Ross McHenry Future Ensemble
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Ross McHenry Future Ensemble

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | INDIE

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Jazz Avant-garde

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"Album Review: Ross McHenry Distant Oceans"

Adelaide bassist and producer Ross McHenry is inspired by the LA beat scene and the so-called “new jazz” but his excellent new album Distant Oceans (Kudos Records) lends much to Weather Report and Miles Davis from the Bitches Brew era.

Nothing wrong with that — especially when you have a crash-hot line-up and a set of tracks which build superbly over a generous 72 minutes. LA’s Mark de Clive Lowe adds plenty of colour and texture with his keyboard and laptop manipulations and Myele Manzanza’s drums complement McHenry’s driving electric bass.

Listen out for Adam Page’s great tenor sax solo on Prayers (elsewhere he plays soprano and flute) and Luca Spiler’s wailing trombone on Intercosmos.

This is an album with a spacey feel and it shows that homegrown jazz is flourishing. You can get it from JB Hi-Fi for $28.99. - The Daily Telegraph


"Shaolin Afronauts Ross McHenry Solo Debut"

Bass player/composer/producer Ross McHenry is best known for his work with ARIA award-winners The Shaolin Afronauts. He has a new project to share, this time under his own name. Assembling a line-up of international innovators, McHenry embarked on recording Distant Oceans as more than an excuse to make a ‘solo’ debut. “A lot of other work has led me to this point,” he says from his Adelaide home base. “I wanted to document an aspect of my exploration and creative output that I hadn’t done on record in my other projects. Also to involve a number of artists I really wanted to work with in that. At this point in my life it made sense to do it this way.”
rossmchenry
As creator, there was much to wrangle. “It was a bit of a logistical – I won’t say nightmare – but it took over a year from concept to execution and I manage all of my own affairs. So there were times I questioned why I’d taken on a project of such immense administrative proportion,” he laughs. “I’d spent time studying and hanging out in LA, being inspired by the Beat scene and a lot that’s going on there. I also attended an event called the Red Bull Music Academy in London where I met Myele Manzanza (Electric Wire Hustle, NZ) who was one of the only other guys there who was focussed on being an instrumentalist first and foremost as well as a producer. Other people were more straight up electronic music producers and that kind of stuff. So that was a connection for us right away. We did a bunch of playing together and discussed this [career trajectory] and that we should do something together. Then there was Mark de Clive-Lowe who I’d seen do these incredible nights in LA called Church. It was the first time I’d seen somebody properly integrate the elements of electronic and sample music into live improvisation that was really natural. It wasn’t two things forced together; they had a symbiotic relationship. I was aware of Mark as a producer but obviously he can really play the piano as well! The other guys (Adam Page, Dylan Marshall, Jon Hunt, Luca Spiler) I had a long-standing relationship with in heaps of bands and albums so it made sense to bring it home in that way. The really tough thing was getting everyone out to Australia. I was lucky to receive some assistance from Arts Australia and having a number of the works commissioned through the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. They were super helpful and enthusiastic about new work so a huge thanks has to go to them for enabling this to happen.”
“This is the music that my generation grew up with so it’s not just a thing that’s been forced together with something else. I grew up listening to Coltrane, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters with Paul Jackson…Madlib, J Dilla, Flying Lotus and all those 70s fusion and early soul recordings. I see this connection between all those evolutions in music, as do a lot of people today, especially young musicians. I was heavily influenced in London, New York and LA seeing more artists being honest about who they are and where they come from. That’s the main difference. It’s been expediated by the rapid transfer of information as a result of the Internet. So you have a whole new generation of improvising creative artists who aren’t necessarily defined only by jazz or by hip-hop. Our generation by default has had access to almost everything that’s ever been recorded. The result is some really exciting new music that’s unique to now.”

The project has wide-ranging audience appeal as seen at shows done in Australia just after the recording. McHenry says, “It’s a great thing for all improvised music that people are kind of coming back to it. The technology for creating music has advanced to the point where there can be an improvised element in electronic music that hasn’t been possible before. It’s attracting a whole new generation of music lovers to other wonderful music [from] the past. I think jazz generally has been done a huge service by DJs, record collectors…hip-hop and sampling. Often people criticise sample music for ripping stuff off but, on the grand scale of things, it’s done all of this music people hadn’t heard of a service. It’s opened our ears to things you wouldn’t have heard in any other way.” Where jazz or even ‘new jazz’ is not readily associated with younger listeners, international trends suggest otherwise. “Young people are excited about music and can access music and listen to more different music than ever before. So they’re actually more accepting than people give them credit for. My experience is the only thing they actually care about is honesty. You can be playing the most ‘out there’ stuff if you believe it with every core of your being. Even if afterwards someone might say, ‘You know what? That really wasn’t my thing’, they can still respect it on some level. I think we need to respect audiences more and the media generally need to present things to them and let them make up their own minds.”
From the dramatic, theatrical opening of Distant Oceans to the cool fusion of jazz down the track list, the album has the feel of a major work. With so many intricate layers and textures going on you’d expect the production process to have been quite mind-boggling. “It was and it wasn’t,” McHenry says. “We did a Shaolin Afronauts record last year that I think we had like 40 shells all going down live at the same time. It’s a big band. So this was much less than that but there was a lot of gear and it was really full on but I’m a huge studio and music nerd. I love being in the studio. I always want there to be an element that’s new and challenging. So I was just really excited. We tend to track everything live. So although the set up might be very time consuming, the actual recording process is quite organic. Every track is a single take. We were only in the studio for three days and recorded 12 tracks, most of which are over seven minutes. There were three or four takes of each track. It was pretty swift and painless and a really good vibe – the joy of getting great musicians together and just going for it. The result, I think, is a journey because you have that journey when you’re playing it.”
And the choice of title? “Anyone who knows my work with The Shaolin Afronauts would probably know there’s a whole bunch of cosmic references that comes from the influence of avant-garde jazz – on that groove. A lot of those influences are also present in this group. Music for me is a reflection of the infinite capacity of humankind – without kind of getting too deep into that stuff,” he hesitates, trying to avoid hippy cliches, “is something we all relate to. I want the music to reflect those grander concepts of experience in music.”
With a gathering of such creative individuals, the collaborative possibilities were endless. It’s easy to imagine players were reluctant to call it a day. “The entire project was a bit of a risk because not everyone had played together or as that group before but it just kind of worked. There was an amazing vibe and you did wish it could keep going. It was a celebration of the individual members of the group. That’s one thing I love about playing with people, laying down single takes and putting it out with all the mistakes on it. I spend months and months writing music in my study in the front room of my house and when you take it to really great musicians who you have a great rapport with, they play it better than you imagined it. They bring their own experience to it. It felt like a real honour but I think they were all excited to be involved.” Meanwhile, the South Australian capital just made the latest Lonely Planet Top Cities list. It’s long been a quiet achiever in the music world. “Communication channels out of Adelaide aren’t traditionally as strong as they could’ve been,” says McHenry. “But it’s always had great music coming out of it. A lot of the great exponents have moved elsewhere but there’s a lot happening in Adelaide at the moment, a lot of great records being made. And again, I think it’s a great time to be…anywhere! If someone doesn’t like what you’re doing, you can sell it to other people. Adelaide as a city is on the edge of a bit of a musical renaissance because people have realised that it really doesn’t matter if you can’t get signed to a label in Sydney. They can try for a label in London or Germany…and do it anyway; that’s starting to have a positive effect and I think it’s just the beginning.”
rossmchenry distant oceans
Distant Oceans simultaneously transmits a visual element alongside the sonic. “The recording was influenced by my experiences in visual art. I spent time in the major US galleries where a lot of the wings and collections are donated, so they have a kind of singular vision of specific areas of art in a way I enjoy. I don’t like to dictate too much about the imagery but just to make the musicians aware, to encourage them to look at more than notes on a page.” The Shaolin Afronauts are set to record a new album next year and McHenry has more in mind for this latest group too. “I’m super pumped to get this one out and I’m already planning the next one probably with the same band but expanded. There are exciting plans on the horizon.” - Rhythms Magazine


"Ross McHenry: Distant Oceans"

There’s a reason why Ross McHenry called his band The Future Ensemble.

He and his five hand-picked musicians from Los Angeles, New Zealand and Australia combine jazz with elements of hip hop and electronic music. McHenry brought the band together earlier this year to tour his compositions live, and was able to record and release the results with the aid of crowd funding.

One of the most unique elements of the album is Mark de Clive-Lowe’s live electronic manipulations, which are especially present on the psychedelic Griffiths Park. With several songs lasting over eight minutes there is a strong sense of improvisation on the album, with McHenry leaving room for all instruments to shine on their own. This can be seen on Still Life Moving Fast, which includes an impressive drum solo from Myele Manzanza.

The album is often driven by Adam Page’s impeccable saxophone work, including his avant-garde solo in Stanley Park Dream. Just before the saxophone tips over into madness, it seamlessly flows back into the song’s melody.

Despite the diverse range of influences, McHenry and the band are able to merge them flawlessly, resulting in a beautifully composed modern jazz album, displaying the talents of six world-class musicians. - Rip it Up Magazine


Discography

Distant Oceans - First Word Records 2013 

Photos

Bio

Ross McHenry is an ARIA nominated composer, bass player and producer based in Adelaide, SA. His original compositions encompass a broad range of styles including jazz, afrobeat, contemporary electronic and sample based music. Known for his work with afro-jazz ensemble, Shaolin Afronauts as well as solo projects, Ross McHenry is a leading voice in new Australian music. 

In 2013 Ross formed the Future Ensemble to perform a series of new compositions commissioned by the Adelaide Festival of the Arts contemporary music program. The commission project brought together a number of musicians from around the world. The resulting works were released as Ross’s debut solo album Distant Oceans in October 2013 on UK label First Word Records. The album received worldwide acclaim and was featured on multiple national media outlets including ABC Radio National, The Weekend Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Rhythms magazine and many others. Since then the group has developed a reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative ensembles operating in Australia. 

Ross’s music aims reflects the unique and changing cultural landscape of Australian creative music and aims to explore the idea of modern Australian cultural identity. His work forms a part of the ongoing international creative discourse on contemporary music, specifically original improvised music it’s history and it’s future.

Band Members