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Stu Hunter - The Muse

Cd of the week in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Another Australian classic. Some music transcends style.This is different to merely combining disparate styles, and results from extraordinary purity and focus in the process of creation. It is almost as though the ideas have come from a vacuum, rather than being a distillation.

Pianist Stu Hunter has never made a CD under his own name before, but chances are you've heard him. He has appeared on over 60 CDs by others, and with his piano-for-hire hat on has performed with such big-name artists as Portishead, silverchair, the John Butler Trio, Jackie Orszaczky and Russell Crowe.

The music contained on this CD is some of the most strikingly original in conception and execution I have encountered, and not just within Australian jazz circles.

It is also numbingly beautiful - often gracefully so, and sometimes majestically, as when Matt Keegan's tenor saxophone floods part III of this six- part, 50-minute suite (augmented by a haunting prelude and dramatic little interlude). Like any rose worth the name, it also has thorns: both sonic surprises to re-boot a mind in danger of being lulled into reverie, and also moments of sharp anguish that almost hurt physically as well as emotionally.

Beside Keegan, Hunter's colleagues are bassist Cameron Undy and drummer Simon Barker, and all are players capable of sidestepping idiom in realising the composer's vision for the rhythmically varied but brilliantly cohesive suite. Barker is given free rein to gatecrash even some of the most delicate moments with unsettling punctuations, on occasion in tandem with the singularly arresting sound Keegan makes on his tenor.

In setting up this conflict between edginess and beauty Hunter creates a dynamic that both sustains the elongated compositional form and infuses the improvising with very broad options. He employs a gradually mounting trajectory, so that by the time we arrive at the fifth of the six parts the music reaches a conflagration of surging rhythm, hair-raising piano and teeming saxophone. But, from the very first notes, only one resolution was ever possible for a work which is so tightly and intricately structured, and that was a return to Hunter's elegant piano, joined in peaceful meditation by his exceptional colleagues.

The recording quality crackles with vitality, and, with its combination of wistfulness and agitation as rain falls outside a window, Brett Whitely's 1973 drawing, "Sunday ", makes for perfect cover art. On Monday night (last week) the same four players launched this astonishing album of style-transcendent music at the Basement. John Shand SMH

Stu Hunter - The Muse 


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