Sean Coffin Sextet – Sound Lounge, Sydney
Friday, 26 July 2013
Review by John Hardaker
From time to time the modern music lover can be afflicted with ennui. As an outgrowth of the general modern malaise, our appetites – dulled by experiencing countless hours of music – can become jaded. Jaded to the point of boredom, even when faced with the best there is.
Artists often leap to the forefront of the Pop and Art consciousness simply by being willfully weird and opaquely obtuse. But that is a dead end street, in the main, for as soon as the Emperor’s new clothes fall away, we see he is naked, ordinary and empty, and always will be.
Jazz is a music that prides itself on innovation and forward thinking but, especially in this age where the Con turns out astounding young virtuosi by the sheaf, it can often all sound the same. On the other hand, dressing up and self-consciously setting out to shock – look at 60s jazz – ain’t the way to go.
Tenor magus Sean Coffin debuted his new sextet at Sydney’s Sound Lounge for SIMA recently. And he reminded me that there is still room for truly innovative jazz that swings like Charles Mingus’ mutha and resonates with echoes of the past – while still pointing to the future.
Sandy Evans has said of Sean’s main trip over the past 20 years, The Coffin Brothers’ ‘There is great love for the jazz tradition in their music, a joy in the energy, spirit and language of jazz. They build on these powerful roots to create imaginative sonic journeys that are completely their own…’ , words which also apply perfectly to the Coffin Sextet.
The Sound Lounge gig presented new and old tunes – opener ‘That Night’ was a reworking of a 20 year old piece – that the Sextet gave their all to. The frontline of Coffin, Nic Garbett on trumpet and alto man Dan Waples sang Coffin’s arrangements with real joy in the telling.
It is a while since I have heard such inventive arrangements for a three-horn frontline – smaller Jazz Messengers-size sections seem to play most lines in parallel or simple harmony, ignoring the possibilities that arrangers use when writing for big band horns. Coffin’s arrangemental trick-bag had the horns playing off each other in myriad combinations to astonishing effect, covering a wide range of emotive colour from rolling chorale to bristling car-horn dissonance.
The arrangements also smartly wove in the rhythm section of Gavin Ahearn, Brett Hirst and James Waples. Ahearn, moving between Rhodes and acoustic piano impressed on me yet again his almost big-C Classical logic. Hirst and Waples fortunately did what they always do – invent, underpin, drive, colour and have wicked fun with rhythm. During the 7/4 funk of ‘The Strength of Your Convictions’ I thought for a minute that Waples was going to bash his kit clear across the stage (and that was in his socks, sans shoes!). Once again, joy in the telling.
Coffin stood beaming like a proud papa – obviously thrilled with the lineup and the stars and colours they wrung from his charts. ‘Alright, Today We’re Gonna’ was written, Coffin explained, just as Mingus and Ellington had written for their own ensembles, as a piece for the band to have fun with. And they did, the logical Ahearn now grinding illogical Don Pullen-style clusters out of the polite Sound Lounge piano and the Waples brothers warming up the winter’s night with a heated horn-drums duet.
Sean Coffin’s tenor tone and approach fits the music perfectly. In his sound there are distinct echoes and cries from jazz history – the blues is prominent if abstracted – yet the same imagination that elevates his arrangements carries through to surprise us in his solos. Funky as fuck in ‘Booga Dunny’ (get it? ‘I’m a funny cat’, says SC), a soul-jazz boogaloo, he also plays a ballad such as ‘Quiet Thoughts’ with great depth – the coda cadenza was a composition in itself. His horn can bite but it can also kiss.
Closing piece, ‘New England Sketches’, flew through tempo and mood changes as if we were motoring through a landscape. The Sextet flexed their bebop muscles on the fast section, creating horizontally and vertically at a high level. I was reminded – not for the first time that night – that this Sextet was a cap-B Band, a rare mix of particular players, a six-headed entity that breathed and jumped and laughed together.
Sean Coffin promises recordings of this band within the next six months or so. I for one keenly look forward to them – but recordings are recordings. True Jazz is of the moment and the Coffin Sextet gave us some shining moments that night. Do not miss them when they play again.
The Sean Coffin Sextet is:
- Sean Coffin, tenor sax
- Dan Waples, alto sax
- Nic Garbett, trumpet
- Gavin Ahearn, piano
- Brett Hirst, bass
- James Waples, drums
Sean Coffin Sextet, Live @ Bohemian Grove, 28 April 2013
Sean Coffin (tenor/composer/arranger), Dan Waples (alto), Nic Garbett (trumpet), Gavin A’Hearn (rhodes), James Waples (drums) and Brett Hirst (bass)