Sound Lounge, December 1
Jazz composition exists to create stimulating improvising opportunities, and therefore an extended piece should offer a shifting landscape of improvisational areas. The composition becomes an enticing itinerary, with activities at each destination varying considerably on each trip.
For Mike Nock’s hour-long Suite SIMA (commissioned by the Sydney Improvised Music Association) this was the first trip, and, given its scope, challenges and occasional complexities his octet encountered those occasional moments of confusion with which all travellers are familiar.
The beauty of attempting such a work with high-calibre improvisers is their ability to turn the unintended to advantage. The downside of insufficient rehearsal was a tentativeness inhibiting music that yearned to be more expansive.
The suite’s series of themes and improvising spaces were linked by short solos from, say, Nock’s piano, Brett Hirst’s bass or James Waples’ drums. The themes tended to be elegiac and set against slow-to-medium tempos, and the inbuilt reliance on the improvising to amplify drama, energy and density was not convincingly fulfilled.
By contrast the soloing potency surged when the band turned to a series of shorter Nock pieces. If Truth Be Known had a laser-like Phil Slater trumpet solo that, against a bristling rhythm section, seemed to split the atom containing sadness. Peter Farrar followed with curling, coiling alto saxophone lines that twisted back on themselves and joined with the piano, rising up, up on the rumbling, tumbling bass and drums, until you wanted to shout out or jump up and testify that someone’s god was in the room. This extraordinary solo was made with a sound both rounded and incisive; joyous, yet threatening to explode. It suggested where Suite SIMA may go when the players have the confidence to deploy similar freedom, imagination and power.
Completing the band were trombonist James Greening (whose opulent sound seems to have suddenly expanded further, like a billionaire’s girth), and tenor saxophonists Karl Laskowski and Mike Rivett. Next Saturday’s performance should be stronger.