Friday, April 27, 2007

Review: Band of 5 Names

Festival of trumpet

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.

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.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Valley Jazz Festival

Used to be that Brisbane was a run down colonial backwater, a large provincial town. The beautiful Queenslander architecture of stilt houses, wooden pubs and shady government buildings owed much to its Indian origins. The mango and jacaranda trees belied a political corruption and a rigid morality that symbolised a police state of lazy brutality.

Looking towards The Valley from Centennial Park

This tropical torpidity could also boast some great Australian painters like Donald Friend , Mervyn Molvig and Ian Fairweather. Jazz was played in pubs on Sunday afternoons and in some gangster run clubs in The Valley. Its heart was the magnificent Brisbane Jazz Club, a converted boat shed underneath the Storey Bridge. I say this is one of the most beautiful places to gig with undeniably the best band room I've ever been in - a slipway converted into outdoor garden fringed by mangroves and boats and ferries on the Brisbane River with the city skyscape as its backdrop.

Joh Bjelke Petersen

The Brisbane of my youth was a cultural backwater. In the dark days of the corrupt populist Bjelke Petersen regime, police would raid rock gigs and shut them down for fear of the assembly of a large group of young people would have a corrupting influence. There was once a piece of graffiti emblazoned in large capitals on a building site, "95% of artists leave Brisbane. Why don't you?' And they deserted Brisbane for Sydney and Brisbane in droves.

Now all that has changed. Brisbane is one of Australia's boom cities undergoing a type of Californication. Artists now come to Brisbane for the opportunities. And Brisbane has sustained a lively jazz scene for quite some time. The fact that we've been playing freeform jazz at Rics is evidence of that. It can now support a jazz festival that is growing in scope and popularity.

I can't wait to see the great trumpet player Phil Slater's Band of 5 Names at The Zoo and James Ryan's Trio on Thursday night.

The Trevor Hart Quartet is playing Rics on Wednesday night (25th) as part of the festival. Visit for more info.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Flamenco trumpet


Since I can remember, people have commented that I have a 'Spanish' sound. I'm not too sure what that means. Do I sound like a guitar or a bloodied bull in an arena? Perhaps they are picking up on a fascination with Spanish culture and history. I'm intrigued by Andalusian music from Spain and North Africa - of lyricism set again rhythmic complexity.

I assumed that trumpet featured prominently in Spanish music. Sure it can be heard in film scores and some orchestral works but I was quite taken aback to learn that it was just a little add on /frilly filler in some modern flamenco recordings.

Bacalau is an attempt to redress this imbalance: to try to meld the flamenco guitar and percussion with the trumpet.

bacalau hung outside a shop

Bacalau, the salted cod essential to so many Spanish dishes, needs to be seasoned to bring out entirely original dishes.

Bacalau is having a rare appearance at the Brisbane Jazz Club this coming Friday night. Check out the details on the poster.