Michael Webb received 1st prize in the National Jazz Writing Competition in 2007. This is one of his submitted reviews.
On his bio on the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) website Adrian Sherriff attributes his restless exploration of musical diversity to growing up in West Papua. A masterful improvising trombonist, unorthodox yet accomplished shakuhachi player and skilled Karnatic percussionist, Sherriff is a committed experimentalist and significant voice in the Paul Grabowsky led AAO.
It was AAO connections that brought Sherriff to town to perform with Sydney members of that ensemble— Sandy Evans, Alister Spence, Steve Elphick and Simon Barker. Some of these players accompanied Sherriff on a tour of India earlier this year and the Sound Lounge gig drew heavily on the repertoire of that trip. The evening’s program delightfully juxtaposed ragas and reggae as well as originals by Sherriff and several band members.
Opening with his piece, Pentacle, Sherriff’s unmetred shakuhachi improvisations over a keyboard drone supplied by Spence took time to settle and gain focus. On soprano, Evans’ unison and close harmony doubling of the bamboo flute became one of the high points of the evening’s musical collaboration. Spence built a powerful piano solo urged on by Barker and it became clear that Sherriff was in the company of sympathetic musical minds.
Next was Spence’s On the Loop, a joyful Latin tinged groove piece with some challenging twists of melody. After solos by Sherriff (who had switched to bass trombone), Evans and Spence, Barker steered the piece into a montuno and soloed before the band restated the head, coming full circle.
In Sherriff’s Sunrise, a textured mood piece based on a South Indian raga, you could feel the warmth radiating up through the layered harmonies generated by bass, organ, tenor sax and trombone. Evans and Sherriff played the complex Karnatic melodic subdivisions over what sounded like a ten beat rhythmic cycle set up by bass and drums.
After a jaunty solo introduction by Spence on cheesy organ, Niko Schauble’s Hydera Dub (a pun on Hyderabad, first stop on the band’s tour) erupted into a raucous Bollywood reggae party.
After the break the band played Song of the Water Boy by Sherriff, a blues inflected Creeper by Spence, Raja Raja Rajitag (a “cover” of a Karnatic classical piece), and the cleverly titled Sacred Cow’s Tale by Evans, in which Sherriff improvised an extended solkattu solo, vocalising the rhythmic syllables of Karnatic drumming and fascinating the audience by keeping tala with his hand.
Vande Matharam, a Bengali popular devotional song, brought the program and the evening to a peaceful close. Spence set up drones once again and the beautiful melody drifted out over the audience via the hushed tones and expressive portamento of Sherriff’s trombone and Evan’s ascetic soprano.
Throughout the evening, Sherriff’s bass trombone was capable of great delicacy, yet he could also unleash torrents of sound while hurtling across registers, and insert into the flow difficult multiphonic passages before diving to subterranean pedal tones.
He doesn’t often play in Sydney and the smallish yet appreciative audience indicated that he’s largely yet to be discovered here. With the support of a top Sydney band, Sherriff shared something of his unique and appealing Australian musical vision.