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The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD

 
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Rufus Records Artists - profiles by John Clare et al

 

5 + 2 Brass Ensemble
Warwick Alder
Baecastuff
Bob Bertles Quintet
Browne Haywood Stevens
The catholics
Clarion Fracture Zone
Susan Gai Dowling Band
The Field
Trevor Griffin Sextet
The Cathy Harley Quintet
Colin Hopkins
The Keijzer McGuiness Quintet
Bernie McGann
Paul McNamara

 

Graeme Norris
The Original Otto Orchestra
Carl Orr
Paper Hat
Andrew Robson Trio
Tim Rollinson Trio
Jeremy Sawkins
Alister Spence Trio
John Stetch
Tim Stevens
Mark Taylor
Ten Part Invention
Trio Apoplectic
Wanderlust
The World According to James

 

 

5 + 2 Brass Ensemble

We think of brass instruments as heroic, piercing, violent, fiery, and Peter Knight's brass music has some of that; but brass can blend in such soft sonorities; even in pastel harmonies; that many listeners don't even register it as brass. There is a tradition of the brass ensemble going back to Gabrieli. Nobles and kings had brass ensembles. There is a full tonal spectrum in the brasses. Some of them played from towers.

In the 20th century Gil Evans used brass to beautiful effect, notably in settings for Miles Davis. The Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands exploited brass's extremes. Gil Evans is an inspiration for Knight's project, and so are writer Italo Calvino's city pieces - Invisible Cities - in which the intricate, incised prose evokes the structures of the city, the divisions of streets and lanes, and the the patina of buildings: the signatures, blotches and stains on walls.

To express the mystery and mythology of cities, Knight has assembled a cast of top Melbourne jazz and ensemble brass players, punctuated by a superb rhythm section. Among the brilliant solos: Knight's own attractive trumpet playing, the contrasting styles of bass trombonist Adrian Sherriff and trombonist Kynan Robinson.

Peter Knight on the web: www.peterknightmusic.com

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Warwick Alder

For many listeners Warwick Alder is the trumpet king. His beautiful sound and style, his feeling for the characteristics of the instrument and his effortless flow of ideas in any idiom have made him the trumpeter of choice in many situations, from the traditional to the avant garde. For decades Alder has played with the great composers' band Ten Part Invention. He was in the trumpet section and sometimes featured as a soloist in James Morrison's big band. He has recorded and performed live many times with the bands of Bernie McGann and Bob Bertles -- and many others. With McGann and with Ten Part Invention he has toured internationally.

Here at last we have Warwick Alder's own album Brendance, so named for his son, Brendan. The title track is indeed a wonderful snaking, moody, rhythmically intriguing and harmonically glowing piece with great playing from pianist Jonathan Harkins, alto saxophonist Dave Jackson, Clarke himself and drummer Andrew Dickeson. All are long time associates, except for Jackson who is a brilliant recent arrival on the scene. The composition and arrangement are by Alder, as are five others. A trumpet player could scarcely wish for better settings, and Alder's trumpet glows and blazes like flame against them. In the brilliant, racing Chromatica there is even a witty hint of the old Batman TV theme. Other compositions -- by Thelonious Monk, Thad Jones and Michel Legrand --point to Alder's deep loves within the spectrum of jazz. At speed, he is dashing and elegant, in more mysterious compositions colouristic and soulful. On ballads he is sublime. This exciting and often moving album is one to settle down with in confident anticipation of deep satisfactions.

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Alister Spence Trio

Here is another group of great players who have come to read each other's mind through long experience together in various bands, who have distilled their commonality down to a smaller format. Indeed, The Alister Spence Trio. The leader has developed one of the most brilliant and rewarding piano styles in contemporary Australian jazz. It is clean and brilliant, it can be full-chorded, percussive and overwhelming as rolling thunder. With Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums, Spence can take his intriguing compositions in virtually any direction, knowing that they will be supported and clothed in shining colours. There is a fineness to this trio's work that is quite outstanding. While they are not limited by four to the bar swing, they do swing amazingly, delivering many of the traditional satisfactions of the jazz piano trio in new and rewarding ways.

On the web: www.alisterspence.com

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Baecastuff

Baecastuff is a tobacco-like bush which grows on Norfolk Island, which became the home of the survivors of the mutiny of The Bounty. Their descendants are still there in a unique community in which tenor and soprano saxophonist Rick Robertson grew up. It is now also the name of a band hailed internationally as one of the most vital extensions of the jazz/rock tradition. The rhythmic bass is often funkier than it is rocky, and the trumpet of Phil Slater inevitably calls up comparisons with electric Miles Davis projects. Baecastuff is different in many ways, bringing contemporary elements, including layers of techno, to bear.

Slater's trumpet playing, incidentally, plays with the Miles influence in interesting and exciting ways, sometimes extending the free jazz elements that touched Miles' playing from the 1960s on. Hypnosis, euphoria, and outbreaks of a fast, flying funk on which Slater rides high, are Baecastuff characteristics. Add to this a funky and inventive rhythm section expanded by percussion, the genuinely soulful playing of Robertson, and a range of neon-bright electric colours.

On the web: www.baecastuff.com.au

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Bob Bertles Quintet

Bob Bertles is undoubtedly one of the most experienced and accomplished saxophonists in Australia. In the 1950s and 1960s he played hard bop at El Rocco jazz club between concerts and tours with rock and roll wild man Johnny O'Keefe and, a little later, a stint on baritone, alto and flute with rock soul band Max Merritt and The Meteors. In Europe and the UK he played in the fusion band of Miles Davis biographer and trumpeter Ian Carr, amongst many other things. Today he is a key player in Ten Part Invention.

If you were looking for the core of Bob's musical being, however, you would go to the hard bop style that came to dominate in jazz clubs of the mid 1950s to early 1960s. In this area you can hear Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Jackie McLean and, not by any means least, Bob Bertles. Bob's front line partner on his own Rufus recordings is Warwick Alder, one of the greatest trumpet soloists Australia has produced. Pianist Dave Levy is a friend and colleague of Bob's from El Rocco days, an Australian pioneer from that time and a deeply gifted player. Bassist Chris Qua and drummer Ron Lemke are better known in other company, but all members share a love for this music.

The twin satisfactions of authenticity and freshness within the idiom characterise the wonderful discs these gentlemen have made together.

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Browne Haywood Stevens

Sudden in a Shaft of Sunlight was the second of the two albums from the Melbourne trio Browne Haywood Stevens, featuring Allan Browne (drums), Nick Haywood (bass) and Tim Stevens (piano). This co-operative, leader-less trio was a feature of the Melbourne jazz scene between 1995 and 2000, and held a Monday night residency at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.

Playing mostly original repertoire composed by Tim Stevens, the trio also performed tunes from the standard repertoire of popular song, and compositions from the jazz tradition by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington.

Long out of print, Sudden in a Shaft of Sunlight has been licensed to Rufus Records for rerelease just over ten years after its first appearance.

The album was shortlisted for the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) award for best jazz album in 1998, and the trio has maintained a loyal following as witnessed at its occasional reunions.

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Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann was the first Jazz musician to win the Australia Council's Don Banks Award for an outstanding contribution to music (1998). It was a highpoint amid a swag of awards for his striking musicality and that of his Trio. In the 1980s the great US saxophonist, Dewey Redman, stepped off the plane in Sydney and asked 'Where is Bernie McGann? He is a great musician'. In 2000 the tough US magazine Cadence stated 'If this guy was American he would have reached "next big thing" status years ago'!

As with most true originals wider acclaim has been slow in coming but in the meantime we've been fortunate to have him among us opening our ears while forging a bold, exciting, freewheeling approach to modern jazz with his mix of original compositions and marvellous reworkings of standards and lesser known songs. Songs are now being written for him by other writers while he continues to bring forth his own engaging tunes.

In fact, McGann's career, with drummer John Pochée's, goes back to the cradle of modern jazz in Australia in the 1950s. They were long distance apprentices whose access to their US masters was limited to hard to get recordings and rare visits to these shores. But their excitement at the music, intense practise and separation from the sources led to highly distinctive results - from his grip on the mouthpiece to his tone and phrasing McGann plays like no one else. They were definitely in the modern jazz tradition but more importantly and more interestingly they were characterful, exuberant exponents rather than pale, respectful imitators.

Pochée has a distinguished career in his own right and is leader of other ensembles which are vital to Australian jazz - Ten Part Invention, The Last Straw and The Engine Room. A renowned on and offstage storyteller he is a left handed drummer who plays a right handed kit - a metaphor for the individuality irrepressible in his music. Decades of playing with McGann, who thrives on his energy and rhythmic sense, have created an almost telepathic rapport.

Swanton joined the Trio in 1982. Well known as leader of The catholics and co-leader of the unclassifiable cult band, The Necks, his contribution has cemented the Trio as a classic of its kind while his studio role as producer has helped make McGann's CDs standouts in recorded jazz anywhere. He has been highly valued as a member of Vince Jones' band and Clarion Fracture Zone among many others.

McGann has made numerous tours to Europe, the former Soviet bloc countries, Asia and Canada. In 1997 a highlight was performing on the mainstage on closing night at the Chicago Jazz Festival which coincided with the US release of two of his albums. In July 2001 the McGann performed on a special stage at the prestigious Umbria Jazz Festival, Italy, after a personal invitation from its artistic director.

 

The catholics

There are two Sydney bands that have very consciously tapped what has become known as the World Music vein. One is The catholics, the other Wanderlust. The richness of this area, and the creativity of these musicans is demonstrated by the fact that these bands sound completely different. The catholics are more consciously influenced by the simple catchiness of pop music. Leader and principal composer Lloyd Swanton has a gift for the clean, uncomplicated melody that carries a curious blending of sweet, dancy feeling with a slightly daffy humour. While `clean and uncomplicated` are quite appropriate terms, the tunes are often not quite so simple as they appear, having little quirks of construction that keep them on the intriguing side of sweet pop. They also allude to country melodies, to spirituals, to Latin dances and jazz without being any of these things exactly. Sometimes two or more of these elements are combined.

Of course, any notion of naive simplistics flies out the window when the ingenious elements of Swanton's arrangements kick in. Unusual instrumental combinations are used - percussion plus drum kit plus electric or acoustic bass plus bluesy electric guitar plus country-flavoured pedal steel - to create a shifting, bumping, dancing field of rhythm under saxophone and trombone. The generally happy tone of the music is no barrier to adventurous and exciting solos when things really start to hum.

Lloyd Swanton on the web: www.thenecks.com

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The Cathy Harley Quintet

Cathy Harley impressed early in her career as a pianist of unmistakable depth and brilliance. It is significant that when top American saxophonist Gordon Brisker took up a teaching residency in Australia, he always chose Harley for his performing bands. But she is also a distinguished composer and bandleader. On her Rufus album she chose a group of remarkable older players, some of whom went for many years without due recognition. Alto saxophonist Bernie McGann, for instance, is practically an archetype of the great artist who goes unsung throughout his life, or fortunately in McGann's case, until middle age.

It was a brilliant stroke to combine McGann with trumpeter's trumpeter Warwick Alder. She has given them intriguing if often quite hard tunes to play. Their ensemble lines achieve a beautiful synthesis of reed and brass sound, and their solos are wonderfully complementary. Harley's piano sounds as if it belongs there with these considerable figures and the whole is buoyed by one of Australia's most distinguished rhythm teams: bassist Craig Scott and drummer Alan Turnbull. Tuesday's Tune is a unique album. Its title composition was also played by Gordon Brisker on his album The Gift, featuring American trumpet star Tim Hagans.

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Clarion Fracture Zone

Recognized quickly throughout Australia as a very important, unusual, diverse, sometimes eccentric, even bizarre, yet mysteriously unified sonic entity, Clarion Fracture Zone was soon hailed in international publications as an indication that something very distinctive and exciting was happening down under. Electronic and acoustic sounds are combined with unusual success (a melody on their first album is rendered in the sound of a wok fed into a keyboard). A key element has been the blending of the saxophones of husband and wife team Sandy Evans and Tony Gorman. Gorman's clarinet also makes unexpected appearances. Marches, crooning exotica, galvanic free form eruptions, rolling piano blues, ethnic folk melodies and flowing or angular modern swing are all likely to appear, clothed in Clarion colours. The band has three composers: Evans, Gorman and pianist and electronic keyboardist Alister Spence. Their quite distinct styles are, once more, almost mysteriously complementary.

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Susan Gai Dowling Band

Susan Gai Dowling is a raw-edged, hard swinging singer with lots of heart and soul. Three of her band comprise the great Bernie McGann Trio - bassist Lloyd Swanton, drummer John Pochee and alto saxophonist Bernie McGann. The fourth member is Dave Levy, one of the most full-voiced, richly harmonic and freely flowing pianists around. Dowling is the spearhead. She locks them into a hard drive that is rather more mainstream and straight ahead than some of the music they usually play. Can they still do this stuff? They swing so hard it frightens you. Check McGann!

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The Field

Do you like Ry Cooder's acoustic playing (a little less stripped back than 'Paris Texas' maybe)? Do you like Leo Kottke, J.J.Cale, William Ackerman and other great acoustic guitarists? Well check this beautiful Australian CD. Bruce Reid (Karma County), Hamish Stuart, and Lloyd Swanton (The catholics/The Necks) offer dreamy string picking (guitar, dobro, lap steel and ukelele) slow bloooze, on the porch country, Celtic, Eastern European and other influences (including a soft jazz tinge). It's 95% instrumental - guests include gentle unhurried un-intrusive keyboards from Stu Hunter and Misha Semouski - but there's also an appearance by singer Wendy Matthews. The whole thing is gracious, warm, and subtle from beautiful slow tempos to those with a gentle bounce. It's got a flowing groove that you don't hear often if at all.

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The Keijzer McGuiness Quintet

Dutchman Remco Keijzer and Australian Lucian McGuiness normally reside hemispheres apart, but they brave long haul flights and carry-on restrictions to join musical forces whenever possible. In 2009 they launch the album The Seed Habit on Rufus Records (thru Universal). The disc is the product of three years collaboration in Australia and The Netherlands, and was recorded in Sydney in 2008.

Jazz is transitory. It twists, turns, strikes and moves on – just like the Keijzer McGuiness Quintet, and the music on their infectiously toe-tapping début release. A tenor and trombone combination like Keijzer & McGuiness is hard to beat - a sleek, humanistic sound curls up inside your ear and expands your mind.

Among the best young players in their hometowns, Keijzer-McGuiness gigs soar melodically, with gutsy engagement between personnel; a spectrum of youthful energy, soul, breadth and vigour.

This album delivers the key contribution of the jazz tradition: great playing to make your toe tap and your head bounce. Better still, it doesn't fall into the trap of over-seriousness. Sounds like fun.

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Paul McNamara

Paul McNamara is one of the most pleasing, accomplished and creative pianists around. Not a pounder of the keyboard, he achieves an exhilarating giant swing by sitting with absolute security on the beat and pouring out sparkling lines, with judicious passages of percussive chording. He can make an audience begin shouting with excitement without actually raising the volume very much. This is clean, articulate playing that can touch some pretty dirty funk when it is up and flying. McNamara is also the master of quiet reflective playing, specially in duet with a like-minded musician. Few pianists can choose the surprise chord that sounds so right as unerringly as McNamara. His distinctive composing flows naturally from his improvisational gift. Perhaps two direct or indirect influences can be discerned: the harmonic colouration of someone like Bill Evans and the concise linear invention (and harmonic sophistication) of someone like Kenny Barron.

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Graeme Norris

Norris's Quintet emerged at a time when many younger jazz musicians were using their jazz background as a point of departure into rockier or more impressionistic or more world music-oriented regions. Aiming to sound like nothing but a modern jazz quintet, they managed to sound very fresh and distinctive - and they complemented all the other activity remarkably well. While four of the musicians were of the rising generation, drummer Alan Turnbull could trace his professional career back into the early 1950s. Some connoiseurs hold that Turnbull is the most versatile jazz drummer Australia has produced. Some say he is simply the greatest. In Pentatomic his interaction with young bassist Nikki Parrott became one of the high points of a distinguished career.

Alto saxophonist Graeme Norris, pianist Jann Rutherford and trumpeter Rod Mayhew wrote compositions for the classic modern jazz trumpet/saxophone front line that were highly pleasing to lovers of that period while managing to sound quite contemporary.

All members were gifted soloists with very attractive sounds on their instruments that blended beautifully in ensembles. Special mention should be made of Rutherford and Mayhew, who have passed on. Rutherford is also represented by a solo album, and Mayhew on a disc called Strut, led by saxophonist Jamie Oehlers. Their work on Pentatomic is also of a very high order. While we have quite a few very fine pianists, and Rutherford is one, Mayhew stands out as one of a small handfull in Australia who played modern jazz trumpet with a very high level of natural ability and inspiration.

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The Original Otto Orchestra

Don't bother with the covers bands. Only The Original Otto Orchestra has the right stuff. Fortunately for true music lovers, music from their vintage years as well as from their astonishing comeback ('Where the hell have these characters been? I mean what planet have they been on?' - Variety Gazette) is available on modern discs for the connoiseur. While the Ottos compositions and arrangements for massed saxophones (four of them in all) do not shun the spectacular, the loopy and the surreal, there is a serious intent here to explore the timbres and the blended tones of what Debussy, when asked to compose for saxophone, called, 'this strange aquatic instrument'. Each of the four members in fact plays at least two of the saxophone family. The frequency range is impressive - from bass sax, up through baritone and tenor to soprano. Whether buzzing like bagpipes, hooting coolly or roaring like fundamentalist preachers, the Ottos unfailingly intrigue the ear with their textures, harmonies and tones.

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Carl Orr

Since his Rufus album, guitarist Carl Orr has achieved international renown on tour with American drummer Billy Cobham, one of the most important figures in the movement toward a new style of music that would be neither jazz nor rock, or both jazz and rock perhaps. Fusion and jazz/rock were two terms used. That an Australian guitarist should get this important call may have surprised some, but not those who had followed his local development. Carl believes in the style and plays it with conviction, virtuosity and an unmistakable originality.

Before moving overseas, Orr was one of the Australian guitarists highly favoured by local guitar fans. The intensity of his playing, the way he combined jazz and rock elements, his use of foot pedals, and of course his virtuosity, were much celebrated. He brought a vivid presence to the band Wanderlust, but his own fusion records, including particularly his album for Rufus, can come as a very pleasant surprise today for those who were not so enthusiastic about fusion music at the time.

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Colin Hopkins

Colin Hopkins is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts who has travelled extensively throughout Europe performing and recording his original music in association with a series of prominent European musicians. He has a deeply passionate connection to the instrument and has been described by Jim MacLeod in 24 Hours Magazine as 'one of the most interesting improvisers in Australia'. Frank DiSario is a graduate of the University of Adelaide who has featured in performances with the best local and international artists including vocalist Mark Murphy. A uniquely sensitive, intuitive bassist and prolific composer, he has previously released a series of diverse albums that have received critical acclaim. His composition 'Arthur Boyd' has been included on a recently released compilation celebrating ABC Classic FM's 30th anniversary. Andrew Gander is a recent Masters graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts. As one of Australia’s foremost Jazz drummers, he has toured, performed and recorded throughout Australia and abroad with the best local and international artists, including Mike & Randy Brecker, Kenny Wheeler and Kenny Kirkland. An outstanding recording artist and leading clinician & educator, his touring, studio and performance credits place him among the top musicians in this country.

'As an architect, Colin Hopkins aims to create spaces of quiet stillness. As a pianist he carries this meditative mood into these seven compositions and four interpretations. Anyone who has heard Hopkins perform - often intent and hunched over the keys, possibly with the acclaimed trio Paper Hat - knows how grand a sound he can conjure from each note. Still explores the richness of solo piano by note and pause. Hopkins celebrates simplicity, clarity and melody, echoing folk themes in 'Black is the Colour', 'Chim Chim Cher-ee' and his 'Kali'. A slow version of Coltrane's' Giant Steps' is dramatic, almost classical. 'Rain' is gently relentless. Most likely to sustain interest are the heavier, brooding 'Intervention' and deeper, sonorous 'Heartbeat' with its dramatic cascading notes. If this is Hopkins' architecture, I'd like him to build me a space.'
Roger Mitchell Herald Sun

Colin Hopkins - www.colinhopkins.com.au

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Paper Hat (Colin Hopkins - Frank Di Sario - Andrew Gander)

'A conversation does not need a chairman, it has no predetermined course, we do not ask what it is ‘for’ and we do not judge its excellence by its conclusion; it has no conclusion, but is always put by for another day.' Michael Oakeshott 1989

Paper Hat is a new ensemble featuring the sublime talents of Colin Hopkins- piano, Frank Di Sario - bass and Andrew Gander - drums, each of whom has individually maintained a consistently high profile as a master of improvised contemporary music in Australia and abroad. This outstanding new CD release, Nine Conversations, is a celebration of Improvisation in which the musicians open themselves to a vulnerability and fragility rarely experienced in Australian music. With little discussion and pre-conception, this success of this recording lies in the deep sense of trust that exists between these three friends. The result is totally spontaneous where, as in a conversation, the music takes on a life and direction of its own and is discovered in the moment - there are no edits, nothing has been added or removed. Tackling the deep topics of life, love and death; Requiem, Where it ends and You and the more frivolous questions asked of musicians; Are you working New Year’s Eve? and I think I left my phone on, this CD is about three friends laughing, talking, joking and sometimes crying. It’s about three friends and Nine Conversations.

Colin Hopkins - www.colinhopkins.com.au

Frank Di Sario - www.frankdisario.com

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Andrew Robson Trio

Andrew Robson returned to Australia in the mid 1990s, having studied in the US with Steve Coleman and others. His first appearances back home were startling for their infectious energy, their eager virtuosity, the brightness of his alto and soprano saxophone tones and the seemingly unstoppable spilling forth of ideas. One critic described the young man as being somewhat like Icarus flying too close to the sun. This jumping out of his skin quality has since been incorporated in a mature style that has been further influenced by experience in the funk and soul bands of Jackie Orszaczky, the ensemble Mara! with its strong Balkan influence, and Ten Part Invention with its wide-ranging compositions.

All of this has been distilled into The Andrew Robson Trio. Bassist Steve Elphick and drummer Hamish Stuart bring a similar diversity of experience to bear. This is a deep, buoyant rhythm section that swings or dervishes with a thrumming intensity. Momentum and bluesy atmospheres alternate with that gripping eastern European feeling. Robson still flies, still exhilarates and pierces the heart.

Andrew Robson on the web: members.ozemail.com.au/~andrewrobson/

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Tim Rollinson Trio

Guitarist Tim Rollinson has often been a self--effacing, yet integral presence in a number of important Australian musical projects. When Acid Jazz was the go, the band DIG (Directions in Groove) were Australia's most successful and enduring exponents. Rollinson was the guitarist and one of the composers. He was perfect, having a high-level jazz background and experience in rock and funk bands. He was a member of one of Vince Jones' bands and led a group with Necks drummer Tony Buck, among many other situations in which his graceful and supremely accomplished guitar playing was integral.

Rollinson's colleagues on his new album, You Tunes, are bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Hamish Stuart, both have played with local and international jazz and rock headliners. Notably, Zwartz has played with Bernie McGann and Pharoah Sanders, and is currently a member of Tina Harrod's band. Stuart had a long stint in the band of the renowned Jackie Orszacsky and has played with Ian Moss, The catholics and others in which his ability to play diverse grooves has come to the fore. Rollinson, Zwartz and Stuart have long been friends and musical associates. They were the house rhythm section at the Bondi beach institution, the Starfish Club.

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Jeremy Sawkins

Sawkins can impress the listener initially as a colouristic guitarist, using pedals and manual manipulations to great effect (while sounding nothing like Bill Frisell, for instance), but he is capable of dazzling and surprising the same listener with a linear, running, swinging solo of great fluidity and dash. This latter approach surfaces more frequently on his album Southpaw, while the colour splashes tend to characterise the earlier Toys. Each has a distinctly Sawkinsesque atmosphere, which is touched by rural folk idioms. Each shows a great feeling for placing distinctive fellow musicians in interesting contexts. Very pleasing to the ear, Sawkins' music often has a deep emotional undertone.

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John Stetch

As the jumbo flies, Canada is pretty close to the recognized jazz capital of the world, but it is no easier to gain entré to the intimidating New York scene from Canada than it is from anywhere else. Oscar Peterson did it, of course, but you'd have to say that he was a phenomenon. Pianist and composer John Stetch has crossed the border and not only established himself as a topline sideman (he is a regular with TANAREID, jointly led by key modern bassist Rufus Reid and Akira Tana) but has won acceptance for his own bands in the rather stubborn North American market. Stetch was encouraged to take America on when he won second place in the 1993 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers' Competition, which was judged by Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock among others.

As a pianist, Stetch makes the instrument ring beautifully. He gets a very full sound without apparently feeling the need to bottom the instrument out or bash it. He can toss off brilliantly precise little hail storms and cascades in the treble without disturbing the solid chordal underpinning and the flowing time. His outstanding virtue, however, is an ability to mount extremely long, clear-headed lines - sometimes they seem endless - at any tempo. While the level of thoughtful invention is unflagging and the articulation apparently unflappable, these lines also develop considerable momentum. He can swing, he can groove. His style is fresh and contemporary, but drawn directly from the tradition.

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Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens is a superb band pianist, particularly in trio form, and we have a few of those players. We have fewer who can sustain an album of solo piano compositions and improvisations. Stevens has given us a deeply rewarding solo recital. That his solo album might send you in various directions - to solo Thelonious Monk for a stark contrast, to some Debussy piano pieces and to solo Bill Evans for sympathetic resonances, is something for which we must be grateful. Critics have written of Stevens' pastoral evocations, his classical allusions, the calm beauty of his ideas and execution. This is all true. At the heart of it all is a wonderful and quite special feeling for the piano and its traditions.

On the web: www.myspace.com/timothystevens

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Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor is one very accomplished saxophonist. Pop stars like John Farnham and Cliff Richard can afford to hire from the top level of players and, surprise surprise, they do. Like Bob Bertles, that other saxophonist to pop royalty, Mark is also a very fine jazz player. His album Shakedown also reveals a talented writer for jazz combo. These compositions have a really nice and infectious feel about them, drawing as they do from both mainstream modern and contemporary areas of both jazz and rock. Mark's tenor is beautifully projected and produced, tonally, and his improvised lines are very satisfying. On some tracks he combines wonderfully with eclectic guitarist Jeremy Sawkins. On others, trumpeter Scott Tinkler is added, with great effect. In fact Tinkler's opening solo is a tour de force of unfolding ideas and excitement. There is a temptation here to suggest that Tinkler may be touched by genius. Trumpet fans will make up their own minds.

Under all this sparkles one of the great rhythm sections: pianist Alister Spence, bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Toby Hall.

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Ten Part Invention

Ten Part Invention is a band of ten pieces formed specifically for the performance of Australian compositions. Many of these have come from within the band - with Sandy Evans, Miroslav Bukovsky, Bob Bertles and the late Roger Frampton setting the initial, very wide, parameters. The band when it is on fire is one of the most exhilirating ensembles anywhere, combining a thrilling spectrum of colours and blendings with powerful momentum, burning solos and, when the mood takes them, free form conversational digressions that can combine startling almost accidental-sounding dissonant conjunctions with meditative still points of sound. The soloists are among the greatest in Australian jazz. Some of them were not previously much experienced in large ensemble playing. Each has a sound that is recognizable within an ensemble. The effect is related to that of the Ellington band, in that sense. It is amazing ensemble playing of a particular kind. They never sound like a team of session players. Rock and classical musicians are often in their audience. The combination of improvisation and composition is compelling.

On the web: www.tenpartinvention.com

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Trevor Griffin Sextet

Trevor Griffin plays a hard driving, tough-toned alto saxophone, and that is also the kind of music he writes for the punching mainstream bop band on his Rufus album. Yet for all the straight-ahead push of the music, there are inventive twists and turns in the ensemble writing and in the accents and textures with which drummer Ron Lemke underscores it all. Trumpeter Phil Slater takes a step back into his earlier approach here, and shows that he can still swing and stir things up with brilliant, clean hard bop lines. Tenor saxophonist Craig Walters, with his round tone and compact flow of ideas, is a great foil for the edgier, sometimes excitingly hell for leather playing of the altoist/leader. Bassist Craig Scott is simply among the top players in the country for reliability, swing, tone and line, while pianist Kevin Hunt's long association with jazz legend Don Burrows speaks for itself.

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Trio Apoplectic

Trio Apoplectic demonstrate with remarkable consistency that it is possible to sound contemporary - freshly minted in fact - play freely interactive improv- isation, and create pure melody. Their position in Australian jazz is all but unique, in that they can evoke at the same time the effortless lyricism of the West Coast cool school and the freedom of post - Ornette Coleman jazz. 

The pellucid sound of Dave Jackson's alto saxophone has been likened to that of Paul Desmond of Dave Brubeck Quartet fame, but the differences are as interesting as the points in common. Playing them in juxtaposition only accentuates the distinctiveness of Jackson's contemporary voice. What they share is an ability to avoid licks and develop freely running ideas in lines that unfold almost like Bach, with atmospheric echoes of Debussy. 

Bassist Abel Cross and drummer Alex Masso can accompany these flights immaculately and discreetly, but even in this role they are part of a free three-way dialogue that is completely engrossing. Bass and drums are so melodic and tonally beautiful that they can move seamlessly into the foreground with no loss of intensity and feeling. The trio can swing lightly, blithely, but with a mounting intensity, and they can create fields of limpid beauty. This aspect is very much to the fore on Sofia, their new CD. 

A number of the opening melodies are slow, poignant and languorous. But races of speed and biting passion can spring up within these slow expanding panoramas. Sometimes bass and drums create a busy, delicate texture under Jackson's floating sustained notes, and sometimes they interact explosively.  There are a couple of fast, quirky tunes that create a quirky, dancing and supremely happy momentum. This is very accessible music. It is time for a wider audience to join the cognoscenti.

The three have known each other for some time, and you can feel that friendship and intuitive understanding in the music. You can also hear youth. This is to be savoured, yet it is certain that in later years they will still be developing - in the way of great musicians in their maturity. Start now with these brilliant musicians and see where it takes you.

Get their first CD on the Rufus label. It is a delight. This is another step. Sofia fills the room with tranquility and light, beauty and passion - enhanced by the superb recording quality achieved by young engineer Richard Belkner.

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Wanderlust

Coming to Australia from a region where very old emnities have marred a great cultural richness, trumpeter and composer Miroslav Bukovsky has given a heartening example in his band Wanderlust of how diverse cultural elements can ride happily together on the rhythms and colours of music. Bukovsky - one of Ten Part Invention's musical directors, incidentally - has shared most of the composing with the band's pianist and electric keyboardist Alister Spence. Before leaving for the UK and a regular place in Billy Cobham's touring band, guitarist Carl Orr contributed some quirky, rhythmic pieces to the band's ever-expanding repertoire. Current guitarist Jeremy Sawkins is also a contributor, and has approached Orr's guitar role in a completely different but equally colourful way.

Sharing a couple of members, Wanderlust sounds very different to The catholics. They are more inclined to let their infectious, atmospheric compositions suddenly expand into free form conversational improvisation. This may or may not happen on any given night. The band is committed to following the most appropriate path according to how the music feels from night to night. Within the form or in an expanding field of shape and colour, a central ingredient is the contrapuntal interplay between Bukovsky's powerfully expressive trumpet and James Greening's humorous, exuberant, soaring trombone.

Defining elements of the band are inventive and exciting percussion celebrations, clean and clever arrangements with a winning cosmopolitan feel, and the occasional lament or 'deep song' invoking Spanish or Middle Eastern passion.

On the web: www.wanderlust.com.au

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The World According to James

One Melbourne musician described Sydney musician James Greening as 'just about my favourite trombonist in the whole world!' This is high intercity praise indeed. Greening's playing has enlivened many of the most interesting contemporary bands in Sydney. It is so large and wide-ranging that it can take on a personality of its own, almost separate from and bigger than Greening himself. This is really saying something. Greening is not a shy man. But it really does swell up from the bandstand like a djini from a bottle, rocketing through the rafters, shaking in laughter, ranting in a mock-tantrum. Also crooning in a beautiful transparent sotto voce tone. Greening also brings the colours of his other instruments, the trumpet, the didjeridu and the valve trombone, to his own band The World According to James. Yet he overshadows nobody on the band's albums. Everybody in the band has a large sound and persona, from Steve Elphick's glorious double bass sound and Toby Hall's extraordinarily rich, inventive drum timbres, to Andrew Robson's bright, ripe alto and soprano saxophone tones.

The material ranges through Ornette Coleman-like swing to Hungarian dances. Happy, soulful, rich and irresistable.

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