Memory of Elements – Now Noise (2016)

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Memory of Elements, a six-piece ensemble from Australia, have released Now Noise – a substantial sophomore release featuring compositions from pianist Tom O’Halloran.

O’Halloran leads his own jazz piano trio, conducts, composes and plays synthesizers and guitar, as well as piano. Now Noise finds Tom paired with Jamie Oehlers (saxes), Carl Mackey (saxes), Simon Jeans (guitar), Ben Vanderwal (drums) and Pete Jeavons (bass).

They open the album with “Someone Remembered,” beginning with a simple piano introduction over which the rhythm section sets a beat before the saxes enter with a lovely, lilting theme – interlacing neatly with the piano chords, which now take a slightly off beat time meter, pulling back on the fourth beat creating an interesting interlacing of the themes. Then, a lovely section with each instrument following its own time meter for a brief period, before the sax soars and stretches out over the top. And stretch it does, with some impressive work, easing up and down, creating waves of sound. There is also a really clever piano solo which captures many different styles within it. The lovely counterpoint playing of the two saxes in places is beautiful. A great opener.

“Soundcheck Sketches” is introduced by piano and cymbal, setting the rhythm before the piano rises up and over the percussion and the sax begins – gently first, then with more strength. Fugue-like, more sounds are added until eventually the piece is full, textured and noise-some. An almost clockwork rhythm is set with each instrument taking part of the tick-tock beat set up and maintained by the percussion. And so it goes, following what feels like a familiar structure until the military beat of the drums is distinct over the rest. Then there is an improvised section, lots of counter rhythms and all over the beat which rarely wavers until a piano, bowed bass and sax section before the rhythm is picked up once more and off we go again. Lovely structure and intriguing listening.

“Morph” is almost unsettling because the rhythms established never quite come together or settle in the first part. Then the guitar comes in with its own patterns and the speed picks up, developing the guitar part over the other instruments. Guitar and sax enter into a dialogue of extreme scale progressions, before it settles again. A bitty piece with an apt title, as it chops and changes a fair bit but musically interesting. It is all slowed down before a piano-led section closes out the number. “Knotty” has a piano introduction and turns into a busy little number. Everyone in Memory of Elements is busy busy, with lots of different rhythms and themes – including a lovely staccato chord section from the piano which is rhythmically counterpointed by the sax. A dexterous piano solo is followed by a very rhythmic sax solo from Carl Mackey.

“Two Faced” is clever and very intriguing with the two rhythms going on, the interception and conversations which occur seemingly at random between the instruments – usually two at a time, which is clever and subtle. It is hard to settle listening to this one, due to the opposites going on but an interesting track. Some great sax and piano work over steady, solid bass, guitar and drums this track has a little for everybody. “Cinch” opens with drum, piano and bass, setting up the rhythm which prevails the entire track. The saxes take the theme, play with it, swap and change, talk, mix it up a bit and the whole number develops into almost a classic jazz number – but never quite. What Memory of Elements does is keep it theirs, use the progressions, add little interceptions and tweak the chords to make something quite unique. A great track and possibly the highlight of Now Noise.

“Close” is a freer number, with all the instruments playing around the chords, rhythms and each other. A dolorous rhythms is set up, which is rescued just before you reach for the forward button by the introduction of new patterns and rhythms which are worked up and around, led by some impressive piano. It closes with some interesting sax and an almost improvised feel – but not quite. “Plot Branching” closes Now Noise, and begins with some tricky, trippy drum rhythms, first fast then slow, almost bluesy over which the piano picks up the trippy rhythm. Then it too slows and the percussion and piano unite in creating a slow rhythm, before the theme develops on sax. From then on, it takes a life of its own – first slow, then fast, then simple, then intricate. A lovely number with each member of Memory of Elements contributing heavily in terms of musical development, ideas, solo and support.

Credit contributors like Jamie Oehlers. One of Australia’s leading jazz players, he regularly tours and takes part in festivals both in Australia and world-wide. He has shared the stage with musicians including Charlie Haden, Eric Harland, Reuben Rogers, Robert Hurst, Ari Hoenig and Aaron Goldberg. In 2003, he won the prestigious World Saxophone competition at Notreux and in 2005-07 won Best Jazz category of the Australian Jazz Musician of the year awards (Bell Awards). In 2007, he was named Australian Jazz Musician of the Year. He records regularly and is coordinator of jazz studies at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

Meanwhile, Simon Jeans was a finalist in the 2007 National Jazz Awards, and has been in several groups including thumpR. Pete Jeavons performs mainly in the Perth area with different groups, presented on the radio and performs different styles – but mainly jazz. Carl Mackey has played with fellow musicians such as bass player Sam Anning and Lionel Hampton. He has supported Ray Charles, James Brown and Harry Connick Jr., among others. He was a finalist for the prestigious Freedman Fellowship in 2007, and performed performing at the Villa Celimontana Festival in Rome (2006) and Ronnie Scott’s in London (2012). he has toured New York, Europe, India, Cambodia and leads his own quartet. He also lectures at the at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

Ben Vanderwal is from Perth but has spent time in New York and Melbourne and performed around the world including tours of the U.K., France, Ireland, India, the U.S.A., China, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines. Japan, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Thailand. He has played with John Scofield, Charlie Haden, Howard Levey, Madeleine Peyroux, James Morrison, Chris Potter, Lionel Rose, David Campbell, Nigel Kennedy and Tim Minchin to name just a few – and has been on more than 30 recordings with a wide variety of artists. He has been a musician on albums that won the Bell award for best Australian album (2007), the Australian Independent RDKHA (AIR) award for best independent Jazz release (2008) and the ABC limelight award for best Jazz album (2010).

Tom O’Halloran recently played with acclaimed bassist Robert Hurst, and was nominated for a 2012 APRA Australian Art Music award. He was a finalist in the 2011 Freedman Foundation Jazz Fellowship, where he was featured at the Sydney Opera House and has toured overseas including playing at many festivals. His 2009 album We Happy Few (Jazgroove) won the 2009 Australian Broadcasting Corporation Limelight Magazine award for best jazz achievement.

O’Halloran tours regularly with his trio. At the end of 2011, he performed a two-piano duo concert with Graham Wood – complete with two Fazioli grand pianos – at the stunning Government House in Perth. He was also commissioned to compose for the event. The resulting piece was “Dissolve,” for two pianos, and further explores his ideas of interruption and chromatic saturation, synthesized with jazz interaction and improvisation.

Tom has worked with James Morrison, Hugo Race (Bad Seeds), David Campbell, James Muller, Simon Barker, Kristen Berardi, Phil Slater, Cameron Undy and performed at several jazz festivals in Australia. He also leads the jazz piano department at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and lectures in jazz composition and improvisation. He is a regularly commissioned composer, and holds a master of music in classical composition from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and a Bachelor of Music (Jazz Performance) from WAAPA.

Together as Memory of Elements, they’ve created a technically superb album in Now Noise; there is a huge sense of the experience from these players. There is a danger in some parts of the tracks becoming fairly predictable and structured similarly but – and it is a big “but” – I think some of this is because Memory of Elements has strong leading characters who are educators and some of the teachings of composition, structure and stylistic playing has rubbed off on the teachers.

That said, this is no ordinary or run-of-the mill album. Because of and due to the musical prowess of Memory of Elements, the compositions take every instrument into account and the players have to stretch, reach and follow the clever chops, changes and twists added to the rhythms and themes. Now Noise has improvisational sections and definitely references free jazz, as well as a certain Coltrane-styled solo at one point. There is a huge dynamic and energetic ensemble interplay.

If it was ever in danger of being predictable, Now Noise is rescued in huge measure and redeemed from being anything ordinary by the insertion into almost every track of sections which veer away from the norm, show the musical individuality of the players and composer. This is especially prevalent in Memory of Elements’ final track.

Sometimes, it is all too easy to speak about albums which will grow on you, and this can sound tritely patronizing. But this is an album with so much going on that more than one listen to fully appreciate it is definitely the need. On the third listen, I heard so much more; Memory of Elements’ Now Noise is definitely an album which grows on you.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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