Review by John Hardaker
Guitarist and composer Jessica Green saved me.
Depressed after listening through a covermount CD that came with a recent Blues magazine, her new album Tinkly Tinkly put a big goofy grin right across my face. (Now, I love the Blues dearly but it all is starting to sound the same – new Blues artists seem so scared of losing market share they opt for the tiresomely obvious and the well-worn over new ideas. Can this be the same music that is stamped with the character of great innovators such as Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker?)
Wearily replacing the covermount with Tinkly Tinkly I was sat straight up by the loping township jive of album opener ‘Bamako Youth’. For the next 11:12 I followed the track through chirpy sax motif, tough fusion solo from Green, a Paul Simon-ish vocal section (again by Green – great lyric!) and a coda of massed horns and Matt Keegan’s snarling outro solo. Unlike the drab Blues-by-numbers that had brought me down, this track told a story and took me willingly along its dusty African road.
The next track ‘Orange Rock Song’ was equally thrilling in its twists and turns, its unexpected rhythms, horn voicings and snaky riffs. Unlike the Blues-under-glass, this track and every one that followed showed Green and her band – the aptly named Bright Sparks – willing to experiment, take chances and strike out for the unknown.
I hear this a lot now in Australian jazz: younger players such as The Alcohotlicks, Aaron Flower, Tim Willis in Melbourne and anyone named Hauptmann (James and Zoe are two of the Bright Sparks on this album) taking the freedom and chops of Jazz as a starting point and filtering it through the kaleidoscopic lenses of rock, electronica, bluegrass, trip- and hip-hop. These mongrel musics – as in nature – cannot help but strengthen and invigorate the music nominally called Jazz.
The title track ‘Tinkly Tinkly’ is a good case. Starting with percussionist Bree van Reyk’s glockenspiel-like intro, a building eighth-note lattice of harmony is built until a heavy guitar solo from Green pushes the tune over its tipping point into a jabbing 6/8 riff that could be a cousin of Weather Report’s ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’. It all hangs beautifully together in a deceptively simple manner, but you are always aware there is a shrewd compositional mind behind it.
The moody blues of ‘The Alias’ transforming into a lop-sided oom-pah under Dan Junor’s alto solo; the ambience and snaggle of ‘Rothko’ (I could see the painter’s glowing colours at times here); the ominous leaden riff of ‘Postcard for Alice’ reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s ‘Filthy Habits’ leading into a sprightly latin 6/8 under Simon Ferenci’s spitting trumpet and back again; the hilarious high-spirits of party-jam ‘Dear Mr Cave’; transformation, play, smart decisions, seeking and finding – wonderful stuff from a bright spark.
Thanks for saving me, Ms Green, from a fate worse than deaf.
Jess Green – guitar, vocals
Bree van Reyk – vibes, percussion, drums
Zoe Hauptmann – bass
Evan Mannell – drums
James Hauptmann – drums
Matt Keegan – tenor sax
Dan Junor – alto sax
John Hibbard – trombone
Simon Ferenci – trumpet
- CD Launch Saturday 16 February at The Sound Lounge
- More information about Tinkly Tinkly on AustralianJazz.net
- Tinkly Tinkly on Bandcamp
- Jess Green on the web: jessgreen.com.au
- Facebook www.facebook.com/JessGreenMusic
Q&A with Jess Green
Prior to posting this review John Hardaker asked Jessica Green a few short questions. Here are her responses:
1. You have recently completed your new album Tinkly Tinkly. What was the moment that told you now was the time to record?
Well the first session was 4 years ago, so it’s hard to actually remember! This project is way overdue really, we’ve had a bunch of new good tunes kicking around for ages, more appropriately the question might be ‘when did I know it was time to release’ which was having a good tax return to fund it!!
2. Jazz nowadays – especially releases by younger players – seems to really stretch the genre thing. Tinkly Tinkly has heavy Zappa-esque rock grooves quite happily cheek-by-jowl with New Orleans joyful blues; what is it that you enjoy about mashing (and even utterly ignoring) genre divides?
Well I suppose it’s difficult for me NOT to mash up. This is how I hear music. I am heavily influenced by Zappa (I played in Sydney Zappa band Petulant Frenzy for a year) but also I’ve grown up listening to so much different music. I like to tell a story that leads the listener to unexpected places.
3. Your Bright Sparks really are quite a cast of the best and the brightest – how do you settle on your players?
Well this band had been around for a while. I loved their originality and talent right from the beginning, and at that time I was relying on recommendations. I’m just lucky they keep agreeing to play with the group!
What makes a lot of the songs work is their unique personalities coming through, I’ve always aspired to this sort of band, right from first hearing and reading about the way Duke Ellington worked. He wrote for each player.
4. As a guitar player myself, I am always interested in what makes a player settle on a particular weapon of choice. You seem to have your beautiful Telecaster Thinline in every pic i have seen of you – why the Tele Thinline?
The Thinline was a recommendation from James Muller. I was trying to find a lighter guitar and when I tried this one I was hooked!
It’s such a versatile guitar which suits my music. It can be warm as well as have lots of bite!
5. What are your thoughts on jazz on Australia today?
Seems pretty healthy to me! There’s a lot if experimentation but also it’s great to see a lot if younger players embracing some of the earlier styles of jazz and blues and making it their own.
6. What are your thoughts on today’s music outside of jazz?
Mmm I do listen to a lot of cross over indie pop/rock. I love what bands like St Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear are doing and also groups that are under the New Music banner. Particularly in Australia there is some really interesting music being made.