David Ades A LIFE IN A DAY Press
FreeJazzBlog April 23rd 2016
David Ades – A Life In A Day
(Lionsharecords 2015) ★★★★½
By Derek Stone
A Life In A Day was recorded on September 18, 2013. Three weeks later, alto saxophonist David Ades passed away, a victim to the lung cancer that he had been battling for nearly two years. Ades undoubtedly knew that any day could be his last, but he never allowed that knowledge to subdue him, to crush his spirits or pinch the glorious flow of notes that he’d been unleashing since he was 18. Recorded with saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, A Life In A Day is a testament to the transformative power of music – no, it might not be able to rid the body of disease or pluck us from the arduous situations in which we find ourselves, but it can lighten the load, lift us up, and give us hope. When listening to this recording, it’s clear that Ades dedicated himself to harnessing that power. During this session (as on uncountable others), he poured his heart and soul into his saxophone. Two years later, we’ve finally been given the chance to hear the wondrous sounds that were created that day.
The first time this group got together, we were given A Glorious Uncertainty. That album was an exuberant display of the tight rapport between the four players, but its title is perhaps even more apt for A Life In A Day. While the pieces on A Glorious Uncertaintycould occasionally veer into boisterous, hard-driving territory, this album is relatively understated. The uncertainty here is in greater abundance – there’s an exploratory mood that manifests itself in gentler, more expressive playing. In other words, the tempest has been turned inwards, resulting in tunes that are more introspective. A lot of that is due to Cleaver: on the last effort, he roared out of the gate with rhythms that approximated rock in both tempo and style. Here, he tends to give more space to the two saxophonists, encircling their figures and melodies lightly, rolling along the outskirts. His percussion work has gotten more subtle, and it’s all the more effective for that reason.
The first piece, “Slow Song,” illustrates this more subdued approach perfectly: it begins with the Ades’ lilting, earnest melodies, the soft skittering of Cleaver, and Helias’ esoteric constructions (reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison’s work in Coltrane’s last quartet). Malaby stays out of the picture for the vast majority of the track, giving Ades time to engage in a fervid soliloquy. “Bark” is the first chance they have to truly stretch out and enjoy each other’s company, and it’s absolutely gorgeous – on the alto, Ades frequently swoops upwards to the higher registers, but he never abandons his warm, expressive tone. When listening to the labyrinthine webs that are often spun in improvisational jazz, I like to visualize, to picture the shapes being made. Taken with Malaby’s sonorous, more languid lines, the resulting image of these two players is that of a dalliance between birds. Perhaps Whitman can explain it better than I:
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling…
On “Removab,” everyone picks up the pace: Helias provides urgent, elastic bass-work, Cleaver pushes things forward with his quietly insistent rhythms, and the two saxophonists (particularly Malaby) reach for the stratosphere. Malaby opts for the soprano sax here, and the switch seems to thaw any inhibitions he might have; he’s never stuffy, but in this piece he’s downright irrepressible, overblowing, squeaking, honking, and generally squeezing every note out of his instrument like a thirsty man would squeeze water from a cactus.
A quick word on Mark Helias: he’s the heartbeat of this group. While Cleaver delimits the compositions and provides them with steady, electrical pulses, Helias pumps the blood. Malaby and Ades spend a great deal of time attempting to escape orbit, so his presence is doubly appreciated – he makes sure that the melodies’ muscles are still flexing, and his throbbing bass-lines are the roots that keep the whole affair grounded and stable (side note: the fact that I need to use mixed metaphors to describe this group is proof of how hard they are to pin down). Hear: “Blahh,” in which Helias’ strong, sinewy notes tumble over one another in a ceaseless march. I shudder to imagine him replaced with a more sluggish, sedate bassist – the others players would undoubtedly suffer for it. Helias is not always locked into the same routine, however. On “Arco and Alto,” he switches to (you guessed it) arco while Ades mans the (yep) alto. The title is a bit misleading, because Malaby pops up too, playing soprano. Without Cleaver, there’s a definite change-of-pace, a looser and more abstract feeling, but that haziness eventually resolves itself – Helias goes back to pizzicato, and the track comes to resemble the others more closely.
A Life In A Day is a group effort, of course, but you’d be excused for taking it as primarily a showcase of the unbridled energy and skill of the two saxophonists. That’s not to downplay the contributions of Helias and Cleaver – these compositions would be incomplete without them – but it’s simply to point out just how incredible Ades and Malaby sound together. Even more incredible is the fact that, in these sessions, Ades was playing beneath the weight of his disease, beneath the weight of the knowledge that it could be his last-ever recording. When listening to these pieces, it certainly doesn’t sound that way. He sounds light as a feather. I suppose that’s the most important message to be gleaned from this album – that even the threat of non-existence can’t quell the joy and sense of freedom that music provides. In Ades’ spiralling streams of notes, you can truly hear a life. As the album’s title suggests, these sounds were performed and recorded in the span of a single day. However, it’s safe to say that that they will echo for much, much longer.
A Life in a Day
It’s hard to imagine a more poignant recording than this final album from British-born, Australian saxophone giant David Ades, who died two years ago, even before the outstanding compositions and musicianship are experienced. Against medical advice and suffering a terminal condition, Ades flew to New York in August 2013 to record one last album with the same US personnel from his 2012 album, A Glorious Uncertainty.
Ades’s sister Ruth records that he composed tunes for the album every afternoon, overcoming terrible pain: “for David, a churning, insuperable will to create music always trumped reason”. The album was recorded in one five-hour session on September 18, 2013. Given the background of this album and its sheer musical force it’s impossible not to be profoundly moved by it. Thanks are due to Melbourne saxophonist Julien Wilson, who played a central role in packaging and releasing the album on his own label.
The opener, Slow Song, features a cadenza of Ades’s alto sax with just Mark Helias’s bass and Gerald Cleaver’s brushwork, as the alto soars and leaps for more than three minutes. After that, Tony Malaby’s tenor joins in for the two horns to drawl a seductively lazy theme. A brighter tempo pervades Removab, with the two saxes interweaving powerfully, while Arco and Alto, true to its title, begins with just bowed bass and alto, out of tempo in a mysterioso duet, moving into a rhythmic section with plucked bass, eventually joined by the tenor.
This may well qualify as the jazz album of the year. John McBeath
DAVID ADES With TONY MALABY/MARK HELIAS/GERALD CLEAVER
A Life in a Day (Lionsharecords 20153; Australia)
When Mark Helias laid this disc on me the other day, I knew little about Australian saxist David Ades. After working with Tony Malaby, Gerald Cleaver & Mr. Helias for performances in Syney and Wangaratta, Mr. Ades came to New York in 2011 to record a quartet album with his New York all-star crew, the results of which came out as “A Glorious Uncertainty”. Two years later, in September of 2013, although suffering some serious health problems, Mr. Ades again recorded with this same quartet, the results of which are this new disc called “A Life in a Day”. Sadly, Mr. Ades passed away just two months later.
“Slow Song” is actually laid back, somewhat solemn with some sublime, bluesy saxes from both Mr. Ades and Mr. Malaby. The ever nimble bassist, Mark Helias’ soulful sound is at the heart, the central pulse of “Bark ‘while both saxes dance slowly and play lush harmonies, the embers burring softly. Malaby moves to soprano for the quirky song “Removab”, which keeps shifting tempos throughout, keeping the rhythm team on their toes as it changes. Malaby’s soprano solo is mighty fine and it is always great to hear him wail on that sax. Mr. Ades writes songs that have this infectious, buoyant vibe at the center which is especially well-played by the swell Helias/Cleaver rhythm team. This disc is superbly recorded and well balanced so that all four members are integral to the group sound. Mr. Ades has also written a handful of convincing melodies that stay with you long after the disc ends since they ring true in the mind/memory. I hope to be able to find copies of the first quartet disc by this group, in the meantime this one is good enough to savor some some time to come. Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
A LIFE IN A DAY (lionsharecords)
It was a superhuman effort: David Ades was dying of lung cancer when he recorded this album. He knew it would be his last and he made it his best. Who knows what monstrous willpower was required to play the alto saxophone for the five-hour session, the results of which are now released posthumously. Ades’ illness could not knock the extraordinary singing vitality out of his playing. If his sound is sometimes less robust than previously, it still carries a phenomenal life force, while his lines jumble exuberance and sadness together into one mile-wide emotion.
Compared with his previous A Glorious Uncertainty album, the compositions are more open with more air around the notes, so that the effect is very slightly less vigorous; slightly more ethereal. As with A Glorious Uncertainty, Ades went to New York (from Byron Bay) to record with the stellar band of tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Gerald Cleaver. A Julien Wilson-led band launches this extraordinary album at Foundry 616 on January 17. John Shand
DAVID ADES: A LIFE IN A DAY
David Ades, alto saxophone; Tony Malaby, tenor and soprano saxophones; Mark Helias, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums
You may have gathered that over the past couple of years a group of highly important Australian musicians have died. As they all played predominately in the area of jazz, the presumption might be made that drug overdoses or drunken falls from rooftops could have been involved. Nothing of the sort. Two parallels might be mentioned. David Ades (pronounced Addes) and my son Mathew both died of cancer. Both played the alto saxophone. On different occasions I performed with both. Twice at the Opera House Studio.
Enough of that. This recording was made in New York in 2013 with highly regarded New Yorkers, listed above, with whom Dave had formed a close association. Dave’s father, incidentally, was a much loved New York street vendor whom I met in Sydney. At the time of this recording Dave was intermittently in great pain, and he had not played for some weeks before this session. He was also advised that he would be mad to fly to New York in his condition. The playing here is scarcely short of miraculous, even without this consideration. Dave died shortly after receiving the finished product, with which he was well pleased.
Many of the tunes here are by Dave and some are by his American friends. All are brilliantly and often elaborately developed per medium of both very free and very tight collective and solo improvisation. A couple of the tunes begin with a buoyant but medium slow theme in unison harmony, but breaking again and again into a dancing double time dance of free counter lines or even near formal counterpoint on the two saxophones. Sometimes they evoke or closely imitate a kind of folk jig or dervish. The combination of simultaneously textural and contrapuntal rhythmic play from the master drummer and bassist is compelling, defining space in which the saxophones move and creating an even momentum along changing paths – in short a spread of percussive figures flying both under and around the melody lines.
It is all strong, bright, passionate and, particularly when Malaby moves from tenor to soprano sax, uplifting as the overall pitch lifts and the two high voices sing. Dave himself produces a very bright, edged but unusually full alto sound, often running brilliantly and suddenly flying upward to a note like the whistle on a boiling kettle, but curving further skyward. It is often hair-raising, full of pressure and release. Everybody is their self, musically, but they somehow put into the air the very wide ranging life – surfing in tropical Asia for instance – of one Dave Ades.
You may have recently heard a band paying tribute to and celebrating his art in various clubs in the capital cities. Saxophonists Julien Wilson and Zac Hurren picked up various local rhythm teams in the different cities. Here is David himself. John Clare
A Life In A Day
David Ades (as), Tony Malaby (ss, ts), Mark Helias (b) Gerald Clever (d) Rec. 18 September 2013.
It is a testament to Ades’ determination that this album was recorded at all. That it is as good as it is merely confirms that not even severe adversity could stop the creative process. The plain fact is that Ades was in the last stages of cancer induced illness, but that did not arrest his need to get this album in the can. Such is his playing the illness is totally absent from these recordings. Instead, we have about 60 minutes of sublime improvisation from a great quartet, recorded in just five hours. Most of the tunes were composed by Ades in the days before the session and are loose, giving plenty of space for both Ades and Malaby to weave intricate lines over a very free rhythm section. The spell is broken by three trios, Cleaver being the man left out and Helias providing a floating bass, sometimes using his bow to great effect. The ease that these musicians have with each other reflects a deep understanding of each other’s playing; they recorded Ades’ “A Glorious Uncertainty” in 2011. In the accompanying liner notes Helias waxes lyrical about Ades, and the special bond between these friends and musicians is what makes this disc so special.
Click links to read articles
Five minutes with Julien Wilson
David Ades Life In A Day in a night at The Bangalow Bowlo
Music is the best way I know of accessing the spirits
LIVE REVIEWS FROM TRIBUTE TOUR
A LIFE IN A DAY ★★★★
Melbourne International Jazz Festival summer session
Bennetts Lane, Saturday, January 16
Reviewed by Jessica Nicholas
Alto saxophonist David Ades recorded his final album just weeks before succumbing to lung cancer in 2013. The album was released late last year with the title A Life in a Day, reflecting Ades’ determination to pour every last drop of life force into music and creative expression. This month, two fellow Australian saxophonists – Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson, both close friends of Ades – have been celebrating their late colleague’s music with a posthumous album launch tour. Saturday’s show at Bennetts Lane (part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival Summer Sessions) featured selections from A Life in a Day and Ades’ potent 2011 release, A Glorious Uncertainty. The musicians who inspired Ades were those who prized sincerity, immediacy and individuality, and Hurren and Wilson weren’t interested in producing carbon copies of the recordings. Both played tenor sax (rather than alto), but nevertheless captured the dichotomy and contradictions inherent in the late saxophonist’s approach: the tart harmonies that make dissonance sound sweet; the elusive rhythms that still make your head nod in time; the passion and intensity that could melt into exquisite understatement. In extended improvised passages, the pair ducked and weaved, sometimes engaging in spirited interplay with the highly responsive rhythm section (bassist Sam Anning and drummer Danny Fischer). On the set closer Moolie, bass and drums gleefully shifted tempos beneath the saxophones’ visceral spurts, all four players grinning with delight as they relished the freedom and vitality that Ades’ music epitomised.
ZAC HURREN REVIEW: THE LATE DAVID ADES’ MUSIC CONTINUES TO BURN FIERCELY
Zac Hurren/Julien Wilson Quartet
Foundry 616, January 17
It could have all been a bit glum, what with the posthumously released final album by the magnificent saxophonist David Ades being launched at what might be the last ever Jazzgroove Summer Festival, the Jazzgroove Association having lost its funding after two decades of supporting Sydney’s improvisers. Instead it was hard to imagine more joyous music. A contemporary and colleague of the pivotal Mark Simmonds, Ades was a vital link in the lineage of great Australian jazz saxophonists. Their precursors were the likes of Merv Acheson and Bernie McGann, and they passed the flame to the two tenor saxophonists in this performance: Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson. All these players share having a larger-than-life sound that is utterly distinctive and a profound commitment to truth.A quartet of Hurren, Wilson, bassist Cameron Undy and drummer Simon Barker was assembled specifically to play Ades’ compositions. They began with La Ripaille from Ades’ second-last album, A Glorious Uncertainty, and immediately many of the defining elements were in play: the immeasurably sinewy rhythm section and the might and contrast of the two saxophonists all converging on compositions that seemed to have inbuilt improvisational potency. Thereafter the quartet concentrated on material from Ades’ final magnum opus, A Life in a Day, and kept scaling new heights of beauty and power, culminating in a scalding version of Removab.Hurren’s wonderfully woolly sound and more laconic phrasing were a perfect foil for Wilson’s blistering intensity, with both also finding contexts for a more diaphanous exposition of heartbreak amid the tumult. Undy was masterful underpinning this band with his dark sound and he offered exquisite solos, while Barker not only supplied the spark, he also poured on the petrol, creating startlingly energised, daring and imaginative drumming. Ades would have treasured hearing his music realised with such verve, love and crunching dynamism.Preceding this came engaging sets from the Ollie McGill Trio and the David Groves Quintet, the latter including another admirable saxophonist in Scott Kelly. The flame keeps burning.
SAXOPHONISTS BRING MUSIC BACK TO LIFE FOR A DAY IN DAVE ADES TRIBUTE
Zac Hurren & Julien Wilson
Wheatsheaf Hotel, January 18
This COMA concert, part of a national tour, was to remember and pay tribute to the late Australian alto saxophone giant Dave Ades (1961-2013). A Life in a Day was the title of Ades’s final album, recorded in New York. He died only a few weeks after his return to Australia.The Adelaide concert consisted mostly of Ades’s compositions from his final recording and others from a previous one, A Glorious Uncertainty. Led by Brisbane tenor saxophonist Zac Hurren, the quartet included a second tenor played by Julien Wilson, bassist Marty Holoubek, and drummer Hugh Harvey, all three Melbourne-based.The program launched with a raucous cadenza intro by Wilson to a Thelonious Monk piece,Raise Four. When the other three joined in, it was immediately obvious that we were in for an evening of exceptional quality musicianship. There were tempo and mood changes, perfect unison, and often complex work from the two horns, outstanding solos from everyone, and an atmosphere of dedicated perfection interspersed with occasional humour.The two saxes exchanged lines, often at high speed, sometimes one taking a phrase from the other, embellishing and extending it before sending it back; or they played contrapuntally with notes pouring out in a contemporary jazz style delivered in fugue-like constructions. All the while, the underlying drums and bass provided intelligent foundations. It’s difficult to imagine COMA supplying a superior concert to this in 2016.