Free Running, Jazzgroove Records
Richard Maegraith Band
Review by John Clare
Some of the players in Richard Maegraith’s most excellent band are Christian and unafraid to confess it, to use the lingo. They are good advertisements for their faith, because they are all very nice people and not given to preaching. I must ‘confess’ that I heard nothing about religion at home, but experienced a weekly religious instruction period at Maroubra Bay Public School (established 1928), then somewhat less often at Sydney High. My friends were also without faith and so, as far as I know, were their parents. Our heaven was right beside us in the swamp and down the road at the beach and the cliffs, but we did enjoy studying the eccentricities of the ministers (probably Anglican). One plummy and rather fey Englishman was much taken by the missionaries, who sailed… ‘Up around the islands… up around the islands…’ He described their progress with sweeps and spirals of his hands… up around the islands, up around the islands… as if he was trying to hypnotise us. Indeed we could give a very good impression of hypnotic trance. The room would become unnervingly still, to the point where he sometimes stopped and studied us closely for a moment; then, shrugging his shoulders faintly, would continue weaving his spell.
What could be better than that? I am entirely against those godless killjoys who would have these periods abolished in schools!
Enough theology. That a Christian element or faction has appeared in jazz is not surprising. There was once an Islamic movement in black American jazz, notwithstanding the fact that Moslems were amongst the main slave traders. Also, John Coltrane’s pantheistic beliefs were expressed in albums such as A Love Supreme. Nor is it surprising that the jazz Christians are a long way, stylistically, from Hillsong. No swaying and windscreen-wiping the sky here. The songs on this CD sound at first like love songs, though one could read them in the same spirit as Dante’s love for Beatrice – an allegory for his love of Christ. And there are odd formulations, as for instance ‘You were given her to love and live in unity’. But let us finally turn to what emerges from the speakers.
Distinctive textures are established immediately as Kristin Berardi’s vocalese is tracked by Gary Daley’s accordion in unison harmony and the two are joined in a lower line by Maegraith’s tenor saxophone. Above the fuller tones of voice and horn the accordion’s zinging thin buzz is like a sine wave oscillator. The melodic and rhythmic dance is blithe and engaging with Jonathan Zwartz’s bass and Tim Firth’s drums punctuating with more aggressive bumps, punches, eruptions and cymbal smashes, pushing it all to a higher level of intensity as Maegraith’s solo begins. These solos get stronger and stronger and this is what I would like to talk about because opportunities to draw attention to Maegraith’s remarkable tenor playing do not arise often.
His sound is dark and it has a grain and an edge, except when he plays in a soft burble or croon. It can bark and crack with a brittle edge, yet all of it is done with tone, with timbre. His lines are full of invention, expressed in melody and in abstract shapes. Talent and good feeling expressed at this level seem God-given, specially to me right now.
On track four (‘The Journey’) his solo is a sustained, controlled catharsis of sound; black as pitch, brittle and hard as obsidian. He is up and running, a feeling that is jazz at its best; fleeing or in pursuit. With intent either way. Due to circumstances some will know about, I was in need of this. Whatever else you may hear in this playing – and there is much – this is the sound of sincerity.
Richard Maegraith, sax
Kristin Berardi, voice
Jonathan Zwartz, bass
Garry Daley, accordion and electric keyboard
Tim Firth, drums
‘The Journey’. Purchase to support original improvised music 🙂
John Clare blogs. Read more of his writing