“Vanessa’s exceptional writing achieves a sensitive balance between involved ensemble composition and providing space for many of the personalities of the all-star band to shine.”
Love is a Temporary Madness is the debut album by the Vanessa Perica Orchestra and is an exciting new addition to the Australian jazz scene. Vanessa’s creative and intricate compositions are performed with finesse and excitement by many of Australia’s finest contemporary musicians.
Vanessa’s exceptional writing achieves a sensitive balance between involved ensemble writing and providing space for many of the personalities of the all-star band to shine. My ear was taken by the fluid compositions which move through engaging and surprising rhythmic, melodic and harmonic shifts. Selected soloists had plenty of moments to soar over lush textures and weaving melodic lines. Hearing mature, well-crafted big band compositions performed so well was a real pleasure.
Although every section in the band featured exceptional performers, much of the wonderful sense of movement on this album was thanks to the beautiful playing and interplay of the Keller/Carbo/Anning/Vanderwal rhythm section team. Vanessa’s writing is already vibrant and energetic in itself but the dynamic playing of these always creative performers brought additional life and depth to the considered and well-crafted compositions.
On the high energy second track, the deliciously titled Dance of the Zinfandels, we hit the ground running with harmonically dense ensemble writing over a heavy rhythm section groove. This composition was a finalist in the 2018 Anonimus Big Band International Composition Competition after being selected by the renowned Guillermo Klein, resulting in a performance to a jury in Beunos Aires, Argentina. Cascading horn figures swirl over insistent rhythmic ostinatos leading to an exciting tenor solo by Jamie Oehlers. A less obvious but captivating part of this composition, and indeed Vanessa’s writing in general, is her attention to detail in the creation of background figures under soloists. Her writing doesn’t take any shortcuts. The soloist gets to travel through a carefully crafted course where they are provided with an opportunity to interact and bounce off the cleverly designed musical environments. Rather than forcing the soloist to adhere to a narrow predetermined vision, these background lines serve to inspire the soloist and to maintain coherence, steering the piece towards a shared trajectory. Jamie’s solo shows his always formidable playing as he immediately responds to the changing musical textures during the tenor solo section. Also worth noting is the exceptional playing by the entire band, particularly the trumpets, on this technically challenging track. There is a good sense of balance and humour in the conversations between the sax, trumpet and trombone sections in the second half of this work.
A nice challenge to have when working with a band of this calibre is considering how to effectively feature and showcase the talent in a band consisting of so many outstanding players. There were plenty of highlights where we hear the beautiful solo abilities of the featured soloists – Ben Vanderwal, Andrea Keller, Mat Jodrell, Julien Wilson, Jamie Oehlers, Jordan Murray, Theo Carbo and Carl Mackey. Every track showcased between one and three soloists, allowing each improvising musician to contribute in a more substantial way than if each piece featured a long chain of shorter solos.
There are many intimate small group moments sprinkled throughout the album which complemented the involved large ensemble writing nicely. The delicate and tender phrasing of Mat Jodrell on Saint Lazare is one particularly sensitive example.
While I very much enjoyed the through-composed writing under the soloists, to my ear, there were moments where the level of activity in the band could be heard as competing with the space left for the soloist. The brave and varied arrangements are very compelling; one moment we hear a dense full band section which seamlessly leads to smaller ensemble section leading to yet another contrasting feel. There were times however when the purpose of some of these sudden shifts confused my ear and I felt that the momentum and trajectory became slightly blurred.
Listening to this album of Vanessa’s exciting original arrangements performed to a very high standard by so many of our most outstanding improvising musicians has been a pleasure. Vanessa’s album showcases her excellent writing ability with an exceptional ensemble who were able to shine while navigating the twists and turns of her inventive and engaging compositions.
Vanessa Perica – composer, arranger, conductor
Carl Mackey – alto & soprano saxophone
Bernard Alexander – alto saxophone
Jamie Oehlers – tenor saxophone
Julien Wilson – tenor saxophone
Phil Noy – baritone saxophone
Mat Jodrell – trumpet
Daniel Beasy – trumpet, flugelhorn
Ross Irwin – trumpet, flugelhorn
Paul Williamson – trumpet, flugelhorn
Jordan Murray – trombone
Nick Mulder – trombone
Will Pethick – trombone
Joe O’Callaghan – bass trombone
Andrea Keller – piano
Theo Carbo – guitar
Sam Anning – bass
Ben Vanderwal – drums