Fabliaux, Dave Douglas & Monash Art Ensemble, review by John McBeath


Album: Fabliaux
Artist:  Monash Art Ensemble
Release Date: December 2015
Label:    Greenleaf Music
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When acclaimed US trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas was invited to work with the Monash Art Ensemble, album co-producer Paul Grabowsky had no inkling that Douglas would compose a nine movement suite for the purpose, and even less expectation that the music would explore facets of the 14th century French Ars Nova style. Douglas is a prolific trumpeter, composer and educator from New York who has appeared as leader on over 40 recordings. From simple shaker hymns and hip hop to Mary Lou Williams, Jimmy Giuffre, and John Zorn, he is open to add any, and all, sources of input.

Fabliaux are comic, bawdy verse tales written in France between 1100 and 1400, characterised by sexual obscenity and contrary attitudes to the church and nobility. Several of these have been reworked, including for the famous Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

A major figure of the genre who set many of his 400 poems to music was Guillaume de Machaut, and it’s his music, and others of the period that Douglas researched to complete this major work uniquely combining aspects of medieval music with contemporary jazz and eclectic improvisation. The complete work was the highlight performance at last year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.
Douglas on trumpet, leads fifteen members of the MAE, comprising four winds, three brass, four strings, and four percussion, including electronics and opening with the stately ensemble fanfares of Forbidden Flags to traverse via Marty Holoubek’s contrabass and Craig Beard’s pitched percussion to Douglas’s triumphantly soaring solo.

Frieze begins with a subdued ensemble passage of Rob Burke’s clarinet, Mirko Guerini on bass clarinet and Lauchland Davidson’s soprano sax, gradually evolving atonally into an out-of-tempo high treble wild spree.

Unlike most of these tracks, Tower of the Winds commences with a rhythmic beat as clarinet, flute, and Jordan Murray’s trombone weave around Douglas’s invigorated trumpet ahead of ensemble marching chord stabs, powered by Kieran Rafferty’s speedy drumming, all dissolving into an extended, improvised piano solo of building intensity by Grabowsky.

This is a highly unusual suite of jazz-influenced interpretations of medieval music played superbly by Douglas with students and staff of the Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University together with Australian Art Orchestra members – some of Australia’s finest improvisers, comprising the Monash Art Ensemble.

Review originally published by the Australian

For just over 24 years I have been a freelance writer, publishing in that time a wide variety of genres: news items, live concert reviews, travel articles, features, personality profiles, and CD and book reviews. I have written for various in-flight magazines, The Adelaide Review, The Republican, The Bulletin, The Australian, The Advertiser, The Melbourne Herald Sun and several regional newspapers. In 1994 I won a national travel-writing prize sponsored by The Australian newspaper, which led to my writing regularly for that paper. Since 2003 I have been jazz critic for The Advertiser and The Australian newspapers, on average contributing weekly to each paper. In 2005 I won a national Jazz Writing Competition sponsored by the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.