If you want to hear how good Australian Jazz has become give a listen to TURNING POINT, the latest cd by Jason Bruer’s HAMMERHEAD, an exceptional recording that ticks all the right boxes.
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The Hammerhead shark is known for its sensory qualities, and is harmless to humans. What better name for an Australian jazz group? Saxophonist Jason Bruer’s exceedingly clever arrangements of his ten compositions creatively upgrade and vary the conventional theme-solos-theme format. He makes good use of the brilliant pianist Greg Coffin, whose solos and incursions are one of the album’s many strengths. In Blues For Jonesy, Coffin is good enough to encapsulate the essence of the funk/blues genre in a brief solo. An outstanding rhythm section is completed by Brendan Clarke (double bass) and Alex Hirlian (drums). Other than Bruer, Hammerhead’s front-line includes Andrew Robertson (alto sax/flute), and alternating trumpeters Cam McAllister and Simon Ferenci, all consummate professionals. Turning Point recalls the great days of hard-bop, but has enough contemporary influences to locate the music in the present.
When the awards for Australian jazz band and album of 2019 are handed out later this year, there’s a fair chance that Hammerhead’s name will loom large. The Sydney sextet’s second release, following personnel changes, is pretty well what the title suggests. The record represents a turning point for Hammerhead and its founder/frontman, composer and tenor and soprano saxophonist Jason Bruer. Whereas 2014’s Mozaic was a genuflection to movers and shakers of the hard bop movement, the all-original Turning Point is coloured from an altogether wider compositional palette, mirroring Bruer’s desire to inject more diversity into the band’s repertoire. Hammerhead trawls deep and wide — from a hard swinging starter to a closing waltz; from a breathtaking ballad to a blues-based eulogy; from a classically informed fugue to funk-jazz. The rich counterpoint created within the horn and rhythm sections, the diversity of styles within the jazz spectrum and the inordinately high quality of arranging and individual and collective playing brings to mind those Oz champions of yore Ten Part Invention.