Ben Winkelman Trio
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Ben Winkelman Trio

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Jan
19
Ben Winkelman Trio @ Lebowski's

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


**** “Here's a party with conversations everywhere, each track a different story, which pretty well sums up much of the appeal of this offering from the talented Melbourne pianist. The first, Trio Piece In Seconds and Thirds, pops with constantly shifting ideas that take the listener aback. Fragmented, full of tightly scripted calls and responses, then shifting gears into a driving swing. The second, Bananeiro, nods in the direction of Jobim. And so it goes. Each piece has a strong sense of narrative, conversation and direction, from the slow and evocative ones (Stand a Little Taller at Yom Kippur), European jazz (The Tomasa Variations) or echoes of Jelly Roll Morton (Maxine's Stomp), with Winkelman's flourishes and dissonances making it his own. Another strength is the support from, and the space given to, bassist Rodrigo Aravena and drummer Danny Fischer. They have lots of room to stretch out, and create something new, taking the lines from the piano and developing them further with their own voice.” Leon Gettler, The Age Green Guide, October 20, 2005 - The Age Green Guide


**** “Just when we thought everything possible with jazz piano trios had been done, this Melbourne trio's debut album forces a rethink. As the title suggests, this is an unusually diverse collection of pianist Ben Winkelman's original compositions. Opening track Trio Piece In Seconds And Thirds is a good example of Winkelman's diversity. Beginning with elements of contemporary classical, then moving to a bass and drums-studded bebop style, it segues into an authentic rickety-tick ragtime. It's as if Scott Joplin had detoured via Herbie Hancock with advice from Bela Bartok, all influences that Winkelman acknowledges. Rodrigo Aravena (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums) are essential ingredients in the mix, contributing foundational stabs, rhythmic emphasis, interposing phrases and swinging solos, particularly from the double bass. This highly original music traverses vastly varied territory, utilising pre-modern styles such as stride piano, but reinterpreting and refurbishing them in a contemporary setting.”
John McBeath, The Australian, November 5, 2005
- The Australian


**** “The debut album of Melbourne’s Ben Winkelman Trio is quite splendid. Pianist Winkelman’s 14 joyous originals embody the exhilaration of music making and not a hint of fat. Bassist Rodrigo Aravena and drummer Danny Fischer are wonderful collaborators. Lines are clean, concise, decisive, dynamics deft. Winkelman reaches back to the Harlem stride pianists (he immersed himself in Duke Ellington as he wrote) and the “Spanish tinge” of Jelly Roll Morton to produce a harmonious propulsion that defies the listener not to smile. On his website Winkelman notes that his grandmother played in an all-girl ragtime band in New Jersey in the 1930s and wonders if his recent interest in earlier jazz forms might result in part from genetic memory. If so, thank you lady ragtimers, for here be riches. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, proceeding into his 80s, offers as his epitaph, should he ever need one: “The only proof he ever needed of the existence of God was music.” When so much of music is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, here we come a little closer to the divine.”
Ken Williams, The Age Entertainment Guide, November 11, 2005
- The Age Entertainment Guide


Discography

LP - "Stomps, Pieces & Variations" (Jazzhead), released September 2005

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Ben Winkelman bio:

Ben started his performing career at age 14 playing drums and writing songs in an anarchist punk band. He later made piano his main instrument and began playing and composing jazz. He went on to study with former Jazz Messenger Mickey Tucker and with Paul Grabowsky, both of whom gave him a thorough grounding in bebop.

After completing a music degree at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1994, playing a lot of salsa and freelancing around Melbourne, he spent some time travelling Europe, including a 6 month sojourn in Barcelona where he performed with his trio, acquired a love of Spanish language, literature and food, and made a living of sorts as an under-employed English teacher.

On his return to Melbourne, he began exploring some other musical interests that had previously been sidelined in favour of jazz: Cuban music, drum & bass, techno, klezmer and tango, and had some success with the pioneering “live electonica” group Ping, with whom he played many of the major Australian festivals, toured the east coast and enjoyed a minor cult following in Melbourne. In the meantime he kept developing his jazz playing, continued to play with Rumberos and other Latin bands, and spent some time studying Bach.

Ben continues to play, teach, compose and study classical piano in Melbourne. In 2003 he went to New York to undertake further study with Sam Yahel, Harold Mabern, George Cables, Barry Harris and Sonny Bravo. Lately tours have taken him around Australia and to New Caledonia and China. In recent years he has devoted more time and energy to writing for his trio, and 2005 has seen the release of his debut recording as a bandleader, “Stomps, Pieces and Variations” on Jazzhead.

The Trio and “Stomps, Pieces and Variations” (in his own words):

Throughout the time that I’ve listened to and studied jazz my favourite pianists have been Herbie Hancock and Bud Powell. I’m essentially from a bebop and post-bop background, and my early jazz teachers always emphasized the importance of bop in the jazz tradition. While I was writing pieces for “Stomps” I was listening to a lot of jazz that hadn’t previously been as important a part of my listening, like some of the Duke Ellington suites from the 60s and his small band recordings, and Jelly Roll Morton and other stride pianists. I started thinking it would be valid to include some of these older styles and sounds that aren’t normally part of the modern jazz lexicon, but which could be drawn on by a modern ensemble in the same way as any other epoch in the development of jazz.

I remember seeing a clarinettist friend playing on a trad gig and watching enviously how much fun the band was having. It was a bit of a revelation for me; although I’d listened to swing era music and some 1930s stride pianists, I’d never been that interested in trad jazz, and I started wondering if I was missing out on something. I started writing some stride influenced pieces with a view to playing them with my trio, to see if we could capture some of that humour and vitality. (My grandmother played in an all-girl ragtime band in New Jersey in the 1930s, so who knows, maybe my recent interest in early jazz is a bit of genetic memory at work.) Part of the challenge has been to find a good balance between authenticity and reinterpretation; it wasn’t my intention to make revisionist music, but to try to combine the new with the old.

Another factor that has influenced my writing in recent years has been my interest in Brazilian music. I started playing arrangements by Milton Banana on my trio gigs (Milton Banana was a killer Brazilian samba drummer who was popular in Brazil in the 60s, his trio played breakneck samba versions of classic Brazilian songs with lots of kooky breaks), and this left a lasting influence on how I like to arrange for the trio.

When I’m writing a piece for the trio, I often start by imagining how I can utilize the three instruments, what I can find for each person to do besides just accompanying the piano. I try to make the most of having three people - ten fingers, four strings and four limbs, at my disposal, so that the action in the piece is spread across the group. This gives the music an “orchestrated” sound and gets away from the standard “head-solos-head” form, which has the danger of becoming monotonous. It’s kind of a “trio as mini big band” approach to composition. Of course we also cut loose as three improvisers as well, but that almost goes without saying.

My picture of the album I wanted to make before I recorded it was of a set of many short, concise pieces of starkly contrasting moods and eclectic styles. The pieces came out longer than I’d planned, but they are still pretty concise and to the point. I was influenced in this by a Bill Frisell album called “Have A Little Faith”, which is kind of a musical tour of Americana through the eyes of a very free thinking jazz ensemble, from Aaron Copland and John Sousa to Madonn