Sanctuary. A meditation on memory, identity, family and the power of regeneration.

Gary Daley
Classical, Country, Jazz, Rock
Reviewed by , August 1st, 2015

This is one of the most impressive and disturbing releases I have heard in recent times. Disturbing? It is difficult to disentangle the inherent power of this music from personal associations.

Okay. Look, there is nothing unusual about me. I have been voted most boring man in Glebe and Annandale eight years in a row, basically because I always have the same sandwich; but my mixed rural/urban life has a singularity that has not always been welcome. My grandmother and grandfather were bush people (she once guarded the house against dingoes while he was away bossing a shearing shed). Later I worked some school holidays on a riding school, sleeping in the bunkhouse. There was quite a lot of country music in the 1940s and early 1950s (when there was an actual square dance craze in Sydney suburbs).

Gary Daley

Gary Daley

And here we approach the nub. The emotionalism, the sorrows of some country music – especially when you got into deep hillbilly country – was disturbing to me in its combination of earthiness and religiosity, its vivid, rude happiness and its sorrows and closeness to death. For instance, my grandfather dreamed one night that a much loved dog which had wandered had returned. He woke and it was scratching at the door. I myself left home at 14 – for which I can never atone. An uncle had also disappeared and my grandparents never stopped looking for him on strange streets.

I think you get the picture. Accordionist/pianist/composer Gary Daley has written a suite which is a reflection of years caring for his mother while “watching a lifetime of memories slowly disappear from her world”. He watched the progress of Alzheimer’s, in short. As did I over four years when I visited my aunt Joan once a week. She had taken me riding and fishing and had given me most of my books.

This disc opens with a sample of Appalachian Mountains singer Roscoe Holcombe delivering the beginning of his song Wandering Boy. Holcombe’s pronunciations are so stretched and flattened at times, so weirdly nasal that an “r” will swallow the whole sentence, so eerily wending through quarter tones and stranger pitches that he could be singing another language. The song is about his mother. He can sometimes sound like a muezzin singer in the Middle East.The eerie power of this should be experienced, even if, as in my case it invokes some troubling memories.

There follows an atmospheric improvisation in which the instruments seem to hang in the air, sometimes scarcely moving. Wandering Boy is later reprised, recited first by Gary’s sonJames and then sung by James and Jess Green, accompanied by accordion (Gary), national steel guitar (Jess) and double bass (Brett Hirst). The authenticity of the harmony and lead parts is astounding.

The following instruments are then deployed in improvisations and written passsages: accordion, bass, national steel, mandolin, clarinet, bass clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, lap steel guitar, violin, cello and percussion.

One of the motifs is little more than three mournful falling glissandi, but it is repeated to great effect over many different instrumental combinations, including Afro-Cuban percussion, with solos woven throughout. The musicians include Paul Cutlan, Veronique Serret, Tunji Beir, James Valentine and a number of others drawn from the fields of jazz, country music, classical and world music generally.

This is very real, very very accomplished and both original and authentic.

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