Jazzhead, Head128, 2010.
Review by Charles Lidgard (http://unchartedjazz.wordpress.com/)
An iconic cross-cultural sextet based in Melbourne, Way Out West won the 2009 Australian Jazz Bell ‘Jazz Ensemble of the Year’ Award and have appeared at major festivals and venues around the world. The band credits Melbourne’s cultural vitality and diversity with inspiring their alchemy of influences and sounds. The Effects of Weather is their third album, their second on the Jazzhead label.
The Effects of Weather features 7 tracks, most of which were composed by trumpeter Peter Knight, who also produced the album. The delta-blues inflected ‘Blues for Jungster’ was composed by saxophonist Paul Williamson. Double bassist Howard Cairns co-wrote the final two tracks with Peter Knight, ‘Droop Street Breakdown Part 1’ and ‘Droop Street Breakdown Part 1’.
Knight’s melodic direction is a unifying force in the music, but the emphasis is never overstated. The core of the music is about rhythm – specifically Pereira’s focused, pulsing percussion that is distinctly African. The interplay between Pereira’s percussive drive and the other instruments is absorbing, as much a focus of the music as the songs themselves. Melodically, the counterpoint between Knight’s trumpet and Dung Ngyuyen’s native instruments – dan nguyet (Vietnamese mandolin) and dan bau (single string zither) as well as his regular instruments, dan tranh (Vietnamese 16-string zither) and a modified electric guitar – is mesmerizing.
At just over 14 minutes, the first track ‘Music for April’ is also the longest and one of the most memorable. It begins with an insistent pulsing bass note, over which Pereira’s wooden-chime percussion is added. Dung Ngyuyen’s dan tranh hints at the song’s main theme, introduced by Knight’s assured trumpet and Willamson’s saxophone. Knight and Williamson explore the theme in unison before making way once more for Ngyuyen. As unusual as the interplay sounds, the call and response motif between the Western brass and Eastern zither fit as one.
The third track ‘Music for Six Friends’ sees a return to this form – a basic repeating motif laid down by Pereira, the rhythm of which is taken up by the drums and pulsing bass. Over these elements, the trumpet and saxophone take turns to either complement or challenge the direction of the piece, bending its form only to leave it just as quickly. At times it seems completely unanchored, with only percussion and the Nguyen’s dan nguyet (Vietnamese mandolin) playing. It’s a truly original approach to the jazz structure that holds rewards behind every nuance and departure.
‘Blues for Jungster’ is a lilting heart-felt blues piece. The brass plays in Delta blues mode, playing the head in unison before leaving the guitar to expound its mournful tale. A perfectly captured take puts Nguyen’s string bending guitar right in the room with you. It feels incredibly personal and up-close. The percussion is makeshift, consisting of found objects – cans and sticks – adding to an authentic junkyard feel not out of place on a Tom Waits album.
The Effects of Weather merges the haunting tones of traditional Vietnamese instrumentation and the timeless textures and rhythms of West Africa with the strong traditions of theme and melody in Western jazz to create something that is bold and different. It is a true departure from ‘traditional jazz’ and the result is not only fresh and instantly likable, but has the potential to become a modern classic.
Way Out West is Peter Knight (trumpet, prepared trumpet, flugel horn, jaw harp, found objects), Vietnamese traditional music virtuoso Dung Nguyen (dan tranh, dan nguyet, modified electric guitar), Paul Williamson (saxophone, flute), renowned West African percussionist Ray Pereira (percussion, found objects), Howard Cairns (double bass, found objects) and Rajiv Jayaweera (drum kit, found objects).
Droop Street Breakdown Part 1