet and piano engage in statements and responses — first a conversation, then a debate. Hannaford speaks with emphasis, clarity; Tinkler answers with magnificently voluble “chewing”.

Before the improvisation ends, Barker sprinkles his sounds across the landscape with rapid, gentle and sustained strokes. Tinkler responds by darting, ducking and weaving, firing salvos that are fast and fluid, digging deep then riding the air current, surfing the turbulence with his trumpet. Seconds before the abrupt end, Hannaford contributes an occasional note or two. It seems too sudden as a way to finish, as if the tape ran out.

This review has evolved into a kind of description of the album when it was meant to be an attempt to extract the key elements that make it work. Marc Hannaford says the album “marks a new development in our work as improvisers that sets this album apart from anything we’ve done before”. I think the success of Faceless Dullard lies in its lack of dullness and the fact that the faces of its players are utterly familiar to each other.

It is a celebration of space and inventiveness in music and of the excitement that can come from creating on the run.


Faceless Dullard will be launched at 9pm on Sunday 31 March 2013 at a Melbourne Jazz Co-operative gig at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.

Faceless Dullard will be available electronically from:
Marc Hannaford’s website

John Clare has reviewed the album for Miriam Zolin’s Australian Jazz.net


Melbourne International Jazz Festival double bill at the Forum Upstairs, Friday, June 10, 6pm
First set: Los Totopos
Tim Berne alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell piano, Ches Smith drums

Second set: Jason Moran piano, keys, drums; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Simon Barker drums, percussion

It seems a funny place to start blogging a festival, but there’s been so much music and so little time. Posts about earlier gigs will come in time, but on a cool but dry Melbourne Friday evening (balmy in contrast to chilly Canberra, where I was during the week) the Forum upstairs was a cosy prospect.

My mind went back to Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe Melbourne at Bennetts Lane on May 3, 2009, when a few locals (Tinkler, Magnusson, Barker, Hannaford) joined Berne to take us on an unforgettable ride which killed off a duck and left me redefining the term “ballad”. But this Berne outing was much more restrained.

Tim Berne

Restrained: Tim Berne with Los Totopos

To cut to the chase, two things stood out for me from this double bill. First, the music of Los Totopos seemed quite structured and, though of course there was group improvisation, there never seemed to be any lack of direction throughout. The pieces (Simple City, Yield, Scanners, Spare Parts) felt as if they were carefully crafted. By contrast, the Moran/Tinkler/Barker set that followed had an extra edge to it because there was a feeling that anything could happen. There did not seem to be a plan, or at least not a highly prescriptive one, so it was happening on the run.

Second, in both sets the limelight seemed to be stolen by band members other than the “big names”. I’m not at all suggesting that Tim Berne or Jason Moran are out to take the kudos or that they are not collaborative. I mean merely that Berne and Moran are movers and shakers, yet on the night the focus was on Smith and Noriega in the first set, and on Barker and Tinkler in the second. And these four musicians were, I reckon, the ones that stood out.

Ches Smith

Fantastic: Ches Smith

In Los Totopos, I thought Ches Smith was fantastic throughout the set. Sitting behind an array of gongs and microphone stands, he commanded attention because of his inventiveness, energy and timely interventions.

Oscar Noriega

Tension and beauty: Oscar Noriega

Noriega — whether on clarinet or bass clarinet — contributed to the building of tension (in Scanners, Spare Parts) yet produced some periods of delicate beauty. This has been a festival in which the clarinet has excelled, through Noriega and Anat Cohen (see post to come).

Matt Mitchell

Integral: Matt Mitchell

Of course the contributions of Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne were integral to the four pieces, which were each like a journey. Simple City was gestational; Yield was more emphatic and insistent, with all four players following interwoven pathways; Scanners was much more abrasive, with short runs and a bit of helter skelter, much tension and not too much melody; and Spare Parts again provided a gradual development of tension, but did not follow a linear path from A to B.

In a corner of my brain I was disappointed that Berne had not fired up. But Smith and Noriega had, and the whole band presented us with a cohesive set full of interest. I wanted to hear more of Ches Smith, and, as it turned out, I would — that night.

Now for the much less structured set. I had to miss Moran’s concert on Wednesday (the icy winds of Canberra beckoned) so I was keen to see what he’d do with Tinkler and Barker. Well, I think Moran was really appreciative of what the other two gave him to work with, but I think they were the stars on the night. Moran played piano, keyboard, a small drum set and used a laptop and a bell at times.

Simon Barker

Intense as always: Simon Barker plays, Jason Moran wanders

As mentioned, this set seemed to be a seat-of-the-pants outing, and there some spectacular highlights. Barker’s intensity and propulsion is, if anything, growing stronger as this festival goes on. He is fascinating to watch and amazing to hear, his playing full of drama and the output drawn from deep within as he responds to the other musicians.

Scott Tinkler

Top form: Scott Tinkler

Tinkler, also, is in top form and can be subtly musing one minute and pouring fluid sound into the heavens the next. The test, I think, is how well other musicians can react to Tinkler’s input so that it integrates into the whole.

Jason Moran

Loving it: Jason Moran

Some of Moran’s keyboard work and percussion was great, but he certainly did not stand out as the main driving force. It was collaborative, largely unscripted (it seemed to me) and had that uncertainty and expectancy that kept the audience in thrall. But it did not work all the time. It did not always hang together, so in the end it seemed to have been an experiment of considerable interest, but one that did not always succeed.

So, we saw Tim Berne and Jason Moran quite happy not to hog the limelight, and others in these bands who became the focus of attention because of their playing. That’s a good result, surely.




In Cahoots

4 stars

MANY of the pieces on Paul Williamson’s seventh album as leader were conceived while he was based in Ireland, but don’t expect them to evoke rolling green hills.

The strength of purpose in this outing comes as no surprise given the trumpeter’s five vigorous quintet albums.

In Cahoots is propelled compellingly by Marc Hannaford (piano), Sam Zerna (double bass) and James McLean (drums).

Hannaford’s variations, mastery and elegance perfectly match the moods of the horn — its mellow musings, larrikin playfulness and shimmying, soaring and blazing sinuosity — while Zerna underpins the piano’s drive.

It’s gripping and enthralling to hear Inside Out colluding, collaborating and conspiring on In Cahoots.

File between: Jason Moran, Scott Tinkler

Download: Shop and Gargle, Silent Disco


This review appeared in the Play liftout of Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun on May 1, 2011