ABC Classics 481 0960.
Reviewed by Chris Cody, March 1st, 2015
Simon Tedeschi observes in the liner notes that all the Australian composers selected for this recording are “jazzers”, whom he considers to be ahead of the curve conceptually here in Australia. “Jazz, an art music for many decades, has produced some of our country’s finest musical auteurs”. It’s an interesting claim, quite possibly true, but one that may ruffle a few feathers in the national music hierarchy. It is certainly true that many excellent performer-composers have emerged from the jazz worlds of Australia and New Zealand in the last fifty or so years. There are five represented in this collection of eleven pieces and Tedeschi might have considered including even more with fewer pieces from each one, and cast the net further than NSW given the richness of choice available.
The five composers are all active pianists and this is apparent in their compositions. They explore many of the sonorities and writing possibilities for the instrument, the challenges and possibilities for both hands, use of all pedals, the full range of the instrument, the use of ascending and descending harmonies, parallel movements and direct transpositions of patterns, phrases, and chords. The works sound both pianistic and lots of fun to play.
So does a jazz pianist-composer write in a particular jazz style or in any other particular style or technique? Do they sound different to uniquely “classical” composers or are the lines blurred? At first listening, without knowing who wrote which pieces, the compositions sound fairly impressionist and unashamedly romantic and lyrical, while using mostly 20th century language and references. Some pieces feature theme-development-theme structures, similar to the theme-improvisation-theme structure used by many jazz musicians, but some also explore more “classical” forms, with variations, and motific development. The harmonic vocabulary is fairly consonant overall – there are no jarring or challenging dissonances but this might reflect Tedeschi’s taste and choice in compiling the collection.
Mike Nock’s Closet in the Skeleton features perhaps the most diverse yet balanced palette of 20th century techniques and language, layered textures, and an effective use of dissonance. It also uses a wide dynamic range with a enjoyably big climax where Tedeschi unleashes himself. The piece has a strong and satisfying sense of architecture, construction and use of space.
Have One More by Mark Isaacs features, after a percussive staccato introduction, a Piazzola-like tango, exploring rhythmic and percussive elements and the contrast between the martial or dance-like sections and the lyrical more romantic passages. It moves on to a surprising and romping disco-funk bass line, with good interplay between the hands, that is funny and quirky and makes you want to play or dance along. The piece sounds really fun to play.
Evan Lohning’s beautiful and melancholic Evanshually uses lovely wistful French Impressionist sounds and techniques and captures the sense of space as heard in his own trio and playing. I would have liked to know if all the pieces were through-written or whether Tedeschi was improvising in certain sections, the liner notes suggesting this was the case in this piece.
Bill Risby’s Prepare to Be has a gentle sad beginning that gradually develops to a middle section which sounds again much like an improvisation with the right hand fast notes curling over the left hand ostinato like a long wave breaking over a reef.
With most of the compositions in the collection lasting between 4 and 6 minutes, A Natural Sequence by Kevin Hunt stands out as the longest piece at 20 minutes. It starts very sparsely with some high starry music, moves though dreamy arpeggios, with the odd touch of Messiaen, some humorous London bell chimes – “Oranges and Lemons” and “London Bridge is Falling Down” – a bit like a boat trip of musings and introspections drifting down the Thames, with sustain pedal adding to the smooth ethereal, dreamlike quality. Then after 16 pleasant minutes, we’re surprised by an almost raunchy boogie blues feel nod to Abdullah Ibrahim or perhaps it’s Keith Jarratt before returning to the musings and a gentle ending. The piece with its long and unusual form actually feels very much like a dream and is very jazz-like in its unexpected unfolding. Hunt, who has a long association with Tedeschi through concerts and recordings, wanted to create a sequence of ideas to connect piano composition and improvisation with elements of our nature, human and ecological.
The sound of the recording is warm with the middle and low frequencies well captured but it is a little lacking in the high end trebles for clarity in some of the gentler pieces, perhaps due to the lower speed of attack and dynamic contrast and perhaps a little too much pedal in places. Tedeschi plays very expressively, with the suppleness and tenderness appropriate to the material that he clearly relishes.
The whole album is a satisfying musical listening experience with overall a beautiful, soft, gentle and reflective atmosphere with a few surprises along the way.