Freedman Jazz 2016

The Studio, August 1


Freed res
James McLean. Photo: Karen Steains.

The three finalists for this year’s Freedman Jazz Fellowship shared a keen feel for making silence as profound a musical ingredient as any notes. The compositions of pianists Joseph O’Connor and Luke Sweeting and drummer James McLean all used space to enhance moods and germinate drama. In the event McLean won the Freedman Foundation’s $20,000 prize and studio time from the ABC.

Since emerging in Melbourne a few years ago McLean has been clearly intent upon expanding the options available to his art. His set included two very different pieces for solo drum-kit. Every Sunday It Rains was an enchanting exercise in rests and resonance, and the second merged Senegalese rhythms, melodic tom-tom lines and metric modulation. Two other works were performed with guitarist Alistair McLean and bassist Christopher Hale. Uhuru (Freedom in Swahili) combined accelerating rhythmic puzzles with searing guitar, while the drifting New Egypt was more mysterious, increasing in intensity but not density.

As good as McLean’s set was, his conception sounded like a work in progress compared with Luke Sweeting’s, a collaboration with trumpeter Reuben Lewis and drummer James Waples. This was the night’s most emotionally charged music, while still incorporating a sophisticated use of space and the minimum notes to make the music work. Sweeting presented a suite-like set in which all elements were in constant flux. Lewis’s trumpet playing initially consisted of no more than breath and clicking valves, which built into plaintive cries against swelling piano and drums. The trumpet then retained this anguished edge through to the desolate conclusion, while Sweeting and Waples varied the context. Always the music seemed wonderfully organic in conception and execution, and Sweeting’s name is certainly one to remember.

The tone for the evening was set by O’Connor’s drifting, hypnotic Accidental Hipster, which seemed to have as many holes as notes, and was performed with bassist Marty Holoubeck and McLean on drums. The rest of O’Connor’s performance was strong enough to place this among the most consistently high-quality Freedman finals.