The Valley Jazz Festival 2007 has scheduled a diverse program with trumpet playing on every night. Clint Allen's 7th Chapter of Fine Brass, Dan Quigley, Scott Tinkler, Vince Jones plus yours truly with his quartet. On Thursday night at The Zoo it was Phil’s Slater’s Band of 5 Names. I’d heard Phil’s playing only on cd and a live Don Cherry style piece on the ABC’s Music Show so I was eager to hear his music live.
Music to me is the art of communicating emotions. Great musicians touch you, move you. What I look for in a musician is the simultaneous ability to express mood and feeling through their playing, to present coherent imaginative ideas, and their relationships with other musicians on the same stage.
All too often I hear one dimensional trumpet players. Some play in an alpha male style – a heroic style that leaves no room for human frailties (what one trumpet player called 'a punch in the face' style). Others, aping famous trumpeters, play with a cold thinness that shows little understanding of the instrument or even the idea of communicating emotions.
In a trumpet, piano, and drums configuration the Band of 5 Names performed one long improvisation. Phil Slater’s trumpet tone is full and open. His is a passionate and original trumpet voice made from contrasts in tonal colour, rhythm and dynamics. Slater has the technically ability of superb breath control, precise fingering and a lip that held out through most of the set. This he used to service the narrative of the improvisation.
Slater explored the limits of the trumpet. At times he created intensity through long complicated downwards runs punctuated by jumps up into the higher register to start more runs. It was thrilling to hear a trumpet in flight like this. These passages gave way to low whispering, spatial long forlorn notes, and at times with low moans that came from the physical manipulation of the valves. Slater also used a Mac laptop with what sounded like an analogue delay to ramp up the intensity by adding layers to some legato runs. His lip gave way to air and fast fingers through a tough passage at the end of the set. This I really liked because, after an hour, he was still going for it.
With his head half cocked Phil Slater listened to pianist Matt McMahon and drummer Simon Barker feeding off their ideas. The band listened to each other’s playing and generally had good communication. Barker was an excellent accompanist driving, exploding, providing colour.
Their impro was really a number of themes strung together by solo segues on piano and drums. In a long impro it is difficult to know when the narrative has ended, where to put the full stop. As a listener I felt there were a number of points where this had been reached.
An epic sonic landscape
The Band of 5 Names created an epic sonic landscape. Their music stands within the long and proud tradition in Australia of searching for original sounds and forms. Bands such as The Necks, with whom BOFN share a similarly large scope in improvisation, come to mind. It's fantastic that the Valley Jazz Festival 2007 has programmed such important music.