Gian Slater, Barney McAll & Simon Barker

Foundry 616, November 12


Gian Slater. Photo supplied.

Singer Gian Slater was a fitting artist to round out this year’s Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, as her collaboration with pianist Barney McAll and drummer Simon Barker is all about opening up possibilities rather than closing them down in the pursuit of a specifically jazz-oriented idiom. As well as the scope that this transcendence of idiom afforded Slater, it allowed McAll and Barker to unleash their boundless creativity and singular rapport in dialogues where sparseness, unpredictability and even profundity were the hallmarks.

Meteorite and More For You presented a completely seamless integration of acoustic and electronic components, the latter coming from both Slater and McAll. More For You had Slater creating loops of ghostly, unintelligible whispers that were like half-remembered dreams, and that then became a haze through which her subsequent singing emerged.

Even without the electronics two striking juxtapositions infused the music with interesting tensions. One was between the ethereal, almost angelic purity of Slater’s atmospheric singing and the primality of Barker’s playing, with McAll bridging the two. The other was between the relative abstraction of the music and the more concrete meaning when Slater introduced lyrics.

On Maya #2 and Grey Is Ground Barker was given space to feature his singular ability to summon up drama that was as organic as some elemental force, akin to Prospero conjuring a tempest. The only standard, the Warren/Gordon ballad I Wish I Knew, was delivered as a voice/piano duet, with Slater catching the bittersweet wistfulness and McAll uncovering unfamiliar treasures buried in the harmonies.

Slater’s Wonderworld showed that even when her range was being stretched her voice retained its intrinsic sweetness and even a voluptuousness. Yet for all the beauty of her singing and the inventiveness of her conception Slater may yet attain another level when she casts caution to the wind and dares to bare her soul a little more. Her artistry will be truly complete when she flecks her music with some blood and lets us glimpse her most secret self.