Barney McAll is a Melbourne composer and 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. Yet his musical interests transcend genres, he has also been the musical director for Sia and Daniel Merriweather and delved into more pop and electronic realms. His latest album is the sublime Transitive Cycles, an astounding work recorded live at its Melbourne International Jazz Festival premiere, featuring interactive improvisation between the bells and an ensemble comprising of some of the best musicians in the country, with McAll directing proceedings via his keyboards and self-made instrument ‘Chucky’ (various music boxes, glockenspiel, kalimba and electronics). We recently described the album in our review as ‘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.’ So it probably comes as no surprise that we wanted to know more, and reached out to McAll to try and get a sense of the odd and disparate influences coursing through his music veins. It’s safe to say we haven’t been disappointed.
Eyeless In Gaza: Throw A Shadow – Drumming the Beating Heart
I listened to the early Eyeless in Gaza albums; Pale Hands I Loved So Well (1982), and Drumming the Beating Heart (1982) constantly in my 20s so I feel like they are part of my musical makeup, although it would be hard to tell. It’s a raw dark thing that they do. I especially love Peter Becker’s synth aesthetic and the ‘off the cuff’ feeling this duo gets. To me they are mystical druids.
Holger Czukay – Boat-Woman-Song
I purchased “Canaxis 5” in the 90s, at an ambient record store in Melbourne solely because the cover looked interesting. Little did I know that the rat would have its neck snapped: I put on “Boat-Woman-Song” and was terrified for a long while. It actually took years before I could listen to it with appreciation rather than fearing that I was being hexed.This was my first experience of a mashup or of sampling in a way. The feeling I got was eerie but I knew my perception of what was possible was being changed, even if I had to violently scratch the record off at first. Holger was a bright flame to be sure. Wow.
Conlon Nancarrow – Study No 21
When I was 22 years old, hitchhiking through Germany, I was very fortunate to be introduced to the music of Conlon Nancarrow by Juergen Hocker. Juergen was not only Conlon’s close friend and advocate, he also repaired two Ampico-Bösendorfer grand pianos for the purpose of allowing Conlon’s player piano pieces to be played in concert settings all across Germany. I had no idea when I walked into the home of Juergen and Beatrix Hocker that I would be given an actual concert of Conlon’s music on one of these amazing Bösendorfers. I didn’t even know who Conlon Nancarrow was. The first piece they played me was Canon X (Study No 21 ) and it was one of the most incredible musical revelations of my life. “A musical avalanche” as Conlon used to refer to it apparently. I’ll never forget the way that Bösendorfer roared out this utterly impossible futuristic music before my very ears.
Chris Abrahams – Machine from “WALK” album
If you can find this on wax you are a winner – it’s a rare solo piano offering which probably mainly exists now in Chris Abrahams’ Wardrobe along with some burning tires.This is Chris’ second solo piano album and the first one called “piano” is also a fkn marvel. I first encountered Chris when I was studying at the VCA and I heard him practicing “Machine” (first track side B) in one of the practice rooms. It was so odd and revelatory for me. His approach was so fresh and individual, especially compared to the classical players and the young jazzers in the other rooms. It was like some mysterious ritual was being performed. To me, Chris is one of the most influential musicians and composers ever to come out of Australia. I have loved this record for years and yet, it’s not available anywhere. In fact, I uploaded it to youtube… sorry Chris!
Bud Powell – Mediocre
Bud Powell was a musician who also changed me forever. My brother John played me some Bud when I was just 10 years old and at that instant I knew I wanted to pursue improvised music, whatever the hell it was? This particular track though is a real enigma. To me, you can get a glimpse of the incredible possibilities Bud had that were never realised. It sounds like something way ahead of where he was and had he not been bashed over the head by racist Philadelphia police we could have heard more from this visionary. It’s terribly sad – Bud was heading into some other futuristic realms, even after completely changing the landscape of improvised music alongside Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
Aretha Franklin seducing Levi Stubbs with her musical spell -The Fourtops- I Wanna Be With You
Been loving this song and video for years. It’s just so happening and impromptu and the combo of Aretha and The Fourtops is so rich. I have listened to this so many times and the mood is so loaded you could cut it with a knife….when they improvise the harmonies on “we’re gonna have it all” it always blows me away. This track needs a content warning.
Ben Monder – ELYSIUM – from Hydra –
I met Ben Monder (Mind-Bender) close to two decades ago in New York and he has always been a great inspiration to me in terms of dedication and hard work. He is so gifted and obsessed and it shows. He once tried to practice for 24 hours straight but only got to 22 and then passed out. Lame Ben! He has such great depth and innovation in terms of his composing and I dare say he will eventually be remembered as one of the most important composers for guitar of our times. He might take a year to write an album and then another year to learn to play what he has written. In fact, maybe Ben is one of the few people who can actually even play his guitar music.
I love this entire album, it is a revelation of musicianship and just distinctive Monder-ness but I especially love ELYSIUM where he has overdubbed 15 re-tuned taylor baby guitar tracks. It sounds like some celestial realm where those who strive in earnest, without seeking anything in return except the realisation of what they truly hear are rewarded in pure magical influx. Gian Slater’s voice is the perfect compliment here also.
Dr. Ethel Caffie – Angels Watching Over me
I have been into gospel piano for a while and Dr Caffie (Virginia’s First Lady of Gospel Music) is one of the true music goldmines of the internet. You can find her gospel piano course on youtube and I have definitely learned alot from that. In fact, when I see what she’s doing I feel like it’s some sacred information. How can I be allowed to even know this? and then I realise, I might see the notes but the spirit she has protects it. Not to mention she is one of the greatest singers anyone has ever heard.
Ben Gerstein – Everything
Trombonist, composer and conceptualist Ben Gerstein is one of the most incredible and important music explorers and thinkers I have ever known.This may be out of school but, I just had to include more than one video because there are literally hundreds of videos that explore so many areas of sound, music, metaphysics and spirituality . You can find them on youtube and on Ben’s Patreon : https://www.patreon.com/bengerstein/ and they will truly change what you even understand music to be.
Time-lapse drums Art Tatum “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bR0zk-rrhM
Dishwasher hinge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en1bNym5fvo
Ligeti drum practice, “Der Zauberlehrling” etude, player piano version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aSF0DjA3aY
Time lapse goldfish piano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbLYQhh284Q
All-trombone Stravinsky “Movements for Piano and Orchestra” (1959/2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WnRHGHAtGA
Organ improvisation, Benedictine Abbey, 1952 | ashtray rainwater and old butts reflecting the sky
Roberta Martin and All Stars – Only A Look At Jesus – Donald Vails Piano
Donald Vails is just my favorite gospel pianist and this congregational singing moment is another sacred thing I feel like I am very privileged to even witness. And yes, that’s Billy Preston in tears at the organ. I bet some of the readers of this can point out the myriad stars of gospel who are in attendance here but the spirit is so strong in the room.
(Sorry we can’t embed this clip but you can click on it to watch it on youtube)
Transitive Cycles is out via Heavy Machinery Records you can find it here.