Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, January 1st, 2015
Sydney Improvised Music Association has fostered contemporary Australian jazz in that city for thirty years. Every member of the Mike Nock Octet has benefited from and taken part in the association’s activities. Although the individual horn players are each given an opportunity to contribute an improvisation, this is no ‘blowing album’. Each composition features a single instrumentalist’s solo and it is evident that some thought went into matching soloist with composition.
The principal focus of this CD is the leader’s considerable composing/arranging skills. Each of the six ‘movements’ of Suite Sima is based on ideas that interested Nock. He has organised all of the elements into coherent statements for the band’s five ‘horns’. A noteworthy example is the third movement in the set. Aptly titled Peripherals, it features some unexpected sudden changes of character. It is bookended by moody piano and dirge-like horn chords followed by a jaunty triple-metre tune that is reminiscent of a minor key version of Sous Les Ciels de Paris over which Peter Farrar, the group’s alto saxophonist, plays an impressive solo. Following this, trombonist James Greening interjects with a commentary in free metre that he begins alone but completes with assistance from Brett Hirst, the group’s bassist and James Waples on drums. This then develops into a swing rhythm that eventually terminates with the earlier triple metre before the concluding dirge. As its name suggests, Peripherals contains several unrelated musical ideas combined into a single piece. When Greening began his trombone solo, I thought it was a completely different track. The fact that the combination of contrasting ideas is achieved convincingly is testimony to Nock’s arranging skill.
Option Anxiety begins with a neatly orchestrated Latin tune, opens out into a central piano solo in swing, then concludes with its orchestrated Latin opening theme. Pleasant enough, but somewhat predictable.
Frames of Reference evolves from a ‘bluesy’ dotted rhythm into a comfy seven-feel. Tenor saxophonist Karl Laskowski solos eloquently over this until the other horn players gradually join him. The movement ends in a short coda with a gospel-like character.
Holding Patterns features an improvisation by Phil Slater, the group’s trumpeter. The arranged opening and closing sections are characterised by a funky rock feel. The rhythm changes to up-tempo swing for the eloquent improvisation that disintegrates into rhetorical gestures. This is followed by the return to funk for the recapitulation of the head.
Parasympathetic Rebounds is an attractive rocky tune that showcases the outstanding solo guitar work of the recent winner of the National Jazz Award for 2014. Carl Morgan’s improvisation summarises jazz-rock guitar. There is also a terrific keyboard solo on this track.
Nock has assembled a band of instrumentalists who are among the best exponents of contemporary jazz music in our land. The individual members of the band obviously feel extended by the demands placed on them by the leader. They show their appreciation of being entrusted with realising the respected leader’s ideas by turning in solo performances of integrity. The suite of pieces conveys a sense of structure and retrospectivity rather than challenging listeners to deal with new ideas. It is immensely listenable for those who might not usually be attracted to jazz, but at the same time is a good way for members of the jazz audience to come to grips with Mike Nock as a composer/arranger.