Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS - by John Shand

Walk­ley-award win­ning re­viewer John Shand spins al­bums from the Christo­pher Young Quar­tet, Gre­gory Porter, Peter Knight, Sen­saround, Casey Golden Trio, and Joanna Wall­fisch.


What a sound! If a boa con­stric­tor could sing it might sound some­thing like Christo­pher Young’s bass clar­inet. Of­ten this in­stru­ment is moody or de­mur, but in Young’s mouth—and on this re­verbladen record­ing—it be­comes mon­strous, boast­ing an ur­gency that con­tin­u­ally blis­ters the mu­sic’s sur­face. Young also plays clar­inet, so­prano sax­o­phone, bari­tone sax­o­phone and flute, achiev­ing a press­ing, keen­ing sound on them all, so the mu­sic is rou­tinely emo­tion­ally charged. Just as im­por­tant to his con­cep­tion is a sur­round­ing stark­ness, whereby bassist Nick Hay­wood, drum­mer Ted Vin­ing and acous­tic guitarist Tom Fryer leave abun­dant space for Young’s dra­matic state­ments to leap from the speak­ers with ex­tra­or­di­nary pres­ence (as do their own in­stru­ments when they are fea­tured). My only quib­ble with an out­stand­ing al­bum is Hay­wood’s bass be­ing rather low in the mix.


Peter Knight has shaken up the per­son­nel and in­stru­men­ta­tion of his Way Out West project, while re­tain­ing its es­sen­tial East-West di­a­logue. Nine Years Later be­gins as a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic sound­scape sparsely dec­o­rated by Sat­suki Odamura’s thrum­ming bass koto. Even­tu­ally a sim­ple horn line soft­ens the mood, beck­on­ing a solo from Knight’s lonely trum­pet, be­hind which the band awak­ens from its slum­ber. By con­trast An­thony Blaise has a fu­ri­ous open­ing, be­fore set­tling into a twi­light world where an Afro groove can loom out of the at­mo­spher­ics, and in turn be swal­lowed by a burn­ing tenor solo from Paul Williamson. This cy­cle of al­ter­nat­ing groove and at­mo­spher­ics lends the al­bum an oneiric qual­ity, em­pha­sised by Lu­cas Michai­lidis’s slide guitar, while Howard Cairns (bass), Ray Pereira (per­cus­sion) and Ra­jiv Jayaweera (drums) main­tain their dis­tinc­tive lilt.


Eas­ily the Casey Golden Trio’s most am­bi­tious work to date, this is also its best. Pre­vi­ously a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the pre­ci­sion of out­line has won out over deeper mu­si­cal con­cerns. With Minia­ture (a 24-minute suite) pi­anist Golden’s es­tab­lished delight in crisp­ness, clev­er­ness and pre­ci­sion is aug­mented by a soar­ing imag­i­na­tion. The suite’s se­ries of mo­tifs are milked for all they are worth, rather like mak­ing a se­ries of draw­ings of a model from dif­fer­ent an­gles. Where Golden, bassist Bill Wil­liams and drum­mer Ed Ro­drigues might have once ac­cepted the work at the draw­ing stage, now they rap­tur­ously fill in the sketches. Im­pro­vis­ing takes some­thing of a back seat to the com­posed ma­te­rial, but the writ­ing is strong enough to jus­tify this, and it en­sures the so­los are apt and pithy.

GRE­GORY PORTER Take Me To The Al­ley

Orig­i­nally spawned by a love of jazz, Gre­gory Porter’s sing­ing and song­writ­ing now con­tain such a strong r&b strain that Marvin Gaye seems as much a pre­cur­sor as Nat King Cole. The lav­ishly ro­man­tic streak in both his sing­ing and his songs could oc­ca­sion­ally tip over into ex­cess were it not sup­ported by equal mea­sures of con­vic­tion and warmth of heart. The lat­ter qual­ity is brim­ful on the ti­tle track, which gen­tly evokes the beauty of com­pas­sion without be­com­ing overtly re­li­gious. Much of the ma­te­rial tends to be mildly funky, with so­phis­ti­cated ar­range­ments and telling so­los. It lays to rest any doubts that Porter might end up un­der­min­ing the mag­nif­i­cence and mu­nif­i­cence of his voice with sec­ond-rate songs, even if he mostly opts to con­tain the star­tling power at his dis­posal.

SEN­SAROUND Trav­el­ogue

Since its last opus Sen­saround’s sounds have thick­ened from a mist into the sort of fog in which your first aware­ness of the prox­im­ity of another crea­ture is a col­li­sion.

The won­der of Alis­ter Spence and Shoeb Ah­mad’s use of elec­tron­ics, Fender Rhodes and per­cus­sion is that they gen­er­ate this pea-souper without mak­ing the mu­sic dense. So Ray­mond McDon­ald’s alto or so­prano sax­o­phone never has to fight for au­ral space: it can ma­te­ri­alise and de­ma­te­ri­alise like a char­ac­ter in a dream, and when it does ap­pear it may not even oc­cupy a fore­ground that is in con­stant, ed­dy­ing flux. The play­ing is muted without the mu­sic be­com­ing an­o­dyne. In fact were you alone in the wee hours with an axe-mur­derer on the loose it might con­firm your most un­speak­able fears.


Some flow­ers are at their most beau­ti­ful just be­fore they fully bloom. Joanna Wall­fisch’s sing­ing is like that, sug­gest­ing re­straint, as if her throat and heart are not fully opened. Im­plicit is a del­i­cacy, a pu­rity and even a frag­ile sense of in­no­cence. Set­ting Wall­fisch apart is that her voice’s guile­less­ness is used to con­vey her know­ing lyrics. Her words tell of a world in which, love, hurt and loss oc­cur, and yet some­how they seem at one re­move, like an amazed Alice telling us about the un­likely events be­hind the look­ing glass. Com­pound­ing the ele­giac mood is the use of a string quar­tet in ad­di­tion to the su­perb pi­ano of Dan Tepfer. Wall­fisch can also de­ploy a keen wit, and the sonic palette is ex­panded by her naive ukulele and Tepfer’s melod­ica. # John Shand

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