"Bittersweet, according to Webster, is anything that is "pleasant yet painful. And that is an apt description of Live at Wangaratta,
, taped at the Jazz Festival bearing that name by the east Australian ensemble Ten Part Invention during a concert on the last day of October, 1999. All of the music for the occasion was written by the group's pianist, Roger Frampton, who was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. His mates knew it, of course, and poured their hearts and souls into an event that was as much homage as concert. Frampton died three months later at age fifty-one.
Frampton's legacy includes contemporary music that isn't always easy to digest but is invariably nourishing. It's generally well-played here by an intrepid tentet formed in 1986 by drummer John Pochée as an outlet for Australian composers and improvisers. Frampton, appropriately, takes the first solo on the snappy, upbeat opener, "Jazznost, as well as on "Randomesque, a Mingus-style essay that lives up to its name as it puts everyone to the test and keeps them alert and on their toes.
Trombonist James Greening is suitably suave and ardent as "The Dramatic Balladeer, after which Frampton switches to sopranino saxophone to underscore the playful, African-inspired "Sorry My English, prefacing a spirited passage by baritone saxophonist Bob Bertles. The ensemble closes its part of the concert with Frampton's energetic "Separate Reality, which runs for roughly seventeen minutes and is crowned by his extended a cappella piano solo.
Perhaps not among the best concert recordings ever made, but one that certainly gives new meaning to the term "special event. Frampton, an Englishman who moved with his family to Australia when he was nineteen, was, in the words of Bruce Johnson in The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz, "a musician of often intimidating energy and unpredictability. More than that, he was well-liked by his companions, who do the best they can to express their feelings through the music they all loved. There's no trace of sorrow here, but as the last notes were played there probably wasn't a dry eye on the bandstand, and few in the audience. The sound for a concert tape is quite good, the 49:54 playing time respectable. An engaging albeit all-too-brief glimpse of a life well-lived.