Thursday, December 15, 2005

Freeform Jazz Odyssey

Since 'Spinal Tap', the words Freeform Jazz Odyssey have carried the connotation of incompetence. Derek Smalls' incoherent bass, while hilarious, was indicative of the kind of associations we make with the idea of letting jazz musicians have free rein.
Well, I witnessed what could be termed a freeform jazz oddysey last night at Bennet's Lane Jazz Club in the city, and it was magnificent.
Jazz muso and piano virtuoso Paul Grabowsky has teamed up with the country's best (by a mile) singer, Katie Noonan, to create a double album called 'Before Time Could Change Us', employing lyrics by acclaimed Australian poet Dorothy Porter, and it's beautiful. With a rhythm section that beggars belief (Phil Rex on double bass and Simon Barker on drums) complemented by trumpeter Scott Tinkler and Grabowsky's piano work, the entire 16 songs gel together to form a moving whole.
Porter's libretto charts a lover's journey, from cynicism and self-protection to joyful surrender, then along a rocky course of doubt, disillusionment and, finally, a sense of lost innocence and quiet reflection.
Paul Grabowsky's musical score brilliantly evokes the shifting emotional terrain negotiated by the protagonist, using texture, mood and genre to mirror the lover's inner world.
Occasionally, Grabowsky's arrangements, which tend towards the complex, seem to intentionally contradict each other, sometimes held together only by the dazzlingly fast Rex's bass lines. But this complexity serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the softer, more reflective moments, such as 'If Snakes Could Fly', where Noonan's voice finally gets a chance to reveal itself, sheltered as it was by a wall of sound for much of the performance.

An amazing night out, for sure, and a record that I recommend to any jazz fan.


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