Tag Archives: Jordan Murray

WELL MAY CHARLES MINGUS SAY AMEN TO THAT

 Mingus Amongst Us

Trumpeter Ray Cassar mimes flute behind the flute-players Steve Fitzmaurice, Tim Wilson and Carlo Barbaro in Mingus Amongst Us

REVIEW: Mingus Amongst Us, Chapel Off Chapel, Monday 19 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

Possibly it’s a little flippant to ask this, but how many flautists does it take to unhinge a trumpet player? The answer, it seems, is three. So, in the second — and spectacular — set invoking the spirit of Charles Mingus, three of the nonet’s reeds players put down their saxes and picked up flutes. And in a clear case of flute envy, horn player Ray Cassar turned his instrument horizontal and began miming a flautist behind the other three.

This amusing moment reflected how much fun the nine band members were having as they played Steve Fitzmaurice‘s arrangements of music by great bass player and composer Charles Mingus, which has been described as “earthy, passionate and sophisticated, blues and gospel-inspired jazz”.

Mingus Amongst Us

Mingus Amongst Us

The line-up of this ensemble, which performs regularly in Sydney, varies a little according to who’s available in the city where they are playing, but at Chapel Off Chapel we heard Fitzmaurice (baritone sax) with Cassar (trumpet), Jordan Murray (trombone), Nick Mulder (trombone), Carlo Barbaro (tenor sax), Tim Wilson (alto sax), Joe Chindamo (piano), Tom Lee (bass) and Hugh Harvey (drums).

Steve Fitzmaurice

Steve Fitzmaurice solos in Mingus Amongst Us

I freely admit to loving this group’s work and these Mingus arrangements so much that it’s been hard to remain dispassionate (if that’s called for) or to think too deeply about what I like about the Mingus Amongst Us gigs I’ve heard at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. I find myself just getting into the music and soaking it up as it pours forth from these superb musicians.

Reviewers are supposed to have their critical antennae up, I think, so can I find a quibble? If I have to, it would be that Cassar on trumpet — as opposed to on flugelhorn — was at times so intensely piercing that some notes seemed to upset the balance slightly. But I loved his swinging horn in Fables of Faubus and his flugelhorn work amid the sweeping vistas of Alice’s Wonderland (originally Diane), which was an absolutely splendid piece. My only other regret was that Tom Lee’s solos on bass were too brief.

Joe Chindamo

Joe Chindamo solos in Mingus Amongst Us

So what was so appealing and so clearly had the audience — not quite as many as I’d hoped, but it was a Monday night — enthralled? Mingus Amongst Us serves up a rich feast of sound that is full of momentum. From the start of the first set, when Harvey was able to “stick it to us” with a long solo, we heard a band that was tight and punchy, with full-on pieces as well as ballads. We heard sharp splinters of sound and fiery bursts in Jump Monk, tension and crescendoes in Gunslinging Bird (originally If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger There’d Be a Whole Lot of Copycats), shimmering horn volleys in Fight Song and enough forward momentum in Tijuana Gift Shop to justify Julia Gillard‘s phrase “going forward” (and don’t we miss Julia).

Carlo Barbaro

Carlo Barbaro solos in Mingus Amongst Us

We heard ripper solos from Barbaro in Gunslinging Bird and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (how deep can a tenor sax go?), from Wilson in Fight Song and the closing Better Get Hit in Your Soul, from Fitzmaurice in Alice’s Wonderland and amid the wonderful chaos of Moanin’, from Mulder in Fight Song, from Chindamo in Tijuana Gift Shop and, along with Murray, in Us is Two, plus many more.

Tim Wilson Solos in Mingus Amongst Us

Tim Wilson Solos in Mingus Amongst Us

There is so much energy in Mingus. So much of it is released by this ensemble. And there is wonder and beauty there in ballads such as Self Portrait in Three Colors.

So, great arrangements, great musicians and a great vibe. Ages ago I wrote that after a Mingus Amongst Us concert that I almost expected to hear Charles Mingus say “Amen” at gig’s end. That’s not far off, I reckon.

ROGER MITCHELL

IMAGE GALLERY

Mingus Amongst Us

Stonnington Jazz 

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NEVER A DULL MOMENT

Dave Douglas

Trumpets: Jordan Murray, Niran Dasika, Ben Harrison, Dave Douglas

REVIEW: World premiere of Fabliaux for four ensembles by Dave Douglas, featuring the Monash Art Ensemble, Saturday 15 March, 7.30pm, Music Auditorium, Monash University

The nine movements of the composition visiting trumpet player Dave Douglas wrote for the Monash Art Ensemble seemed to flash past, although the performance must have lasted well over an hour.

Before we get to the music it’s worth mentioning one highlight that came in the form of words, spoken by Douglas after the sixth piece, Unknowing, Forgetting, which was written principally for the brass group. After sitting in with Jordan Murray on trombone and Niran Dasika and Ben Harrison on trumpets, Douglas paid tribute to students Dasika and Harrison.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas pays tribute

“I’ve been humbled before them,” he told the audience, before saying it was incumbent upon young Art Ensemble members as the next generation to take the reins, “lead us forward in music and be 10 times as good as we are”.

Douglas’s tribute was surely a moment for Dasika and Harrison to treasure, but also an insight into the value this visiting composer placed on the potential of an exciting ensemble that has been nurtured by Paul Grabowsky. It was another encouraging sign that talent and commitment are not hard to find among our young musicians — though fair remuneration for their efforts may be elusive.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas with Geoff Hughes and Craig Beard

The idea of Douglas’s Fabliaux suite, which harks back to the often bawdy and (he said) these days possibly offensive comic tales of medieval literature, was for the players to be grouped into reeds, brass, percussion and strings, with every group taking a primary role in a piece between those involving the whole ensemble. Nothing was locked in, because Douglas worked with the MAE to develop the suite through improvisation.

The changes of emphasis made the whole suite alive and interesting and there was, literally, never a dull moment. The opening piece, Forbidden Flags, soon introduced us to Australian Art Orchestra artistic director Peter Knight‘s carefully crafted electronic “static”, which added textural interest throughout the evening and always complemented rather than sought to dominate. There was a lot happening in this busy, but sombre piece. Douglas’s direction was ever present, but he did take up his instrument before the end.

String and percussion

Strings plus Grabowsky and Rafferty

Frieze featured the reeds, ushering in some shimmer before notes began to bend and develop sinuosity. There was some Knight chatter, horns were crying then chirruping. Strings contributed their own shimmer. This was sonically interesting, high chatter giving way to barracking with an occasional fart. Then we encountered sibilance and some piercing, high dissonance. I could not help smiling.

Legions had propulsion and gentle swing from the start, but its intensity and power grew, fired by the horns and with Lachlan Davidson taking us on soprano sax journey. Rhythm seemed to be the glue in this piece.

Gears featured percussion and the focus was on the changing interactions between Grabowsky on piano, Kieran Rafferty on drums, Knight’s electronics and Craig Beard on vibes. These four built drama and tension. With those elements, what’s not to love?

Before the fifth piece, Once Again The Mind, Douglas spoke about how the spark of invention can happen at the same time across the globe, and about how some may recognise use of isorhythm and the medieval hocket in this composition. Here’s a link on the  topic that may be interesting.

I heard dramatic statements before slower, quieter interludes. This had a souped up medieval feel. Murray contributed some delightful air-filled ‘bone that was effective when offset by electronic chatter and vibes. The piece provided an exchange of ideas between the horns and the strings with percussion. Rob Burke on clarinet and the strings players showed agitation and there were strong statements to end the piece.

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

As mentioned, Douglas joined the brass section for Unknowing, Forgetting, in which trombone and three trumpets delivered some chatter and tweet before some wonderfully expressive weaving of notes that displayed how different valved horns can sound. The percussion section helped build pace and intensity before horns closed in unison.

Whirlwhind began with electronic splatter and muted horns. Douglas conducted as layers were added. There was some lovely textured clarity from the strings, then spectacular violin work by Liz Sellers, with plenty of note bending, then mild frenzy and echoes from carefully controlled horns. Mirko Guerrini on baritone sax and Paul Cornelius on tenor added a soft, deep interlude.

I found Whirlwind hard to describe. It had drama, but at times the sections seemed to be talking different languages, while at others there was collective shimmer. Perhaps group dynamics sums it up.

Wagon Wheel featured strings, opening with a sweet refrain that seemed tinged with a lament. A string-pluck festa led us, with help from Craig Beard on vibes, to finally focus on Geoff Hughes‘ guitar — it was good that he had this space.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky in full flight

Tower of the Winds was full of vigour, treating us to a duo of Douglas on trumpet with Burke on clarinet, strong intervention by Knight and Kieran Rafferty on drums and then a Grabowsky piano solo that came with built-in contrast between his emphatic chords and his free-ranging right hand, his digging deep for notes and thunderous barrages. The end of the suite seemed to come in no time.

I’m sure good things are happening in music at universities all across Australia, but as an example of students and experienced musicians tackling an inventive suite written for them to test their mettle, this was an engrossing and invigorating performance.

ROGER MITCHELL

Fabliaux was  to be recorded in the Monash venue the next day. Watch for it to pop up somewhere.

Ensemble members for Fabliaux

Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Ben Harrison, Niran Dasika
Trombone: Jordan Murray
Flute, clarinet, soprano sax: Lachlan Davidson
Clarinet, alto sax: Rob Burke
Tenor: Paul Cornelius
Bass clarinet, baritone sax: Mirko Guerrini
Violin: Liz Sellers
Cello: Will Martina
Bass: Marty Holoubek
Guitar: Geoff Hughes
Piano: Paul Grabowsky
Drums: Kieran Rafferty
Tuned percussion: Craig Beard
Electronics: Peter Knight

THE BEAT OF SEX, DRUGS & SPIRITUALITY

REVIEW

Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, including 2013 APRA Composer Commission Concert, Sunday 5 May, 2-8pm at
 Northcote Town Hall

Steve Grant

Steve Grant

The Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival runs on a shoestring, but that doesn’t prevent it running like clockwork. There was a little “bracket creep” during the afternoon, but generally performances started pretty much on time. So, when I arrived about 15 minutes late — mainly because I set out later than planned — Steve Grant was already well into his allocated half hour at the grand piano.

Armed with a coffee generously given to me on the way in by Ronny Ferella — he had bought too many — I quietly moved to a seat closer to the front, then settled into listening mode. With Marc Hannaford playing next, this was a chance to indulge in my recent practice of trying to focus on the individual approaches of pianists and gain some clues as to why they sound so different or similar. I can definitely hear similarities and differences, but I lack the know-how to attempt a technical explanation.

This brief excerpt of Steve Grant’s performance seemed to provide welcome space, a sense of reflection or reverie, and great fluidity.

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford also left plenty of space between his carefully selected notes, which were delivered with great precision. His improvisation gradually evolved, building in intensity as patterns emerged of immensely pleasing complexity. It became more percussive, with bold, emphatic statements, before slowing to take on a feel of solemnity. I had a sense of Hannaford listening intently, hearing pitches or tones or sounds and either repeating them or adjusting slightly.

I could not help but wonder what it would be like to be in Marc Hannaford’s brain — would there be joy, a sense of wonder at the discovery of what happened when he played these notes, or would it be delight in complexities or mathematically appealing combinations?

The piece became faster, with an insistent right hand, before a busy period. Then it was all over, too quickly for my liking, because I was really enjoying this as a journey of discovery. What a privilege we have, as audience members, to be able to share in these journeys when musicians of calibre (that one’s for Tony Abbott) are improvising.

IshIsh

IshIsh

Next up in this afternoon on the fringe was drummer Ronny Ferella’s band IshIsh, which has a fondness for the music of Ornette Coleman. That’s a big plus in my book.

Magnusson and Wilson

Magnusson and Wilson

The line-up varies, but on this occasion it was Jordan Murray trombone, Julien Wilson saxophone, Mark Shepherd bass and special guest Stephen Magnusson (recently a recipient of an Australian Jazz Bell Award for his Magnet album) on guitar.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson

IshIsh played four pieces, including Ferella’s What Should Be (the title track from the band’s 2000 album) and “a tribute to Joe Lovano’s tribute to Ornette Coleman”. I really liked the organic feel of this group and the absence of the cycle of solos.

Jordan Murray

Jordan Murray

 The music changes gradually within each piece, evolving rather than being more compartmental.  To me IshIsh has a European feel that escapes regimentation, with the musicians seeming to lose themselves in ebbs and flows as the pieces develop. The guitar, sax and ‘bone provided a rich array of textures and timbres.

Ronny Ferella

Ronny Ferella

Shepherd’s bass was more evident in the Lovano-Coleman tribute, which opened as a sharper, faster piece before evolving to a slower resolution with great resonance and depth. Magnusson produced some lovely high “scribblings” in this.

IshIsh was definitely a welcome inclusion in the day’s outings.

Ren Walters

Ren Walters

The next set was to be a trio, but saxophonist Scott McConnachie was too ill to join Erkki Veltheim on viola and Ren Walters on guitar. Before the final duet Ren Walters said that he and Eki would “dedicate the healing energy from our music to our friend Scott, who is going through a terrible time”. I’m sure the audience shared the hope that Scott’s health would improve.

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

In this totally improvised exchange, I was struck first by the extraordinary flexibility and fluidity of Veltheim’s playing, as well as his dexterity and the rapidity of his movements. He is amazingly virtuosic, though there is absolutely no hint of showmanship accompanying his ability. He is totally focused on the interaction with Walters.

Ren Walters

Ren Walters

Next I noticed the attentiveness of Walters, which is hardly surprising given that the nature of this exchange is utterly based on each player listening and responding. I don’t believe I was imagining it when I saw Walters’ face display signs of delight as he puzzled out responses to Veltheim.

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

This absorbing work was full of contrasts, switches of direction, sharp and edgy attacks followed by passages of great fluidity. Veltheim seemed to be plucking strings while bowing, and at other times he dragged his bow abrasively across the strings. For a while Walters was changing the tunings constantly as he played.

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

The rapidity, lightness and almost spindly nature of the sounds in the final piece were striking. At one point I visualised mice on a skating rink. In the whole outing I greatly appreciated the beauty and clarity of notes played, the occasional gentleness and the abundant space.

Again it struck me how privileged we are to hear this music being created. The other day I heard Kavisha Mazzella on ABC 774 telling how she was attracted to Melbourne because of the city’s vibrant music (or words similar). We are indeed lucky to have many hard-working musicians, but their work too often slips by unnoticed.

Howl

Pat Thiele, Gideon Brazil, Luke Moller and Julien Wilson perform in Howl.

Now we come to the big event of the festival, the APRA Composer Commission, which this year was awarded to pianist composer Darrin Archer. He chose to focus on Allen Ginsberg‘s poem Howl, using modern composition and improvisation to explore the sex, drugs and spirituality of the beatnik as a sonic landscape.

The work was titled Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality: Howl to music.

Howl

Sam Zerna bass, Maxine Beneba Clarke voice, Danny Fischer drums in Howl.

I was not familiar with Ginsberg’s epic poem, so probably ought to have done my homework before this performance by reading it with care and attention in order to be properly prepared. As it was, during the longish sound check I called up the text on my phone and scanned through it, wondering whether we would hear excerpts or the whole poem. It also seemed highly likely, given the blasts from the band during the check, that I may not be able to hear the words, so I was taking belated precautions.

Darrin Archer

Darrin Archer

When the music began, and Maxine Beneba Clarke began to read from her long paper roll containing the text, I realised my fears were well founded. It may have been different in other parts of the auditorium, but I could only hear the words clearly when the volume dropped at various points in the piece. So I followed the text on the phone screen while listening to the musical drama unfold.

Howl

Maxine Beneba Clarke reads Howl.

Archer’s composition certainly had the appropriate dramatic force and complexity to match Ginsberg’s words, which were articulated clearly and with feeling by Beneba Clarke. This was dark music to match dark imagery.

The poem opens thus:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix, 

It does not shrink from bleakness or harshness. Archer’s music undeniably had to be robust, strident at times.

Howl

Maxine Beneba Clarke

My issue with this work is that I felt torn between wanting to hear the poem being read (or at least read the words as they were delivered) and on the other hand giving up on Ginsberg’s imagery so that I could concentrate on the musical imagery unfolding under Archer’s direction. It seemed that, with the exception of some quieter passages, that was impossible. The spoken word and music were too often competing.

Howl

Pat Thiele in Howl.

Beneba Clarke’s delivery was excellent, particularly in the oft-repeated “Moloch”, which was audible and effective as a way to communicate all the evil that Ginsberg meant by this name. Repetition of “Rockland” towards the end of the poem was also a chance for the voice to come to fore and achieve more of a balance with the ensemble.

Howl

Sam Zerna in Howl.

I hope that this work is revisited, as have been other works commissioned for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival. But I think either the words of the poem need to be audible over the music, or they should be projected somehow so that the audience can ponder and appreciate them at the same time as the music. It also would not hurt to remind patrons to be familiar with the poem before the performance. Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality has the potential to be a powerful interpretation of Howl, but in this debut outing it did not quite succeed.

Howl

Maxine Beneba Clarke nears the end of Howl.

After the commissioned work, in Chris Port’s Mixer at about 7pm, Port on drums and laptop joined James Gilligan on bass/tape machine/effects and Marty Hicks on piano and Nintendo DS to explore Beat and hip-hop culture through improvisation.

I was only able to hear the very beginning of this outing before having to leave.

In terms of bums on seats, the MJFF did not score spectacularly, which is a great pity. A lot of creativity and inventiveness was on display at an excellent venue. I’d definitely rate the afternoon as a success, but in an ideal world more people would be there to share.

ROGER MITCHELL