Friday, September 24, 2004

Autumnal Dances

I have now uploaded the MIDI file to the whole of my guitar quartet Autumnal Dances, commissioned by Saffire. It's 4 movements (Recollection, Angel, Sarabande, Homecoming), 12 minutes (I only provided one movement in the last post). Remember this has not been performed yet, it is the computer output from the scoring program and will play using a basic guitar sound from your computer's sound card. It's like a polaroid snapshot of a painting. Listen here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


This week I'm revising my composition Autumnal Dances, commissioned by the Australian guitar quartet Saffire. It's a four-movement piece and I spent a lot of time on the movement Angel today, trying to get the embroidery just right. It's very lyrical, with a bossa nova feel. I'm going to do something a bit radical and have just uploaded the MIDI output from the Sibelius file for this movement. For the uninitiated, this is not a recording of the piece - it's never been played - but simply the output of the notation program I compose in. It will cause your computer to "play" the piece, using the default "guitar" patch on your sound card, which will be quite synthetic, believe me. Despite the lack of human nuance - and the fact that I can't get it to do a rallentando at the end - it represents the melody, harmony, rhythm and contrapuntal texture quite well. To hear it click here at my peril. Comments welcome.

Friday, September 17, 2004

ARIA Nomination - not

Both my record company and I were disappointed to find out that Keeping the Standards was not one of the five CDs nominated for Best Jazz Album for this year's ARIA Awards. Given the critical acclaim the CD has received both here and overseas it seemed quite anomalous. Oh well, one never knows with these things. Nonetheless, as a mini-celebration of the album's successes in the wake of the ARIA announcements I am posting these extracts from the reviews the CD has received both here and overseas.

“There have been some hugely impressive jazz trio albums released in the past 12 months - Mike Nock's Changing Seasons, Tord Gustavsen's Changing Places and Keith Jarrett's Up For It - but none has made me smile as much as this new one from Isaacs. It's hard to believe the three aren't old friends. They seem to enjoy telepathic connections. This recording is littered with moment after moment of superb timing and crack ensemble. This trio had an equally impressive grasp of large-scale structures. I hope plans for a reunion are well advanced.”

“The world of Mark Isaacs is a strangely compelling place. Passionate, whimsical, joyfully erratic, sometimes eccentric and always deeply thoughtful, letting loose, overflowing with ideas”

“A true multidisciplinary artist who is equally at home with classical composition/performance, soundtrack work and jazz, Isaacs’s cerebral approach echoes that of Brad Mehldau. He is blessed with the same virtuosity and right/left hand independence, sometimes creating rich counterpoint between the two hands. But as intellectual as he can sometimes be, there is a visceral nature to his playing as well. Like Jarrett at his best, what makes this set stand out from the plethora of piano trios covering the same material is the way that Isaacs re-imagines the tunes - bristling with fresh ideas and razor sharp vision, Mark Isaacs has talent to burn”

"If Mark Isaacs lived in the United States, no doubt he would already be signed to a major jazz label. Isaacs’ follow-up to his highly acclaimed, but insufficiently distributed, CD, Closer, couldn’t have been more satisfying. Not only does the trio command instant understanding of each other’s directions, but also Isaacs reshapes the standards to his own imagination—which appears to contain vast reservoirs of ideas. Isaacs makes the interpretations his own, unlike anyone else’s. Keeping The Standards is an outstanding live piano trio recording. But just as important, it should make many more people aware of the talent of Mark Isaacs that numerous jazz musicians like Pat Metheny and Dave Holland already appreciate.

“Isaacs had never played better. Riding on such an authoritative and astonishingly buoyant rhythm section, he seemed to relinquish any previous need to try to "make" the music happen, rather, letting it flow lyrically and organically. A particular pleasure was the way he restored mystique to the songs by often just hinting at the melodies, so each piece seems to emerge as if from a light mist, rather than being immediately defined. It is Isaacs's finest recorded work to date.”

“The trio operates with the utmost agility, full of ideas, multi-faceted, atmospheric and tight. Isaacs’ piano runs never break down, his long, suspenseful lines, lavish creativity, the spotlessness in the realisation of the conceptual thoughts, the brilliant interaction of all concerned, all this makes this live CD a total jazz experience, even if one wasn’t in the audience on that given night.”

“They bring to their work familiarity and freshness, their empathy inspiring numinous interpretations delivered with a measured grace. Here are brilliant musicians displaying all the beautiful reasons why the piano trio format is so bewitching and ageless”

“The trio’s musicianship and Isaacs’s inventiveness make the standards fly. His power lies in his ability to put each standard through many re-inventions. He morphs the familiar into the unexpected and then repeats the process over and over again. Great music, whatever genre, is about tension and release. This has it in spades”

“Such a degree of organic integration that only major surgery could disturb it . . the intricate unwindings of Isaacs’ improvisational imagination . . formidable”

“A stunning performance of jazz standards. Isaacs takes the listener on an exhilarating journey that reaches the far corners of twentieth century jazz repertoire with fluidity and unpredictability. The result is a definitive contemporary statement. Isaacs’s impeccable technique allows him to execute his multifarious ideas with breathtaking accuracy. You can relax on the roller coaster ride with this trio, confident that all the structures are sound – it’s well worth the experience. Isaacs, Nussbaum, and Anderson are doing more than Keeping the Standards, they are surely raising them.

“You can hear the former child prodigy's intellect at play, with the emphasis on play, logically and sensibly spinning out the tunes and seeing how they look in various guises. It's as if Isaacs' mission is to show a tune all the different things it can be. As ever with Isaacs, it is direct, concentrated and free-wheeling, as playful and serious as art can be”

“A gorgeous rendition, this is where the trio is at its most inspired: there is a sense that they are simply letting the music happen and you feel fortunate to be a witness”

“Their interpretations avoid any suggestion of the prosaic and become pieces of rare and sometimes fragile beauty”

“Taking on the challenge of finding something new to say with some familiar songs [Isaacs] succeeds brilliantly”

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Elements on ABC Classic FM

The Perspectives program on ABC Classic FM at 10:30pm on Saturday nights has been running a series called The Elements, each week looking at music inspired by the four elements of Nature. The last two Saturdays have been devoted to Water and Air and much interesting music has been played. I'm pleased that several tracks from my 4-CD set The Elements have been played by presenter Julie Howard in each program, last night the program closed with one of mine. The next two installments are Saturday Sep 18 (Earth) and Saturday Sep 25 (Fire). After the Water broadcast I received this email from a gentleman who lives in Canberra:
I heard "Water" at 10:30 p.m. Saturday 4th Sept on ABC Radio, while on my way home from seeing a local artist's series of paintings of water reeds in Captain's Flat NSW. The music fitted and enhanced my mood as I drove carefully home watching for 'Roos.

This happened at precisely the same time as I was having a wonderful experience performing for a live audience in Melbourne. He ordered a CD for himself and one for the artist and when he received them I got this message:

I received the CD's yesterday. I listened enraptured, and found myself in a
deep contemplative state. Thank you very much for transporting me there.

Quietly, stealthily we in the non-mainstream reach those whom we can touch.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Listen Up

It's always good to know someone is listening to your music and is happy to spread the word. In the Spectrum section of the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald there is a section called Listen Up where a public figure talks about their experiences listening to music. In last Saturday's paper it was the turn of Angela Catterns, breakfast presenter on ABC Radio in Sydney, and it was nice to be included. Here's what Angela said in the course of questions about her earliest musical memories, favourite songs etc:

What albums have you been listening to recently?
A new live LP by Australian jazz pianist Mark Isaacs and the new k.d. lang album, Hymns from the 49th Parallel.

Review from Germany

This review of my new CD Keeping the Standards appeared in Jazz Podium, which I'm told is a very good place to be reviewed in Europe - apparently it's the oldest and one of the best jazz magazines published in Germany. Christian Finger, a German drummer with whom I have worked who now lives in New York, helped me with the translation:

The classic jazz trio, the old magic: piano, bass and drums. Would one ever get sick of hearing this musical fabric? Skating freely in the jazz cosmos. The original triumvirate. The Australian pianist Isaacs invited two of his favourite
American colleagues for this live recording at “The Basement” in Sydney. Jay
Anderson on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. The three of them are concerned with “keeping the standards”. And why not? The “American Songbook” is ultimately the backbone of jazz. “Skylark”, “Gone With the Wind”, “Falling in Love with Love”, “Footprints” and “Somewhere”. Songs that really melt in the mouth. The trio operates with the utmost agility, full of ideas, multi-faceted, atmospheric and tight. Isaacs’ piano runs never break down, his long,suspenseful lines, lavish creativity, the spotlessness in the realisation of the conceptual thoughts, the brilliant interaction of all concerned, all this makes this live CD a total jazz experience, even if one wasn’t in the audience on that given night.
JAZZ PODIUM Stuttgart, Germany

Monday, September 06, 2004

Basement gig

Looking forward to this one next Tuesday September 14.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

ABC Classic FM "Drive" feature

Every weeknight on ABC Classic FM from 4pm-7pm there is a program called Drive. They have a section of the show which they call "The Home Stretch" just before 7pm each night where they feature a different Australian musician each week and play examples of their work every night right across the week. Presenter Julia Lester emailed me yesterday saying "And this week, you're our star!". Thanks Julia, I'll tune in and perhaps you might like to as well.