December 2003-January 2004


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...I remember hearing Steve Newcomb and I thought 'He just plays so beautifully, how are they going to judge it?' ...

Seasons Greetings...

I hope this posting is a good read, and inspires you to do some listening. There is some fantastic music being played live and appearing on CD around Australia at the moment. Even just in Sydney - I wish I had the energy to go out every single night - I'd be able to at the moment!

Don't forget to let me know if there is someone or something in the Australian jazz scene you'd particularly like to hear about. And thanks for all your feedback. I love hearing from you and welcome your emails.

All the best for a peaceful and joyful festive season, and here's to a wonderful 2004.

~ Miriam

In this edition:

Andrew Robson, alto saxophonist, is originally from Canberra but is now based in Sydney. He won the MCA / Freedman Jazz Fellowship in July 2003 with his trio [Steve Elphick, bass and Hamish Stuart, drums]. All About Jazz caught up with him soon afterwards.

All About Jazz: Why the alto? Why jazz?

Andrew Robson: I'm not really sure... music was always important. Mum and Dad both played the piano. My grandmother was a violinist... she used to play in the pit orchestras for silent movies. I was about ten years old when she died and she left me her violin in her will. I was only ten and I wasn't a musician at that point. So that was unexpected. It was one of those lovely unexpected things that happens. My grandmother also left us a piano, so we had that at home and I took lessons when I was in sixth grade.

When I went to high school I tried the flute. It just wasn't really me. We had the flute in the house for six months, and then back it went. But later I had a really great music teacher ... and he told me he was putting a jazz band together and they needed an alto player. All I had to do was convince my parents to buy me one and I could be in it. I was about 13 or 14 at that time.

AAJ: What was it about that offer that interested you? Had you already played around with the saxophone before?

AR: No, not at all, but it just seemed like a really great idea. Because of the way it was put to me, I suppose.

It's a strange one... I remember doing the standard music assessment and I did alright in that. And I sang in the Canberra boys choir, so there was a lot of music going on, but it wasn't until I got the saxophone and that was it. It was just it. It was easy and I was into it. I mean easy, in that it wasn't a problem to practice. And then the band, that year... I'd only been playing six months and we were entered in the national Eisteddfod and we won! We thought we were pretty hot. I think a few little experiences like that – being in the right place at the right time, a very enthusiastic music teacher. An element of serendipity.

AAJ: I was reading something John Shand said about you and the alto. He was saying that the instrument often has a really piercing sound and that you rise beyond that.

AR: I think the alto can sound bright, very bright and I'm always trying to work on that... trying to keep it dark.

I think most of my favourite players are tenor players — obviously Coltrane. Lovano and Bergonzi and Dewey Redman and Albert Ayler — and they're all tenor players, so I don't know whether maybe there's anything in that ... Bernie McGann has a very very dark sound. I know it's happened many times where someone's listened to Bernie and thought it was a tenor. And I guess I lean a little more in that direction as well.

It's one of those things... I can't tell you why, but the alto is my instrument. I've dabbled with the tenor, but not for many years. When I was about 20 I thought maybe I'm supposed to be a tenor player, but no, I'm not.

AAJ: Are there other instruments you like?

AR: Yeah, the piano. I've definitely come back to the piano but I think it's really a necessity for a horn player - a single line player - to have access to harmony... Maybe some players don't need that but I do. I need to sit down at the piano.

It's very visual too... The saxophone is quite abstract, in a way. Horns generally, the trumpet. It all sort of has to happen out of your line of vision.

AAJ: So who do you listen to? When you go home and you put a CD on...

AR: At the moment I'm listening to Aretha Franklin, the Amazing Grace concerts. It's just absolutely astounding.

AAJ: Is there consistently something that you enjoy, in listening to music.

AR: That sort of emotional quality that cuts across style. I have a lot of jazz records in my collection but I have a lot of other music in my collection as well. There's something that Bob Dylan has, that Coltrane has, that Aretha obviously has ... Dewey Redman, for me, has the same kind of quality, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra has it.

AAJ: These are also qualities you aim for in your own music?

AR: Yes, for sure. I mean folk music does seem to have it. It's almost like an intrinsic quality because it's just simple honest music. The performers aren't getting hung up about playing their linear dominance or whatever. It's just music for music's sake. So I guess that's probably the thing that would attract me to folk music. And is that the drive behind Mara! for example.

Michelle Morgan is someone I would rate very highly as well... it's such an emotional thing that she does.

AAJ: It fascinates me, the idea of how you get to the point ... where you can maintain an emotional level for a long gig ... and not to get tired and sound flat...

AR: I think sometimes it's hard. The good thing is, that if you play all the time, like if you're on tour for example then it's easy to get into the zone. And if you don't play very often, then when you do get to play, it so exciting that it's also reasonably easy to get into the zone. On the other hand, with a SIMA gig at the Side-on we do three sets. That's a lot of music. Three sets of original music is a hell of a lot.

AAJ: I often find that two sets is enough for me, as a listener.

AR: Well, it's good to hear that. I wish more people would tell the venues that. Particularly with a trio. But I would say that for me, the thing that makes it exciting is the trio's emphasis on playing original music. I feel like I'm doing something that no-one else can actually do. Whether you think it's good or not is another thing, but at least it's something that's us. I think there are a lot of players who have more to say on pieces like 'All the things you are' than I do. And maybe that's something I'll get better at, or something I'll feel differently about when I get a little bit older. But I hear Bernie playing standards and I think "That's just so great, that is just it".

When I first came to Sydney in the early nineties, I thought why would anybody come and hear me play standards when someone like Bernie is out there playing them the way he does. What is there that I could offer to that repertoire that hadn't either been said or wasn’t being said a lot better by somebody else, basically. I'm sort of changing slowly, and the last few gigs we've started by playing a really well known standard tune, which has been fantastic but I still think that for me, playing original music gets me there quicker, into that zone.

It's interesting that with some reviews of both the trio's CDs, there has been the comment that they would have liked it if we'd included a standard, which is a fair enough comment but I also feel like it's a bit of a cop-out too, because that makes a comparison between musicians very easy. A reviewer can listen to my version of 'Autumn Leaves' and then go and listen to Miles play 'Autumn Leaves'...

AAJ: I've often heard it said that the best way for writers and painters to find their style is to emulate the work of writers or painters they admire... that it gives them a starting point. Is that true for musicians as well?

AR: I've always felt that if I'm going to write my own music, then those influences will be there, because you write the things you like, essentially.

AAJ: So is it a purposeful thing? Do you ever sit down to do a composition exercise, if you like, where you say to yourself you want to create something that sounds like ... something a person you admire would write.

AR: No, not really. I probably came to composition late. I never really did any when I was at school, so I'm not really a schooled composer. I never sat down and did counterpoint exercises and things like that. I've probably got to the point where I need to know a little bit more about that, but I've just sort of generally written pieces for the band to play.

AAJ: And that was the motivation to compose – music for the trio?

AR: I remember when I moved here, I thought. Okay... I've got a band, now all I need is a repertoire, and I'm set. [laughs] So I got an exercise book and wrote the numbers 1-12 down the page. When I had written twelve pieces I rang Steve [Elphick, bass] and I range Jane [March, of SIMA] and said, "We're ready. Give me a gig." Actually, Sandy Evans was a great supporter and helped me get into the Strawberry Hills Hotel, and we did our first gig with those twelve pieces. Most of them are on Scrum, the first record...We still play some of them. And that was sort of the starting point.

We've played a lot of music together. I'm in a lot of bands with Steve and with Hamish... Jackie Orszaczky's projects, in a number of different incarnations. Altogether, our flying hours are quite significant. Hamish has filled in a bit for the Umbrellas, and is in the band with Eddie [Bronson] and Sandy [Evans] and Steve and I are both in Mara!, in the trio, in the World According to James, and the Umbrellas and Ten Part Invention. Both Hamish and Steve are very supportive players as well. I know that if I am playing a piece and if I lose my way then Steve will just shine a torch for me. In a bassist, that's an amazing quality.

AAJ: Wouldn't that be an important quality for a bassist?

AR: Well you would think so, but not everybody does it!

And I think because there's only three of us, there's no harmony and you do have to be pretty 'on'. I mean that sounds arrogant, but you do have to be conscious.

AAJ: I guess that also makes three sets pretty exhausting.

AR: Yes, and when I've finished, I think "I shouldn't be tired, this is my job, this is what I do", but we've been doing it for three and a half hours with a couple of short breaks.

I have yet to find anyone who sits down with their CD player and listens to three albums back to back. Play a CD right through, it finishes, put on the next one, it finishes, put on the next one... People just don't listen to music that way.

On the other hand it is a great opportunity, and there aren't a lot of gigs, so three sets is what we deal with.

AAJ: Do you have a preference for a particular size of band? Do you prefer the trio, or larger groups like Ten Part Invention?

It's very different. Because with improvising I always think of it like a conversation so with every person that you add to the conversation you personally may contribute less to the overall, I guess the thing I like about a small group is that you can have a really robust conversation with three or four people getting really involved ... and I like the result of that. And having said that, a band like Ten Part is wonderful. You've got that sort of momentum and volume. Ten Part is an unusual large ensemble because there is so much improvisation.

AAJ: Earlier this year you won the Freedman Fellowship, with your trio. How important do you think these awards and fellowships are? How do you feel about the comment I read recently on an online forum that these awards are dictating what's good and what's not in jazz, in a way that's actually quite suspect.

I couldn't disagree more with any negative comment. It is so hard for us to get publicity anyway, so the more the merrier.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I won one of them... The people who make it to finals are great players. And when we were doing the final concert, I remember hearing Steve Newcomb and I thought "He just plays so beautifully, how are they going to judge it?" But they have to. They have to pick one, and really that's all they did. It came down to our project ... And if I didn't win I couldn't go to Europe.

I think it's helping the scene. For me to get publicity for my trio – I can really only put out a recording at the most every couple of years and at the moment it's even less frequent than that. And you can't get mega publicity by putting on a gig... because you're just putting on a gig. We've got one major reviewer, in John Shand, so he can't review you constantly. Maybe he can review you every couple of years... and that's about that, really.

With the Freedman... the money's great of course, but the publicity is amazing. Just from the Freedman I've had photos and articles in the Canberra Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, the local papers, ... my music has been played on the radio, which is generating APRA royalties. I teach at a high school, and a the number of kids' parents who come up to me and say they saw me in the paper, and that gets them to the next gig. ... and besides that, to be in the same company as Phil Slater and Andrea Keller... I mean, that's wonderful as well. I can't see how it's a bad thing.

AAJ: What will you be doing with the fellowship?

AR: We’re going to Berlin – the Berlin Jazz Festival is one of the biggies – a very prestigious event. So there's that and hopefully we can tie a ten concert tour together. We'll come back and go into the studio and put it down. Hopefully it will just have that energy you get on a tour. I've never played ten gigs in a row with a band, in Australia – here, a regular gig is two gigs. When I toured with James Greening’s band [The World According to James] in Europe last year, we did ten or a dozen concerts ...We recorded our last concert in Amsterdam at Bimhuis, and it was just a desk tape. A couple of months after we got back we had a listen to it and it was amazing. We play here, and we think it's great, but this was just on another level ... and I really think it was because we were playing all the time ... just look at groups like the Miles Davis Quintet and they were astounding. And they played together all the time. It counts for so much.

The scene in Australia is such that we can't get in a car and drive for an hour and a half and be in another major city with a million people in it... and that's what you can do in Europe. So for us to play in Sydney on one night and Melbourne the next, you either drive, in which case you are pretty destroyed by the time you get to the gig or you fly which suddenly means that the budget has blown out. You're not just putting petrol in your car. You're spending a thousand dollars on return air fares. On the other hand, in Germany last year, we played in Berlin one night, got in a car and we drove a couple of hours and we played in Dresden the next night and we got in a car and played somewhere else the next night. I don't know how you could ever do that here.

AAJ: Maybe that's why touring overseas remains a really important thing for Australian musicians to be able to do?

AR: Yes, and I think that's one way these awards are really important for keeping the scene alive.

*** CDs pictured (from top) On (ABC Jazz), Sunman (Rufus Records), Scrum (Rufus Records)

Robson's website: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~andrewrobson

MCA / Freedman Fellowships: www.mca.org.au/freedman.htm

The Mara! website: www.maramusic.com.au

All About SIMA

SIMA is the Sydney Improvised Music Association - and an important part of the Sydney contemporary jazz scene. Check their website out at www.sima.org.au . This month, the site features a great article by John Clare about the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.

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Reviews by Mick Paddon

Mick Paddon is originally from England and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. He is often seen at gigs in Sydney and other cities, occasionally plays the saxophone and has a weekly show on Eastside Radio 89.7 - a community radio station in Sydney that specialises in jazz. Mick can be contacted by email on [email protected]

Phil Slater: Strobe, Coma Virgo, Newmarket Records, NEW 3116.2

Band of Five Names: Severance, Newmarket Records, NEW 3115.2

Phil Slater is one of Australia’s most restlessly inventive younger musicians. It is five years since the studio recording time which was his prize for winning a band contest run by Sydney’s main jazz station enabled him to make a CD of the music they had played as the Band of Five Names. Since then he has appeared regularly in all the city’s jazz venues (and won several more prestigious awards) with his diverse playing bands ... each of them elliptically named. He often plays with the same musicians. The two musician with him on both these CDs - Matt McMahon on keyboards and Simon Barker on drums - are ever present. But each band has a slightly different focus, reflected in the way the other musicians respond to Phil Slater’s trumpet, and in the writing and arranging to which they often contribute.

Of the two CDs reviewed here, Strobe Coma Virgo is a bit closer to the mainstream of jazz traditions. It shows an influence of the Miles of “In a Silent Way” refracted through some of the Necks long, slowly emerging patterns. An acknowledged mix of classic tradition and contemporary Australian influences. I saw a version of the band just before I heard the CD and felt confusion, as film reviewers must when confronted by a movie version of a book, in whether I should be writing about the live gig or the CD. Phil Slater favours two horns voiced in unison. On the CD he manages this himself on trumpet. At the gig he used a tenor play to voice alongside him. I could not honestly say I prefer either. Much like Phil Slater’s musical diversity they were just different ways of working with and around the music. On the CD he is joined by Carl Dewhurst on guitar, and two bass players - Brett Hirst plays acoustic and Alex Hewetson is on electric.

The current version of the Band of Five Names, here a trio of trumpet, keyboards and drums with additional credits for laptops and electronics, produces the more abstract set. Matt McMahon sets the tone of the piece with repeated patterns, at times just a single chord. Simon Barker drives the music. Gives it its pace. Slater’s trumpet sits sometimes on top, other times in the gaps. Sometimes prodding, at others responding. Each track is a free-flowing mix of improvisation and sketched composition attributed to the whole trio.

Both CDs show Phil Slater and his collaborators to be some of the most creative and, imaginative musicians in Australia playing contemporary music within the jazz spectrum.

Newmarket Music: www.newmarketmusic.com.au

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Reviews by Adrian Jackson

Adrian Jackson is a well-known Australian jazz writer, the artistic director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Director of the award-winning TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. All of Adrian Jackson's reviews that appear in this column were originally published in The Bulletin www.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin and are reprinted here with their kind permission

Phil Slater

Strobe Coma Virgo (Newmarket)

An outstanding trumpeter who has contributed to albums by artists as diverse as Mike Nock, Baecastuff and DIG, Phil Slater has released an album of his own music which was well worth the wait. It confirms his reputation as a mature artist and deep thinker, with definite ideas about how his music should sound. Like his trumpet playing, Slater's music is moody, atmospheric and spacious. It bypasses a lot of jazz conventions, but draws inspiration from jazz artists, from Miles Davis to The Necks. Slater is joined on various tracks by guitarist Carl Dewhurst, pianist Matt McMahon, bass guitarist Alex Hewetson, bassist Brett Hirst and drummer Simon Barker. Between them, they create music that is subtle, often haunting, and achieves a rare balance between apparent spontaneity and calculated order.

Alison Wedding

The Secret (ABC Jazz)

Alison Wedding is an American jazz singer who moved to Melbourne a couple of years ago from Los Angeles, and quickly established a strong reputation, especially after forming her Quartet with pianist Colin Hopkins, bassist Belinda Moody and drummer Danny Fischer. As this album shows, they combine on a high level : the sum of the parts is considerably more than a singer-plus-backing-band. Wedding can scat with the best, but it is the luminous beauty she discovers in the lyrics of songs like 'Black Is The Colour' or 'And I Love Him' that lingers in the memory. Hopkins' accompaniments and solos are similarly exquisite, while the contributions of Moody and Fischer are totally in sync with what the music requires. The program includes several originals (by Wedding, Moody or Hopkins) whose lyrics and structures invite repeated listening.

Jann Rutherford

The Scented Garden (Tall Poppies)

A New Zealander who spent most of her career in Sydney, before succumbing to cancer last year at the age of 38, Jann Rutherford only released one album in her lifetime. That was the solo piano album, 'Discovery'. Her courage and determination are evident in the fact that she managed to complete this album just two months before she died. It stands as an impressive memento of her considerable talent as a composer and soloist. It is essentially a quartet session, featuring soprano, alto and tenor saxophonist Paul Cutlan, bassist Craig Scott and drummer Dave Goodman. Another expat Kiwi, tenor saxophonist Roger Manins, joins them on four tracks, while further variety is provided by three duo tracks. Rutherford wrote all the music, except for the standard 'Alone Together', a favourite which she explores here in a conversation with the bassist.

Kynan Robinson's En Rusk

1000 Wide (Newmarket)

Melbourne trombonist-composer Kynan Robinson won a lot of praise for the original sound presented on his first album, 'En Rusk', a few years back. The follow-up is an even stronger set, presenting compositions whose combinations of melodies, rhythms and textures constantly keep the listener guessing what might happen next. Saxophonist Adam Simmons, bassist Mark Shepherd and drummer Danny Fischer are still in the band, while pianist Andrea Keller joined last year, after Erik Griswold moved to Brisbane. Keller and Griswold take turns here, which adds further tonal variety, as Griswold plays 'prepared' piano or harmonium on his tracks. Keller also fits right in as an improviser keen to think her way through the material, rather than recycle the usual bebop patterns. A special mention for Fischer, whose restless, inquisitive playing is exactly what Robinson's music requires.

ABC Records: www.move.com.au

Tall Poppies: www.jazzhead.com

Newmarket Music: www.newmarketmusic.com.au

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Odds and Sods, Bits and Bobs

Western Australia

The WA scene is busy and exciting as ever. Don't forget to check the JAZZWA website from time to time for updates on what's happening 'out West'. Alan Corbet, the Jazz Co-ordinator in WA provides regular updates on the website and you can join the mailing list.

JAZZWA Link: www.jazzwa.com


Melbourne Women's International Jazz Festival is happening at the time of upload. A regular annual event in Melbourne, this is its seventh year and the 2003 festival is dedicated to the memory of the Jann Rutherford who headlined the 1999 Festival. Rutherford's last CD is reviewed by Adrian Jackson in this posting. Click to see the review .

Festival Link: www.mwijf.org

More Aussie Jazz on AAJ

See the AAJ Australian Jazz Korner thread, started by Kenny Weir in Melbourne. Wonderful posts, and some great hints and pointers for gigs in Melbourne... I will be using this as a gig guide when I next head South! Australian Jazz Korner

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