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Live Reviews

June-July 2004

By Published: June 22, 2004
This group was formed when trumpeter-composer Peter Knight got together with some neighbors living in Melbourne's western suburbs. On the surface, players like Knight, saxophonist Paul Williamson, bassist Howard Cairns, percussionist Ray Pereira and guitarist Dung Nguyen would appear to have little in common. But one of the strengths of the Melbourne music scene is that players can play various styles of traditional or modern jazz (or blues, R&B, ska or 'ethnic' music), and bring some of those experiences to their next collaboration. That is what happens here, the group achieving a satisfyingly cohesive sound. Nguyen gives the group its most distinctive textures, playing traditional Vietnamese harp and zither-like instruments on most tracks, but all hands contribute some really thoughtful work. The most striking track on the album, "Is The Moon Really That Far Away ?", sports superb, atmospheric cameos from Martin Breeze (spoken word and wordless singing) and Leo Dale (alto flute).

Mark Isaacs
Keeping The Standards (Vorticity)

Recorded live at The Basement, this set finds Sydney pianist Mark Isaacs in the select company of bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum, both highly-credentialled New Yorkers. Isaacs usually presents original compositions with his own bands, but here he works with the standard repertoire, taking on the challenge of finding something new to say with some familiar songs. He succeeds brilliantly, whether sustaining a gently romantic mood on "Skylark", or happily digging into a swinging groove on "Falling In Love With Love" or "Gone With The Wind". The most inspired music-making comes on "Somewhere" (from 'West Side Story'), where the trio takes a lengthy, and rewarding, detour both before and after playing the theme at hand. Isaacs confirms his reputation as a pianist with both ideas and the means to express them. Anderson and Nussbaum both excel when given the chance to solo, but mostly concentrate on helping the pianist give his best.

Mike Nock's Big Small Band
Live (ABC Jazz)

He may be an elder statesman of the Australian jazz scene, but Sydney pianist Mike Nock won't rest on his laurels. He is forever searching for new ways to keep his music fresh, always on the lookout for hot new players to work with. His 10-piece Big Small Band (three brass, three reeds, guitar and rhythm section) is stacked with exciting younger talents like guitarist Cameron Deyell and saxophonists Andrew Robson, Matthew Ottignon and Roger Manins. As the name suggests, this group offers Nock the tonal and textural variety, and a choice of soloists, that he would find in a big band, while retaining the flexibility that is a hallmark of his smaller groups. The program comprises seven pieces by Nock (some new, some originally written for his quartet), plus one commissioned from Melbourne composer, Andrea Keller. Listeners can be grateful that this Wollongong concert was so well recorded : it was an inspired performance, full of thrills and triumphs.

Steve Hunter
If Blue Was Orange (Newmarket)

The majority of pieces here were written by Sydney bass guitarist Steve Hunter (the exceptions include "Las Olas" by Jaco Pastorius, and Miles Davis' serene "Blue In Green"), but it is fair to describe this as essentially a blowing session. Fair enough, when you have assembled a band that can just let go with such authority. Listen to the sparks fly on "Conjure Hum Veda" when guitarist James Muller and saxophonist Dale Barlow start merging into each other's lines over the driving, restless groove laid down by Hunter and drummer Andrew Gander. This is jazz with a dash of fusion in the rhythms and time signatures employed, and the unforced emphasis on instrumental virtuosity. The disc isn't uniformly successful; for example, the reggae-flavored "Jamaica Smile" is too sleepy, and a brief duet between Barlow and Muller (on piano) seems pointless. But for the most part, this is four superior musicians making full use of their talents.

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