Sometimes music can feel like its all been done before, so its great to come across something that is such a unique, confident musical statement that you don’t quite know what it is.
Transitive Cycles seems to be part spiritual jazz, part fusion, part world music, part exploratory sound design, part electro acoustic experimentation, part put it in the blender and shred it all up. Because that’s probably the point, it’s all happening at once. This is no homage for trainspotters, rather it’s a mutt, – a beautiful ugly soup that incorporates all of the above and then more.
Barney McAll is a Melbourne musician (predominantly piano and keys) who has worked with some of the jazz greats, like Gary Bartz, Fred Wesley and the JB’s, Billy Harper and Roy Ayers amongst numerous others.
I hear everything from Tortoise to Gamelan music on this album, Sun Ra to South East Asian gong music. It’s wild and totally unexpected – probably due to the strength of the players (all amazing forward thinking musicians in their own right) and the ridiculous diversity of instruments.
In fact lineup and instrumentation should wet your appetite alone:
Barney McAll – Rhodes, Chucky (self-made Instrument), Bulbul Tarang, Federation Bells
Julien Wilson – Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet
Adrian Sherriff – Trombone, Moog Taurus, Shakuhachi Flute, Buchla Music Easel, Bata Drums
Steve Magnusson – Moog Guitar
Leigh Fisher – Drums, Modular Synthesis
Jordan Tarento – Acoustic Bass
It feels partly improvised, though there are also definitely highly composed parts where the band just coalesce together into a blissful pre arrangement. Possibly the biggest surprise is that it comes from a live performance at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival in 2018, from a free show at Federation Bells, Birrarung Marr. It actually stems from a commission to use the bells and they’re integral to much of the music here – and they sound incredible – pushing the music into the realm of that incredible MPS Jazz Meets World series, yet again, that’s been done before, so instead McAll takes it somewhere else. There are extended trombone solos, Moog guitar, and throughout the bells just ring away. The dynamics build and fall, there’s texture and density and then just a few instruments stretching out. The control, the momentum, the arrangements – it’s nothing short of sublime. McAll integrates the bells better than any other artist I’ve heard with a similar commission. It’s the heart and soul of this music, but also a launching pad for these incredible musicians.
With two songs clocking in at 20+ minutes each this is long-form music that goes through numerous suites or cycles that are nothing short of compelling. The complexity of the playing, the interplay, and the abrupt shift in dynamics are simply jaw dropping. This is a landmark jazz album – if indeed it is jazz.