The Studio, July 30


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Nick Garbett. Photo: Frank Crews.

It’s actually quite simple: just feelings expressed as sound. As long as that truism remains in place regardless of other layers of complexity, you have half a chance of making music. Nick Garbett has always understood this. Treating his trumpet as a palette of colours, he has looked to draw out the unusual tones and shades: the sounds that might have ambiguous emotional meanings, but meaning, nonetheless. Garbett, it seemed, was not obsessed with music so much as with connections.

That is why he has rightfully won the 2018 Freedman Jazz Fellowship. His quintet performed four of his compositions, and while I still consider him a finer improviser than composer, he also does the latter job with flair, and meanwhile his four players shared his aesthetic sensibility that music is only meaningful if each sound carries emotional significance.

Garbett began by duetting on the elegiac Wal’s Peace with Jonathan Zwartz, a bassist at the pinnacle of improvised musical expression in Sydney, and in that and each subsequent solo the trumpeter displayed his acute instincts for colouristic variation and contrast in maximising a given melodic line’s potential. Further enhancing his vision was the jack-in-a-box vibrancy of alto saxophonist Peter Farrar, the distinctively slippery and haunting playing of pianist Danny Pliner and the barrage of surprises supplied by drummer Finn Ryan.

A worthy winner, Garbett will use the Freedman Foundation’s $20,000 prize to further his touring and recording career, notably in Europe. A performance like the one presented here would translate favourably to any stage.

Adelaide drummer Angus Mason led a trio with bassist Marty Holoubek and tenor saxophonist Chris Soole. While cross-fertilization between Sydney and Melbourne players is now routine, Adelaide remains an enigmatic outpost, and so it was a particular pleasure encounter the exceptional Soole, a saxophonist utterly devoid of affectation, who generates a broad, warm sound, and plays with consummate conviction and economy.

The third finalist was Carl Morgan, a gifted guitarist whose praises I have often sung, but whose conception seemed a little undercooked on this night.

While the judges (Judy Bailey, Matt Keegan and Stuart Vandegraaff) deliberated, Tal Cohen presented a solo piano recital of singular verve, and told us that winning the Freedman Jazz Fellowship in 2015 had transformed his career. Nick Garbett deserves to enjoy a similar experience.