LP REVIEW: Bernie McGann and the Australasian Jazz Avant Garde – 1966

Bernie McGann and the Australasian Jazz Avant Garde – 1966
(Sarang Bang Records SBR028. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Alto sax player Bernie McGann was born in New South Wales in 1937 and died in 2013. In the early 1960s he was living in New Zealand and playing in a Cannonball Adderley-influenced quintet with Kiwi Kim Paterson, the trumpeter on these sessions. Relocating to Sydney, the men hooked up with Californian drummer George Neidorf (who would later mentor a young Robert Wyatt) and continued to develop musically in the direction of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler.

All of the tracks on this LP were recorded in Sydney in 1966, at two separate live performances, featuring the same personnel — with the addition of piano on Side 1. Lazy Days, a McGann original, has the strident jollity, surreal circus feel and surging time shifts of a vintage march by Sun Ra (a resemblance which extends to the guerrilla recording circumstances and the attractively meticulous but handcrafted look of the record’s packaging, with a heavy cardboard cover and informative, glossy insert sheet). This tune features crystalline, trilling piano from Bobby Gebert, which shifts into skilful accompaniment, and relaxed, masterful playing from McGann himself. Andy Brown’s bass provides a springboard for the combo and Kim Paterson slices off a concise trumpet solo.

Chuggin’, composed by Gebert, is take-no-prisoners high speed bop which calls to mind late 1950s Mingus and indeed McGann is suggestive of Jackie MacLean here, acrobatic and exultant on his alto. Sky, another Gebert original shows McGann delivering wheedling imprecations against the solid textures of the rhythm section, speeding and churning, throwing out sharp edged phrases. Neidorf moves to the fore on this piece playing a featured spot which, unusual among drum solos, ends rather too soon.

Side 2 is a slightly more conventional slab of jazz, opening with Thelonious Monk’s Rhythm-A-Ning, which gives Neidorf more scope to display his chops and, in its headlong haste, is an excellent vehicle for the adroit and athletic Paterson. On Ornette Coleman’s When Will the Blues Leave McGann plays with a fat, solid sound like a man shining a torch around a darkened room, illuminating his surroundings in sweeps. In bracing contrast, Paterson is cool and methodical, playing with laid-back premeditation and forging a path for the others with his hammered-out trumpet phrases. Neidorf also gets an extended, resonant excursion, making judicious use of cymbals.

Considering that the source of most of these recording (all three tracks on Side 1) was a “worn out cassette” belonging to trumpeter Paterson, the sound quality is startlingly good. The Side 2 sessions, recorded at Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross (then as now, Sydney’s red light district) have more of a location ambience which conjures a sense of place, but at a cost of rendering the musicians somewhat distant and muffled. No matter, this is a fascinating document and a valuable restoration of a lost era in Australian jazz. It’s exciting to speculate what other treats Sarang Bang Records might have in store.

Categories: miscellaneous

7 replies »

  1. I love this record, Gianmarco has done a great job putting this together. He's building a fine label and the next record will feature 60s-80s recordings with Murray McNabb, Brian Smith and Billy Kristian.

  2. thank you for the positive review. the side one drum solo was short for two reasons: it was a 30 min. radio broadcast and I dislike long drum solos. one small correction any influence I had on robert wyatt was during 1961 & 1962, before I went to australia.

  3. Perhaps Sarang Bang might delve even further back and find a way to finally reissue Mike Nock's first recordings, as a member of the 3 Out Trio?

  4. that would be great but highly unlikely, I know the whereabouts of half the master tapes of the first LP, but the rest is probably lost…I would hope not but I don't have much hope. And based on the original liner notes they had 3 hours worth of music!!



  5. Recall hearing Bernie's sax sweeten the hamlet and inspire the wildlife of Bundeena as he practised for hour upon hour and then we drove in to Sydney for a five or more hour gig at the Cheetah Room. A very, very classy man and a very very classy musician.

  6. Haven't heard this album but still recall hearing Bernie practise for hour upon hour inspiring the wildlife of Bundeena. Then drive into Sydney for a five or more hour gig at the Cheetah Room. Very very classy musician and very very classy man.

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