Foundry 616, November 13
Jazz first erupted from the whorehouses of New Orleans in primary colours: shouting joy or gushing blues. No one could have foreseen that such music would one day be autumnal and pastel-shaded. Duke Ellington expanded the palette, and Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Bill Evans built careers on this new soft-focus way of eyeing the world through the jazz kaleidoscope. European improvisers inevitably connected with this, as it carried echoes of their own heritage; of Schubert or Debussy.
Nat Bartsch is one of several Melbourne players to embrace this idiom. Perhaps the greyer skies engender an empathy for it, where Sydney players prefer bright daubs of colour.
Some artists work best within strict confines, and Bartsch has studied with noted Euro-jazz practitioners to arrive at music that is uniformly wistful, muted and pretty. It could also have been as sweet and sticky as a melted toffee, but the pianist composer imbues it with sufficient effervescence and lightness to engage, even if it is unlikely to be life-changing.
This version of her trio included her regular bassist Tom Lee, and had local drummer Evan Mannell sitting in and gently magnifying the drama by engraving a wealth of detail and a broad spectrum of dynamics upon the music’s face. With Lee not the most lyrical improviser (generating interludes rather than solos), and Bartsch reluctant to stab her own music with surprise, Mannell’s deft micro-dramas were a source of particular fascination.
Lee’s best work came in a plaintive introduction to the tender Song For Mum, and trumpeter Eamon Dilworth pierced Missing Pieces with little slivers of anguish in a guest appearance.
On Reward If Found Bartsch increased the complexity without losing the underlying pensiveness. Her music does not lack depth so much as the surface and the substance are one and the same. When she performed songs by Kings of Leon and Radiohead she proved she can also stamp her dainty individuality on the work of others.