Marc Hannaford piano, Scott Tinkler trumpet, Simon Barker drums
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.
John Clare has reviewed the album for Miriam Zolin’s Australian Jazz.net