Johnston St Jazz, May 14
What an apt name for a band. Anoesis refers to attaining a state of pure sensation or emotion, devoid of cognitive input – which is pretty much the improvising musician’s Holy Grail. This quintet of University of New South Wales music students was deemed sufficiently close to living up to their name in last year’s Bucharest International Jazz Competition that they won second prize.
Their collective prowess was immediately obvious in this live-stream performance, although their ability to move beyond that pesky cognitive state only emerged deep into the hour-long concert. Where the preceding music had been intricate and intriguing enough to keep one engaged, Sudenitsa, with its swirling melody and stonking 11/8 kopanitsa rhythm, suddenly launched the band to another level. Bassist Tomas McKeever Ford had this older, more settled piece from their repertoire (penned by alto saxophonist Greg Stopic) swinging like crazy, over which Stopic delivered a scorching solo with his big, tenor-like timbre.
The slow, haunting and ironically-titled Rose-Tinted Glasses, co-penned by Stopic and guitarist Eitan Muir, also worked exceptionally well, the artistry and emotional content again more in balance with the sophisticated skill level, and autumnal solos flowed from both Ford’s bass and Alistair Johnston’s tenor.
Johnston’s closing Altitude Blues was a reaction to the band’s interminable time in the air on their way to Bucharest. While well-crafted and generating another propulsive solo from the impressive Ford, it, like several of the earlier tunes, left one suspecting this band might find its own, more authoritative voice within its preferred chamber-jazz oeuvre when it experiments with compositional structures beyond the head-solos-head form. This may better suit the mutual inclination for restraint and precision in both the writing and playing, including in the way that Ford and new drummer Ryu Kodama work together.
The band may only be at first base on a very high mountain, but it deserved its slot in this admirable live-stream series, even if this particular airing was beset by more technical gremlins than usual.