Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, May 1st, 2014
Morphic is usually a word element (suffix) added to an adjective such as in ‘anthropomorphic’. As well, the term morph has assumed the function of a verb in contemporary usage, particularly to indicate some kind of radical change. I mention these well-known facts in order to convey a part of my thinking when I was listening to this CD, recorded by Tasmanian pianist Tom Vincent’s 2013 quartet, a band that carries the name ‘Morphic Resonance Project’. In addition to nine originals composed by Vincent, there are versions of three Monk tunes and two other standards.
As a document of this young pianist/composer’s approach to making jazz, the CD is a very honest piece of work. In my previous knowledge of his playing, I have been impressed by his willingness to take risks rather than play ‘safe’ formulae. This album extends my admiration of this uncompromising aspect of his musical personality, however it is a characteristic that might make it difficult for him to attract audience members from outside of the coterie that constitute the serious and dedicated listeners to contemporary jazz, a cultural group that I suspect already appreciates his originality.
The opening track, entitled Eloise, involves the quartet of Vincent on piano, Danny Healy on tenor saxophone, Leigh Barker drums and Alf Jackson on drums in a swing tune at a moderately fast tempo. It is a friendly, if somewhat old-fashioned opening to the album. Vincent seems conscious of this ‘retro’ aspect of the melody and ‘comps in a ‘busy’, unconventional manner, as if to relieve predictability. It might be significant that the set includes three pieces by Thelonious Monk as it would help to explain Vincent’s ‘Monkish’ approach to accompanying on a number of these tunes.
I Remember Carl is another swing number that features the rhythm section in trio. In his extended piano solo on this tune, Vincent employs pentatonic patterns effectively. It prepares the way for the third track, Green Chimneys, which is the first of the three Monk offerings and, for me, one of the highlights of the album. There are solos by sax and piano followed by a solid session of question and answer between these two instruments. The forays into bitonality complement some of the quirky improvisation.
The ballad entitled Big Creek Wedding provides a brief break from the swing feels as Healy slips into the lower range of the tenor saxophone. How Would You Dream? and Incandescent are other balladic interludes scattered across the set. The well-known standard entitled Invitation is track 5. It is another composition taken in swing feel. The soloing is quite satisfying, but Vincent’s comping is too aggressive for my taste. I kept hoping he would take a back seat for a while and let Healy’s saxophone be heard without the distraction of non-standard piano chords. Good Things is the first of two tracks on which Healy switches to bass clarinet, the other being Monk’s Rhythm-a-ning. In both of these items, he displays an admirable control of the sound of this instrument, which is not one that is often heard in jazz. The solos of both the horn player and the pianist range across various tonalities. The pianist also uses devices from a range of musical idioms during his improvisation.
Dark Eyes is another standard that undergoes extensive deconstruction. The performance is very clever, melodically moving away from the referent to the extent that one wonders how the players might resolve to the harmonic framework laid down by the bass player. Somehow they make it work.
Just Enough is a substantial piece of work that shows another side of Tom Vincent to that which we met on his trio album. He is one of a number of youngish Australian jazz pianists who are currently striving to establish their own grooves. All power to their hands; even on the occasions that their music doesn’t quite make its mark, I for one admire their resolve and am thrilled by hearing their output. What, after all, would be the point of playing in imitation of existing or past performers?