Gerry Koster’s 2010 Top Five

Gerry Koster’s is the friendly voice beaming out over the airwaves from the ABC Classic FM Jazz Up Late program each Friday at 10:30 pm. Here is some of what he liked in 2010.

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Guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche from the alternative country rock band Wilco performing to a packed house in Melbourne’s Jazz Lab at Bennetts Lane during this year’s MIJF. An exhilarating set at the top of the night of completely improvised skronk, shredding and ambient electronics, with both musicians also manipulating a small arsenal of extra instruments. Their energy and music blew me away… Cline contorting as if in paroxysm as he played and grabbed at these extras, danced on his peddles and flicked and turned switches and dials as he raced to track his imagination – with Kotche ever-busy and sprawling over his kit keeping Cline-time and then shaping and steering… in healthy decibels and all perfectly coherent.

Still in my ears – and dare I say heart – is Sydney pianist Stu Hunter’s performance of his The Gathering at the recent 2010 Wang Jazz Fest. The concert was simply stunning and the band was on fire. The line up: Matt Keegan, Julien Wilson, James Greening, Jonathan Zwartz and Simon Barker. The Gathering is an extended work, mesmerisingly broad in its scope and seemingly, in an Ellingtonian sense, with segments written specifically for the individuals in the band. During this concert the players seemed to play outside of themselves – their passion and empathy was palpable, and it was an extraordinarily moving performance. I have to add that James Greening’s trombone solo was absolutely staggering – I was gobsmacked – I can’t say that I’d quite heard anything like it before. I left the venue thinking that I didn’t need to hear another note of music…

I had a similar experience with the extraodinary improvisatory flights of Jamie Oehlers and Paul Grabowsky, stoked by Sam Anning and Ben Vanderwal at Melbourne’s Bennetts Lane as they launched their Jazzhead album of standards On A Clear Day, in June. The band absolutely cooked. Jamie and Paul peeled off line after ecstaticly inventive line, rejuvenating and contemporizing much-plumbed charts three generations old – sealing them with their own mark. And the rhythm driving, almost relentless behind them. Never once did the energy wane – it was like riding a wave that was continually on the verge of breaking, it just kept pushing on! The room was enthralled. The set break was almost unwelcome, but it gave everyone a chance to steady, and to contemplate. Those old tunes, I know them, but… and out of nowhere, ‘When The Sun Comes Out’. Then – it’s ages since I heard it – that absolutley beautiful ‘Lazy Afternoon’. And the album’s title song – the spectre of Barbara would have cringed in awe (and hopefully been banished forever!). Then it was on again. Swinging like blazes! Another king tide! I was gone! Later, outside, I blinked… was I in downtown Manhattan? They sophisticated Melbourne that night.

With the nostalgia business in overdrive, it’s a relief to welcome the emergence of a long-unsighted (though ne’er forgotten!) gem amongst the proliferation of re-issues of the re-issues of re-issues. One such recording is Kenny Wheeler’s inspired 1969 recording, Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote, Told by Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra. Regarded as one of the great classics of British jazz, Windmill Tilter has been out of print for almost 40 years. Over the last decade there have been many rumours of its imminent re-issue on CD, though none have come to fruition – until now. Wheeler is a masterful arranger and was only 28 when he fulfilled Dankworth’s request to score an album for his orchestra, which was manned with some of the greatest players of the day, which included Dave Holland, Tony Coe, Mike Gibbs, Chris Pyne, Henry Lowther and John McLaughlin to mention a few. The result was a suite based on Cervante’s famed anti-hero, and a recording that easily ranks with the celebrated Gil Evans/Miles Davis Sketches of Spain album, its most obvious musical soul-mate. Its long overdue re-appearance coincides with the year of Wheeler’s 80th birthday, and along with the glorious music there’s the bonus of Dankworth’s original LP liner notes plus a new, extensive essay from the respected broadcaster and historian Alyn Shipton. Considering the vagaries of the music business, who knows how long this edition will stay in print, so grab it now! Kenny Wheeler Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote, Told by Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra BGO Records BGOCD944

Another re-issue to have me reclaiming even more land on my desert island, is an indispensable collection (for my soul and ear at least!) from Mosaic Records: The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (MD8-247). Threadgill’s is a unique and revoluntionary voice in modern music – and this set is DEEP. It’s also limited to 5,000 copies world-wide.