CJP Review: The catholics, 11 August 2012

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 Heather Prowse
Photos by Brian Stewart

The catholics | Photo by Brian Stewart | jazz.cyberhalides.com

Mo Award-winning jazz group The catholics emerged onto the Street Two stage in a cloud of haze in an atmosphere as ethereal as the imaginings of band leader and bassist Lloyd Swanton. The band took the opportunity to close the 2012 Canberra Jazz Project by exploring their old favourites in addition to some new, exotic sounds.

The atmosphere was a relaxed Sunday night vibe, with most audience members reclining with a glass of wine and the timbres of distinguished Australian musicians. The catholics opened the first set with a prologue by percussionist Fabian Hevia, featuring the haunting yet melodic tone of trombonist James Greening.

Following a few words from Swanton, the performance went on with his piece ‘Sleepout’. The tiptoeing soft tones of tenor saxophonist Sandy Evans and Greening were punctuated between each blues chorus by a cacophony of percussion, brazen long tones and licks by the rest of the band.  Though the head was minimalist, the sophisticated accompaniment of African bembé rhythms added richness to the piece.

As Greening danced across the stage, the band launched into ‘Ransomer’, displaying Hevia’s astonishing percussion chops. Dramatic swells and soloing of accordion player Gary Daley resonated across the theatre and Greening’s trombone solo tore through the cha-cha rhythms like a fireball. Said Swanton, ‘What a groovy tune. It always plays itself.’

Evans changed to soprano sax and Greening to pocket trumpet for ‘Doing the Darwin Walk’, a piece The catholics are planning to record later this year. Inspired by Swanton’s experiences of bushwalking in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, the piece began as a duet between the two horn players. The rhythmically complex piece sparkled during the bridge; Hevia played triplets against Hamish Stewart’s steady duple-time beat, against a harmonised solo from the horns. Daley’s spellbinding accordion playing produced melodic variety and exciting timbre from a keyboard spanning just two octaves.

Swanton chose to end the first set with ‘Home’, a guitar and bass feature. Swanton, on bass, took the main melody, followed by a slow-grooving guitar solo from John Pease. Daley entranced the audience with sweeping, lilting melodies in his accordion playing, sending the audience out into the interval in a happy trance-like state.

The first piece of the second set, ‘The Ambon Waltz’, jolted the audience back to their senses with a march-like feel, as if we were being called to attention. This was followed by Evans’ composition ‘Floating on an Emerald Green Sea’, in which we saw Pease and Swanton work together with flawless musical communication. Evans’ soprano sax danced lightly over the rapidly changing time signatures, maintaining the strength of a lion with the elegance of a gazelle.

‘Yonder’ showed some role reversal within the band. Hevia’s powerful solo, backed by Evans and Greening, was the embodiment of live music – excitement, communication and a genuine performance by all. The next piece, ‘Permeate’, was a new composition of Swanton’s that he intends to record at the end of the year, though intriguingly he intends for it to be played without bass. Evans channelled her study of traditional Indian music into her soprano solo, blending in with the rock feel set up by the rhythm section.

The catholics reminded their audience of their successful journey through the Australian music scene with their last piece, a clever arrangement of ‘I Cover the Waterfront’ in a reggae style. The piece demonstrated that the band was deeply rooted in traditional jazz but harbouring a deep passion for discovering music within different genres and cultures, keeping their work alive and energised. The standard will also be recorded later this year. Appreciative smiles and bobbing of heads were seen throughout the theatre as the audience embraced this exciting display of leaping dynamics and sophisticated soloing (Daley, Evans on tenor sax and Greening on trombone). This innovative band continues to leave audiences dancing out of their gigs as it has done for decades and will do for decades to come.

The catholics: Lloyd Swanton (bass), Sandy Evans (saxophones), James Greening (trombone, pocket trumpet), Jonathon Pease (guitar), Gary Daley (piano accordion), Hamish Stuart (drums) and Fabian Hevia (percussion)

Photos by Brian Stewart