By John Hardaker
In an age of globe-straddling events many smaller explosions go off unnoticed.
One such little ‘Boom’ is the recent release of the Andrea Keller Quartet’s Greatest Hits, which signals another significant (and just a little sad) event: that of the coming to an end of the much-loved AKQ after seventeen years.
The album contains twelve tracks drawn from the Quartet’s five albums released from 2001 onwards, the albums winning various ARIA and Bell Awards and a sack of sundry nominations. The personnel across all five is a joy in itself, the morphing Quartet at times having Phil Slater, Shannon Barnett, Steve Magnusson and Gian Slater along for the wave ride of Keller’s startling compositions, as well as the AKQ constants, trumpeter Eugene Ball and tenor Ian Whitehurst.
Bookended by compositions from 2001’s Thirteen Sketches (the impressionistic ‘That Day’) and 2013’s Wave Rider (‘Illuminate’, a string-driven nature hymn), Greatest Hits spans a breathtaking stylistic range, yet never loses Keller’s singular vision.
The same gentle humour that named this collection Greatest Hits also lights up the T. Monk-ish lopsided rush of ‘Blue-Arsed Fly’ (Whitehurst absolutely understanding where Keller’s mind is coming from here, his solo a delight) and beams upon the Gian Slater led ‘Twenty Ten’ (twists and turns in the rhythm here, like crossing winter currents just below the surface of a summer river).
Keller’s harmonic sense throughout seems to have its own logic, following its path to places, once arrived at, are just where we want to be. Like all valid jazz writing, her compositional language seems to suit the soloists just fine, too – Ball’s trumpet follows and plays around the smoothly unpredictable chord shifts of ‘Under The Birch Tree’ (and, next, Keller’s own solo makes sense of it all, as of course it should). Phil Slater’s playing across the astonishing harmonic backdrop of ‘The Rain Outside’ is Pollock-like, all strings and knots.
There is blues (2007’s ‘Broken’) and Balkan Dixeland from 2009 (‘Soup Tin Baby’) and lush Shoalhaven dreaming (‘From Nature’s Fabric’). There is Latin, tastes of Europe and of Uluru, underwater sunlight and there are smiles and some deep hurt.
Greatest Hits stands on its own, despite the span of time it holds. Yet it should be seen as a door to the five superb, highly individualistic AKQ albums it samples – Thirteen Sketches (2001), Angels & Rascals (2004), Little Claps (2007), Galumphing ‘Round the Nation (2010) and Wave Rider (2013).
The AKQ legacy is a rich one. Australian jazz is blessed to have it.