BY SAMUEL COTTELL
Jeremy Rose Quartet
Earshift Music, 2015
This latest release from saxophonist and composer Jeremy Rose contains six tracks, features long form compositions and the line between notated score and improvisation is inherently blurred, which makes for some interesting listening. Each of the tracks has a poignant meaning to them and there are even political overtones to some.
Jeremy Rose is making his distinct mark on the jazz scene, but not just locally. He has had international success as well, regularly touring Europe with one of his groups, the Vampires. This latest recording demonstrates Rose at his best and perhaps marks a watershed moment in his composing and jazz career. Rose’s jazz writing is on par with the top American exponents of the craft. His tunes, often featuring unexpected harmonic twists and turns, remain melodic and I even found myself humming some of these melodies after the first hearing.
There is wide variety in the scope of this album and at many times wonderful colours and textures are created. ‘Hegemony’ (a nod to the American domination of the cultural diet in Australia) features a sparkling percussion element from James Waples, setting a sandpaper-like texture over which Rose plays fragment melodies in the lower register of the saxophone. Here, Jackson Harrison on piano plays chords that have an ephemeral, eerie quality to them. They move in and out of various harmonic realms as Rose bends pitch and shines, showing quiet restraint through a softer volume.
Rose’s writing is melodious, textured and considered. His distinct compositional voice is further enhance by his mastery of both the alto and soprano saxophones. He is able to bring to life the full range of the instruments and is adept in every register, making exciting runs and leaps from low to high notes and vice versa. There are also moments of tender treatment of the melody.
Guitarist Carl Morgan appears as a guest artist on ‘Precipice’ and ‘Long Way Home’, adding a varied texture to the quartet. Here, Morgan presents an accompaniment role in the first chorus, a gentle arpeggio pattern over which Rose gently weaves his melodies. Morgan’s solo, later in the piece, provides episodic fragments that take their ideas from the initial theme of the tune and he smartly explores interesting harmonic and melodic patterns, driving the piece forward and in new directions.
Rose writes in the liner notes: “The lines are blurred between notated music and improvisation and it is transition moments that make the music powerful, swinging and engaging”. The group transitions between these structured and improvised sections with relative ease and it heightens the excitement in the music. This ensemble’s playing combined with Rose’s composing forms a true jazz unit – swinging, playing blues notes at times and using riffs and grooves on which to launch their own improvisations. The ensemble is in top form for the whole recording and not only do they play some crackerjack solos they also enhance, support and direct each other. There is some true communication going on here.
The track ‘Mind over Matter’ dedicated to Dave Ades (who was a mentor and fellow surfer to Rose) features some virtuosic playing and a distinct shape before there are moments of free improvisation amongst the group. It’s all held together by a tasty groove the anchors the tune and provides a platform over which to solo.
Many of the tunes swing; boy do they swing. Rose’s solos, particularly on ‘Sand Lines’, are precision plus – they blur the bar line extending the form of the piece and elevating it on each pass of the chord change. Harrison’s comping on this track is both laid back at times and other times driving and propelling the melodic content forward, as though gently nudging Rose in a new melodic idea.
The final track on the album ‘Debt Spiral’ takes its departure from the statement made by Joe Hockey (considered by some to be Australia’s worst treasurer to date) when he said: “Poor people don’t drive cars”. Coincidently, Rose claims he was almost run over by Joe Hockey in his 4WD. This track starts out with a lone saxophone lamenting over some blues notes and ascending sequences over the range of the saxophone before the band enters, hitting chords before launching into a swinging section. Alex Boneham’s insistent bass propels this tune forwards and sends it down all kind of cool streets as Waples provides a glorious shimmer that develops and further enhances the spikey rhythms.
There is a tongue-in-cheek quality to this piece and you can almost picture a stand-off between Jeremy Rose and Joe Hockey.
The longer form pieces on the album allow the musicians to explore, in further detail, extended ideas that stem from Rose’s compositions. The most successful element of the recording as a whole is the interplay and communication of the group. Their interactions are, at all times, highly engaging and their solos are a collective conversation, rather than the more ‘traditional’ idea of one person taking a solo at a time and being supported by the other players. With each featured solo, the rest of the group interjects and further enhances the solo, leading into new directions rhythmically, harmonically and melodically.
The recording is exceptionally mastered and a superb balancing act on the part of Ross A’Hearn means that nuance and detail is deftly heard and explored, particularly when listened to on some high quality speakers or headphones. The packaging and design by Pat Harris highly detailed and the photograph by Mikael Wardhana captures a stunning landscape of Lake Tyrell in Victoria.
This is a finely crafted album that displays a creative approach to writing, playing and improvising. If you like a bit of old and a bit of new with some true jazz writing and playing than this is the album for you.
The Jeremy Rose Quartet will launch ‘Sand Lines’ on 12 November at Venue 505 in Sydney and 15 November at Uptown Jazz Café in Melbourne. For further information, visit www.jeremyrose.com.au.