Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, April 1st, 2015
The Ted Vining Trio, consisting of Vining on drums, Bob Sedergreen piano and Barry Buckley on bass, was three-quarters of the quartet that made me excited about ‘free’ jazz in 1977. I heard about the Brian Brown Quartet while I was attending a music education conference in Canberra. Brown was in the midst of a residency at a Melbourne private school and had taken his quartet to participate in the conference activities. Fortunately for me, they also found a gig at a club called ‘Clean-living Clive’s’ in a suburb of the nation’s capital. Although not entirely ‘free’ in the Ornette Coleman sense, the music they played was an experience I have never forgotten. Over the years that followed, I went to as many concerts and workshops given by the various members of the group that I could. I only managed to hear this trio grouping once. The main lasting impression from the concert that forms this CD and live performances I attended is how obviously Vining, Buckley and Sedergreen enjoyed playing together. Their repertoire consisted of standards ranging over several styles and these styles are represented on this recent re-release of a recording made at a 1981 performance.
Impressions, by John Coltrane, is the first of the four selections included. It is an anthem of so-called ‘modal jazz’ with the minimal melody composed over two chords, the same two used by Miles Davis in So What. The resulting style of improvisation presents different challenges to those required by bebop chord changes. A soloist on Impressions faces the task of maintaining the listener’s interest using just two modes, D Dorian and Eb Dorian. As with all of the tunes on this CD, these three musicians attack this tune with a great degree of verve. At brisk tempo, Sedergreen is bustling, a characteristic that complements the drummer’s aggression.
Sweet Georgie Fame, a jazz-waltz made popular by singer Blossom Dearie, is the second tune in the Vining Trio’s set. The main soloist is again Sedergreen, who sticks close to the melody in his improvisation here, effectively fashioning a set of variations from the song. The pianist’s extensive experience in playing the blues is always close to the surface of his soloing as he colours his lines with licks from that idiom.
The third tune is one of the most frequently played compositions in modern jazz. A Night in Tunisia by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie is a tune dating from the mid-1940s. It combines a Latin riff A section with a classically bebop bridge.
The final piece is similar in structure to the first, although there are significant differences. The ‘modal’ Little Sunflower by Freddie Hubbard is another offering that receives the trio’s energetic attention. Again, Sedergreen provides most of the solo input. I hoped for a bass solo, but could not find one.
The selections were recorded at a performance in 1981 and some of the CD’s charm derives from the presence of the enthusiastic audience who occasionally respond with gusto to what they hear. All three members of the group contribute rhythmic drive to the group sound. Vining was always determined to contribute at least his equal share to everything he played, so in this trio setting, he gives thirty-three percent. He has never been content to be a mere timekeeper or part of the background wash of sound. Like Art Blakey with the Jazz Messengers, he led his group from his traps, even though his pianist had a lot to say on these tracks.
Buckley passed on in 2006 but Vining and Sedergreen are still active in the Australian jazz scene. This CD documents a significant group of musicians at a time when modern jazz was not as prevalent as it is today. Unlike now, it was difficult in 1981 to find somewhere in Australia to study the language of modern jazz. There were fewer clubs that tolerated let alone encouraged music of this ilk. This Vining Trio disc will be valued by those who, like me, were excited by their performances back then, but also by younger enthusiasts seeking to know a part of the heritage of their art form.