Emma Pask Quartet

The Joan, July 26

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Emma Pask

There’s one thing no one can deny about Emma Pask: she knows how to put together a band. In guitarist James Muller, bassist Phil Stack and drummer Tim Firth she had three of the best in the land, and was an appropriately generous leader, giving them ample scope to shine and just occasionally veer into more adventurous territory beyond her own well-cultivated mainstream patch of jazz.

But within this patch Pask has most of the qualities to ensure she is not the junior member of her own band. As she showed on The Way You Look Tonight her phrasing is supple and sophisticated, her dynamic variation astute and her diction exceptional (which was needed on a lightning fast Crickets Sing For Anamaria). She also had another level to which she rose on Stardust, introducing a singular lightness against Muller’s glistening accompaniment. She made her voice bold’n’brassy for Hard-Hearted Hannah, offered some convincing scatting on Devil May Care, and generated increased potency when she became more spare in a duet with Stack on Afro Blue.

On occasion her voice could be harsh, not helped by it being overly loud in the mix. But a much bigger flaw was that she never drew blood: not once did a line of a lyric spear your heart or even make you catch your breath. She shied from digging beneath surfaces, preferring to sprinkle abundant and engaging charm at every turn.

The ultimate highlight was Stack’s dramatic feature on Afro Blue, which fed on a virtuosity deeply earthed in the needs of the music: qualities present in all that he played.

It was a pleasure to hear Muller again, who is mostly resident in Adelaide these days. He had his guitar howling on Hannah over a white-water rhythm section, flying on Anamaria and reaching for the stars on a very loose and swinging On the Sunny Side of the Street, when the all four sounded at their best.