“The strong horn arrangements and saxophone of Rob Burke stand out.”
– C. Cody
” … there is a thoughtful, well-measured sense of tasty tapestry.”
– Downtown Music Gallery (2018)
(Head Under Water review)
“They don’t hesitate to change the usual forms of improvising, fuse together contrasting musical language elements and make inventive and eclectic combinations of instruments, styles, sounds and manners.”
– Anant Scena (2018)
(Head Under Water review)
“Even when both saxists are playing tenor, there is a thoughtful, well-measured sense tasty tapestry.”
– Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG, NY, (2018)
“What makes this disc work so well is the sense of restraint or calm at the centre with well-selected eruptions which never reach an extreme.”
– Downtown Music Gallery, NY (2017)
“This is a groundbreaking collection — complex and adventurous. 4.5★ ”
– J. McBeath, The Australian (2015)
“A stunning jazz album that identifies Melbourne as a significant contributor of talent and inventive and pioneering jazz on the world stage. Beautifully recorded and presented … This record is a collaboration of some of the most influential protagonists on the Melbourne scene and is undoubtedly a masterpiece.”
– Eddie Naran, Jazz on the Street (2015)
“Variations of tempo and mood and a seemingly telepathic ability to complement each other make for stimulating listening.”
– Music Australia Guide (2010)
“…carefully crafted explorations into the melodic beauty, space, timbre and dynamic variations of reeds and piano by players whose long friendship is evident.”
– Roger Mitchell, SHS (2010)
“…an empathetic, melodic and tender album that reflects the saxophonist’s and pianist’s longtime playing partnership.”
– The Daily Planet, ABC Radio National (2010)
“…to die for.”
– Leon Gettler, The Age Green Guide (2010)
“An exciting tour of Melbourne. There are moments where you will get chills down your back. 4.5★ ”
– The Age Green Guide (2005)
“There is a romance in the tracks that comes from an exploration of a stage of jazz which has pleasured many for a long time. While gentle … it is quietly persuasive of all the life, clarity and brilliance to be found in mainstream jazz. Emotional and relaxing.”
– Canberra Times, Canberra (2003)
Album review: The Gravity Project
Review by Gareth Thompson. Published at All About Jazz.
Born in Osaka, Japan, the veteran costume designer Junko Koshino has thrived on opposing images. Be-tentacled alien women can be expected to appear next to Greek goddesses in her shows. Her philosophy has thus been described as taikyoku, the Japanese word for “extreme opposites.”
Here comes the relevant bit… Now consider Masaki Nakamura, a young star of the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo-flute) who has performed at Koshino’s fashion shows but also in castles, shrines and temples. More extreme opposites, indeed. So, maybe no surprise that severe contrasts enticed him to join The Gravity Project, an album fashioned by Australian jazz heroes Paul Grabowsky and Robert Burke. A bid to merge Oceanic and Oriental influences with hip-hop and electronica, it premiered at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival in 2018.
Such a weight of different ideals might cause any project like this to buckle. But immediate worries of overkill are dispelled on opening “Tokyo Overpass,” where the tone is pared down and suggestive, like a haiku. Kuniko Obina plucks the bare bones of sound from a koto (a Japanese zither with silk strings), using notes as fragile as papery petals. Worldly concerns might almost be abandoned here, joined by Burke’s unhurried sax and a shadowy bass.
“Beat Hayashi” then builds by nuances into a full fruition of the album’s various parts. Electronic hooting invites a creamy sax/trumpet duet over an eddy of digi-beats. The shakuhachi floats in under a tempest of explicit rapping, leading towards a drum solo of such primal fury it sounds like thunder in a mountain crag. The soul twists and turns under this track’s onslaught, but the whole mosaic feels a little too cracked and forced by the end.
More pointed rapping on “Plum Rain” drifts away into an electronic sphere, where sax notes shimmer like silk flags. Raunchy raps with the vehemence of swordplay then pierce “Now Breathe In,” over turbulent beats and keys.
A welcome flowering of the koto marks “Vinegar” amid fitful improvs, until “Psalm” at last brings the shakuhachi into solo bloom. Nakamura creates a real stillness of space here, like an austere ritual, not clouded too much by tranquil electronics and the ensemble’s serene playing.
The Gravity Project is never quite the Zen jazz garden it might have been, but more a library of social realism and mythology. Yet gravity itself has an infinite range, and the pull of this forceful album may be felt long after leaving its orbit.
Track Listing: Tokyo Overpass; Beat Hayashi; Plum Rain; Now Breathe In; Vinegar; Psalm.
Personnel: Paul Grabowsky: piano, melodica; Robert Burke: sax, clarinet; Aaron Choulai: SP 404R; Joe Talia: drums, electronics; Narin Dasika: trumpet; Sam Anning: bass; Masaki Nakamura: shakuhachi; Kuniko Obina: koto.
Album review: Head Under Water
Review by Bruce Lee Gallanter. Published at Downtown Music Gallery.
Featuring Rob Burke on tenor & soprano sax, Tony Malaby on tenor & soprano sax and Mark Helias on contrabass. Last year, I reviewed a a quartet disc on FMR with two Australian musicians and two New York musicians, which included Rob Burke, Mark Helias and George Lewis. Here we have a trio CD with Tony Malaby added to Mr. Burke and Mr. Helias. Mr. Malaby and Mr. Helias are both members of a trio known as Open Loose, who have a half dozen discs to their name. This disc was recorded in Brooklyn in July of 2017 and mixed in Italy later that year. The first thing I noticed about this disc is how well it is recorded: warm, clean and well-balanced. The trio sounds like a chamber trio, the playing on “Immersion”, restrained and thoughtful. The central player here is bassist Mark Helias, who plays is in especially fine form, tapping on, plucking or bowing the strings is almost cerebral, hypnotic way. The saxist off switch off, one playing tenor while the other plays soprano, taking their time, never squawking or squeaking very much, always finding common ground, weaving their lines gracefully. The trio sounds conducted or at least directed at times, always keeping things balanced and not going too far out. This creates an elegant balance/sound. Even when both saxists are playing tenor, there is a thoughtful, well-measured sense tasty tapestry. Certain improv is magical, inexplicable in the way it unfolds and makes perfect sense, like a story with a moral. Not sure what the oral is but the story is righteously told.
Album review: Head Under Water
Review by Avantscena. Published at Avantscena.
“Head Under Water” is the newest release of “FMR Records”. The album was recorded by Robert Burke (tenor and soprano saxopones), Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophone) and Mark Helias (acoustic bass). These three musicians have interesting and original playing style – it has expressive and passionate playing manner, unique sound and rich musical language. All three jazz masters are famous in avant-garde jazz scene for many years now – they also had been playing and improvising with many other famous and great improvisers. Their music usually is based on spontaneous and vivacious musical decisions – each of them likes to experiment in all fields of musical language, especially in sound and instrumentation section. They don’t hesitate to change the usual forms of improvising, fuse together contrasting musical language elements and make inventive and eclectic combinations of instruments, styles, sounds and manners. Their music always has expressive, bright and passionate sound.
“Head Under Water” has expressive and dynamic sound. Free imrpovisations are the main elements of whole album – it makes an effort to whole musical pattern, style, rhythms and other musical language’s elements. The musicians are exploring all layers of musical language – they expand the technical abilities of their instruments, use specific and innovative instrumentation forms and decisions. That helps them to create original and bright sound of their improvisations. Open form, free imrpovisation, turbulent and harsh solos, synthesis between various jazz styles and contemporary academical music – all these elements are the main basics of this album. Saxophones melodies by Tony Malaby and Robert Burke gently fit together despite of huge contrast between the improvising styles of these jazz masters. Their music is filled with expressive, touching and glamorous melodies, passionate and spontaneous solos, turbulent, shining, sparkling and bright blow outs, remarkable riffs and marvelous passages. Both musicians are fusing together contemporary academical music elements with e=their own and experimental ways of playing. That makes an effort to huge variety of gorgeous and colorful timbres. Even though, both musicians form their music on the basics of avant-garde jazz, free improvisations and sound experiments, their music also has many relations with bebop, post bop, hard bop, cool and other contemporary and modern jazz styles. That especially hears in melodic and rhythmic section – especially expressive, rapid and dynamic solos with sharp harmony, constantly changing rhythmic and sudden stylistic waves are very frequently heard in their improvisations and fused with free improvisation. The music also has some tunes and mild relations with contemporary academical music and academic avant-garde – that shows the instrumentation section, which is totally based on natural, colorful and inventive synthesis betyween experimental ways of playing, own playing techniques and modern playing techniques of contemporary academical music. Music also is very moody and dynamic – from the silent, soft,gentle and warm episodes improvisers jump into harsh, aggressive, rapid ,expressive and turbulent collective improvisations or effective duos. Mark Helias acoustic bass melodies have deep, dark and solid sound. Bass line is solid and independent – static and monotonous tunes are fused together with dynamic and rapid rhythmic formulas. That creates a strong, original and interesting rhythmic section and bass line. The rhythms are connected with melodies – it has bright, passionate, virtuosic and vivacious sound. Mark Helias playing style is very dynamic and expressive – he masterfully fuses together traditions of various modern and avant-garde jazz styles, harmonies, chords,scales and other elements of musical language. His music always have vibrant, effective, original and dynamic sound. All three improvisers show their best in this album – they create glamorous, remarkable and innovative sound.
Album review: Barlines & Beyond
Review by Dave Sumner. Published at Bird is the Worm
The fusion of modern jazz and Indian Classical on Barlines & Beyond is more than a little bit fascinating. Saxophonist Rob Burke, Indian Classical slide guitarist Debasis Chakroborty, electric guitarist Stephen Magnusson and tabla-percussionist Sam Evans create melodies that can either flicker like a candle flame or melt like its wax. And in either instance, that melody is likely to be a little catchy. The talkative chatter from tabla is an essential balance to all of the melodic intrigue, and gives strange music a friendly personality. There’s a meditative quality to many of these tracks, which is kind of remarkable considering how effusive things get. Music from Agra, India and Melbourne, Australia.
Album review: Robert Burke – Mercurochrome
Review by Amrap. Published at Amrap
Recorded October 2014 at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, the band was to learn and perform the compositions but “…no instructions were given regarding artistic direction in the improvisations, they were inherently connected to the compositions or central ideas developed as a basis of the musical conversation” – Rob Burke.
What can be noted is what is familiar; styles that have influenced both composition and improvisation, including: jazz, classical western music (tonal and atonal), african and pop/rock.
Robert Burke – an improvising musician form Australia, has performed and composed on over 200 CDs and toured extensively internationally. He has released 9 CDs under his own name having recorded and performed with Kenny Werner, Dave Douglas, Paul Grabowsky, Hermeto Pascoal, Vince Jones, Kate Ceberano, Joe Camilleri, George Lewis.
New-York based Mark Helias is one of the most significant bass players on the jazz/improvisation scene. His vast knowledge of music, creativity and innovation makes him such an important figure in the advancement of improvised music.
Nasheet Waits is one of the most in-demand and respected drummers in New York. Nasheet has played with the ‘who’s who’ of current jazz legends.
Also appearing are: Paul Williamson, Jordan Murray and Paul Grabowsky.
About this track…
Excellent opener from Burke’s 2015 release Power of the Idea.
Album review: Power of the Idea – Robert Burke
Review by John McBeath, republished by Jazz Australia on September 4, 2013
With performers from Monash’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music: Assoc. Professor Robert Burke on saxophone, pianist Professor Paul Grabowsky, plus two lecturers, and adding two of New York’s foremost players this recording can’t fail to exemplify its title to demonstrate all-powerful jazz ideas.
The nine sextet originals – five by Burke – were recorded late in 2014 at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, New York, and Burke says he gave no instructions re artistic direction in improvisations; these were connected to the central ideas as a basis of the musical conversation.
Burke’s Mercurochrome opener travels along its irregular theme impelled by Nasheet Waits’s underscoring drum beats before racing sax and Paul Williamson’s high-reaching trumpet begin to wander in free improvisation. They’re soon joined by Grabowsky’s chords, Mark Helias on bass and Jordan Murray’s trombone and then re-joined by Waits’s drums in a forceful solo.
The sole Grabowsky piece, Abandon uses a short piano trio intro ahead of the horns’ theme statement leading into another high register trumpet solo as bass, drums, and the piano’s insistent chords push it along to launch a rough, talkative trombone, and a lengthy energetic drum sequence.
Freebopcom by Murray investigates its title with a post-bop theme from the horns with piano ornamentation transiting into a robustly swinging bass interlude, Burke’s hoarsely investigative tenor, and the piano alternating between a riding flow and atonal chord hits.
This is a ground-breaking collection – complex and adventurous – from four Australian and two US players where the compositions and performances create the illusion that they’ve all been playing together for years.
The Monash Sessions (Monash students and overseas artists)
Review by John McBeath, published by The Australian on August 31, 2013
THREE albums herald the launch of the most comprehensive global program of any tertiary jazz studies course in Australia.
Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music in Melbourne not only offers students the opportunity to study, play and record with visiting overseas headline performers, it also takes about 40 students annually to international destinations for this purpose.
The outstanding results can be heard on the first three albums of The Monash Sessions, consisting of performances with Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal; Monash Uni Big Band plus three smaller ensembles with American tenor giant George Garzone; and various small groups of faculty and students from Monash and New York universities, plus other New York players.
Further recordings, including sessions in Italy with trumpet maestro Enrico Rava and Australian performances with esteemed vocalist Vince Jones, are scheduled for next year.
First in the series is an album of six tracks, all composed by Pascoal with various groups including students and faculty members, plus Australian specialist in Brazilian guitar Doug de Vries. Pascoal, known in Brazil as O Bruxo (the sorcerer), is renowned for using unconventional objects and on the opener, Bebe, he can be heard singing a surprisingly effective, bubbly scat chorus into a glass of water.
In another piece Pascoal joins the Latin rhythm ensemble with a speeding melodica after a powerful trombone solo from Jordan Murray and Dan Mamrot’s authentic-sounding traditional guitar. The Garzone collection has the tenor out front of the 19-piece Monash Uni Big Band, presenting several standards and one original arranged by Garzone’s long-term associate Greg Hopkins.
Horace Silver’s Nutville has Travis Woods’s vigorous driving trumpet over jabbing brass in addition to Garzone’s breathtaking solo. Five tracks feature Garzone playing his compositions with two smaller Monash ensembles. Three pieces close the session with the Small World Ensemble, including a spectacularly energetic version of I Remember You with just Chloe Dempsey’s drum accompaniment.
The album is a breathtaking display of Garzone’s virtuosic technique, his inventive chord shifts, effortless high-register excursions and strong swinging ability, against different backdrops of impressive talent.
The third album, of 11 tracks, Jazz in New York, is presented by six ensembles, and there are many remarkable moments and soloists appearing in these fine line-ups. Some groups include members of the NYU jazz staff and others use local jazz artists, such as pianist Sy Johnson, who played and arranged for Charles Mingus, and each combo contains high-calibre performances from Monash students.
Rob Burke, head of the school of music, and his supporting faculty are to be congratulated on establishing the Monash Sessions program, providing wonderful opportunities for students including international prospects, masterclasses and mentoring.
RATING: 4 stars
Album review: Do True – Robert Burke and Kenny Werner
Review by John McBeath, published by The Australian on September 27, 2014.
WELL-established Melbourne saxophonist Robert Burke has appeared on more than 200 albums, ranging from pop/rock acts to contemporary jazz. He has toured extensively throughout Asia, Europe, the US and Australia and been co-ordinator of jazz and popular studies at Monash University’s School of Music for more than 10 years.
This latest album was recorded in New York, with Burke fronting a trio of US musicians led by pianist Kenny Werner. It’s a combination of compositions by Burke and Werner plus one by Paul Grabowsky. Werner, a New Yorker, is a highly experienced pianist and composer, the author of Effortless Mastery, a book dealing with musical freedom for musicians, and currently artist in residence at New York University.
The opener and title track, by Burke, begins with a lengthy freestyle tenor cadenza into which soft piano and percussion sounds gradually enter. As the sax races hoarsely forward out of tempo and then drops into the ballad-like theme — with a faint echo of Autumn in New York — the trio adds rhythm with Johannes Weidenmueller’s bass work and Richie Barshay on drums supplementing Werner’s alternately fluid and stabbing piano. Grabowsky’s Angel, a very attractive melody, has engaging solos from piano and sax, while Werner’s Georgia James, after a
dodging, post-bop opening from piano and sax in unison, flows satisfyingly into a strong piano sequence with a bluesy feel and an exploratory sax solo using occasional fast phrasing. This collection offers sufficient contrasts to make it a pleasurable album, in which Burke’s tenor is well integrated with a fine New York trio.