Album review: Mozaic (Hammerhead) by John Clare

Review by John Clare

Launch this Wednesday!

Mozaic will be launched on Wed Aug 13 at Venue 505, 280 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills.
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Mozaic-Hammerhead-coverWe can’t always assume that we are right when we speculate on the self-identity of people who play or listen to the various idioms of music. But that doesn’t stop us. Alright, but we should also realise that self-identification by players of the same idiom might be different in different countries. The music here – some of it recently composed and some of it interpretations of pieces by such as Wayne Shorter, Eddie Henderson, Cedar Walton, Oliver Nelson, Pat Metheny etc – covers hard bop, post-bop, funky jazz (where the time is often in eight or sixteen rather than four), and it seemed to project self-identification with the people and even the ghetto yet also a certain self-aware sophistication. It had a punch, an exciting soulful attack, yet also a certain cool self-containment.

When I lived in London from 1965 to about 1968 it was often played by Cockneys. Men of the people, yes; but also not to be condescended to – not if you didn’t want a very smart, witty and probably very educated comeback.

I say ‘seemed’ when all I can say definitely is that the sophisticated and cool was subtly blended with the tough, the masculine and the directly emotional. It was played frequently when I was in London, but its origins were in the mid-1950s to late 1960s. Of course some would say that there was too much of it being played publicly in Australia in the 70s and 80s by students (it was at the basis of much teaching and had not been superseded in terms of sophistication and technical mastery). Today I think we can forget all that and discuss this music for what it is.

Many of my favourite albums lie within or adjacent to this spectrum. As it happens I have a superb recording of the title tune (by Cedar Walton ) from a 1961 Clifford Jordan album, Starting Time, with some of my favourite players, including Walton himself, tenor player Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, bassist Wilbur Ware, drummer Albert heath and so on. This is one of many benchmark recordings in these idioms with which I can compare the local project. I can say confidently that the Hammerhead expression of this very interesting music stands up very well indeed and offers, quite vividly, many of the satisfactions a fan might seek here.

Pianist Tim Bruer has give us a classic in the genre, albeit a brand new one, in the first track. It stands up straight and marches with trumpet blazing, swings lithely with sharp cymbal smash accents, yet also floats reflectively. This is music that shifts and moves organically. In the second track Jason Bruer has given us another a brisk waltz with brushed cymbals whisking swiftly over the somewhat languorous 3/4 and both solos and ensembles alternating bright, hard radiations with moments of cool introspection.

Of course there is no other bassist like Wilber Ware or drummer like Albert Heath – to refer back to my Clifford Jordan album – but bassist Matt Gruebner and drummer Duncan Archibald here handle the dynamics and time deftly and dynamically. I have enjoyed Duncan’s playing for many years and it is very good to hear him.

Trumpeter Ray Cassar is new to me, and quite a surprise. With a brilliant, sharp, clean, but warmly rounded tone, he achieves that combination of precise abstract scalar patterns laced through with lyricism and bluesiness that is one of the characteristics of this idiom that has always intrigued me. When I tried to play it many, many years ago I sounded as if I was playing baroque music sloppily. Cassar’s technique allows him to release some wide-ranging and powerful star bursts that light up the stratosphere. His solo on the Pat Metheny tune is a gem. Leader Jason Bruer is also well known to me and here he produces some fine solos in which he combines angular probes with running, swinging fluency. Deliberate hesitancy with fluent release. Thought and motion. This is a singular characteristic of jazz that I love.

When I listen to music that has an important place in history I sometimes gaze out the window and feel the here and now more intensely, while also feeling myself in the time when this particular style emerged. I do the same with Haydn, Ornette Coleman and the Beatles. I’m not sure why, but it makes you feel very alive.

Right now I have an horrific flu – along with about two thirds of Sydney – and it is a tribute to this fine project that it has made me feel good, while also feeling pretty ghastly. You might know what I mean.


Jason Bruer – tenor & alto saxphone
Ray Cassar – trumpet and flugel horn
Andrew Robertson – alto& baritone saxophones and flute
Duncan Archibald – drums
Tim Bruer – piano
Matt Gruebner – double bass


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Oh, don’t take any notice of the bio or related recordings in iTunes. This Hammerhead has been mixed up with another Hammerhead of a completely different sort.

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