A tribute to Don Walker, Neil Finn and Nick Cave
Craig Beard, Anthony Schulz, Adam Starr, Daniel Farrugia and Simon Starr
ABC jazz 271 0972 Total playing time: 60.37mins.
reviewed by Mort Allen
The development of western art music owes a debt to the development of jazz. Improvisation and sound colour (timbre) are the two areas which immediately come to mind. Working ‘against’ the beat or ‘syncopation’ is probably more reciprocity than influence. However, timbral variety is the parameter that one most looks for, in both stylistic endeavours, these days.
In this respect, the disc only contains one track which could be called truly effective: ‘The Mercy Seat’ (an apparent collaborative effort between Nick Cave and Mick Harvey). I use the word ‘apparent’ because there is no mention of the piece in the leaflet details. In fact, the CD insert prefers to more pedestrian matters and isn’t particularly illuminative. The original song of ‘The Mercy Seat’ is about the thoughts of an innocent man about to be executed so, by extension, one assumes the title to refers to ‘The Throne of God’. The group give their take on the original and do so with sensitivity and style. While the piece itself becomes (one might suggest inevitably so) harmonically icebound, it has an intriguing combination of colours – highlighting an ‘otherworldliness’ – nicely evoked by the performers. Nick Cave, I notice, appears to be the ‘Holy Ghost’ in this trilogy of tributes. The spectral quality of ‘The Mercy Seat’ would make his position very plausible.
Neil Finn equates, if one is meant to make direct connections between the disc’s title and three composers, to The Son. He’s certainly a very obedient son; so to speak, because his melodic writing has textbook simplicity – statement/climax/dénouement – and his use of rhythm doesn’t set foot into unfamiliar territory. There were some, only some, interesting harmonic shifts in the four tracks that bear his name (one of which was written in synergy with Tim Finn) but, for the most part, the harmonies were fairly straightforward. His ‘History Never Repeats’ should not have been included on this or any other disc. This is a most disappointing addition. The listener is left wondering where the opening material is going to lead the ear. History (perhaps) doesn’t repeat but it does develop – one event leading to another – but this music doesn’t. True, it does have a cute vibraphone sequence and a well-judged climax but the musical line hops from one idea, one gesture, to the next without providing a sense of growth or evolution.
God (Don Walker) has no trouble finding interesting formation material but appears troubled by what to do with it. His ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘Saturday Night’ both meandered, not to the extent of Finn’s ‘History Never Repeats’, through no fault of the performers. There simply wasn’t enough really good substance with which to work. In other words: what substance was there, was good…but it was spread too thinly.
While one could make heavy weather of the original compositions’ contextures, it needs to be emphasised that the disc, as a whole, is not and wasn’t intended to be, confronting. Its material is stylistically and dramatically well balanced, although the actual quality of some of that material is questionable. It is an easy listen: relaxing and pleasing. It would suit a quiet night.
The performers combine with fluid interaction, as good jazz players do, and they’re always listening carefully to each other, ready to pick up and develop small gestures. Perhaps some areas of improvisation could have been ‘tighter’, and perhaps the vibraphone could have been less dominated by the usual ‘dead’ (i.e. no pedal, motor off) sound, but the disc, taken incorporatively, forms a cool-ish oasis and is recommended to those of less analytical inclination.
Mort Allen 2009.