Matt McMahon’s 2010 Top 5

Matt McMahon is a composer/pianist/improviser who has performed and recorded with many artists including The Phil Slater Quartet, Vince Jones, Greg Osby, Bobby Previte, Dale Barlow, Guy Strazz, Joe Tawadros, Steve Hunter, Dave Panichi, Katie Noonan and Jazzfolk. He was the winner of the National Jazz Award in 1999 and the Freedman Fellowship in 2005. He co-presents Blow with Dan Barnett—a radio program on Eastside Radio in Sydney featuring music and interviews with musicians. Matt is a good friend of extempore (his interview with Joe Zawinul appeared in Issue 3 of the journal) and was kind enough to share his top 5 musical experiences of 2010 with us!

1.Wayne Shorter Quartet. March 2010, Sydney Opera House

Wayne is one of my all-time heroes so I was pretty excited when I found his quartet was coming- even more excited for my trio to be asked to do a short set before his group! I really enjoyed playing my pieces with my friends Jono Brown and Simon Barker then got a chance to hear Wayne’s band from backstage – first on the piano side, then over near Brian Blade. Interesting to get a chance to hear them from this perspective and be up up close to all the interaction although there were times I would have like to be out front to hear the saxophone a little clearer. Amazing mysterious music that unfolded with high drama – many allusions to Wayne’s compositions that vanished just as they became recognisable.

2. Daorum – August 2010, Seoul.

Simon Barker has been investigating Korean music for many years now and the formation of the group Daorum – a collaboration between Korean (Bae Il Dong, Kim Dong Won) and Australian (Simon, Phil Slater, Carl Dewhurst, and myself) musicians – saw us travel to Korea in August. We were there for the Korean launch of Emma Franz’s film about Simon’s musical journey in Korea Intangible Asset no. 82. We had some great times playing and hanging (eating) the whole time we were there. It was great playing together – different every time. I really enjoyed some solo drum pieces from Simon at various points throughout the tour – seeing his diverse musical interests lead him into some powerful new territory.

3. There were some great visitors to Sydney from overseas this year

…and I enjoyed seeing Oliver Lake, George Garzone with Mike Nock, Kurt Elling, etc. I loved seeing Ahmad Jamal again and I was particularly knocked out by the support group The Driphards – Cameron Undy, Carl Dewhurst, Evan Mannel. Seeing Cameron and Carl (along with Adam Ponting and Andrew Dickeson) improvising as The Ghosts of Saturn back in 1990 was a formative experience for me and I’ve loved hearing them (and playing with them) many times ever since. These guys in this group with Evan have been developing a great sound together. I love hearing music that contains love for many kinds of sounds – all filtered through a unique aural lens which could only be made by these guys. In this gig I could hear love for Funk, Blues, Jazz, Ornette, The Shaggs, rock – (whatever all those these words mean…)

4. This isn’t really jazz related but it kind of is

I’ve really been enjoying reading Schoenberg’s Theory of harmony. I love his juggling of the desire to say something can or can’t be done with harmony with his sense that many things not yet done can be done and that an artist creates what must be done – doesn’t follow rules – rules help explain what the masters have done. On the other hand he’s really comprehensive with his exercises. It is interesting that he talks about a musical society refusing to play one of his works (String Sextet) which contained an A flat major 9th chord in 4th inversion because such a chord didn’t exist – therefore no performance could exist… If only he’d lived to hear all the jazz and pop people use it everywhere – Coltrane, Herbie, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers etc. Of course his own music eventually took a few more liberties than the odd passing sus chord…

5. Richard Bona – Basement, November 2010

Richard BonaRichard Bona’s gig was feel-good in all senses. From humour, to sing-a-longs, extreme virtuosity, tribute to Jaco (great version of Liberty City). But for me his powerful singing and deep groove were profound. His band played with amazing dynamics and the bass playing felt so good all night. I had a chance to interview him for my radio show and i asked him if it was a challenge juggling his many roles and instruments – guitarist for Harry Belafonte; percussion/gtr/singer for Pat Metheny; virtuoso bassist for Joe Zawinul and Mike Stern; Cameroonian Pop/fusion star-with-bits-of-Cuba-Funk-etc. in his own band ). He said he never wants to think of music as a challenge. It didn’t sound like that either – everything he played or sang seemed to pour out of him with ease…