Jazz Review: Angus Mason Flatlands album launch

Words by Anthony Costanzo
Photos via Angus Mason

Ahead of his weekly Wednesday residency at La Boheme, the team at COMA (Creative Original Music Adelaide) put on a show at The Wheatsheaf Hotel to launch local jazz virtuoso Angus Mason's debut album, Flatlands.

Set before me on stage were four incredibly well composed musicians — a full room and electricity beaming from the crowd added another layer of ambience to the soft glow of the pub's red lanterns. The band room of the Wheaty was ready for what Adelaide's most in demand jazz drummer had to offer: tonight’s band leader, fresh back from a three month stint in New York, Angus Mason. Joining him were Melbourne based musicians Stephen Blyth (Sax), Sam Anning (Double Bass) and Adelaide based James Muller (Guitar).

The Angus Mason Quartet kicked off the night with 'Inner Urge' (Joe Henderson). The band demanded the crowds attention in the best possible way, and held it through the many twists and turns. Angus was confidently laying it down as the soloists soared through the peaks and pits of the song. Straight off the bat we saw how tight and refined these four musicians were, effortlessly playing the hits from the last eight bars of the melody, while Angus took an incredible solo.

Contrasting the intensity of 'Inner Urge', Angus announced the next tune as a dedication to the late Mike Stewart; it was time for 'Monday Night Dark Ales', a hauntingly beautiful ballad dedicated to a musician, teacher and inspiration to many of Adelaide's young jazz artists. The band was so soft that the planes could be heard flying overhead. Soloists pouring heart and soul into the song made it an ethereal moment for me.

Finishing the set with another two originals, 'The Mediator', which is written about his friends Django and Nicholas's personality types, and 'Skull Kid', a straight 8th note Latin number. During Angus's solo you could hear his influences, most noticeably Jochen Ruckert. It's obvious from seeing Angus on stage that he's really done his homework, and it's certainly paid off with the freedom he has on the kit, and composure during the more technical passages.

'Skull Kid', a song written about a video game Angus played as a child (Legend of Zelda), reflected the nature of the game perfectly. The melody was quite jarring, and the solos were full of menacing colour and rhythmic complexity — a drummer's dream song. Angus jumping in with fills at all the right times lifted the band in intensity, then dropping down to nearly nothing for Sam Anning's solo. Swing may be the thing, but 'Skull Kid' was the clear winner of the set for me and many others, as we discussed the tune over a cigarette.

We were welcomed to the second set to a freely tuned 'Little Church' from Miles Davis' album Live Evil. The tune built from a whisper to a roar, and then silence, in the space of a few minutes. ESP (Wayne Shorter) followed with James Muller taking an incredible solo, showing us why he's regarded as one of the best in the world. James sat out for the entirety of Stephen's solo, which made me feel like I was listening to a more refined Sonny Rollins Trio.

While James and Sam talked through the next tune, Angus put on his best Jerry Seinfeld impression, and tried to kick of his comedic career. “What's the deal with aeroplane food?” he asked. I'm glad the mic was off, so not many people heard that shocker.

The band then jumped into a Sonny Rollins song, 'Freedom Suite'. Sam, having just been told how the song went, absolutely nailed it. Stephen sounded so legit that if I closed my eyes, I would've thought he was Sonny himself.

'Seven-Twelve-Thirteen', a dedication to his girlfriend, was soft and heartfelt. The melody painted a picture of young innocent love, which Stephen kept throughout his solo. His lines were flowing like water down a drainpipe on a winter morning; it made me feel like grabbing the person next to me, and whispering sweet nothings in their ear. Suddenly the tune stops, Stephen and Sam play the melody break, and the band takes it out.

Angus closed the night with an original, written by Stephen. Sam started the tune with a semi-ominous bass line, the band gradually joining in, until Stephen played the melody. It honestly wasn't the kind of song I was expecting from Stephen, but, then again, I didn't know what to expect. Angus shone through without over-powering the band or soloists.

All and all, a perfect launch for a debut album. Angus once again wowed the audience with his seemingly effortless mastery of the genre of jazz. I'm, like many other jazz fans, very eager to hear what Angus will be releasing in the future. 

Flatlands by Angus Mason is out now here. You can catch Angus in the flesh on Wednesday nights at La Boheme from 9pm every week.