ABC Jazz 475 3486
Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis, November 1st, 2015
For some, the passage of time leads to the solace of entrenchment. But for others an accumulated wisdom entices them to succumb to the persistent eddy of creation. Vince Jones describes it so beautifully, ‘A person who doesn’t create is like a cloud that never rains.’ There is much precipitation on this album.
So light the candles, plump the cushions, decant the red and slip the CD into the tray (this last, sadly, almost redundant) because Provenance is jazz chill. It is a comfortable entanglement, like a well-worn leather jacket that gives, despite its younger natural inclination for resistance to the wearer. Grabowsky and Jones have been around the block once or twice and it shows.
J. S. Bach used to revel in improvisatory competitions on the organ. Indeed there is a tale of one of his competitors leaving town when he heard Bach warming up for the event. Improvisation, particularly on a harmonic instrument is one of the most cerebral of pursuits. Not only is there the need to think melodically around a given harmonic structure, but also to improvise both vertically and horizontally within the harmony’s constraints, somehow also evoking an intended meaning. Here the songs, both composed for this album and arrangements of standards, are marked by their key modulations, often from phrase to phrase. It is no mean feat to think one’s way around such intricacies of harmony and form on the fly. But the wax is melting, the cushions gently flattened and the red half drunk and it is partially the seeming effortlessness with which these two musicians interact that makes it sound so damn good.
Those with musical nous know precisely where and with what intensity and shape to place a sound and Jones is such a musician, both as trumpeter and vocalist. Brass can be brash, but it never is in these hands – rather, a feast of carefully shaped sonorities that are born, glow and fade.
The stand out songs for me, are the originals. Vince Jones’ collaborations with Sydney-based jazz pianist and composer Matt McMahon have a beautiful melodic complexity to them, challenging in both range and use of difficult intervals and key changes but incredibly musically satisfying. Jones and Grabowsky are able to keep the sound serene whilst working hard. The track So is particularly good both musically and lyrically. But Grabowsky and Jones’s bluesy reflections on an enduring relationship in their Rainbow Cake is also a most appealing opener, somewhat reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s similar but more ironic reflections in The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms) on Herbie Hancock’s tribute album to her, The River.
We’ve Only Just Begun has such a strange history having started life as the song backing a bank commercial and going on to be a hit for The Carpenters. Karen Carpenter even had the first six notes of the song as her door chime. But her life was desperately short. Despite the upbeat lyrics, Grabowsky in particular, infuses the weight of this legacy in his playing. Both performers are really measured in their delivery here giving the piece great warmth and just a tinge of melancholy.
The Parting Glass is an Irish folk song and was at one time, I read, more popular as a parting song than Auld Lang Syne. It could only be laziness that would see one take over the other, the former a much more languorous and beautiful affair. The song has been ‘covered’ by the likes of Sinead O’Connor and Ed Sheeran and lends itself to creative interpretation. Grabowsky commences with the kind of pulsed chord progression that does justice to a traditional Irish tune, accompanying his extemporisation on the higher and lower notes of the piano. Jones uses the trumpet sparingly across the record, but it’s so good, so appropriate on this track. Vocally he seems really moved by this particular song and the listener is carried along for the ride. Lovely.
The album was recorded at the ABC’s Iwaki Auditorium and the sound can only be described as intimate.
Provenance is the lovely tautological registering of this artistic happening. We cannot hear Bach improvise – only guess at the experience. And though part of the seductive power of improvisation is that it is temporal and thus ephemeral, we are indeed blessed to have a record of it in this instance.
VIEW AND LISTEN