CJP Review – Carl Dewhurst Trio: More Than Meets the Ear


This review was commissioned by the Street Theatre as part of the Conversations on Jazz event at the 2012 Capital Jazz Project. Participating students were briefed and their reviews were edited by a professional editor. Thanks to Mike Price from the ANU School of Music for facilitating the student involvement.

Review by Adam Dempsey
Photo of Carl Dewhurst by Brian Stewart

Carl Dewhurst also played with Benny Maupin during the Capital Jazz Project | Photo by Brian Stewart

Carl Dewhurst and his trio; Cameron Undy on bass and Hamish Stuart on drums, are purveyors of fine art. The fluidity with which they interact with one another is what makes this music so exciting. Undy’s lyricism and meticulous note choice, complemented by Stuart’s limber freedom of rhythmic movement and dynamic control, serve as the perfect responsive vehicle for Dewhurst’s compositions. Their sheer elasticity in encompassing free jazz, jazz-rock, blues and funk is a visual joy, as much as it is an audible one.

Dewhurst begins by coaxing a drone reminiscent of a North Indian tambura from his guitar laid flat like a lap-steel, bowing the strings with its tremolo arm. Both Undy and Stuart begin to add texture; light cymbal and toms and careful, choice upper register notes and harmonics. The drone climaxes and the trio segue into the first number, named appropriately, ‘Trios of Triangles’. Dewhurst weaves between loosened, embellished melody, intricate improvised passages and dense, fresh-sounding harmony. The trio respond to one another in a collective liquidity.

As what seems an intended contrast, ‘Baggy Red’; an angular melodic contour juxtaposed against a complex rhythmic interplay between bass and drums. Jazz guitar great John Scofield’s influence is evident here; Dewhurst pays homage to a hero via twangy tone, clashing intervals and blue-note bends amid post-bop flurries. Another change of pace, Dewhurst introduces the almost-pop ballad ‘I am Waiting for You’. Originally, he had penned lyrics to this piece, however elects to play it as an instrumental. Dark tones colour a discernable tip-of-the-hat to Jeff Beck.

Last tune prior to the interval is a quirky, funky blues; sitting in with the trio is ANU alumnus James Sweeting on trombone. Trading passages before breaking off into individual improvisation, both guitar and trombone play stellar solos; feeding off one another’s enthusiasm, propelled by the visceral groove behind them. A definite highlight for the evening, the conclusion of the first set welcomes a rapturous applause.

Post-interval, Dewhurst announces ‘Bitter Jugs’, a play-on-words as well as form, on Fats Waller’s ‘The Jitterbug Waltz’. Like ‘Baggy Red’, the tune sports knotty, convoluted melodies that would make Nicolas Slonimsky  [1] smile; underpinned by Undy’s movement between delayed, chromatic basslines and static ostinato. For the penultimate number, the trio embark on another excursion into the pop realm, a cover of Coldplay’s ‘God Put a Smile on My Face’, featuring a burning solo; impeccable melodic control, interwoven with liquid, post-bop fretboard explorations and Hendrixian chordal accompaniment.

As a farewell tune, the trio elects to play a time-honoured bebop standard, Charlie Parker’s ‘Little Suede Shoes’, treated in its original form with an almost-straight-eighth samba feel from the rhythm section, while the guitar sings in a kind of relaxed, tributary manner. A sweet way to conclude the set.

Throughout the entire evening the trio communicated in a common language, no matter what ‘genre’ or ‘style’ they were traversing. Even in the seemingly simpler pieces, there was a life-time of dedication and passion for improvised music that is evident in their phrasing, dynamics and lyricism. Equally, the same passion and dedication shows in their fluent navigation of the more complex material. Seamless playing throughout a genre-striding set; this is when great music is more than just what meets the ear.

Carl Dewhurst Trio: Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Cameron Undy (bass), Hamish Stuart (drums)
Photo of Carl Dewhurst by Brian Stewart

[1] Russian-born American composer; most notable work being the ‘Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns’, a compilation of thousands of complex melodic material intended for advanced musicians. Notably, Jazz giant John Coltrane and Fusion guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth were among those who were said to have practiced it religiously.