Greatest Hits, Andrea Keller Quartet, review by John Clare


Album:  Greatest Hits
Artist:   Andrea Keller Quartet
Release Date: April 2016
Label:    Independent

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We begin with a series of repeated running patterns at the piano, a casual but organised little scramble. Each second pattern ends with a heraldic but soft climb and pronouncement. Soft, as if it is heard in the distance. The beautiful piano sound and touch heighten the magnetic effect. Andrea Keller makes the piano chime, even when she plays softly.Limpid, harmonised ensemble figures follow this introduction. These also repeat, but each ends with an unexpected departure, sometimes a single note angleing away. In fact many of these pieces incorporate silences and near stillness. I can’t tell you how calming, meditative and utterly beautiful many of these are.

There are, incidentally, superb settings for the solo trumpets of Melbourne’s Eugene Ball and Sydney’s Phil Slater, whose feature “The Rain Outside” was played by Ten part Invention up here in Sydney with Keller at the piano.

In fact the longish list of players below (explanation shortly) contains some of my favourite musicians in the entire world (well, those I’ve heard anyway). Gian Slater’s unmistakable voice is used to wordlessly harmonise with the shining ensemble on two tracks; words emerge on a third. Hers is one of Australia’s most luminous sounds. And so is the guitar of Stephen Magnusssen, which is featured on “The Incredible View”.

Not everything is calmly afloat on soft waters. The second track, “Blue Arsed Fly” for instance, is jumping, fast and funny, with exciting solos. Tenor saxophonist Ian Whitehurst begins his with a series of deliberative spaced stabs, each in a different register, as if he is trying to remember something and getting a bit angry as you do when the memory won’t emerge. Then suddenly it is there it seems and he is running freely, angular but fluent and swinging hard.

Some of the joys here seem to rise from quite orthodox sources. This is deceptive in some cases. In other cases it does not matter, there so much sheer spirit and accomplishment.

Now we should clarify. Looking through the listed musicians above can be confusing. Is it not a quartet? There have been in fact a series of Andrea Keller Quartets since the debut in 1999. Eugene Ball, Ian Whitehurst, and of course Keller herself, have been in every quartet.  From there it is easy to work out who was in which quartet. The last four tracks here consist of Keller and the string quartet listed.

It comes back to me that while I listened not long ago to an intimate concert in Glebe, violinist Veltheim and tenor saxophonist Julian Wilson came round behind my chair and played. It felt as if I was getting a sonic massage. The late rocker Brian Wakefield watched and smiled. God bless you, Brian. And all concerned, including Leroy Suave.

Eugene Ball, trumpet; Ian Whitehurst, trumpet; Keller, piano; Joe Talia, drums & Electronics;Danny Fischer, drums; Matt Clohesy, double bass; Gian Slater, voice; Shannon Barnett, trombone; Phil Slater, trumpet; Stephen Magnussen, guitar; Erkki veltheim, violin;  Helen Ayres, violin; Matt Laing, viola: Zoe Knighton, cello