Artist/s: ade ishs trio. ade ishs (piano & tank drum), Alex Roper (drums & percussion), Rory Brown (acoustic bass & saron), Adam Simmons (shakuhachi)
Label: CD, ade ishs music aim12, and Digital
Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis
“The previously Melbourne-based ade ishs, has packed his bags and headed for Devonport in northern Tasmania, but not before recording this fine album in which his compositions, not unexpectedly, seem to explore past, present and future.”
Guest artist, Adam Simmons, has had an extraordinary impact in Australian music, collaborating on a vast array of imaginative and innovative ventures. ishs’ Northern Sunrise commences with a jaunty, carefree theme. However these jaunts, in his hands, always lead eventually, from a seemingly straight path to more adventurous sidetracks. Here, Simmons on shakuhachi, highlights Asian influences in this rising sun with the emphasis on a pentatonic mode centred around C# D E G# A, but with much gorgeous pitch bending. Simmons emphasises the husky timbre that can be produced on the instrument and the trio in the background are muted. All are pursuing different but interrelated paths which, of course, come together with intricacy and technical deftness. It is incredibly evocative music. We’re brought back to the emphatic sound of the west with a repeated piano chord that opens space for some great extemporisation by Alex Roper on drums. And we’re reminded that the sun is always perceived as rising somewhere in the world.
The piece sets up a structure and theme that is further explored in the later track, When We Were Five which uses an ascending five-note melodic motif, in fives, like a child’s five finger exercise, as the basis for the development of a beautiful piece. It starts from ishs’ situation in Australia now and goes backwards to explore his Indonesian heritage. It is infused with a bass, syncopated melodic pattern, reinforced on piano, and in the second section develops into ishs’ trademark meandering through a variety of keys. This section leads us into a delicate, dreamlike and gradually pentatonic depiction of his early life with the subtle addition of the saron, a melodic percussion instrument used in gamelan orchestras. It is an example of the way in which a life lived can be embodied in a composer’s music. Though growing up in Indonesia with musical influences from both that archipelago and western classical traditions, ishs gravitated to jazz and improvisation, where his creativity could flourish. Although the piece starts with this central basis of ishs’ music, he transports us back to what one realises, through its musical depiction, is a constant thread in his life, this juxtaposition of the two worlds at the core of his being. Sometimes, one takes prominence, and then the other, but both are always there. The music returns to its original five note, five beat motif, after an extended period of silence, such that we understand the cyclic nature of these two worlds meshing. Ishs’ use of fives is both a continuing structural element in the music, fusing two diverse cultures, but also investigates five small, young fingers navigating the elements of a keyboard. Equally, developed adult hands explore the piano’s every nook and cranny. ishs almost always seeks out and evokes the positive. It is here in spades.
The Ken Turnbull penned Leave it With Me, highlights Rory Brown’s fine bass work as he explores Turnbull’s nostalgic theme, first using bowing to define the melody, and then, in a more supportive role, implementing the more common pizz technique to underscore the piano’s exploration and extemporisation on the melody. Later, pizzicato is used to carry the tune. The melody is spelt out, as with the track Lyle Mays, and it remains the focus. The accompaniment is, throughout, based around simple chords, even when the piano takes prominence. The interplay between composer and interpreter in jazz is such a blurry line, but sometimes there is an expressed grace in this exchange, and that is most prevalent in this instance.
ishs rarely portrays sadness in his music. Music is a source of joy and fulfillment for him as the album’s title depicts. Pat Metheny’s compatriot and pianist, the incomporable Lyle Mays, was an utter inspiration to so many, including ishs. He died during the time in which this album was made. And there are pieces of ishs that demonstrate the obvious influences of Mays on his work, for example the harmonic modulations and classically based ornamentations common to both. However, in this eponymous dedication to Mays, ultimately, the piano solo is pure ishs and expresses, in a nutshell, love, admiration, loss and regret. It is slow, measured, its narrative pivotal. It’s not a riff, not a series of patterns, not a melody written to accommodate a chordal sequence: it’s a melodic monologue. The harmonic structure is wondrously considered to ensure it perfectly enhances the tune’s ‘this is the way it is’ exploration of its sentiments. It really is a special track on this album and ultimately one realises that it is the merging of classicism and jazz that makes the connection ishs has with Mays’ creativity so understandable.
The melodic theme in Bass Coast Blues is really rewarding. It is melodically and harmonically rich and yet leads to a feeling of calming simplicity. It riffs on a blues scale and harmonic progression, but adds awesome harmonic transgressionary grunt, plus some lovely percussion improvisation by Roper. There is no hint of a blues mood here, indeed, it is exultant! ishs has spent time playing at the Inverloch Jazz Festival and was perhaps inspired, not only by the music, but the fabulous surrounds, from the amazing Kilcunda to Anderson’s Inlet along Victoria’s Bass Coast.
There are other great tracks including Cherry Blossom, Sensitivity and Summer Breeze. And if, like me, you’re into CDs, rather than the digital, the cover illustrations by Paul van Wessem are really special.
VIEW AND LISTEN
Sunrise of Happiness