Tag Archives: Lloyd Swanton

TURNING UNKNOWNS INTO KNOWNS

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

REFLECTION:

Three concerts at The Malthouse on Friday 6 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

7pm: Django Bates Beloved with Monash Art Ensemble celebrate Charlie Parker

It was going to be an evening of new experiences — I was familiar with only two of the four ensembles and had heard only one musical performance in the Merlyn Theatre at The Malthouse. It is a similar format to Chapel Off Chapel, but much wider, so that it is a much longer walk to move from one side of the elevated seating to the other to gain a different perspective for photographs. The sound seemed excellent, but the lighting lacked direction, so that by the final concert it was almost lights out as far as the action on stage was concerned.

I don’t believe that the music of Charlie Parker can be easy to play, and the opening concert confirmed this. Django Bates, at the piano and keyboard, was joined by Peter Eldh on double bass and Peter Bruun on drum kit, with Bates taking a conducting role either from the piano with gestures or by walking over to the Monash Art Ensemble, which included students and seasoned players.

If anything this outing was a demonstration to me that, first, I did not know Parker’s music well enough to make any assessment of how Bates had departed from the original Parker arrangements, and, second, it was complex music that called for skill and attention to detail by the musicians.

I particularly enjoyed Bates’ We Are Not Lost We Are Simply Finding Our Way (that’s how I felt), which featured Scott Tinkler on trumpet. I loved the interplay between bass and piano, as well as some deep, growling notes and mingling of sounds from the ensemble in Star Eyes. The orchestra seemed to have excellent control of dynamics in Confirmation, flaring up suddenly in what became a hard-driving piece. The Study of Touch was full of interest, with ensemble solos from Tony Hicks on flute, Rob Burke on soprano sax and a young sax player who may have struggled a little at higher registers. My Little Suede Shoes showcased some deft work by the trio before Bates conducted the ensemble in.

Audience reaction is often a useful guide, not necessarily to the musicianship, but to how well the music succeeds in being engaging. In this concert I felt as if the appreciation was muted, with the ABC’s Gerry Koster having to suggest that with extra clapping “we may get an encore”.

But I was inspired to seek out more of Bates’ work and to get to know Parker much better.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Django Bates, Peter Brunn and Peter Eldh with members of Monash Art Ensemble.

9pm: Alister Spence Trio

This was the trio with which I was acquainted, but the outing was another clear demonstration that hearing a group live will always have far more impact than hearing them on an album.

As soon as the early distraction of taking some photographs in the allocated time and the parsimonious and nasty red light was over, I was immediately engrossed in this set, which was music I felt could be touched or felt as a physical sensation. Propulsion is often a key factor for me, and Spence‘s trio — Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and percussion — had it in spades. Brave Ghost featured some lovely, deep, resonant bass and delivered intensity plus. With excellent dynamics from Hall and some hot piano by Spence, this was going places. The piece was a ripper.

We heard Seventh Song, Threading the Maze and “a quick version” of Sleeping Under Water, each demonstrating this group’s ability to gain and hold our attention, building and releasing tension as changes occurred. This was a riveting set by a focused, energetic and engrossing trio. And I believe they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

11.30pm: Dawn of Midi

Sometimes we need spoiler alerts. I often think that if I read a film review before seeing it, it is impossible to wipe out the memory of a single remark that may skew how I will view the movie. In the case of this outing by Dawn of Midi, I happened to read a brief comment by someone who had been at the previous night’s performance. In summary, this person thought Dawn of Midi’s set was similar to a performance by The Necks, but less interesting.

I could not erase that idea as I listened to Amino Belyamani on piano, Askaash Israni on double bass and Qasim Naqri on percussion. The set seemed very controlled and to be all about incremental change. A lot of alterations were made to the rhythmic patterns, but the changes were gradual and required concentration to pick up.

In a strange twist, a conversation after the performance altered my view. Curious about what those familiar with Dawn of Midi had thought, I asked some fans of the group. The explained that this was not improvised at all, as is The Necks’ music, but totally scripted — and in detail, down to the last note, so to speak. They assured me that the set as played live was very close to the album Dysnomia and that I should get it and listen before passing judgement.

So I dutifully obtained the album and have played it a few times while writing these “review-style” pieces. I find that my view has changed. Whereas on the night I did not think there was enough to keep me interested and hanging out for more, I can appreciate now that there is a compelling element to this incrementally changing landscape.

So tonight I learned about little-known unknowns (Parker) and even lesser-known unknowns (Dawn of Midi), but learnt more about unknowns I would like to become better-knowns.

ROGER MITCHELL

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Advertisements

FAR FLUNG — ALISTER SPENCE TRIO

Tonight (6 June) at Merlyn Theatre in The Malthouse at 9pm, the Alister Spence Trio will perform in an Australian premiere with Dawn of Midi. It seems appropriate for Ausjazz to dust off an album review before we have the chance to hear the trio live:

Far Flung cover

(OVERDUE) CD REVIEW

Rufus Records

3.5 stars

Occasionally I like to ask a friend or family member to give an opinion on a track from a new album, often a track that I imagine may be a little challenging. The response is usually blunt, honest and immediate, whether positive or not: “Yes, I love that” or “No, turn it off”.

If the reaction is negative, I like to try another, radically different, track from the same album. Most often the response is, “Yes, that’s much better. You can leave that on.” When I point out that both tracks came from the same album, it comes as a surprise.

It can take a while to broaden our tastes, so there is often a lingering expectation that tracks on an album will be be fairly consistent in style and approach, so that we’ll know quickly whether we like what’s on offer. Some albums provide that, but many take us to a gamut of musical places, including some that assail our senses and strain our tolerances. Far Flung is one of those.

Far Flung (2012) is the fifth release from the Alister Spence Trio after Three Is A Circle (2000), Flux (2003), Mercury (2006) and fit (2009). The double CD provides 19 tracks described as an “interweaving of jazz compositions, open improvisations, and re-composed post-production pieces” featuring Alister Spence on piano/trio samples/music box, Lloyd Swanton on double bass and Toby Hall on drums/glockenspiel.

I’d recommend approaching this eclectic feast of sound via the sixth track on Disc One, Sleep Under Water, as opposed to via the opening textures of Tumbler or faster Flight Plan. Why? Because, like so many tracks on this album, it takes us on a journey that can serve to acclimatise us to the rich, submersive experience that awaits.

Track four, Felt, begins with vigorous piano chords and percussive chatter, ushers in contemplative tinklings before expansive and then emphatic piano, ending back at the chordal pattern.

That’s enough description to whet the appetite. I find that once we are stretched a little we become more flexible and open to new possibilities.

These days (as opposed to back in the day), it is easy to download individual tracks rather than whole albums, or to pick out the tracks we like using a playlist. But that may mean we don’t challenge ourselves quite so much, which is a pity.

Far Flung is a journey with many twists and turns, but it will reward the traveller prepared to savour new experiences.

ROGER MITCHELL

Alister Spence’s notes on Far Flung are available on his website.

Rufus Records

THE REVEL IS IN THE DETAIL

Tony Buck

Tony Buck at The Corner Hotel.

REVIEW: The Necks, The Corner Hotel, Tuesday 29 January 2013
Chris Abrahams piano, Tony Buck drums and percussion, Lloyd Swanton bass

Adrian Jackson, in a 1998 review of James Fielding’s three-CD set Notes From the Underground, noted that the keyboard player’s ensemble work “rewards attention”.

That’s surely particularly apt for any performance by The Necks, because the band’s unplanned, set-long improvisations consist of incremental changes that emerge almost imperceptibly from sustained patterns. Close attention is required.

When I heard The Necks previously at The Corner, each of three shows was sold out. I don’t believe that pattern has been repeated this year, but there were plenty of diehard fans ready to take their seats and listen attentively to two sets of about 50 minutes each.

On the previous occasion, as I recall, in each set there was a slow build to a climax that was obviously cathartic for the fans, who had queued to get into what seemed like a temple of worship. It was impossible not to be caught up in the accumulating tension and in the release.

Afterwards I reflected on the irony that these sessions of free improvisation followed such a clear pattern. Yet the audience reaction was immediate and positive — they loved it. And, while the end of each set was similarly tumultuous, the process of arriving there was quite different. The revel, let’s say, was in the detail.

There was less of the climactic in the two sets on Tuesday. They were quite different in approach. I was more transported by the second.

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton at The Corner Hotel.

Set one seemed to be about creating a whole, bringing about cohesion, so that the band’s energy gradually became centred and self-perpetuating, feeding off itself.

From time to time, as changes occurred, my attention shifted to one instrument — the bass more insistent, the piano’s growl, the chime of a bell. But as rhythmic patterns were established and textural landscapes built, the development process seemed so subtle as to be almost suspended for periods.

Incremental augmentation was the rule. Buck’s drums held it all together, with Swanton’s bass adding talk and Abrahams some keyboard forays as the whole evolved in long, slow, regular undulations.

Eventually the wholeness began to break up, led by oscillations from the bass and some upper register bowed notes. There was a sense of winding down as the drums backed off. With more definition and more space, complemented by fluidity and movement from Abrahams, the set turned back towards its beginning. There was no sense of a cathartic climax, but rather of a unity created and then allowed to dissolve.

The second set was a different kettle of fish, confirming that inventiveness and not only patterns and patience were integral to this band’s way of working.

It began with the drone of bowed bass and the murmur of metal gears moving on the surface of a drum, then the distinctive, airy rattle of a monkey drum. This was less about rhythm and more about an array of sounds.

There were rattlings, rumblings and knocks — discrete contributions in a busy panoply, at times like a jungle at night without the cries. Timbres were richly diverse and interwoven. This was a series of divergent paths rather than a whole.

Buck at the drum kit began to lift the intensity, adding to plucked bass and low piano notes with an insistent shimmering gong-like sound produced with his left foot on a bowl of bells.

Chris Abrahams

Chris Abrahams at The Corner Hotel.

The Necks began to crank up proceedings. Swanton slapped his bass, Abrahams with his left hand maintained a sustained undercurrent as disparate paths began to coalesce into a strong, cyclic pulse.

This is the point at which I felt what firm followers of this band must yearn to experience again and again. As the intensity grew, I wanted to give in to the sound, merge with it and let its energy carry me along. I felt it as warmth, as a life force.

Was this dangerous? Was I in church? Was I in a cathedral of fire? I suspended judgement. I gave in. I sank into the sounds.

After a while there was a backing away, with the piano ushering me back to clarity and awareness. The spell was broken.

But the denouement was slow. Eventually solo piano signaled relief, an awakening, a new day. We were floating somewhere in a gentle breeze.

I would have been content for this set to end there, but it lingered. It seemed as if the band members were not sure whether to begin anew.

That uncertainty meant the music went on a little too long, but it was also a reminder that The Necks do not plan or rehearse. It had been months since they played together and in any musical conversation there must be threads that do not go anywhere and topics that are left unexplored, loose ends.

The Necks did not fill the house on this occasion, but they delivered an experience that definitely rewarded attention.

ROGER MITCHELL

The Necks on tour:

Thursday 31 January: Corner Hotel, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

Sunday 3 February: Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Wednesday 6 February: Byron Bay Community Centre, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

Thursday 7 February: Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Sunday 10 February: Lizotte’s, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Wednesday 13 February: The Basement, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Thursday 14 February: The Basement, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Saturday 23 February: Sarah Blasko with West Australian Symphony Orchestra – support at Kings Park, Perth, WA, Australia

Friday 22 March: Castlemaine Festival, Castlemaine, Vic, Australia

Saturday 23 March: The Street Theatre, Canberra, ACT, Australia