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WE'RE ON A HIGHWAY TO JAZZ

 

 

extempore

Melbourne, 2008

text by Piotr Siatkowski

 

Where is Brooklyn? Every aficionado knows. Where is Australia? Well, that is a harder nut.What do we know about the culture and art down under? Not much, I'm afraid. Me, even less. Of course, there are some Hollywood stars and there's Kylie. There are AC/DC, Nick Cave, Peter Weir and The Necks. But, I guess they're all expats now. When I think again, Mike Nock and Paul Cox come to mind. But aren't they immigrants? Perhaps it shouldn't matter since practically all Australians, except for the Indigenous Aboriginal people of course, are immigrants.

As a relatively young nation, they haven't had much time to create a very distinct culture. Typically for pioneers they chose to channel their energy into conquest/survival/development. Up until quite recently we haven't heard much about the Australian culture, let alone jazz.

And all of a sudden, here comes extempore, a biannual jazz journal published in Melbourne. Good news, especially because it's in the form of a book and with a covermount companion CD. I do appreciate the fact that this magazine is printed, not digital and that it looks more like a novel than a copy of down beat or JAZZTIMES. It is very neatly laid out and on quality paper. As I was born in the 20th century, I guess I will always prefer hard copy to some virtual phantom.

What is especially thrilling to me, is the main idea behind the magazine to treat jazz and improvised music as a starting point for creative activities of all kinds. And so, instead of getting your typical mag full of generic journalism, run-of-the-mill reviews and tons of bio & disco info filler, the reader is being given the full treatment.

I like the editor's ambition to trace the relations between jazz and other musical genres like folk, classical, rock or free improv. And not only that. Also literature, fine arts, modern lifestyle. All those interrelations and inspirations are exciting but, sadly enough, not too often observed and/or analysed in the jazz media.

As one could expect, interviews constitute more than half of the content (if you don't count the illustration/ad space). This is a lot, but those conversations (both new and reprinted) prove to be a good read. Two of the interviewees are jazzwomen Shannon Barnett and Sandy Evans. Shannon is a new trombone talent working with at least ten bands! Sandy, who is equally active as a performer, is also a composer and educator. She dwells on the women's role in jazz and her interest in the traditional music of India. Her husband, Scottish clarinet and sax player, Tony Gorman is featured extensively as a writer, poet and interviewee. I was deeply moved to learn about his brave struggle with SM (which he was diagnosed with about twelve years ago).

All three have been involved in the Australian Art Orchestra, which leads us to Paul Grabowsky, the AAO founder and one of the key figures of the Australian jazz. His two interviews, which are a couple of years apart, give good insight into his rich, intercontinental career and the local scene as well.

The first issue of extempore brings also some interesting jazz-themed prints and some cool photographs, though it's quite obvious that it was a fan not a photographer who chose them. But from my perspective, the real attraction here is the literary connection. Ten fine poems, three prize-winning short stories, book reviews (why only three remains unclear) and Sascha Feinstein's essay on Kenneth Rexroth are a treat. This is something unheard-of in similar periodicals.

Not to make the whole picture look so sweet, I must say there's a teaspoon of tar in this barrel. The magazine was announced to be about jazz and free improv and, indeed, it delivers what it promised. The problem is that it's all things Australian jazz. You can only spot names like Davis, Ellington, Hancock or Stanko every, say, twenty pages or so. Jazz from the other continents appears at random and only in the dimly lit background.Such attitude is fantastic if you want to support your local scene, but may severely limit the outside readership, save for a sparse population of natural born inquirers.

OPEN UP, BEAUTIFUL JAZZ PEOPLE OF AUSTRALIA! JAZZ AND ISOLATION DON'T MIX. THEY NEVER HAVE.

There are surprisingly few errors but some are particularly annoying. I mean especially those misspelled jazz names of e.g. Paul Gonsalves, Esbjorn Svenson, Herbie Nichols or Davis's Amandla.

Well, enough of this nitpicking! It's just the very beginning, anyway. I'm sure the next issue is going to be perfect. All in all, the magazine is exceptional and it has an ace up its sleeve (up its plastic sleeve that is). It's a free compilation CD with lots of great music from Kimnara Records and it can easily make up for whatever little complaint one might have.

Good luck, extempore!

 (c) Piotr Siatkowski 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 ALL TEXTS AND IMAGES © PIOTR SIATKOWSKI

 


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