Tracks: (MP3 samples)
2 CD Set
Before I was born Bernie McGann, or Bern, as he prefers, embarked on a career as a professional musician. He was a drummer.
It was the 1950s in Sydney, and from stories I’ve heard from Bob Bertles, John Pochée, Dave Levy and others, it was an exciting time for young aspiring jazz musicians. Parallel to finding gigs and playing, they created a news network and, ferret-like, ears would perk at word of the arrival in town of new records, usually from the States. Soon, pretty intense driving across and around the harbour preceded intense and repeated listening sessions.
I understand from John Pochée that McGann, Pochée and friends were particularly inspired by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, each player, McGann now on alto sax, finding a model in that band. They were long-distance apprentices who worked long and hard at developing their own sound. We have been among the beneficiaries as they found their own paths to music-making and forged their own unique sounds.
Wending celebrates McGann’s 75th birthday and a distinctive career that continues to demonstrate deep musicality. Long-time collaborator Lloyd Swanton thought we should match tracks still awaiting release from the Blues for Pablo Too sessions with material featuring the new rhythm section of Brendan Clarke and Andrew Dickeson.
What a great idea, and we now have a double CD, rather than the expected single disc, with the characteristic mix of a carefully chosen selection from the McGann songbook of standards and popular song, and his own compositional nuggets.
Over the years McGann’s trio and quartet have toured to the US, Europe and elsewhere, presenting their music at clubs and festivals and delighting audiences and critics. Here his lineups have won many awards for live performance and four ARIA Awards for Best Jazz Album, while he has received the Australia Council’s Don Banks Music Award which ‘honour(s) an artist of high distinction who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to Australia music over a period of many years’.
McGann remains a modest, even self-effacing man. He has a clear musical conception, one that doesn’t follow an obvious route to expression, but it strikes me that he’s happiest to let his music be the statement that others respond to. That statement is clear and strongly present in Wending, which is an adornment both to his recording catalogue, and a career which grew from an inspiration and over the years has inspired audiences and new generations of aspiring musicians.
Happy birthday, Bern!
‘The opening saxophone notes of The Breeze and I will curl your hair. Their sound, impact, ideas and originality oblige this long-term Bernie McGann fan to reassess previous assertions that he is one of the three most distinctive living alto saxophonists (with Ornette Coleman and Arthur Blythe). McGann is among the most distinctive musicians of any ilk. Ever...Magnificent.’