Barney McAll and ASIO at The Basement (7th May 2015)

Any gig I have ever witnessed with Barney McAll on the bill has been a very special experience.  My wife comes to many gigs that I choose that she probably wouldn’t. What makes a Barney McAll gig especially wonderful is that my wife and I are equally moved by the music.  She never wants to miss an opportunity to hear Barney play.

Barney McAll has called this group Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit or ASIO for short, which he explained “just happens to be name of an owl.”  The implication of course is that ASIO is commonly referenced in regard to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.  At the basement all the musicians walked out in customised fluorescent orange vests with ASIO painted on the back and huge smiles on their faces. This gig was one of the first opportunities for Barney to introduce the music off his forthcoming album on ABC Jazz titled Mooroolbark and some other material that he has been writing while on his Peggy Glanville-Hicks residency.

His new compositions are a mystical combination of jagged lines and reveries. There is an intensity and a sense of underlying drama to his music that is constantly enthralling. The music is complex but it never strays far from Barney’s deep sense of groove. Barney’s long exploratory piano introductions on a few pieces took me to other worlds and his solos seem to reach simultaneously into the past and the future.  Barney plays the blues like few pianists can, you can feel it, it draws emotion out of you. There was no fear to travel into free territories, Barney has a distinct voice among the modern piano greats.

Jonathan Zwartz on the upright bass is the ultimate sideman, locked into a deep pocket and always following Barney on his musical travels. One of my friends who hadn’t heard much improvised music before said to me, “you can tell that the bassist and the piano player are really locked in to each other.”  His bass playing could almost be summarised as empathetic; he is sensitive to what is going on in the group and is always seeking to join them.  Jonathan’s virtuosic skill was on display as he played complex bass parts all the way up and down the neck with perfect pitch.  I have debated with a close friend (who was at the gig) about upright bass solos, he insists they don’t work and I say they can – Jonathan took a long solo that may have settled that debate.

Watching Simon Barker on the drums is an absolute delight, he spends most of the night with his eyes closed in what looks like a meditative spiritual state.  It is like an open invitation to also be lost in the music. I can get caught up in analysis and observation but every time I looked back at Simon Barker I remembered that music is a place to get lost in.  Simon really has an original voice on the drums, like a river, a calm but authoritative approach that really guides the music in different directions.  What I heard was an absolute masterclass of swing, groove, hip hop and free drumming, all of which was especially on display in a frenzied duet with Julien Wilson – a clear highlight of the evening. I had the opportunity to meet

Julien Wilson once, he was kind, gentle and smiled a lot. Those characteristics certainly come through in his distinct tenor saxophone tone but there is a lot of fire and passion there too. Some of the most exciting moments of the night involved Julien erupting in a fury of notes that raised the intensity of the music.  Julien is unafraid. It is as though he is genuinely exploring during his solos as opposed to playing a collection of ideas that he had thought of before.  That is what makes his solos such a thrill, anything could happen next. I was curious to hear

Carl Morgan on the guitar because I had not had the opportunity to hear him before this gig. Barney has written some intricate melodies that Carl covered the whole night with a guitar tone atypical for most of the jazz world.  Carl’s solos were built slowly and interdependently with the rest of the band, as their intensity raised, so did his. The peaks of his solos were particularly special, he phrased some incredibly beautiful sentences.

Because Barney is in Australia for most of the year, we have the luxury of seeing this group multiple times. The possibilities of where this group could go with a few more gigs together, are very very exciting.

Barney McAll – Piano & Compositions

Jonathan Zwartz – Bass

Simon Barker – Drums

Julien Wilson – Tenor Saxophone

Carl Morgan – Electric Guitar

Additional Notes: Barney’s complete gig list is available on his website, he has more gigs coming up in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and more. Also you can listen to a track from his forthcoming album below.