Which Way Music WWM015
Reviewed by Aaron Searle, May 2nd, 2014
Pianist Will Poskitt was an integral part of the Chris Hale Ensemble on three albums and countless gigs between 2001 and his death in 2008 at the tragically young age of 31. Sylvan Coda, Hale’s first release since Poskitt’s passing, is dedicated to his memory. Hale, who plays a six string semi-acoustic bass guitar, was the winner of the 2012 Freedman Jazz Fellowship.
The term ‘fusion’ is regularly used to denote soulless commercial music in the jazz-rock vein. Sylvan Coda, while not jazz-rock in any sense, is an example of fusion at its best. That’s to say that it integrates influences from diverse genres and musical cultures to create music that is both original and authentic. This spirit of appropriation and assimilation has been at the heart of jazz since the beginning – Jelly Roll Morton’s reference to ‘the Spanish tinge’ being one early example of this attitude. Hale plans to use the proceeds of his Freedman Fellowship to learn more about the music of Korea and to explore the possibilities of applying this musical language to the bass guitar. While the Korean influence is not evident on this album – it will no doubt make itself felt on future projects – Sylvan Coda does show the influence of other genres such as Spanish flamenco and Brazilian choro. No mere dilettante, Hale has explored these genres thoroughly over many years and is able to integrate them into his seven original compositions in an authentic manner which denies any accusations of exoticism or tokenism.
The song titles indicate further influences. Opening track Skúli is a tribute to Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson. Stravinskiana is an obvious reference to the great Russian composer, and Muller Turnaround is composed around a harmonic phrase used by Sydney guitarist James Muller. Hale’s well-crafted compositions are episodic and multi-dimensional.
Perhaps in tribute to Poskitt, there is no piano on this album, although vocalist Gian Slater does add some subtle Rhodes on the opening track. Along with Hale and Slater, the core of the ensemble is guitarist Nathan Slater (brother of Gian), saxophonist Julian Banks, kit drummer Ben Vanderwal and percussionist Javier Fredes. Further percussion is added by Johnny and Richard Tedesco, Denis Close, and recording engineer Lachlan Carrick. It’s a very acoustic sounding ensemble. Nathan Slater plays nylon string acoustic guitar throughout, and even the leader’s bass has an acoustic tone. Gian Slater’s wordless vocals are the defining timbre. Supported by a bed of percussion (Fredes and Close give a South American vibe while the Tedesco’s add the Spanish tinge), Slater sings with a pure tone that carries Hale’s melodies without consonants. In the moments when she is in unison with Banks’ tenor saxophone (such as on Skúli) the tone colour is gorgeous. The playing by all personnel is superb.
Those of us who were lucky enough to know Will Poskitt and to have heard him play understand what a supreme and unique talent he was. Sylvan Coda is a fitting tribute to Poskitt; but more than that it is a beautiful album which is a stunning distillation of Hale’s wide ranging yet singular musical vision. Strongly recommended.