Yum Yum Tree Records (YYTR007)
Reviewed by Joseph Cummins, February 1st, 2015
Tinkly Tinkly is the second release by Sydney guitarist and vocalist Jess Green. Despite the size of Green’s band (eight players), the music here is mobile, often full of light, dark when it wants to be, and strikingly diverse. I put the openness and agility of this album down to great arranging: the players are deployed sparingly, and while there are plenty of moments of full ensemble gusto, these times are balanced by trio, quartet and even duo moments. Across the ten compositions (all by Green except one) the arrangements are polished, the playing is top-class, and the tracks infused with the obvious enthusiasm of the players.
First track Bamako Youth kicks the album along with a rattling energy created by the interlinking of drummer James Hauptmann, percussionist Bree Van Reyk and bassist Zoe Hauptmann. The use of two percussionists adds to the intricacy of the more polyrhythmic compositions, while intensifying the interest (and sometimes whimsy) of the more groove-based numbers. The half-time slow down four minutes into Bamako Youth allows for the introduction of a more fully realised horn line – Matt Keegan on tenor sax, Dan Junor on alto sax, John Hibbard on trombone and Simon Ferenci on trumpet. Green’s vocals, which only feature in a few of the tracks, are underpinned by a beautifully lazy guitar line. Keegan’s tenor solo is particularly affecting, beginning with low register bends and ending at full-tilt, amongst the combined weight of the whole ensemble. The track makes you listen.
Orange Rock Song has a guitar sound and band feel similar to PJ Harvey’s brand of rock, but the presence and power of the horns add so much more to this undertow. Ferenci’s trumpet solo is clear and bright, backed by bass, then horns, and finally by a line, played by Green, that creates a polyrhythmic texture referencing Africa as much as the American big band of the swing age. The more-than-hint of indie rock in Green’s guitar tone and playing style, in tandem with the drums, grounds the recording in blues and rock music while still enabling the musical whole to encompass a wide range of influences from all over the world.
I loved the moment of almost Oz rock in the middle of the title track, the driving bass-line and drumming (this time of Evan Mannell) the foundation for Green’s guitar solo. Transitions between different sections and styles of these compositions are seamless, in this case out of the propulsive solo section into a segment of classic Dave Holland ‘small big-band’ polyphony. This ensemble flexibility and stylistic vocabulary epitomise the music that is often called ‘contemporary jazz’. I find such a tag misleading: Jess Green’s music is really just a great composer writing music, for great musicians, who are playing what each song needs, without much in the way of genre restriction.
Fourth track The Alias features a ballsy trombone solo from Hibbard, and the slinky, swinging feel of this composition adds yet another shade to this album of contrasts. The change to a kind of oompah feel in the second half The Alias is one of the more unusual moments on the album, suggesting a narrative intent behind this track. The sonic territory of the album is extended even further on Rothko, which begins with sparse drum patterns and (I assume it is) highly effected guitar before the horns enter, pointillist and full of texture. The change of density of this track is a welcome, cleansing and refocusing the ear while also showcasing more of the range of Green’s compositional vision.
Postcard from Alice returns us to a more familiar rocky region. The addition of van Reyk’s vibraphone gives a lingering smoky flavour to both melody and chords. When Green’s vocal comes in, it is treated to be slightly distorted and is also doubled by her guitar, creating an engaging combination: likewise for the doubling of trombone and guitar, both in their low registers. The track also features another fine solo from Ferenci. The moment of silence before the return of the theme is sublime, drawing all the dark power out of the assembled instrumentation. The ensemble playing on the final two tracks – 16 for 8 (by van Reyk) and Dear Mr Cave – is similarly heavy and full of intent. Tinkly Tinkly is a pleasure to listen to, and while the terrain is diverse I think the playing, particularly Green’s guitar, gives a unity to a whole that could otherwise be in danger of dispersing to all corners of the musical globe.