When thinking of Australia, jazz isn’t what comes to mind immediately – but that might change! Australia is working on a variety of activities to get more (deserved) recognition as a source of incredible and unique talent within improvised music. At jazzahead the various institutions of the country looking after jazz, like Sounds Australia, the Australian Music Centre, the Australia Council for the Arts, jazz festivals and labels, presented some of their most interesting artists and made a push for more recognition. Historically jazz is being played in Australia since 1918, when Billy Romaine appeared with his band in Sydney, featuring singer Belle Sylvia. Traditional jazz and jazz dance bands followed and copied, as everywhere else, what happened in the US. That all changed after the war with a bunch of jazz clubs opening and so bringing the new music to a wider audience. Charlie Munro in the late 1960’s probably being the first Australian jazz musician exploring influences from other cultures, something common in the expression of improvising musicians from down under today. Jazzrock had its expression via local groups like Crossfire and Pyramid, who played the Montreux Jazz festival in 1983. These first steps into the international limelight opened some doors and through these talents like Paul Grabowsky, Mike Nock, Dale Barlow and The Necks, Wanderlust, to just name a few, walked over the years into international recognition. And here came as well the first co-operations with the musical history of the continent, as well as with the many cultures brought to Australia by its immigrants. Talking about Australia today, the names of educator and pianist Paul Grabowsky, bass player Linda May Han Oh, singer and pianist Sara McKenzie and trumpet player and trombonist James Morrison pop up immediately … or of young sax player Troy Roberts. The presentation within jazzahead of Australian Jazz included many more very intriguing and beautiful recordings and some of the artists were around for a chat, like pianist Zela Margossian, percussionist Daniel Susnjar and singer, broadcaster and festival producer Chelsea Wilson. I will review some records from Australia below and hope to hear more in the near future. Jazz from Australia will get its recognition … as it is not a question of quality, but of exposure. Jazzahead was an important first step and there will be more to come … meanwhile why not listen to some great recordings from Australia here: https://open.spotify.com/user/soundsaustralia/playlist/2epEvbaRAv7vxwtnZ9DRe7?si=eiOGTT98THCC2h96GjSAhQ
Zela Margossian / Transition – “What a bright new force is pianist Zela Margossian. Her debut album, Transition, announced her range and fascination as a composer, splashing her Armenian heritage across the broad canvas of jazz.” – John Shand from The Sydney Morning Herald wrote this review of ‘Transition’, the debut album of the Zela Margossian Quintet, featuring Stuart Vandegraff on soprano sax and clarinet, Adem Yilmaz on percussion, Elsen Price on bass and Alexander Inman-Hislop on drums and special guest on 2 tracks Metin Yilmaz on plul / kaval. This album is all about multicultural influences and identity and Margossian’s compositions are wonderful little folk melodies with jazz grooves and space for improvisations, which especially she uses to great effect and touching results. Great energy and amazing skills of all musicians make this a captivating listen. If you like Tigran or Dhafer Youssef, this one is for you as well. An album that grows on you with every listen.
Daniel Susnjar Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group / spark – This is the third album by drummer Daniel Susnjar and his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group. Australian Susnjar, who studied and performed in the US and then Peru, is basing his compositions on Afro-Peruvian jazz grooves. ‘spark’ is full of danceable tunes and great Latin influenced jazz, performed on the highest level by Ricki Mallet on trumpet, Harry Mitchell on piano, Luke Minness on tenor sax, Zac Grafton on bass and Iain Robbie on cajon and other percussion, with all members as well playing various percussion instruments, so giving the music extra dynamics and power. A fun record to listen and party to!!
Other music I brought from jazzahead:
Aga Zaryan / High & Low – Born Agnieszka Skrzypek, Aga came to my attention first with her 2013 Blue Note album ‘Remembering Abbey & Nina’, a wonderful tribute to these iconic singers. Her new album is a different matter altogether, but nevertheless a really great album. Her own songs and lyrics, compositions from Marcin Wasilewski or her piano player Michal Tokaj, to which she wrote lyrics or covers of songs by Paul Simon (Spirit Voices), Carla Bley (Boo To You Too) and Stevie Wonder (Evil), as well as a beautiful wordless chant as a tribute to Geri Allen (Geri) make this record diverse and exciting and a showcase for the talented singer and composer. Excellent!
New Orleans Jazz Orchestra / Songs: the music of Allen Toussaint – New artistic director of the NOJO, drummer Adonis Rose breathes with this album new life into the Orchestra and they gladly go on a typical New Orleans musical adventure with him. Some of Allen Toussaint’s most famous songs have been given to different arrangers connected to the orchestra and they all did a wonderful job in keeping the spirit of the originals, but as well add the NOJO sound and power to the compositions. Special guest Dee Dee Bridgewater appears on a fabulous ‘It’s Raining’ and on ‘With you in mind’, where she shares vocal duties with the amazing Philip Manuel. The rest is like a day or better night out in the Crescent City – full of swing and fun, full of diversity and most of all, full of great ensemble play and individual contributions. A record that will put a smile on your face!!!
Ron Minis / Pale Blue Dot – Minis describes himself as ‘musician/composer based in Tel Aviv. A multi-instrumentalist playing piano, guitars, drums and bass. Participating in numerous projects ranging from avantgarde, modern jazz and classical music to punk, heavy metal and noise rock. Always looking for interesting collaborations!’ His album kind of proves his point: surprising changes, compositions that are without genre, captivating and sometimes musically challenging. The trio with Minis on keyboards, Avri Borochov on bass and either Yogev Gabay or Daniel Dor on drums is powerful, dynamic, but as well almost dreamy and light and will hopefully record many more albums like this. A tour de force!! And yes, we met because we both are painting our beards blue … instant understanding, as one can see below ….
Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Eivind Aarset, Samuel Rohrer / Dark Star Safari – A surprising little recording … Bang for the first time, as I can recall, on vocals beside his usual electronics and piano, Honoré on synths and electronics and voice and as writer of lyrics, Aarset on guitar, electronics and bass and Samuel Rohrer on percussion, electronic percussion, and synths are brewing up a genre-less mixture of sounds, beats and vocals that work in a kind of traditional song structure. ‘Resilient Star’ is great example of this and a beauty of a song, whereas ‘Child of Folly’ has a darker touch to it and the rest is simply cool. Different, exciting, drawing the listener into the album and rewarding him/her with some gems of songs. Surprising, but in a very good way!!
RGG / Memento (Polish Jazz, Vol. 81) – this Trio of Maciej Garbowski on bass, pianist Lukasz Ojdana and drummer Krysztof Gradziuk is very much based in the Polish music tradition: from classical to modern jazz. I always liked their lyricism and wonderful improvisations on compositions by classical composers from Poland, this time around coming from Gorecki, besides a piece from Ornette Coleman and Jacek Galuszka each and the rest coming from the members of the trio. ‘Tenderness’ is opening the album with just that …. The trios take of Coleman’s ‘Chronology’ is creative and touching and the rest keeps the listeners attention. The two Gorecki pieces ‘Szeroka woda’ and ‘Three Pieces in Old Style I’ are a perfect fit with the rest of the album and are beautifully performed. A European piano trio with its own distinctive sound and repertoire. Outstanding!
And it got two advance CD’s with music not yet released, but looking for a home: Vuma Levin / Antique Spoons – guitarist Levin’s new release is a powerful South African statement of social and human content. A step up from his previous releases, this has international potential.
Carita Boronska / Hypnotic Soul – Swedish singer Boronska recorded an album of her own tunes, that are jazz/pop/soul influenced and great to listen to. Singing mostly in English, but as well in Swedish and Spanish, this is an album with a wide appeal, based on wonderful songs and a great vocal delivery. Once these albums will have a proper release, I will gladly review them in more detail.
A quick concert review: We saw early March the quartet of pianist Juan Sebastian with bass player Javier Colina, drummer Naima Acuña and the wonderful harmonica player Antonio Serrano. They performed Juan’s compositions as well as Fred Hersch, Tom Harrell and ‘Fragile’ by Sting with special guest singer Cecilia Krull, who did a wonderful job. Juan Sebastian is a really great player and full of ideas when improvising, Colina a master of the upright bass and Naima a drummer who fills the spaces and keeps the music going with free-flowing beats, but the star of the night for me was Antonio Serrano, the man with the most amazing sound on his instrument. And he can improvise … the solo he did in ‘Fragile’ was simply stunning and touching. I really hope they record in that format and with that repertoire … it surely would be a great album!