Much brass, a bit of twang, and a search for new sonorous boundaries marked the James Ryan Quartet's jazz concert
A hot potato is a wonderful thing on a chilly night.
During the opening moments of day three at The Hindu Friday Review November Fest, members of the James Ryan Quartet engaged in a bit of musical horseplay. First, James Ryan, on the saxophone, tossed off a harmonious phrase. Scott Tinkler, on the trumpet, picked it up, followed, in turn by electric bass guitarist Steve Hunter and drummer Ken Edie. The bars were repeated and quickened until the quartet was frenetically circulating just one note, like a warm spud.
The foursome's ability to strike a lovely balance in the midst of adventurous forays, without seeming to try, set the tone for the evening's concert. The quartet refused to be pinned down to the gracious and traditional notes of the New Orleans school of jazz, and by improvising on technique and rhythm, decided to fly the creative flag for jazz from Down Under.
Drawn from cities across Australia, the quartet has not been one to sit still, geographically or musically. They drew their sound from a wide range of experiences and expressions, from forceful to the meditative, from rare rhythms to supple melodies. Ryan and Tinkler gave bravura performances in ‘Hey Which Way' and ‘So To Speak'. In these two pieces, while the duo put up a well-rehearsed display of strength and craft, Hunter and Edie were understated, lending themselves only to the rhythmic strumming and a resonant clash of the cymbals and hi-hat.
But, with ‘Love and Magic', a piece written by the guitarist, Hunter let loose his sense of harmony and texture. The piece was a serenade, and the saxophone and bass soared through remarkable, glimmering passages of sustained notes, a roll and ghostly chords. In ‘As You Were', Tinkler, swinging and florid, and Edie, terse and pristine, were impeccable.
The final piece for the evening ‘Up For It' was full of character and displayed a broad range of dynamics. While Ryan's solo had a floating, limpid grace that was far removed from Hunter's heavy-handed block chording, Edie's drum roll tempered the soft lyricism of Tinkler's trumpet.
The quartet's brand of jazz was new age without apologies. They charged through their repertory with gusto, with brief melodic statements and confident drum paraphrases. Their harmonic vocabulary described a new jazz language that had its transcendent moments. And, the audience was right there with the quartet, emphasising how jazz is as much a feeling as a form.