Clarion Fracture Zone
Clarion Fracture Zone
Australian jazz group Clarion Fracture Zone reached international audiences with the release of their Australian Recording Industry Award (ARIA)-winning debut release Blue Shift in 1990. The three constants in the group are husband-and-wife team Alister Spence and Sandy Evans, and Tony Gorman. The group is noted for its adventurous compositions, which include evocative melodic pieces as well as complex works of a spiritual nature. Perhaps their most noted work in the former category is their 1993 release What Love Can Do. Their 2001 recording of their 1997 collaboration with the Bulgarian Martenitsa Choir, Canticle, is thought to be among their most spiritual work.
Saxophone and flute player Sandy Evans studied at the New South Wales (NSW) Conservatorium of Music before joining such Australian jazz groups as the Bruce Cale Orchestra, the KMA Orchestra, and Great White Noise. In 1982 she formed Women and Children First, which toured Australia extensively. She later joined the Ten Part Invention jazz group, with whom she continued to contribute as a performer and composer after forming Clarion Fracture Zone. In 1987 Evans and Scottish saxophonist Tony Gorman co-led the saxophone quartet SAXTC. With Gorman and husband Spence, Evans formed Clarion Fracture Zone. Spence also attended the NSW Conservatorium, where he earned an associate diploma in Jazz Studies. He also studied in New York with Cedar Walton and Andy Laverne.
The group released its debut album, Blue Shift, in 1990. Although it won an ARIA award for Best Jazz Album, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD editors disparaged the recording's quality and "the slight fussiness of some of the arrangements." The editors were more complimentary for the follow-up recording, Zones on Parade, which they state is "immediately better, with a businesslike, road-tested feel, abetted by a more professional mix." What This Love Can Do, released in 1993, marked what some critics consider the realization of Evans as the dominant composer in the group. Structured as a suite, the album, according to critic David Jobling of QStage, is "just under 40 minutes, but it is such a richly complex work that the length seems bigger, broader, longer…." Guest percussionist Greg Sheehan appears on the composition's third movement, dividing critics as to the merits of his contribution. Jobling advocates that Sheehan's playing contributes "spice to an already rich texture of sound," while the Penguin editors write that the "suite might have worked better with a drummerless concept and with a couple of guest spots for brass."
In 2001, Clarion Fracture Zone contributed several tracks to the album Spellbound Sea. Featuring fellow jazz artists Wanderlust, McGann, and Paul McNamara, the album is "a musical journey around the world, with a heavy emphasis on themes of the sea and the Sydney coastline," according to critic Emma Nelms at the M/C Reviews website. Described by the record company as a "soundtrack," Spellbound Sea includes the Clarion Fracture Zone compositions "Jacaranda," "The Wild Uproar," and "Spice Island." The first piece spotlights the percussive prowess of Daryl Pratt on metal and wooden bells, evoking a Southern Pacific island feel. "The Wild Uproar" employs strings in a piece that critic Nelms believes brings to mind "the wind through the ropes of a sailboat…. The music suggests crashes of sea, and anxious, menacing tensions and melodies." "Spice Island" is described by Nelms as "a soft, sultry, swaying lullaby" that, despite an "emerging wave of sound … harsher and brassier than I yearned for …. warms down to a gentler rhythm, all the more delicious for the respite."
For their 2001 release, Canticle, Clarion Fracture Zone teamed with Bulgarian female vocal group the Marten-itsa Choir. The Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney commissioned the piece in 1997, in order to present a contrary point of view to the Australian National Report on Human Sexuality. Believing that the National Report presented a negatively polarized stance on sex, the Paddington Uniting Church sought to balance that view with a musical piece inspired by the Old Testament Song of Solomon, which depicts sexual relations between man and woman as both spiritual and erotic. A member of the church as well as its organist, Spence accepted the commission and collaborated with Evans and Gorman on the composition. Clarion Fracture Zone debuted the piece live in the Paddington church before recording it in the studio. The piece incorporates choral singing in English, Gaelic, and Bulgarian with interplay between the tenor saxophones of Evans and Gorman and the sounds of Lloyd Swanton on bass and Tony Hall on drums.
A loosely structured cantata, Canticle was praised by Sydney Morning Herald critic John Clare, who wrote: "A Bulgarian women's choir has a curious and thrilling effect. Each individual voice buzzes. Together they can make the air vibrate like a swarm of locusts, but there is also a slightly candied, rather girlish tone there. It is simultaneously stringent and sexy. The Clarion composers draw some unusual atmospheric effects from them as well as tapping their momentum." According to All About Jazz website critic Shane Nichols, "The material actually varies somewhat, not least for the involvement of several composers in pianist Alister Spence, whose sprinting piano work in the opening piece sets the mood, and saxophonists Sandy Evans and Tony Gorman. The latter both turn in scorching and/or sensitive readings, which ensure the vital charge in the material is brought home." Sydney Morning Herald critic John Shand also praised a 2001 live performance of Canticle, describing it as "a celebration of love and sexuality, using the yearning eroticism of the Bible's 'Song of Songs' as a launch pad. Implicit was the idea that Christianity's emphasis on love was never supposed to exclude passion…. The work erupts with the quality and this performance eclipsed that of four years ago." Shand continued: "The players have all grown, and the ensemble had grown, becoming a sextet with the addition of the impressive talents of [bass clarinetist] Paul Cutlan." Shand also delivered praise for the Martenitsa choir: "Shrugging tentativeness aside, the women hurled themselves into their interactions with the blazing sextet, or created eerie backdrops for gentler improvisations."
For the Record . . .
Members include Sandy Evans (married to Alister Spence), saxophone; Tony Gorman , saxophone, clarinet, percussion; Alister Spence (born on August 23, 1955, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; married to Sandy Evans), piano, synthesizer.
Released debut album, Blue Shift, 1990; released sophomore effort, Zones on Parade, 1992; released third album, What This Love Can Do, 1993; contributed several tracks to Rufus Records' compilation album, Spellbound Sea, 2001; released Canticle, 2001.
Awards: Australian Recording Industry Award (ARIA), Best Jazz Album for Blue Shift, 1991.
Addresses: Record company— Rufus Records, website: http://www.rufusrecords.com.au, e-mail: [email protected] rufusrecords.com.au.
In addition to their collective work, the individual members of Clarion Fracture Zone have established themselves as leading members of the Australian arts community. Evans is a frequent contributor to recordings and performances by the group austraLYSIS and is a member of the trio Waratah, which features saxophone, koto, and percussion. She is also the leader of the Sandy Evans Trio and a member of the Catholics, an Australian jazz group that also includes Lloyd Swanton. Spence has collaborated with American composer and saxophonist Phillip Johnston and is also a member of the jazz group Wanderlust. In addition, he has composed several award-winning film scores and earned a diploma of teaching at Kuringai College of Advanced Education. He also teaches Jazz Studies and performance at the University of New South Wales and Wesley Institute.
Blue Shift, VeraBra, 1990; reissued, Rufus, 1998.
Zones on Parade, Rufus, 1992.
What This Love Can Do, Rufus, 1993.
Less Stable Elements, Rufus, 1996.
(With others) Spellbound Sea, Rufus, 2001.
(With the Martenitsa Choir) Canticle, Rufus, 2001.
Cook, Richard, and Brian Morton, editors, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 3rd edition, Penguin, 1996.
"About the austraLYSIS Members," austraLYSIS and Soma Arts, http://www.australysis.com/alysmemb.htm (August 21, 2003).
"Alister Spence," Australian Art Orchestra, http://www.aao.com.au/bios/alister_spence.html (August 21, 2003).
"ASC Academic Staff Profiles," Australian Studies Centre, http://www.wesleyinstitute.edu.au/wi/asc/bio.asp (August 21, 2003).
"Canticle, " Mara Music, http://www.maramusic.com.au/Martenitsapages/martenitsa%20canticle.htm (August 21, 2003).
"Clarion Fracture Zone, Canticle, " Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/08/09/1028158014349.html (August 21, 2003).
"Clarion Fracture Zone: What This Love Can Do, " Qstage, http://members.ozemail.com.au/~qstage/love.html (August 21, 2003).
"Fine Kettle of Fish: A Review of Spellbound Sea, " M/C Reviews, http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/article.php?sid=133 (December 12, 2003).
"Notes from Down Under," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/down0802.htm (August 21, 2003).
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