By Laura James
Photography by Nadia Achilles
At the junction of Afro-Cuban and jazz grooves, the leader of the eponymous group Cleon's Three really shines
Nearly four years after the release of “Globalectic” with The Soundscapes Quintet, composer and pianist Cleon Barraclough has dialled it down with Cleon’s Three, whose debut album “Techni-colour Rain” offers an energized and modern fusion of salsa, timba, funk and contemporary jazz. The ensemble kicks off their national tour at the JMI Live club in Bowen Hills, Brisbane, with forthcoming dates at most capital cities around Australia.
Cleon is a well-known face (and sound) around Queensland’s music scene – he’s performed with everyone from The Brisbane Contemporary Jazz Orchestra to Chukale, and the expanse of musical territory he covers only seems to enhance his diversity as a performer. Yet it seems to be in Cleon’s Three, at the junction of Afro-Cuban and jazz grooves, where the leader of the eponymous group really shines.
In opening number “Temporary Template,” the trio firmly establishes their trademark sound – tense, dissonant and vibrant – while showcasing the talents of Brisbane-based Sacha K on drums. This unique tune also heralds the beginning of what appears to be a masterclass in changing tempo, with its sudden shift from complex world patterns into a fast swing feel rousing an enthused cheer from the audience.
The title track “Techni-colour Rain” serves up a potpourri of styles with an emphasis on piano and electric bass: the soft rainfall of high keys in Cleon’s opening solo is reminiscent of [Cuban pianist] Ruben Gonzalez with elements of Debussy’s Préludes, while bassist Osmar ‘Chiky’ Salazar’s solo exudes a more traditional Cuban sound. In what is possibly the most technically innovative performance of the night, Sacha K supports these dual harmony lines of piano and bass with soft brushes and military-style drumming, making the piece a highlight of the set.
Salazar, who was most recently on tour as the musical director and composer for “Ballet Revolucion,” extends his rich, smooth tones into “Aster.” As we enter the halfway point in the set, it’s clear that the trio has deep chemistry, though this connection is fluid enough to allow space for Salazar to engage with Cleon and Sacha individually. One benefit of the longer song lengths on the album, and of the solo-based and improvisational structure that characterises jazz in general, is that the musical rapport between band members is easily transferable to – and tangibly developed on – the stage. In other words, I would not have been surprised if I was witnessing a jam session, which was indeed enhanced by the venue’s intimate nature.
I particularly enjoyed “Season’s End,” whose slightly ambiguous title is clarified by an edgy and intricate theme driven by brooding, dense chords. Penultimate number “Mambo Influenciado” is an interesting interpretation of a Chucho Valdés classic, complemented with a cheeky hint of cowbell by Sacha K. Cleon advises the audience that Salazar is actually from Valdés’ hometown, and I am reminded of the unspoken nostalgic connection often shared by musicians who hail from the same corner of the world. The trio nicely ends the set on a distinctly Afro-Cuban note with the aptly titled “Sabor Cubamo” (“Cuban Flavour”).
All in all, JMI’s sleek and intimate venue is the perfect setting for this display of fearless and driven musicianship. Despite the sometimes unattainable complexity of the material, the liveliness of the performers and the progressive blend of so many diverse genres and sounds is bound to keep listeners guessing.
To view the article in MouthZoff Magazine Issue #18
By Laura James