Tag Archives: Toby Hall

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

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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

A SONG-CYCLE RIDE TO VISIT PERCY

Andrew Robson Trio

Andrew Robson Trio

REVIEW: A Day at the Fair, Andrew Robson Trio, The Grainger Museum, Melbourne, Sunday, October 20, 2.30pm

Next performance: Thursday, October 24, 6.30pm, Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Macquarie Street, Sydney

What a treat to hear the world premiere of this song cycle in the hallowed space of the Percy Grainger Museum. But what a pity that a larger audience did not turn up to hear the result of saxophonist Andrew Robson‘s discovery that at the beginning of the 20th century Grainger collected folk songs “listening and transcribing this music in the way that jazz musicians develop their craft”.

Before the performance, also featuring James Greening on trombone and pocket trumpet, Alister Spence on Grainger’s harmonium and a Nord keyboard, Brett Hirst on bass and Toby Hall on drums, Robson said Grainger took advantage of early excursions into the recording of music, in 1908 taking his favourite folk singer Joseph Taylor into a London studio to lay down 12 songs on wax cylinders.

Robson found 11 of the songs, but sought help from Dr Jennifer Hall at the Grainger Museum to find a wax cylinder version of the final song, Georgie. He then transcribed the originals and put together this quintet to provide a flavour of the music and “a taste of the way in which we approach music”.

The song cycle A Day at the Fair also includes three of Robson’s compositions inspired by Grainger’s transcriptions.

Andrew Robson

Andrew Robson

In the opening A Sprig of Time, which segued into Died for Love, I was reminded of Robson’s album Bearing the Bell, based on the hymns of Thomas Tallis, due to the sumptuous, velvety feel of the horns and harmonium.

Brett Hirst, Alister Spence

Brett Hirst, Alister Spence

The band fired up in more of a jazzy mode, with Spence on keyboard, for Robson’s I Wish I Wish, and the energy continued into Lord Bateman, with Greening on pocket trumpet and Spence on harmonium.

Brett Hirst, Alister Spence

Brett Hirst, Alister Spence

Creeping Jane, which featured an excellent Spence solo, was melodic folk delivered brightly, robustly and with vigour. The band members were obviously enjoying themselves, with Greening voicing his glee with the words, “I like Melbourne”.

The Murder of Maria Marten brought soaring, dipping, diving and interwoven horns. Robson’s Ballad of the Red Barn, inspired by Maria Marten, was slower and more dramatic.

Brett Hirst

Brett Hirst

Robson contributed a fiery solo to open The Gypsy’s Wedding Day, followed by Greening on the pocket trumpet and Spence on keyboard. This was fast and tight. Hall featured along with resplendent horns in Rufford Park Poachers, Robson played with dynamics to great effect in his Brigg Fair solo and Spence played with space and great beauty on the Nord in Bold William Taylor, which felt like a lament.

Brett Hirst, Alister Spence

Brett Hirst, Alister Spence

The White Hare seemed to encapsulate the atmosphere of a country fair, with rasping trombone and great work by the rhythm section to build a bouncy, rollicking feel. This piece tailed off with exquisite gentleness.

Brett Hirst

Brett Hirst

Georgie, which Robson reminded the band “follows the chart”, featured energetic solos from Robson and Greening on ‘bone, but a Hirst solo set the mood in the reflective Worcester City, which was topped off with a fantastic pocket trumpet finish.

Alister Spence, James Greening

Alister Spence, James Greening

The harmonium was the star of Robson’s By Night and By Day and the closing reprise of A Sprig in Thyme, demonstrating how its presence can rise gradually to prominence — in a word, swelling — and providing the satisfying hymn-like sense of fullness to a piece. In the Robson composition, Greening’s opening trombone solo was mellifluous and Hirst gave strong underpinning.

Alister Spence, James Greening

Alister Spence, James Greening

This was an entrancing concert celebrating the work of a musician who, I’m told, was a fitness fanatic who used to run between towns on his tours after sending the gear on ahead. It also exemplified the talent that Robson has assembled in this quintet.

James Greening

James Greening

It is to be hoped that A Day at the Fair will be performed as part of festival in future, but Sydney patrons should not let this slip past.

ROGER MITCHELL

FOR LARGER VERSIONS OF THESE IMAGES, SEE PICTURE GALLERY