Faceless Dullard (Marc Hannaford Scott Tinkler Simon Barker)
Marchon CD (view on Bandcamp)
Review by John Clare
Resembling the Flightless Mallard in its secretive and elusive ways, the Faceless Dullard (is this title a nod to some disaffected critic?) poses a great mystery to the evolutionary biologist. Here is a field recording of the dullard in full song. Actually it is a studio recording, but in the collective history of these musicians it most resembles a recording made at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne in August 2004, for which I was asked to write the notes. On that occasion the band was Scott Tinkler, trumpet. Paul Grabowsky, piano, bassist Phillip Rex and drummer Ken Eadie. Here, it is pianist Hannaford, Scott Tinkler and drummer Simon Barker (who has played with Tinkler since late in the 20th century, beginning their association in the famous Mark Simmonds Freeboppers).
Unlike the more eclectic exponents of contemporary jazz – and notwithstanding the fact that they are capable of playing convincingly in a number of styles, jazz and otherwise (on the Jazzhead disc Shreveport Stomp you can hear Hannaford playing Jelly Roll Morton, Monk and Ornette Coleman pieces along with Brian Wilson’s Wonderful) – these musicians, when heard in their own company, are severely focussed on a particular style and methodology. An old fashioned attitude? Perhaps not. No rock band these days will claim to have transcended rock and reached that higher level of consciousness known as “just music”. No, their aim is to express the essence of rock, its spirit, even if in a fresh and radical way. We should not offend the Dullards by calling their music jazz, especially as regards this recording, on which there is no bass to draw them in the direction of jazz syncopation and swing. As far as I can see they have no commitment to jazz. Nor is their music rock or funk. At the same time there is a particular propulsion throughout this music that sets them a little apart from the New Music movement. Also from contemporary classical music, though that is a definite influence. Without the bass the trumpet is the only instrument capable of playing with no percussive edge. All three have recourse to percussive characteristics but but only the trumpet is capable of sustaining a single note for very long. This is used to intriguing effect. Rattling high speed streams of percussive brass notes suddenly skip an octave or two, or three, and a galvanising single note is held, screaming very high or croaking far below, and sometimes sharp angled shapes are incised with force and deliberation in the high register like box kites above the sonic landscape.
Clearly this music has passed through the influence of free jazz at some stage. But this and other sources are present in a highly distilled and perhaps abstracted form. My small poll indicates that to most listeners this music sounds like jazz.
What we have here is a fairly severe concentration of the core elements of this music. To put it another way: it is pretty much pruned of romantic elements. It should also be revealed that this is a continuous improvisation over more than three quarters of an hour. How can I persuade you that it is compelling, deeply satisfying and physically exciting?
It begins with Hannaford’s piano, fragmented, calm but intent, like icy water trickling, dropping and bouncing off ledges in some silent dark place. A breath of Debussy is evident. This quite beautiful meditative feeling is held as cymbals enter, and, simultaneously, Tinkler’s trumpet materialises in a brief ribbon of brilliant sound, like a conjuring trick in slow motion. The presence is remarkable, here and throughout, and we should mention that the engineering and mixing are by bassist Phillip Rex, who often appears on bass with the musicians he has recorded here. Everything very subtly lifts at this moment – which sounds as if it has been cued, but is clearly either an accident or a case of one musician or the other of the two who now enter noticing that the other is about to play. It lifts onto an odd air cushion of rhythm, or in fact a momentary suggestion of multiple rhythms. These magical buoyancies rise from a persistent, intricate conversation of remarkable cohesion and purpose. Propositions are advanced and tested, sometimes at the same dynamic level, sometimes breaking into sensational bursts of energy. And for long stretches it all moves beyond conversation as if three lines of counterpoint are being written simultaneously by a single composer. Even if you stop listening in a focussed way at times, the way the three instruments chime, clatter and run together independently or in a series of reactions is deeply satisfying. Towards the end Barker delivers a solo in which his unique drum tonalities come hard into the foreground, and in this he is joined by Tinkler in a brilliant duet, often flying at amazing speed, sometimes simply going at it hammer and tongs. The forward pressure applied is as face-distorting as one of Top Gear’s high performance models on a bend, and the textures of musical violence are most gratifying.
We are in a particular region of high modernism. It will not make you a superior person. It will not stop you enjoying Justin Bieber unless you are already alienated by the fellow’s work. It was never going to lead to capitalism’s collapse ( as some once imagined) any more than rock and roll, punk or street art were, but it is tremendously interesting. For the evolutionary biologist the connections are sometimes surprising. Many years ago an underground surreal/punk rock band were interviewed by 2JJ in Sydney. One of the two women in the band (the one with long straight blond hair – ring a bell?) declared that the Archie Shepp album Black Gypsies had changed her life. It was not in the ABC’s library, but someone in the studio said, ‘I know who would have it.’ Sure enough a courier arrived and took my copy away. I got it back. Strangely enough my standing briefly rose among Fairfax’s rock writers. I can’t promise that your standing will rise anywhere but you might gain a glimpse of a parallel musical universe.
Marc Hannaford (piano)
Scott Tinkler (trumpet)
Simon Barker (drums)
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