Two electric guitars, bass and drums sounds like your average rock band line-up, but this quartet is neither rock nor average.
With two members each from Melbourne ( Ronny Ferella drums & Stephen Magnusson guitar) and Adelaide ( Mike Bevan guitar & Lyndon Gray bass) the project delivered an evening of mostly originals by Ferella, blending world music ideas – especially Ethiopian dance music – with a contemporary jazz approach.
The audience seemed a little bemused for the first couple of numbers, probably due to expectations of a familiar format where one guitar leads, the other supplies rhythmic chording, and bass and drums lay down a solid foundation for the front line. However, Ferella’s arrangements took a far more inventive approach using tight four-way integration, emphasising interwoven melodic lines rather than harmony, in what is known as a linear style, and the crowd was soon applauding, cheering and whistling.
Linear music can sound as if it’s meandering without a destination, especially to ears accustomed to western music where harmonic resolutions are mandatory, but once the different modality is accepted, most listeners will find aspects to enjoy in a divergent musical experience. The growth of audiences for world music in Australia illustrates this.
Bevan and Magnusson, opened a whole new book of interactive jazz-flavoured guitar work where one played repetitive muted single note themes against the other’s improvisations. The muted guitar is recognizable in almost any African music as more of a ‘plunk plunk’, than a ‘pling pling’ sound. Apart from sounding more authentic, the muting also offered greater tonal variation with the frontline of two instruments of the same species.
On Fort Worth, by Joe Lovano, one of only a couple of non-originals in the performance, Magnusson’s impressive talent was showcased in a driving solo crammed with breathtaking accelerated runs and hard-swinging ideas.
Pushing the beat along, Lyndon Gray moved his acoustic bass lines around quickly, in and out of the melody with a precision that demonstrated the reason for his muso nickname: ‘Mr. Immaculate.’
Ferella’s drums added polyrhythms, usually in short persistent patterns that sometimes echoed the guitar riffs, and injected occasional tempo changes, as well as doubling and redoubling the speed now and again behind the other three as they maintained their original tempo.
These compositions of Ferella’s are interesting pieces drawing on African and Asian influences, and moulding them into unusual, but identifiably jazz-based readings. There was some restrained and tasteful use of guitar effects and in two of the pieces an electronic drone box provided a sitar-like matrix.
Of course jazz has always drawn on influences from cultures beyond its Afro-American roots – Dizzy Gillespie’s interest in Afro-Cuban music in the 1950s is just one example – and with so much more global music now available, cross cultural trends are certain to be an increasing feature of 21st century jazz.
It’s hard to think of a better example of this movement than the music delivered by these four players who, working wonderfully together, produced a highly successful twin city creative project of leading edge importance.