Barney McAll is in the middle of a tour that takes in Auckland (a trio gig), Wellington (solo piano) Brisbane (solo piano and Julien Wilson Quartet), Melbourne and Sydney (Julien Wilson Quartet). He’ll also be involved in a number of recording projects while in Australia.
Now based in New York, Barney maintains strong links with this part of the world, as a member of bands such as the Julien Wilson Quartet – the quartet CD This is Always won an unprecedented three Bell awards in 2014 – and the Jonathan Zwartz band.
Life in New York is extremely busy. ‘Yesterday I played an aria with an opera singer, and then I played all this string quartet music for a wedding, and then I played some jazz stuff and then some techno stuff… all in the same day. The way I have to work here has introduced me a whole lot of music that I now draw on – though I’d love more time to just work on my own projects.’
In terms of his own projects, he will be recording a new record for ABC Records with trio, quartet and larger pieces on this visit. The band includes Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Simon Barker (drums), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Julien Wilson (sax), James Greening (trombone) plus an alto saxophone player and a percussionist.
‘I’m also getting close to finishing the second Graft album,’ he says. ‘It’s coming together as a protest album with heavily produced pop songs. The lyrics are a protest against the issues that concern me – you know, my whole trip.’
He has been working on this for nearly two and a half years. ‘I’ve been able to record with some fantastic musicians for the album and as these pieces come together, it’s feeling really powerful, because it’s also social commentary. I’ve never really achieved that before. It’s always been a more intangible abstraction.’
He mentions the Russell Brand interview with Jeremy Paxman. ‘He [Brand] is so angry and it inspired me.’
Daniel Merriweather will be singing on the album, as is Gian Slater. ‘And when I’m down in Australia I’ll be recording the rest of the choir for it too.’
It’s different to the first Graft. ‘The first one was through-composed and kind of bitsy, and a bit too earnest. But this is straight, ‘in your face’, pop music / punk / hard core electro pop.’
He says this approach is a better vehicle for rage, making a wider audience possible, packaging the message in a palatable way. ‘It’s a kind of Trojan horse, because it’s grounded in the pop world. I don’t think there are currently many protest albums and I want to make one.
‘It could get me into trouble. One song is called ‘Facebook killed the arts’. I’ve got Edward Snowden quotes and his voice.
‘It feels important to me. People may not get it, but it feels important to try and make sense of it all with what I do – in a tangible way, as a musician.’
McAll returns regularly to Australia and has appeared at festivals and on a number of local recordings over the past few years. Asked about his ongoing connection, he says it’s actually ‘a connection to music itself’.
‘I went to school with Stephen Magnusson, I’ve been playing with Jonathan Zwartz since the late ’80s; Mike Nock is a very important figure to keep my feet on the ground and into galactic space at the same time. I love playing with Allan Browne, and someone like Paul Grabowsky is a such an important encouraging figure just by doing what he does. And then there are all the people who are making music that is just as vital, if not more vital than what you can find here; people like Andrea Keller, Chris Abrahams…’
Hear Barney with the Julien Wilson Quartet while he’s in Australia
June 6th – Brisbane International Jazz Festival – McAll Solo + Julien Wilson Quartet
June 7th – Melbourne International Jazz Festival – The Malthouse 9pm, double bill with Mike Nock/Laurence Pike
June 13th The Sound Lounge for SIMA – Sydney 8pm
June 14th Live at The Village – Springwood, Blue Mountains 8pm