FWM Records (FWM002)
Reviewed by Joseph Cummins, November 1st, 2014
Hear and Know is a finely balanced and detailed record of the encounter between a master and four perceptive, thoughtful and highly skilled musical devotees. Sydney pianist Mick Nock’s regular trio with James and Ben Waples – on drums and double bass respectively – is here augmented by Karl Laskowski on tenor saxophone and Ken Allars on trumpet. The two newcomers makes themselves right at home, and alongside Nock, they use a broad palette of soloistic colours and approaches across the seven original compositions by the pianist.
Nock’s playing is nimble and imaginative, without being showy. One gets the sense that melody is at the forefront of his mind at all times, although several of the best moments on this album feature Nock playing static patterns that I wished would have gone on longer, such was their attraction. The rhythm section is at its most subtly attentive when Nock is soloing, perhaps a reflection of their experience together. Ken Allars, the youngest of Nock’s cohort, has the ability to shift from a supple breathiness to a more percussive attack, and his playing is exciting and assured. Karl Laskowski’s tenor, in comparison, is more understated, sinuous and melodic. He seems content to sit just inside Allars’s sound in their many shared melodies, and this harmony carries the listen beyond the notes Nock has written.
Title track Hear and Know is built around a pretty melody that turns dark, and Nock weaves and interjects a playful improvisation into any available space in the musical narrative of the song. Ben Waples’ double bass solo similarly seems to be woven into the texture of the music, nestled amongst the horn tones that populate this lush soundworld. A dance-like final few minutes calls forth a duel-response from Laskowski and Allars, and the two soloists make the most of the opportunity, imitating each other in an adventures, if short-lived, episode.
With its angular melody and ‘up’ tempo, Colours evokes something of the Miles Davis composition Freedom Jazz Dance. Laskowski’s solo, one of his most memorable contributions, starts in the midst of Nock’s: the pianist transforms into accomplice, and judging from the energy he exudes, it is a role he clearly relishes. As Laskowski broadens his scope, Allars too joins the party, unleashing some explosive outbursts. The track is perhaps the highlight of an album full of strong playing.
Allars is at his best on the fourth track, After Satie. His solo, building to considerable dramatic heights as it unfolds, is an event that seems to draw the other players into its momentum. Komodo Dragon begins with textural free playing from the horns, before the groove is introduced. Here the simplest of brush patterns, played by James Waples, is all that it takes to create a mood. Nock’s most delicate solo occurs in this musical landscape, with the repeated chordal figures he plays one of the most memorable moments of the album.
If Truth Be Known features another great solo from Allars. The rhythm section whirring around him, he begins with simple long tones, building the solo from the ground up with chromatic passages, dynamic shading, shrieks, and moments of rhythmic repetition that only cajole those around him to follow. The band literally stops to breath as the trumpeter conclude: a brooding passage of solo piano seems inspired by the residual energy of the episode.
Like all good jazz, the players inspire each other, and you can hear that group energy and excitement on Hear and Know. Despite the addition of the two new players, Nock’s band sounds like a band, with engaging interplay and unexpected interjections in abundance. This cohesion is a sizable achievement. The album is also a testament to the value of mentorship in jazz, in a way showcasing Nock’s influence on so many young jazz players through his position at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.