Verbrugghen Hall, June 5


It’s a quicksilver quality, like light playing on water, or water dashing between rocks: the sound of motion and constant flux. Where most music and even most jazz settles into moods or patterns, this defied predictability because the drummer kept reinventing his statement of the rhythms, bar by bar.

That drummer was Eric Harland, who joins the likes of Jo Jones, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette as one of jazz’s greats behind the kit. In such company musicality, irresistible propulsion and a personalised sound are givens. Harland’s particular hallmarks are his originality (and sometimes considerable humour) in breaking up the rhythms, and a supreme command of texture and dynamics.

Trio Grande. Photos: Anthony Browell.

That dynamic control was critical in allowing this finale of the Sydney Con Jazz Festival to function in Verbrugghen Hall’s brittle acoustics. Most drummers, in playing softly, lose something of their instrument’s timbre, but Harland has such sophisticated touch that you were almost unaware just how gently he was playing most of the time, the sounds still being so full and fat.

You’d also never have guessed he was working with alto saxophonist Will Vinson and guitarist Gilad Hekselman’s Trio Grande for the first time (the band’s usual drummer being the comparable Antonio Sanchez): the performance was as fluent as if they’d been together for years. That was partly thanks to Hekselman and Vinson sharing this liquid quality that Harland generates; a quality built into some of their compositions, including Hekselman’s African-flavoured Elli Yeled Tov, which eschewed discrete solos in favour of three-way dialogues and shifting foregrounds and backgrounds. Vinson’s slow, journeying Oberkampf had the guitar crying like a gull over the composer’s ostinato on electric piano, and Hekselman’s Scoville rode on a swampy, lurching groove reminiscent John Scofield, to whom the piece pays tribute. After an effects-laden alto solo and singing guitar foray, Harland delighted in tying twists and knots of his own.

Prior to Trio Grande, Barney McAll’s enthralling solo piano set – almost a brief history of jazz – included Mike Nock’s elegiac Ondas.