Stu Hunter: The Migration

Q Theatre, July 30


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Stu Hunter. Photo supplied.

When Stu Hunter launched his third long-form jazz composition, The Migration, at the 2016 Sydney Festival it was bedevilled by such severe sound problems as thwarted a true evaluation. By contrast the exemplary sound at the Q Theatre allowed everyone in the 10-piece ensemble to be heard with near-perfect clarity. As a consequence the work, which has evolved significantly since it was recorded, emerged as triumph more than worthy of taking its place beside Hunters brilliant previous suites.

The success of most long-form performance pieces, whether films, plays, ballets or music compositions, is substantially defined by how the beginning sets up the journey and how the ending justifies it. This suite’s opening Dawn Chorus fulfilled its function admirably, being replete with intrigue, promise and unanswered questions. Oneiric horn lines and the bird-like calls of Julien Wilson’s bass clarinet gave way to a jerky groove from bassist Cameron Undy and drummer Simon Barker and squalls from Wilson’s tenor saxophone, immediately establishing parameters both atmospheric and dramatic.

It also set up Hunter’s essential tenet of the piece, as reflected in the title: the music, ranging from free-time collective improvisation to songs, meaty grooves and Hunter’s pensive solo piano, was always in motion, merging idioms and travelling restlessly between ideas and moods. There was no stasis.

Whether Afro-tinged, funky or more exotic, the grooves were as infectious as a fever, over which the horn lines and solos often built via call-and-response motifs. The proportion of improvising seems to have grown since its first airing, providing greater scope to relish the artistry of Hunter, Wilson, Undy, Barker, Matt Keegan (saxophones), Phil Slater (trumpet), James Greening (assorted brass), Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and Declan Kelly (percussion). Singer Tina Harrod, meanwhile, tore up the work’s three songs, especially the super-funky Mdu Moonshine.

And the pay-off at the end? That was the scything, Turkish-flavoured Land of Gypsies, a piece with a thrilling, slightly dangerous edge of harmonic madness. Eighty minutes had flown by.