Contemporary, Jazz, New Music
Reviewed by Tim Rollinson, November 1st, 2014
Song Fwaa is the name of a Sydney based art jazz, new music trio consisting of Martin Kay (alto saxophone), David Reaston (acoustic nylon 8-string guitar with effects) and Jamie Cameron (drums and cymbals). In their second album, Sons Of No Guns For We Are Anomalous, they continue to explore experimental composition techniques and the resulting potential for improvisation which began with Ligeti’s Goat (2011).
There is much wordplay and surreal, darkly comic imagery in the song titles, an approach which is also evident in the music itself. Song Fwaa is a play on ‘sangfroid’ and is also an acronym of the album name. The titles and album notes cryptically namecheck inspirations such as saxophonist and downtown NYC band leader Tim Berne, Dave Brubeck, Scott Joplin and David Tudor (associate of John Cage).
Song Fwaa bears comparison with other non-bass trios such as the Tiny Bell Trio, particularly the work of drummer Jim Black. Guitarist David Reaston’s 8 strings and octaver effect provide bottom end when necessary. Reaston, who is interested in latin and african guitar styles as well as use of serialism and indeterminacy brings an individual and fresh sound. He uses the extra range of his instrument to great effect and his style sounds more contrapuntal rather than traditional chord-melody. It’s also uncommon to hear a nylon string acoustic treated with such effects as ring modulation and distortion.
Reaston, along with drummer Jamie Cameron are the twin pillars, providing context and timbre for the remarkably passionate alto playing of Martin Kay. Kay has the control and technique of a contemporary classical player but can improvise intense atonal jazz lines with absolute abandon. Cameron is known as an accomplished modern jazz drummer and seems equally at home on this album whether adding dramatic colour or riffing in 11/8 as in Twice Bitten Once Shy.
Some of the pieces sound mainly improvised in a retro-modern jazz avant-garde sense, but most are based on structures derived from new methods of composition. The Tacet Suite numbers evoke John Cage in their use of silence; after each long pause, short rhythmic figures are played in unison. There are two linked tracks that explore indeterminate outcomes: “In the Tudor Manner pieces, we improvised to a stop watch alone in the studio without having any knowledge of what the other players had done. What you hear on the recording is the resultant layering of our improvisations.” (Reaston).
S.O.N.G F.W.A.A also has musical paraphrases of traditional jazz elements. Scotland Jop is an homage to Maple Leaf Rag and Peculiar is a clever and humorous variation on the guitar four to the bar comping style.
In the spirit of the reverse acronym which forms the album’s title, here is an alternative: Serialism Or Not; Garnering Form With An Attitude!