Monash Art Ensemble (Australian Art Orchestra & Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music)
THIS comprehensive album consists of two complete works composed and conducted by Paul Grabowsky: a 10-part suite of Variations, based on a theme by Marin Marais (16561728) and Tall Tales, a piece in three movements.
A melody by gamba virtuoso Marais, D'un Gout Etranger (In a Strange Style), often described as a culmination in French baroque chamber music, has been brilliantly reworked in contemporary form by Grabowsky. Over an introductory wash of Mitch Mollison's electronics, Eugene Ball's trumpet, then James Macaulay's trombone announce the theme.
Eight extraordinary variations follow, incorporating elements of free jazz, contemporary improvisation, innovative voicings and musical genius. Each of these is inspired by a musical great, from Ennio Morricone to John Coltrane and JS Bach. Amazingly most of the solos are pre-written and all of the variations have an advanced, impressionistic 21st-century, sometimes dissonant, exploratory sound.
The second work, Tall Tales, is in three types of musical languages, the first, Ngukurr, Mon Amour, being inspired by manikay song forms of the Yolngu people. This piece alternates bursts of energy with quieter periods, featuring the dazzling work of Erkki Veltheim on five-string electric violin and the outstanding piano of Joe O'Connor. The second part evokes the complex harmonics of Arnold Schoenberg with a marvellous alto solo from Lachlan Davidson, completely notated, and one totally improvised by Scott Tinkler's ceaselessly inventive trumpet.
The final track, Wacky, Zany, Madcap is a 10-minute wild ride with various solos, notably by Tony Hicks on tenor.
Rating: 5 stars
To purchase the CD from the Jazzhead Records website please refer to http://jazzheadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/monash-art-ensemble