Which Way Music WWM 020
Reviewed by Anthony Linden Jones, September 1st, 2015
Some years ago, I heard tracks from a feature album on ABC Radio National by Gian Slater, a then-recent graduate of the jazz course at the Victorian College of the Arts. At that time, I had just been working with a number of students from VCA at the Hawkesbury National Fiddle Festival. The wonderful staff at VCA have obviously been doing something seriously right in turning out these incredibly talented students showing a broad range of influences and techniques. Hearing those songs by Slater, I had never heard such a strong combination of such pure voice and gorgeous songs coming from an Australian artist. Unfortunately, at that time I could not find any more information on her or source that CD. Then life got in the way. . .
I was therefore extremely pleased to have the opportunity to hear this present CD, now her seventh, recorded in 2011 but released in 2014. Slater is very prolific, and I therefore have a lot of catching up to do!
The CD is subtle, intimate, understated, but features some of the most beautiful songs I can remember hearing. Based around her regular trio with Nathan Slater (nylon-string guitar) and Christopher Hale (6-string ‘acoustic’ bass guitar), and supplemented with Luke Moller on violin on three songs, the sound is transparent with a minimum imposition of technology—a careful amount of instrumental and vocal doubling, and the subtle addition of effects. Two of the songs reduce the accompaniment to (mostly) one instrument, and most of the songs sound like they were recorded with a few overdubs.
The most prevalent influence harmonically is the latin jazz pop of the 1960s by artists such as Sergio Mendes or Burt Bacharach, but the slower tempi, lack of percussion, emphasis on acoustic guitars and the unforced vocal style reveal a gentle, emotive, personal sound. Nathan Slater occasionally draws on a rasgueado strum that lends a flamenco flavour. Christopher Hale’s six string bass offers the promise of a second chordal instrument, and in the song Engines On the bass carries almost all the accompaniment duties through a combination of bass notes, higher chords and gentle percussive snaps. Above this subtle instrumental support, Slater’s voice soars, characterised by a minimum of vibrato, gliding over broad leaps, and with a tone that curiously recalls Hindi popular song.
To my ear, the standout tracks are the more melancholy ones. The CD opens with a gentle swinging two against three rhythm setting up for a beautiful breathy high descending melody in the title track, Still Still. A gentle folk-like ramble activates the dreamy Before Sleep. The song Hold Your Own Hand, coincidentally the most produced track in terms of layers, combines a harmonic stasis with a very slow and steady bossa nova rhythm with broad vocal slides pushing outwards to a sustained dissonant major 7th, gliding down an octave below the tonic, sustaining that anguished dissonance, eventually resolving to the tonic—audacious, but achingly lovely.
This album is a rare bird—after the first playing, I desperately wanted to hear it again, so that these songs could become like old friends as quickly as possible. If you are not included to gentle, personal, subtle music then this may not be for you. I find it one of the most beautiful collections of songs that has graced my speakers.