Two of Australia’s best-known jazz artists release new albums, Paul Grabowsky solo and in contrast, fellow pianist Mike Nock with an octet. Also this month, an Australian jazz faculty goes to Italy to learn from the wonderful Italian trumpeter, Enrico Rava. Finally a stunning set from three very different guitarists, collectively known as MGT.
– Michael Prescott
Jazz Presenter 5MBS, Australia
Mike Nock Octet
Suite Sima FWM Records ★★★★
In the cover notes to this low key release, Mike Nock states that the concept behind the disc is to pay tribute to the Sydney Improvised Music Society, an organisation that has provided support, a venue and opportunities to jazz musicians for 30 years. To this end Nock composed 6 works and it is his superb compositional skills that are on display here. Despite his extensive discography, Nock has rarely worked with a group of this size or with a horn focused front line. These are very much composed pieces in keeping with the “suite” concept and highlight his well tuned arranging skills. Aside from the opening track, “Freedom Of Information”, generous space is given on each of the remaining tracks for various members of the ensemble to strut their stuff and strut they do in style. Of particular note are the solos of James Greening on “Peripherals”, Phil Slater in “Holding Patterns” and Nock himself in “Option Anxiety” The overall mood is upbeat, very much in keeping with the celebratory intent of the suite. Any release by an artist with the stature of Nock is important, but this even more so, blending, as it does, his compositional and arranging skills in the context of an octet. The only downside is that we don’t get to hear much of Nock’s piano, but there’s plenty of that on many of his other discs.
Solo ABC Jazz ★★★★
Earlier this year Grabowsky released his first sextet album in a long time, “The Bitter Suite”, reviewed here in June. This album, his first solo piano album, comes a somewhat as a surprise, especially so soon after his last release. With this album gone is the difficult, almost cluttered sound in favour of a sparse, melodic series of original compositions and covers. The contrast could hardly be greater. But whilst “The Bitter Suite” required repeated listens to unlock its secrets, “Solo” is an open book, readily accessible on first glance. Grabowsky’s playing here is uncomplicated and almost minimalistic and all the better for it. The album kicks off with the lovely original “Angel” in which he manages to create a feeling of serenity. It’s a perfect opener and leads beautifully into the delights within. There are 2 covers, a subdued “’Round Midnight” and the closer “I Get Along Without You Very Well”. Grabowsky’s versions fit in beautifully with his originals like a comfy pair of slippers. The downside to this relaxed approach is that there is a lack of variety and tempo, although “Cole For Cook” sitting as it does slap bang in the middle, offers a welcome contrast. On the strength of this album Grabowsky should contemplate more solo albums.
The Monash Sessions Jazzhead ★★★
The Monash University jazz faculty, led by Rob Burke, has invited a series of jazz luminaries to attend the University as Artist In Residence. Previous guests have included George Lewis, George Garzone and Hermeto Pascoal. Normally the guest travels to Melbourne, joins staff and students and their labours are recorded by Jazzhead for release. In this instance the musicians reversed that rule by travelling to the Monash’s Italian campus in Prato to join the great trumpeter, Enrico Rava. The results are well worth the effort, it is very evident that Rava still plays at the top of his game, despite his 75 years; his fluid, warm tone is all over this disc. Rava’s contribution extends to his composing all of the tunes. The potential problem with a concept such as this can be the disparity between the master and the students leading to a disjointed sound where the elder struggles against struggling students. That is not the case here, the addition of the above listed staff on some tracks and the quality of students to a great extent avoids that issue. Indeed the basic rhythm is provided solely by students, but on listening, you wouldn’t know it. The albums highlight is the ballad “Lulu”, Rava’s gorgeous tone bookends evocative solos from Grabowsky and Magnusson. The success of the Monash series is a credit to the faculty and the obvious empathy that developed in a short time between the students and the elder statesman.
MGT (Ralph Towner, Wolfgang Muthspiel & Slava Grigoryan)
MGT is comprised of three highly skilled and technically proficient guitarists. Firstly, Ralph Towner, best known for his work with Oregon and his many ECM recordings. The second member is Wolfgang Muthspiel, the brilliant German classically trained guitarist and the only member of the group to feature the electric guitar. The final member is the Kazakhstan born and Australian since the age of five, Slava Grigoryan. Whilst he is usually found in a classical setting, he is always looking to expand his horizons and what better way than with his idol, Towner. On a cool Adelaide night these three superb guitarists combined for a little live magic. The evidence supporting a great show came firstly from a beaming promoter post concert and secondly this reviewer who thought the concert had ended early after what seemed like 45 minutes, only to find that it was double that. After short solo introductions from the three they then performed in all possible combinations, highlighting works from their two albums, “From A Dream” (Which Way Music) and “Travel Guide” (ECM). The concept of three guitars and no accompaniment, rhythmic or otherwise, could be problematic, but on this night their combined skill transcended any perceived limitation such that additional instrumentation would have hindered the musical flow. A highlight was the amazing interplay between Muthspiel and Grigoryan in “Nico and Mithra “.