Two stellar groups perform for the closing night of the Perth International Jazz Festival. Rosalind Appleby observes the rich contrasts between the two.
‘Tom O’Halloran Trio’ and ‘Oh/Almazan Duo’, Perth International Jazz Festival ·
The Rechabite, 8 November 2020 ·
The Perth International Jazz Festival culminated on Sunday evening with a performance by featured artists Linda May Han Oh and Fabian Almazan preceded by a showcase of the latest ideas coming from the Perth-based Tom O’Halloran Trio. It was fascinating to observe the differences between the two (both stellar) groups; the forthright international artists alongside the more introspective local group.
The sneak peek at O’Halloran Trio’s new album Axiom (to be released in 2021) provided an absorbing hour of music. Over the years O’Halloran has earned a reputation for a thoughtful compositional voice and subtle piano playing, underpinned by an undercurrent of a restlessness. In the two albums the Trio has released to date this this style has been amplified by the intuitive contributions of Pete Jeavons on bass and Daniel Susnjar on drums.
The first piece of the night, “Hectic”, confirmed that this searching musical curiosity remains a firm part of the Trio’s style. “Hectic” has an intangible groove constantly interrupting itself, creating a Chick Corea-like collage of driving rhythmic patterns and lyricism (some of the sweetest melodies of the night came from this piece). O’Halloran is a master at creating moods, but he doesn’t linger long. He’s also not afraid of understatement, moving into the upper register of the piano to twinkle against a wash of cymbals. Susnjar’s alertness as he watched, listening and responded (often all in the same moment), meant the drums took on the role of architect for this song, marking its corners, sculpting its peaks and troughs.
It was a delight to watch the conversational interplay between the three musicians. They chased each other through the tangled, meandering “Cascade” and channelled a melancholic sound world in “Elegy”, with discordant chords over pedal notes, coloured by dark percussion sounds from mallets on the toms and snare.
Echoes of O’Halloran’s fascination with Messiaen (he has a masters in classical music composition) could be heard in chromatic spread chords, while there was a Chopinesque silkiness in “Shimmer”, matched by Jeavons’ delicately lyrical bass solo. The rollicking end to “Shimmer” confirmed these boys know how to groove, and they rode the crest of the wave all the way home
An hour later the Cuban/American pianist Fabian Almanaz stepped up to the Yamaha, another pianist who integrates jazz and art music techniques, although in very different way. Almanaz’s concern for environmental justice permeates his work and he also explores the integration of electronics.
Almazan seemed to appreciate that the home crowd were perhaps more interested in Linda May Han Oh, a graduate from the WA Academy of Performing ARts who has been based overseas for the last 15 years (and accumulated serious kudos playing with the likes of Pat Metheny, Joe Levano). Almazan paid attentive tribute to his “absolutely incredible” wife as the duo performed a selection of their own compositions.
Almazan favours a bright piano sound and is a forthright communicator, backed by formidable piano technique. His pieces, despite being built from repetition and drones of electronics, had a driving forward momentum. The more lullaby feel to “Hacia el Aire” (“Towards the Air”) was accentuated by Oh’s beautiful working of the melody on double bass, over a subtle electric backwash of sound. In fact this piece is an elegy for street kids, but this was only apparent when Almazan introduced the pieces retrospectively. His extra-musical themes were more overt in “The Poets”, which included a field recording of Cuban poet El Macagüero de Pinar, with recorded percussion lending a layer of funk.
As a duo Almazan and Oh worked hard to fill the gaps our ears expect drums/guitar/horns to fill. This was particularly apparent in the pared back version of Metheny’s “You Are”, with both piano and bass moving between rhythmic and melodic roles, and Oh contributing on vocals. Oh’s agility on the double bass was striking, easily matching the dexterity of Almazan on piano as she delivered wide-ranging melodies shaped with immense artistry. Even so it didn’t quite achieve the slow glorious build this piece has in Metheny’s original version.
Both players supplemented on synthesisers in Oh’s composition “Zenith”, and electronically manipulated the sounds of their acoustic instruments. The slow-moving score unfolded with a trance-like feel. In the more driving “The Noise of Us” the blistering technique of both players was on full display, although again I missed the way a drummer lifts this piece to the next level of intensity. Having said that, it was supremely special to hear these two artists in the clean and uncluttered space of a duo where their artistry could be appreciated.
Pictured top: Fabian Almazan watches Linda May Han Oh work her magic on bass. Photo: Mark Francesca