Jazzhead, Head127, 2010
CD review by Arjun von Caemmerer
My introduction to Andrea Keller’s music occurred serendipitously: in the grip of a Bartókian fervour I stumbled accidentally on her splendid mikrokosmos album, arrangements from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. I had never heard of Andrea Keller before, nor of most of the players in her then Quintet, but I liked immensely the project’s unexpectedness — the audacity of the whole conception — and its thoroughly successful realisation. I have followed, somewhat irregularly, her ARIA-studded Footprints since.
Galumphing ‘Round The Nation is the latest musical offering from the Andrea Keller Quartet — comprised now of Eugene Ball (trumpet), Ian Whitehurst (tenor saxophone), Joe Talia (drums), and Andrea Keller (piano). This quartet have been together for a number of years, and with Little Claps won the 2008 Bell Award for best contemporary jazz album.
As the album’s title hints, Galumphing ‘Round The Nation is an outcome of Keller’s 2009 national Collaborations Project, where the touring Quartet in the various locations they played, invited a favourite musician to contribute each a 5th (often highly improvised) part to an existing base composition.
This later-realised studio album, whose cover and booklet art eloquently reflect the themes and variations within, is a musical portmanteau; holding in its manifold pockets six Kellaborations, all brillig & frabjous: each feature the Quartet, plus their singular manxome friend. There are thus on this disc six different incarnations of what becomingly becomes yet another fleetingly renewed Andrea Keller Quintet.
Guests Quintessential and heterogeneously virtuosic are, in order of appearance: trumpeter, Miroslav Bukovsky (Canberra); on alto saxophone Bernie McGann (Sydney); tenor saxophonist Jamie Oehlers (Perth); trumpeter Phil Slater (Sydney); guitarist Steve Magnusson (Melbourne); and, violinist John Rodgers (Brisbane). On each of the six such compositions the integration is complete: the five players are one coherent ensemble. And on the album’s two remnant compositions, both of which feature, unadorned but undiminished, just the Quartet, the four too move as one animal.
‘My Old Friend’ starts the album: a pensive opening from Talia peopled by the dual voices, Ball and Whitehurst, until Keller, expansive, lilts in, and out of this Whitehurst stretches and stretches his elastic limits and breaks; & through and through this space, a very deft Bukovsky scribble-sketches wanderlustily his trumpetry.
‘For Bernie’ is more composed: McGann’s soundslidings simultaneously languorous, gentlemanly, naked & seemly, sorrowful, persuasive. Keller and Talia, supportive and discreet; and travelling parallel, sympathetically resonant, Whitehurst and echoic Ball.
‘Galumphing ‘Round the Nation’ starts like a high-wire circus act: above the hole-filled shifting nets of Talia’s tala, Ball intoxicated teeters, hangs by a thinning thread. But then occurs Heraldry, rescuing and enveloping, from out of which Oehlers bubbles: his tenor ferments in troves of slithy gyre and gimble invention twisting through the counterpoints of Keller and Whitehead: echo, prediction, reflection, coalescence.
‘The Rain Outside’ begins with the extraordinary: Talia’s delicate, spacious smatters & patters of clocks and breaking glass. Rising from these skittish sounds Slater, unleashes, trumpestuous: the world turns; the ground shifts and shifts, caving, until the rain outside is the rain inside.
‘The Incredible View’ shares with ‘For Bernie’ something of the same tonal quality: a hinting & restrained Magnusson plumbs and sounds the depths with a lurking sense of yearning melancholy. The magnified ensemble accompaniment swells magnussonic, and Keller’s propulsive piano outgrabes.
‘Small Comforts’, I thought, implied a kind of benignity, and lures falsely with gentle entwinements. But something suddenly bursts, and Rodgers runs riot — at the edge of a maelstrom his frumious jabber vorpals; Eugene spins, uncareful of the axe; and Keller follows, enfolding.
‘Soup Tin Baby’ is the first of two for this Quartet. Keller creeps from an Escheresque undergrowth Ascending and Descending, skipping & tripping as a hovering bird-like Ball comments and calls, frenzies pips and squeaks, outwrests with rasped abandon. On they fly.
‘Smells Like Music’ hits the ground running as if it couldn’t (& shouldn’t) stop. Bookended within seriously coordinated abracadabracketry, this is whiffling Whitehurst’s wend, which burbles and shines and bends. And so, it Ends.
Or does it?
When the album was recorded in Melbourne, Keller had each accomplice play on two tunes, so there exist actually two versions of each song. But for the moment, at least, these shadows stay deep in the darks of her false-bottomed bag…
Galumphing ‘Round the Nation is released on Jazzhead (Head 127) and is available from www.jazzhead.com